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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Uses for $700 billion bailout money ever shifting

By John Dunbar
Oct. 26, 2008

First, the $700 billion rescue for the economy was about buying devalued mortgage-backed securities from tottering banks to unclog frozen credit markets.

Then it was about using $250 billion of it to buy stakes in banks. The idea was that banks would use the money to start making loans again.

But reports surfaced that bankers might instead use the money to buy other banks, pay dividends, give employees a raise and executives a bonus, or just sit on it. Insurance companies now want a piece; maybe automakers, too, even though Congress has approved $25 billion in low-interest loans for them.

Three weeks after becoming law, and with the first dollar of the $700 billion yet to go out, officials are just beginning to talk about helping a few strapped homeowners keep the foreclosure wolf from the door.

As the crisis worsens, the government's reaction keeps changing. Lawmakers in both parties are starting to gripe that the bailout is turning out to be far different from what the Bush administration sold to Congress.

In buying equity stakes in banks, the Treasury has "deviated significantly from its original course," says Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. "We need to examine closely the reason for this change," said Shelby, who opposed the bailout.

The centerpiece of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act is the "troubled asset relief program," or TARP for short. Critics note that tarps are used to cover things up. The money was to be devoted to buying "toxic" mortgage-backed securities whose value has fallen in lockstep with home prices.

But once European governments said they were going into the banking business, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson followed suit and diverted $250 billion to buy stock in healthy banks to spur lending.

Bank executives hinted they might instead use it for acquisitions. Sen. Christopher Dodd, chairman of the Senate banking committee, said this development was "beyond troubling."

Sure enough, a day after Dodd, D-Conn., made the comment, the government confirmed that PNC Financial Services Group Inc. was approved to receive $7.7 billion in return for company stock. At the same time, PNC said it was acquiring National City Corp. for $5.58 billion.

"Although there will be some consolidation, that's not the driver behind this program," Paulson recently told PBS talk show host Charlie Rose. "The driver is to have our healthy banks be well-capitalized so that they can play the role they need to play for our country right now."

Other planned uses of the bailout money have lawmakers protesting, although it is only fair to note there is nothing in the law that they just wrote to prevent those uses.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. questioned allowing banks that accept bailout bucks to continue paying dividends on their common stock.

"There are far better uses of taxpayer dollars than continuing dividend payments to shareholders," he said.

Schumer, whose constituents include Wall Street bankers, said he also fears that they might stuff the money "under the proverbial mattress" rather than make loans.

Neel Kashkari, head of the Treasury's financial stability program, told Dodd's committee this past week that there are few strings attached to the capital-infusion program because too many rules would discourage financial institutions from participating.

As the bank plan has become a priority, the effort to buy troubled assets has receded from the headlines. Potential conflicts of interest pose all kinds of problems in finding qualified companies to manage that program.

"Firms with the relevant financial expertise may also hold assets that become eligible for sale into the TARP or represent clients who hold troubled assets," Kashkari said.

The challenge was made plain when the Treasury hired the Bank of New York Mellon Corp. as "custodian" of the troubled assets purchase program. The bank will conduct "reverse auctions" to buy the toxic securities on behalf of the Treasury. The lower the price they set, the better chance sellers have of getting rid of the devalued securities.

On the same day it hired Mellon, the Treasury also picked the company to receive a $3 billion investment as part of the capital-infusion program. The same bank hired to help manage part of the economic rescue plan became a beneficiary of it.

With the Nov. 4 election nearing, lawmakers decided it was important to remind the government officials running the bailout program about parts of the law aimed at helping distressed homeowners by offering federal guarantees to mortgages renegotiated down to lower monthly payments.

"The key to our nation's economic recovery is the recovery of the housing market," Dodd said. "And the key to recovery of the housing market is reducing foreclosures."

Sheila Bair, who heads the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., responded that her agency is working "closely and creatively" with Treasury officials to "realize the potential benefits of this authority."


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ron Howard Gets Topless, Dons Wig for Obama

In a new video actor and director Ron Howard returns to his hit shows in order to convey a one-sided get out the vote message. And he's not alone, Andy Griffith and Henry Winkler join in on the fun:

See more Ron Howard videos at Funny or Die


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Palin’s Failin’

What is it she stands for? After seven weeks, we don’t know.

By Peggy Noonan
The Wall Street Journa
Oct. 17, 2008
[Emphsis News2U]

“Sometimes the leak is so bad that even a plumber can’t fix it.” This was the concise summation of a cable political strategist the other day, after the third and final presidential debate. That sounds about right, and yet the race in its final days retains a feeling of dynamism. I think it is going to burst open or tighten, not just mosey along. I can well imagine hearing, the day after Election Day, a lot of “You won’t believe it but I was literally in line at the polling station when I decided.”

John McCain won the debate, and he did it by making the case more effectively than he has in the past that Barack Obama will raise taxes, when “now, of all times in America, we need to cut people’s taxes.” He also scored Mr. Obama on his eloquence, using it against him more effectively than Hillary Clinton ever did. When she said he was “just words,” it sounded like a bitter complaint. Mr. McCain made it a charge: Young man, you attempt to obscure truth with the mellifluous power of your words. From Mrs. Clinton it sounded jealous, but when Mr. McCain said it, you looked at Mr. Obama and wondered if you’d just heard something that was true. For the first time, Mr. Obama’s unruffled demeanor didn’t really work for him. His cool made him seem hidden.

There is now something infantilizing about this election. Mr. Obama continued to claim he will remove wasteful spending by sitting down with the federal budget and going through it “line by line.” This is absurd, and he must know it.

Mr. McCain continued to vow he will “balance the budget” in the next four years.
Who believes that? Does even he?

More than ever on the campaign trail, the candidates are dropping their G’s. Hardworkin’ families are strainin’ and tryin’a get ahead. It’s not only Sarah Palin but Mr. McCain, too, occasionally Mr. Obama, and, of course, George W. Bush when he darts out like the bird in a cuckoo clock to tell us we are in crisis.

All of the candidates say “mom and dad”: “our moms and dads who are struggling.” This is Mr. Bush’s former communications adviser Karen Hughes’s contribution to our democratic life, that you cannot speak like an adult in politics now, that’s too austere and detached, snobby. No one can say mothers and fathers, it’s all now the faux down-home, patronizing—and infantilizing—moms and dads. Do politicians ever remember that in a nation obsessed with politics, our children—sorry, our kids—look to political figures for a model as to how adults sound?

There has never been a second’s debate among liberals, to use an old-fashioned word that may yet return to vogue, over Mrs. Palin: She was a dope and unqualified from the start.

Conservatives and Republicans, on the other hand, continue to battle it out: Was her choice a success or a disaster? And if one holds negative views, should one say so? For conservatives in general, but certainly for writers, the answer is a variation on Edmund Burke: You owe your readers not your industry only but your judgment, and you betray instead of serve them if you sacrifice it to what may or may not be their opinion.

Here is a fact of life that is also a fact of politics: You have to hold open the possibility of magic.

People can come from nowhere, with modest backgrounds and short résumés, and yet be individuals of real gifts, gifts that had previously been unseen, that had been gleaming quietly under a bushel, and are suddenly revealed. Mrs. Palin came, essentially, from nowhere. But there was a man who came from nowhere, the seeming tool of a political machine, a tidy, narrow, unsophisticated senator appointed to high office and then thrust into power by a careless Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose vanity told him he would live forever. And yet that limited little man was Harry S Truman. Of the Marshall Plan, of containment. Little Harry was big. He had magic. You have to give people time to show what they have. Because maybe they have magic too.

But we have seen Mrs. Palin on the national stage for seven weeks now, and there is little sign that she has the tools, the equipment, the knowledge or the philosophical grounding one hopes for, and expects, in a holder of high office. She is a person of great ambition, but the question remains: What is the purpose of the ambition? She wants to rise, but what for?

For seven weeks I’ve listened to her, trying to understand if she is Bushian or Reaganite—a spender, to speak briefly, whose political decisions seem untethered to a political philosophy, and whose foreign policy is shaped by a certain emotionalism, or a conservative whose principles are rooted in philosophy, and whose foreign policy leans more toward what might be called romantic realism, and that is speak truth, know America, be America, move diplomatically, respect public opinion, and move within an awareness and appreciation of reality.

But it’s unclear whether she is Bushian or Reaganite. She doesn’t think aloud. She just . . . says things.

Her supporters accuse her critics of snobbery: Maybe she’s not a big “egghead” but she has brilliant instincts and inner toughness. But what instincts? “I’m Joe Six-Pack”? She does not speak seriously but attempts to excite sensation—“palling around with terrorists.” If the Ayers case is a serious issue, treat it seriously. She is not as thoughtful or persuasive as Joe the Plumber, who in an extended cable interview Thursday made a better case for the Republican ticket than the Republican ticket has made.

In the past two weeks she has spent her time throwing out tinny lines to crowds she doesn’t, really, understand. This is not a leader, this is a follower, and she follows what she imagines is the base, which is in fact a vast and broken-hearted thing whose pain she cannot, actually, imagine. She could reinspire and reinspirit; she chooses merely to excite.

She doesn’t seem to understand the implications of her own thoughts.

No news conferences? Interviews now only with friendly journalists? You can’t be president or vice president and govern in that style, as a sequestered figure. This has been Mr. Bush’s style the past few years, and see where it got us. You must address America in its entirety, not as a sliver or a series of slivers but as a full and whole entity, a great nation trying to hold together.

When you don’t, when you play only to your little piece, you contribute to its fracturing.

In the end the Palin candidacy is a symptom and expression of a new vulgarization in American politics. It’s no good, not for conservatism and not for the country. And yes, it is a mark against John McCain, against his judgment and idealism.

I gather this week from conservative publications that those whose thoughts lead them to criticism in this area are to be shunned, and accused of the lowest motives. In one now-famous case, Christopher Buckley was shooed from the great magazine his father invented. In all this, the conservative intelligentsia are doing what they have done for five years. They bitterly attacked those who came to stand against the Bush administration. This was destructive. If they had stood for conservative principle and the full expression of views, instead of attempting to silence those who opposed mere party, their movement, and the party, would be in a better, and healthier, position.

At any rate, come and get me, copper.


Monday, October 20, 2008

The 10 Biggest Differences Between Obama and McCain That Will Affect Your Daily Life

October 17, 2008,

When the polls open in 18 days, voters will be faced with a stark choice in presidential candidates -- a choice that ultimately comes down to one question: What do you want the next four to eight years of your life to look like? Because the next president will shape the issues that affect the way we live our day-to-day lives.

The future of Social Security, health care, education, income, employment, civil rights and democracy itself all hang in the balance. And the two candidates are worlds apart in their visions for the country.

From the fate of the Supreme Court to the future of Internet access, here are the 10 most important differences between Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain.

1. Who They Want to Tax

Tax cuts targeted at the wealthiest Americans during a period of runaway spending -- with hundreds of billions of tax dollars spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- have resulted in massive federal deficits.

Both Obama and McCain say they'll control spending and cut taxes, but they are miles apart on the question of who would get those cuts.

According to an analysis of his tax plan by the Tax Policy Center, Obama would cut taxes on the 95 percent of filers who make less than $227,000 per year and raise taxes on the 5 percent whose incomes exceed that amount. Compared with current policy, Obama's tax plan would increase government revenues by $627 billion over the next 10 years.

McCain would make Bush's "temporary" tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans permanent. His plan would cut taxes on top earners by $23,000 per year. He would cut taxes for all other Americans as well, but his cuts would only be deeper than Obama's for those earning between $112,000 and $227,000 -- about 20 percent of the population. Compared with current policy, McCain's tax plan would decrease government revenues by $595 billion over the next 10 years, meaning that new spending cuts would be necessary to avoid growing the deficit even larger.

2. How They Would Shape the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court regularly hears cases on everything from personal injury to sexual harassment to environmental health -- cases that set legal precedents and can affect our day-to-day lives for decades, even centuries.

Our next president could name as many as three new justices for the bench. John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter are all likely candidates for retirement, which means the new picks would be replacing three of the court's four moderate- to liberal-minded justices.

If Obama becomes president, the political calculus of the court will probably stay the same. If McCain becomes president, you can count on an influx of conservative ideology.

First up on the chopping block would be Roe v. Wade. McCain has already promised that much. And if something happens to McCain and his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin, takes his place, watch out. Not only does she want Roe overturned, she has made it clear that there should be no exceptions even in cases of rape or incest. Under her watch, a 12-year-old raped by her father would be forced to bear the child. For all of conservatives' talk about values, it's hard to imagine a worse way to start a family.

3. How They View Democracy

One of the biggest and clearest differences between Obama and McCain concerns voting rights. The Obama campaign believes in expanding the right to vote and has registered millions of new voters in 2008. The McCain campaign and the Republican Party believe in limiting voter turnout and have taken many highly publicized steps in swing states to suggest that Obama loyalists are plotting to vote illegally.

The McCain campaign has been criticizing voter registration efforts by the low-income advocacy group ACORN as an attempt to steal the election. The group registered 1.3 million voters in 2008, mostly young people, people of color and other working-class constituencies. State Republican parties, GOP prosecutors and sympathetic groups have been pursuing litigation and other legal tactics in key swing states -- notably Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan -- concerning the validity of voter rolls in order to create bureaucratic hurdles for election officials. This can only complicate the voting process on Election Day and create a climate to discourage new voters from casting ballots.

4. How They Want to Change the Health Care System

Middle-class Americans are now being priced out of health care. Nearly a quarter of Americans lack adequate health insurance to cover medical expenses, now the number one cause of family bankruptcies.

The current system is unsustainable, and the candidates' proposals for fixing it are as different as night and day. Obama's plan would drastically reduce the number of uninsured (from 47 million to about 18 million) and would require children to be covered; McCain's plan would have little effect on the uninsured population. Obama's plan would allow individuals who currently have employer-paid health insurance to keep their benefits; McCain's plan would begin the dismantling of the entire employer-paid system. Obama would create an additional social safety net: a public health plan that would give people without access to insurance through an employer or entitlement program like Medicare guaranteed coverage with the same comprehensive benefits that members of Congress now enjoy.

McCain doesn't favor safety nets. Instead, he would place a $3.6 trillion tax on workers over the next 10 years and use revenue from that tax to give people a credit ($2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families) to purchase insurance on the open market. The trouble is, the average family policy costs $12,000, and it's much harder for an individual to negotiate good prices than an employer.

Perhaps most importantly, Obama's and McCain's health care plans reflect different philosophical approaches to human health. Obama has stated that he believes health care should be a right. McCain has stated that health care is a responsibility. That puts Obama in touch with the philosophy behind universal health care (guaranteed in every developed nation but ours) and puts McCain out of touch with the needs of everyone but the wealthy.

5. Their Plans for Iraq

An early opponent to the invasion of Iraq, Obama's current plan seeks a phased withdrawal that would last until 2010 -- although he has said he will revise his strategy depending on the facts on the ground. Beyond 2010, Obama says he will leave a "residual force" in place "to conduct targeted counter-terrorism missions against al Qaeda in Iraq and to protect American diplomatic and civilian personnel." He also intends to retain control of Baghdad International Airport and the Green Zone, and keep the U.S. embassy in place.

McCain has famously declared that the United States will remain in Iraq until "victory" is achieved -- even if it takes another 100 years. He has long refused to name target dates for troop withdrawals, claiming that it would be tantamount to giving terrorists a timeline for defeat.

More recently on the campaign trail, however, he has claimed that Iraq can be "won" by 2013.

Still, he has said he reserves the right to reassess the situation upon taking office.

6. Their Views on Energy

Both Obama and McCain talk a lot about a new energy future for the United States and weaning ourselves off dependence on foreign oil. But the two candidates have a different take on how to get us there.

While Obama has pushed for renewables like wind and solar, McCain has failed to make any meaningful move in that direction, missing all eight votes this year in the Senate to support renewable energy.

Instead, McCain strongly advocates nuclear power and believes it will play an important role in addressing climate change. While Obama has given lip service to the issue, saying he supports "clean and safe" nuclear power, McCain has pledged to "set this nation on a course to building 45 new reactors by the year 2030, with the ultimate goal of 100 new plants to power the homes and factories and cities of America."

The serious flaw in McCain's nuclear ambitions is that the world's leading scientists are calling for immediate action on climate change. Serious results need to occur in the next five to seven years, but a nuclear plant would take a least a decade to get on line.

Plus, experts from MIT and elsewhere say that more than 1,000 new nuclear reactors would be needed to come close to being a real solution to climate change -- an unrealistic goal, even if you ignore nuclear energy's other drawbacks of safety and expense.

7. How They Treat Our Vets

With American soldiers serving multiple tours of duty in Iraq -- and with thousands more scheduled to be shipped to Afghanistan -- the current burden on our military men and women is unprecedented. Meanwhile, the Department of Veterans Affairs is in the midst of a scandal over its systematic blocking of veterans benefits and shocking attempts to cover up PTSD and suicide rates. The result is a serious health crisis among American troops.

Obama has helped pass laws designed to assist homeless veterans and improve care for wounded veterans. He has received an 80 percent approval rating from the Disabled Veterans of America and a B+ rating from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

McCain's record on veterans' issues is abysmal. He was given a D rating from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and the Disabled American Veterans reports that he has voted for legislation benefiting veterans only 20 percent of the time. McCain voted against health care funding for veterans in 2003, '04, '05, '06 and '07. And unlike Obama, McCain refused to support the Webb GI Bill, which was critical to ensuring that soldiers who enlisted with the hope of eventually going to college would be able to do so.

8. What They Think America's Young People Should Know About Sex

The United States has some of the most frightening rates of teen pregnancy and STI transmission in the industrialized world: Each year, almost 750,000 teen girls become pregnant, and 1 in 4 teen girls has an STI. The Bush administration's response has been to fund sex-ed programs that don't actually teach kids about how to practice safe sex.

McCain agrees with the commander in chief's failed approach to sex education. When asked by reporters in March of last year whether he is in favor of abstinence-based programs, McCain replied, "I think I support the president's policy."

McCain's position is reflected in his voting record. In 2006, McCain voted against a Senate proposal that would have funded teen-pregnancy prevention programs and sex education about contraceptives.

Obama is a proponent of comprehensive, age-appropriate, science-based sex education. Obama supports the Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act, which would devote federal funding to science-based, medically accurate and age-appropriate information about safe sex. He was also a co-sponsor of the Prevention First Act, a measure that would increase funding for family planning programs and sex-ed programs that combine teaching abstinence with methods of safe sex.

9. Internet Access

You couldn't ask for a clearer difference between McCain and Obama than the one on the issue of whether the Internet should be kept as an open public space. Quite simply, Obama is for preserving the open nature of the Internet, while McCain favors private control over it.

Telecoms and tech corporations have stealthily positioned themselves to seize control of the Internet from the public, primarily through deceptive multimillion-dollar lobbying and PR campaigns that attempt to reshape public understanding of how the Internet works, who owns it and what role the private sector plays in keeping it open. In order to ensure that broadband networks are open to all producers and consumers of Internet content on fair and equal terms, Washington needs to enact a series of legal safeguards to protect from market encroachment on public space.

10. Their Views on the Global Market

Neither Barack Obama nor John McCain is calling for dismantling the trade regime built up over several decades during both Republican and Democratic administrations. But their big difference on trade policy is this: Obama rejects the idea that the status quo is acceptable, while McCain argues that we need much more of the same and that anyone who believes differently is a knee-jerk protectionist.

Obama has not sponsored the Trade Act of 2008, a bill being pushed by the Fair Trade Caucus, nor has he called for a dramatic change in the underlying philosophy that has guided policy makers in recent years. But he has criticized globalization that "favors only the few" and has called for amending NAFTA, if necessary, in order to protect American workers. He also favors closing tax loopholes that reward companies that offshore jobs, supporting firms that create U.S. jobs and improving transitional assistance for workers displaced by foreign trade.

McCain, on the other hand, supports current trade policy. He has argued against agricultural subsidies, a key issue for anti-poverty campaigners in developing countries, and suggested that "fast-track" authority -- which allows trade treaties an expedited trip through Congress -- is an overreach by the executive branch. But he insists that trade is all about opportunity, that NAFTA has had an "unambiguously" positive impact on the U.S. economy, and that the status quo must be continued.

© 2008 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.

View this story online at:

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Letter: Andrew Lahde, Lahde Capital Management

By Andrew Lahde

October 17, 2008

[Emphasis News2U]

Today I write not to gloat. Given the pain that nearly everyone is experiencing, that would be entirely inappropriate. Nor am I writing to make further predictions, as most of my forecasts in previous letters have unfolded or are in the process of unfolding. Instead, I am writing to say goodbye.

Recently, on the front page of Section C of the Wall Street Journal, a hedge fund manager who was also closing up shop (a $300 million fund), was quoted as saying, “What I have learned about the hedge fund business is that I hate it.” 

I could not agree more with that statement. I was in this game for the money. The low hanging fruit, i.e. idiots whose parents paid for prep school, Yale, and then the Harvard MBA, was there for the taking. These people who were (often) truly not worthy of the education they received (or supposedly received) rose to the top of companies such as AIG, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and all levels of our government. All of this behavior supporting the Aristocracy only ended up making it easier for me to find people stupid enough to take the other side of my trades. God bless America.

There are far too many people for me to sincerely thank for my success. However, I do not want to sound like a Hollywood actor accepting an award. The money was reward enough. Furthermore, the endless list of those deserving thanks know who they are.

I will no longer manage money for other people or institutions. I have enough of my own wealth to manage. Some people, who think they have arrived at a reasonable estimate of my net worth, might be surprised that I would call it quits with such a small war chest. That is fine; I am content with my rewards. Moreover, I will let others try to amass nine, ten or eleven figure net worths. 

Meanwhile, their lives suck. Appointments back to back, booked solid for the next three months, they look forward to their two week vacation in January during which they will likely be glued to their Blackberries or other such devices. What is the point? They will all be forgotten in fifty years anyway. Steve Balmer, Steven Cohen, and Larry Ellison will all be forgotten. I do not understand the legacy thing. Nearly everyone will be forgotten. Give up on leaving your mark. 

Throw the Blackberry away and enjoy life.

So this is it. With all due respect, I am dropping out. Please do not expect any type of reply to emails or voicemails within normal time frames or at all. Andy Springer and his company will be handling the dissolution of the fund. And don’t worry about my employees, they were always employed by Mr. Springer’s company and only one (who has been well-rewarded) will lose his job.

I have no interest in any deals in which anyone would like me to participate. I truly do not have a strong opinion about any market right now, other than to say that things will continue to get worse for some time, probably years. 

I am content sitting on the sidelines and waiting. After all, sitting and waiting is how we made money from the subprime debacle. I now have time to repair my health, which was destroyed by the stress I layered onto myself over the past two years, as well as my entire life – where I had to compete for spaces in universities and graduate schools, jobs and assets under management – with those who had all the advantages (rich parents) that I did not. 

May meritocracy be part of a new form of government, which needs to be established.

On the issue of the U.S. Government, I would like to make a modest proposal. First, I point out the obvious flaws, whereby legislation was repeatedly brought forth to Congress over the past eight years, which would have reigned in the predatory lending practices of now mostly defunct institutions. These institutions regularly filled the coffers of both parties in return for voting down all of this legislation designed to protect the common citizen. This is an outrage, yet no one seems to know or care about it. 

Since Thomas Jefferson and Adam Smith passed, I would argue that there has been a dearth of worthy philosophers in this country, at least ones focused on improving government. Capitalism worked for two hundred years, but times change, and systems become corrupt. George Soros, a man of staggering wealth, has stated that he would like to be remembered as a philosopher. 

My suggestion is that this great man start and sponsor a forum for great minds to come together to create a new system of government that truly represents the common man’s interest, while at the same time creating rewards great enough to attract the best and brightest minds to serve in government roles without having to rely on corruption to further their interests or lifestyles. This forum could be similar to the one used to create the operating system, Linux, which competes with Microsoft’s near monopoly. I believe there is an answer, but for now the system is clearly broken.

Lastly, while I still have an audience, I would like to bring attention to an alternative food and energy source. You won’t see it included in BP’s, “Feel good. We are working on sustainable solutions,” television commercials, nor is it mentioned in ADM’s similar commercials. 

But hemp has been used for at least 5,000 years for cloth and food, as well as just about everything that is produced from petroleum products. Hemp is not marijuana and vice versa. Hemp is the male plant and it grows like a weed, hence the slang term. The original American flag was made of hemp fiber and our Constitution was printed on paper made of hemp. It was used as recently as World War II by the U.S. Government, and then promptly made illegal after the war was won. 

At a time when rhetoric is flying about becoming more self-sufficient in terms of energy, why is it illegal to grow this plant in this country? Ah, the female. The evil female plant – marijuana. It gets you high, it makes you laugh, it does not produce a hangover. Unlike alcohol, it does not result in bar fights or wife beating. So, why is this innocuous plant illegal? Is it a gateway drug? No, that would be alcohol, which is so heavily advertised in this country. 

My only conclusion as to why it is illegal, is that Corporate America, which owns Congress, would rather sell you Paxil, Zoloft, Xanax and other addictive drugs, than allow you to grow a plant in your home without some of the profits going into their coffers. 

This policy is ludicrous. It has surely contributed to our dependency on foreign energy sources. Our policies have other countries literally laughing at our stupidity, most notably Canada, as well as several European nations (both Eastern and Western). 

You would not know this by paying attention to U.S. media sources though, as they tend not to elaborate on who is laughing at the United States this week. Please people, let’s stop the rhetoric and start thinking about how we can truly become self-sufficient.

With that I say goodbye and good luck.

All the best,

Andrew Lahde

Friday, October 17, 2008

Make-Believe Maverick

A closer look at the life and career of John McCain reveals a disturbing record of recklessness and dishonesty

By Tim Dickinson
Rolling Stone
Oct 16, 2008

VIDEO: Five Myths About John McCain
The Double-Talk Express
Mad Dog Palin: The Full Story
Karl Rove's A-Team

At Fort McNair, an army base located along the Potomac River in the nation's capital, a chance reunion takes place one day between two former POWs. It's the spring of 1974, and Navy commander John Sidney McCain III has returned home from the experience in Hanoi that, according to legend, transformed him from a callow and reckless youth into a serious man of patriotism and purpose. Walking along the grounds at Fort McNair, McCain runs into John Dramesi, an Air Force lieutenant colonel who was also imprisoned and tortured in Vietnam.

McCain is studying at the National War College, a prestigious graduate program he had to pull strings with the Secretary of the Navy to get into. Dramesi is enrolled, on his own merit, at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in the building next door.

There's a distance between the two men that belies their shared experience in North Vietnam — call it an honor gap. Like many American POWs, McCain broke down under torture and offered a "confession" to his North Vietnamese captors. Dramesi, in contrast, attempted two daring escapes. For the second he was brutalized for a month with daily torture sessions that nearly killed him. His partner in the escape, Lt. Col. Ed Atterberry, didn't survive the mistreatment.

But Dramesi never said a disloyal word, and for his heroism was awarded two Air Force Crosses, one of the service's highest distinctions. McCain would later hail him as "one of the toughest guys I've ever met."

On the grounds between the two brick colleges, the chitchat between the scion of four-star admirals and the son of a prizefighter turns to their academic travels; both colleges sponsor a trip abroad for young officers to network with military and political leaders in a distant corner of the globe.

"I'm going to the Middle East," Dramesi says. "Turkey, Kuwait, Lebanon, Iran."

"Why are you going to the Middle East?" McCain asks, dismissively.

"It's a place we're probably going to have some problems," Dramesi says.

"Why? Where are you going to, John?"

"Oh, I'm going to Rio."

"What the hell are you going to Rio for?"

McCain, a married father of three, shrugs.

"I got a better chance of getting laid."

Dramesi, who went on to serve as chief war planner for U.S. Air Forces in Europe and commander of a wing of the Strategic Air Command, was not surprised. "McCain says his life changed while he was in Vietnam, and he is now a different man," Dramesi says today. "But he's still the undisciplined, spoiled brat that he was when he went in."


This is the story of the real John McCain, the one who has been hiding in plain sight. It is the story of a man who has consistently put his own advancement above all else, a man willing to say and do anything to achieve his ultimate ambition: to become commander in chief, ascending to the one position that would finally enable him to outrank his four-star father and grandfather.

In its broad strokes, McCain's life story is oddly similar to that of the current occupant of the White House. John Sidney McCain III and George Walker Bush both represent the third generation of American dynasties. Both were born into positions of privilege against which they rebelled into mediocrity. Both developed an uncanny social intelligence that allowed them to skate by with a minimum of mental exertion. Both struggled with booze and loutish behavior.

At each step, with the aid of their fathers' powerful friends, both failed upward. And both shed their skins as Episcopalian members of the Washington elite to build political careers as self-styled, ranch-inhabiting Westerners who pray to Jesus in their wives' evangelical churches.
In one vital respect, however, the comparison is deeply unfair to the current president: George W. Bush was a much better pilot.

This, of course, is not the story McCain tells about himself. Few politicians have so actively, or successfully, crafted their own myth of greatness. In McCain's version of his life, he is a prodigal son who, steeled by his brutal internment in Vietnam, learned to put "country first."

Remade by the Keating Five scandal that nearly wrecked his career, the story goes, McCain re-emerged as a "reformer" and a "maverick," righteously eschewing anything that "might even tangentially be construed as a less than proper use of my office."

It's a myth McCain has cultivated throughout his decades in Washington. But during the course of this year's campaign, the mask has slipped. "Let's face it," says Larry Wilkerson, a retired Army colonel who served as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. "John McCain made his reputation on the fact that he doesn't bend his principles for politics. That's just not true."

We have now watched McCain run twice for president. The first time he positioned himself as a principled centrist and decried the politics of Karl Rove and the influence of the religious right, imploring voters to judge candidates "by the example we set, by the way we conduct our campaigns, by the way we personally practice politics." After he lost in 2000, he jagged hard to the left — breaking with the president over taxes, drilling, judicial appointments, even flirting with joining the Democratic Party.

In his current campaign, however, McCain has become the kind of politician he ran against in 2000. He has embraced those he once denounced as "agents of intolerance," promised more drilling and deeper tax cuts, even compromised his vaunted opposition to torture. Intent on winning the presidency at all costs, he has reassembled the very team that so viciously smeared him and his family eight years ago, selecting as his running mate a born-again moose hunter whose only qualification for office is her ability to electrify Rove's base. And he has engaged in a "practice of politics" so deceptive that even Rove himself has denounced it, saying that the outright lies in McCain's campaign ads go "too far" and fail the "truth test."

The missing piece of this puzzle, says a former McCain confidant who has fallen out with the senator over his neoconservatism, is a third, never realized, campaign that McCain intended to run against Bush in 2004. "McCain wanted a rematch, based on ethics, campaign finance and Enron — the corrupt relationship between Bush's team and the corporate sector," says the former friend, a prominent conservative thinker with whom McCain shared his plans over the course of several dinners in 2001. "But when 9/11 happened, McCain saw his chance to challenge Bush again was robbed. He saw 9/11 gave Bush and his failed presidency a second life. He saw Bush and Cheney's ability to draw stark contrasts between black and white, villains and good guys. And that's why McCain changed." (The McCain campaign did not respond to numerous requests for comment from Rolling Stone.)

Indeed, many leading Republicans who once admired McCain see his recent contortions to appease the GOP base as the undoing of a maverick. "John McCain's ambition overrode his basic character," says Rita Hauser, who served on the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board from 2001 to 2004. But the truth of the matter is that ambition is John McCain's basic character. Seen in the sweep of his seven-decade personal history, his pandering to the right is consistent with the only constant in his life: doing what's best for himself. To put the matter squarely: John McCain is his own special interest.

"John has made a pact with the devil," says Lincoln Chafee, the former GOP senator, who has been appalled at his one-time colleague's readiness to sacrifice principle for power. Chafee and McCain were the only Republicans to vote against the Bush tax cuts. They locked arms in opposition to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And they worked together in the "Gang of 14," which blocked some of Bush's worst judges from the federal bench.

"On all three — sadly, sadly, sadly — McCain has flip-flopped," Chafee says. And forget all the "Country First" sloganeering, he adds. "McCain is putting himself first. He's putting himself first in blinking neon lights."


John Sidney McCain III has spent most of his life trying to escape the shadow of greater men. His grandfather Adm. John Sidney "Slew" McCain earned his four stars commanding a U.S. carrier force in World War II. His deeply ambitious father, Adm. "Junior" McCain, reached the same rank, commanding America's forces in the Pacific during Vietnam.

The youngest McCain was not cut from the same cloth. Even as a toddler, McCain recalls in Faith of My Fathers, his volcanic temper was on display. "At the smallest provocation," he would hold his breath until he passed out: "I would go off in a mad frenzy, and then, suddenly, crash to the floor unconscious." His parents cured him of this habit in a way only a CIA interrogator could appreciate: by dropping their blue-faced boy in a bathtub of ice-cold water.

Trailing his hard-charging, hard-drinking father from post to post, McCain didn't play well with others. Indeed, he concedes, his runty physique inspired a Napoleon complex: "My small stature motivated me to . . . fight the first kid who provoked me."

McCain spent his formative years among the Washington elite. His father — himself deep in the throes of a daddy complex — had secured a political post as the Navy's chief liaison to the Senate, a job his son would later hold, and the McCain home on Southeast 1st Street was a high-powered pit stop in the Washington cocktail circuit. Growing up, McCain attended Episcopal High School, an all-white, all-boys boarding school across the Potomac in Virginia, where tuition today tops $40,000 a year. There, McCain behaved with all the petulance his privilege allowed, earning the nicknames "Punk" and "McNasty." Even his friends seemed to dislike him, with one recalling him as "a mean little fucker."

McCain was not only a lousy student, he had his father's taste for drink and a darkly misogynistic streak. The summer after his sophomore year, cruising with a friend near Arlington, McCain tried to pick up a pair of young women. When they laughed at him, he cursed them so vilely that he was hauled into court on a profanity charge.

McCain's admittance to Annapolis was preordained by his bloodline. But martial discipline did not seem to have much of an impact on his character. By his own account, McCain was a lazy, incurious student; he squeaked by only by prevailing upon his buddies to help him cram for exams. He continued to get sauced and treat girls badly. Before meeting a girlfriend's parents for the first time, McCain got so shitfaced that he literally crashed through the screen door when he showed up in his white midshipman's uniform.

His grandfather's name and his father's forbearance brought McCain a charmed existence at Annapolis. On his first trip at sea — to Rio de Janeiro aboard the USS Hunt — the captain was a former student of his father. While McCain's classmates learned the ins and outs of the boiler room, McCain got to pilot the ship to South America and back. In Rio, he hobnobbed with admirals and the president of Brazil.

Back on campus, McCain's short fuse was legend. "We'd hear this thunderous screaming and yelling between him and his roommate — doors slamming — and one of them would go running down the hall," recalls Phil Butler, who lived across the hall from McCain at the academy. "It was a regular occurrence."

When McCain was not shown the pampering to which he was accustomed, he grew petulant — even abusive. He repeatedly blew up in the face of his commanding officer. It was the kind of insubordination that would have gotten any other midshipman kicked out of Annapolis. But his classmates soon realized that McCain was untouchable.

Midway though his final year, McCain faced expulsion, about to "bilge out" because of excessive demerits. After his mother intervened, however, the academy's commandant stepped in. Calling McCain "spoiled" to his face, he nonetheless issued a reprieve, scaling back the demerits. McCain dodged expulsion a second time by convincing another midshipman to take the fall after McCain was caught with contraband.

"He was a huge screw-off," recalls Butler. "He was always on probation. The only reason he graduated was because of his father and his grandfather — they couldn't exactly get rid of him."

McCain's self-described "four-year course of insubordination" ended with him graduating fifth from the bottom — 894th out of a class of 899. It was a record of mediocrity he would continue as a pilot.


In the cockpit, McCain was not a top gun, or even a middling gun. He took little interest in his flight manuals; he had other priorities.

"I enjoyed the off-duty life of a Navy flier more than I enjoyed the actual flying," McCain writes.

"I drove a Corvette, dated a lot, spent all my free hours at bars and beach parties." McCain chased a lot of tail. He hit the dog track. Developed a taste for poker and dice. He picked up models when he could, screwed a stripper when he couldn't.

In the air, the hard-partying McCain had a knack for stalling out his planes in midflight. He was still in training, in Texas, when he crashed his first plane into Corpus Christi Bay during a routine practice landing. The plane stalled, and McCain was knocked cold on impact. When he came to, the plane was underwater, and he had to swim to the surface to be rescued. Some might take such a near-death experience as a wake-up call: McCain took some painkillers and a nap, and then went out carousing that night.

Off duty on his Mediterranean tours, McCain frequented the casinos of Monte Carlo, cultivating his taste for what he calls the "addictive" game of craps. McCain's thrill-seeking carried over into his day job. Flying over the south of Spain one day, he decided to deviate from his flight plan.

Rocketing along mere feet above the ground, his plane sliced through a power line. His self-described "daredevil clowning" plunged much of the area into a blackout.

That should have been the end of McCain's flying career. "In the Navy, if you crashed one airplane, nine times out of 10 you would lose your wings," says Butler, who, like his former classmate, was shot down and taken prisoner in North Vietnam. Spark "a small international incident" like McCain had? Any other pilot would have "found themselves as the deck officer on a destroyer someplace in a hurry," says Butler.

"But, God, he had family pull. He was directly related to the CEO — you know?"

McCain was undeterred by the crashes. Nearly a decade out of the academy, his career adrift, he decided he wanted to fly combat in Vietnam. His motivation wasn't to contain communism or put his country first. It was the only way he could think of to earn the respect of the man he calls his "distant, inscrutable patriarch." He needed to secure a command post in the Navy — and to do that, his career needed the jump-start that only a creditable war record could provide.

As he would so many times in his career, McCain pulled strings to get ahead. After a game of tennis, McCain prevailed upon the undersecretary of the Navy that he was ready for Vietnam, despite his abysmal flight record. Sure enough, McCain was soon transferred to McCain Field — an air base in Meridian, Mississippi, named after his grandfather — to train for a post on the carrier USS Forrestal.

With a close friend at the base, an alcoholic Marine captain, McCain formed the "Key Fess Yacht Club," which quickly became infamous for hosting toga parties in the officers' quarters and bringing bands down from Memphis to attract loose women to the base. Showing his usual knack for promotion, McCain rose from "vice commodore" to "commodore" of the club.

In 1964, while still at the base, McCain began a serious romance with Carol Shepp, a vivacious former model who had just divorced one of his classmates from Annapolis. Commandeering a Navy plane, McCain spent most weekends flying from Meridian to Philadelphia for their dates.

They married the following summer.

That December, McCain crashed again. Flying back from Philadelphia, where he had joined in the reverie of the Army-Navy football game, McCain stalled while coming in for a refueling stop in Norfolk, Virginia. This time he managed to bail out at 1,000 feet. As his parachute deployed, his plane thundered into the trees below.

By now, however, McCain's flying privileges were virtually irrevocable — and he knew it. On one of his runs at McCain Field, when ground control put him in a holding pattern, the lieutenant commander once again pulled his family's rank. "Let me land," McCain demanded over his radio, "or I'll take my field and go home!"

Read the entire article here:

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

This is How Fascism Comes

Reflections on the Cost of Silence

October 11, 2008

For those who have seen the ugliness and heard the vitriol emanating from the mouths of persons attending McCain/Palin rallies this past week--what with their demands to kill Barack Obama, slurs that he is a terrorist and a traitor, and paranoid delusions about his crypto-Muslim designs on America--please know this: This is how fascism comes to an ostensible democracy.

If it comes--and if those whose poisonous, unhinged verbiage has been so ubiquitous this week have any say over it, it surely will--this is how it will happen: not with tanks and jackbooted storm troopers, but carried in the hearts of men and women dressed in comfortable shoes, with baseball caps, and What Would Jesus Do? wristbands. It will be heralded by up-dos, designer glasses, you-betcha folksiness and a disdain for big words or hard consonants.

If fascism comes, it will spring from the soil of middle America, from people known as values voters but whose values are toxic, from simple folk whose simplicity, far from being admirable, is better labeled ignorance, from "all-American" types whose patriotism is a dagger pointed at the very heart of the national interest, for it so forsakes all the best principles upon which the republic was founded, choosing instead to elevate and ratify the narrow-mindedness, the bigotry, and the intolerance that also marked our country's origins.

If fascism comes, it will be ushered in by tailgaters at the big football game, by Joe Six Pack, who, upon finishing his sixth beer and belching forth the stench of a mediocre life lived, will gladly announce its arrival, so long as it comes with a steady supply of Pabst Blue Ribbon and hot dogs on the grill, and giant foam hands with a "We're Number 1" finger, some Mardi Gras beads and a good titty bar.If fascism comes it will dress like a hockey mom, or a NASCAR dad. It will believe Toby Keith to be an artist, Larry the Cable Guy to be a comic, and that the world was made in six literal days less than 6000 years ago.

If fascism comes it will come from the small towns; the ones Sarah Palin, quoting a famous racist and Jew-hater, said "grow good people," and which occasionally do, but which, just as often grow provincial, isolated, fearful and superstitious ones.

If fascism comes it will come from faux populism, from anti-immigrant hysteria, from persons who have more guns in their homes than books, or whose books, when they have them, are principally volumes of the Left Behind series, several different copies of the Bible, and a plethora of romance novels.

If fascism comes it will be welcomed, lock stock and barrel by persons who pray at every meal to a God they visualize as white, whose son they also think was white, and who they believe is going to rapture them all into the sky upon the blowing of some heavenly trumpet, after which point all those who don't think as they think will be burned in an eternal lake of fire. Their vision and version of God is itself fascistic--to love a God who would do such a thing is to love an abusive, sadistic and evil deity after all--so it should come as little surprise that their conception of the state would be equally authoritarian or worse.

If fascism comes it will be at the behest of those who hold a contempt for what they call "book learnin," who prefer Presidents who mispronounce basic words because they make them feel smarter, and who are looking for nothing so much as a commander-in-chief with whom they would enjoy having a beer, or two, or twelve at some backyard barbecue.

If fascism comes it will be interviewed, lovingly, on talk radio, by hosts whose cerebral inadequacies are more than made up for by their bellicosity, their bombast, their willingness to shout down those with whom they cannot argue, for argument requires knowledge, and this is a commodity with which they have not even a passing familiarity.

If fascism comes it will come wrapped in red,white and blue, carrying a crucifix and a shotgun, projecting its own sexual confusion and insecurity onto others, substituting volume for veracity and rage for reason, and landing on the New York Times best-seller list as a result.

If fascism comes it will have a pajama party at Ann Coulter's house, pop pills with Rush Limbaugh, and go gay-bashing with Michael Savage, all in the same weekend. And it will refuse to learn another language or get a passport, because doing either of those would make one cosmopolitan--which is just another word for "faggot."

If fascism comes it will come because a lot of people who aren't like the folks I'm talking about here, won't stand up to the ones who are. Because we're too busy, don't want to make waves, don't want to lose friends, or alienate family. It will come, in other words, because those who know better are cowards, more concerned with getting along, making nice, and being liked than with telling the truth, calling out evil and saving their country.

If fascism comes it will come because of the silence, and thus, collaboration of those who think themselves good, and certainly superior to the knuckle-draggers they can see on YouTube at the McCain rallies, but who in the end are no better and in some ways worse than they: after all, at least fascists stand up for what they believe in. They are telling us, in no uncertain terms what kind of United States they want and are willing to fight for, and maybe even to kill for. But many "progressives," many liberals, many of the so-called enlightened are doing nothing at all.

If fascism comes it will come because those liberals thought voting for Barack Obama was all they needed to do; it will come because they allowed themselves to believe that politics is what a person does every four years, but not at work, and not in the neighborhood, and not at the dinner table. Meanwhile, know-nothings filled with hate, nurtured on racial and religious bigotry and who have overdosed on the kind of hypernationalism that has always proved fatal to those places foolish or craven enough to allow it a foothold, talk of their visions for America at every opportunity. They raise their kids on that sickness, they build churches whose very foundation is rooted in that cancerous rot, and they will think nothing of steamrolling those who get in their way.

So when, exactly, do we fight back?

When do we say enough?

When do we stand up to our relative or friend who sends us the e-mail about Obama being a Manchurian Candidate or al-Qaeda sympathizer, or the one about the decency of Midwestern flood victims as opposed to those stranded after Katrina, or about how God was punishing New Orleans because of its tolerance of homosexuality, and tell them what we think: namely, that they are a bunch of racist, heterosexist loons, whose friendship or familial connection we neither want nor intend to pursue unless they get help. When do we decide that we love our country and humanity too much to allow these people one more day of decent sleep, one more day of self-assured confidence in their craziness and the willingness of the rest of us to just take it? When do we decide that every irrational, Jeezoid, racist thing that comes from their mouths will be attacked, will be rebutted, until they can no longer take for granted the ability to say any of it in mixed company without being called out?

Why, in the face of the fascism they would surely introduce if given the chance, are we intent on being so nice?

Why are we not more offended?

Offended not merely at what such persons say about others--like Obama, or Latino immigrants, or whatever--but even about we who look like them? After all, their open exhortations of racism presuppose that they are speaking for us, and that this kind of brain-dead ventilation is something to which all white folks should aspire as though it were virtually the essence of enlightenment.

If fascism comes it will come because we did not see in their actions a sufficient threat, or because we allowed ourselves to believe that it couldn't come, that our institutions were too strong, our people too good, for that to happen. If it comes it will come because we allowed ourselves to believe the rosy and optimistic version of America spun by Obama, without tempering that optimism with a clear-headed appraisal of the way that (sadly) a still huge number of Americans actually think: because we allowed the vehicle of our hopes to outrun the headlights of truth; because we convinced ourselves that we actually lived in the country of our aspirations, rather than the nation we have at present.

And if fascism doesn't come--if, rather, democracy does--it will come because good people said no. It will come because we saw in this moment the opportunity to demand the full measure of our humanity and to pour it forth upon the national soil. It will be because we understood that democracy isn't what you have, it's what you do. But if we are to issue that demand, if we are to stand straight and fulfill the potential we possess to do justice, we had best exercise the option quickly, for the opponents of justice are on the move. They are preparing to enter on the winds of our silence and indifference, and complacency. Let them find no quarter here.


Saturday, October 11, 2008

Smiles Up Front! The Bird Down Below.One picture captures the Hockey Mom's worldview. Perfectly.


The Randi Rhodes Show
Oct. 6, 2008

It had to come, and it had to come from Sarah Palin. The McCain Campaign is starting its final desperate offensive. Its own Battle of the Bulge. General Palin is the last Good German.

In December 1944, Hitler ordered one last gasp strike at the overwhelming Allies in the Ardennes forest. The comparison is noteworthy, because at the time, anyone in Germany with an ability to reason knew the war was lost, knew their cause was bankrupt, knew the end was near. Indeed, by that time in the war, most of the 'thinking' military commanders had been fired or killed off by Der Fuehrer. In his last desparate gamble, he had to call on his most fanatical believers.....those who refused to acknowledge the futility of their effort, but still could be counted on for making the pointless excursion as violent and savage as possible.

The Hockey Mom sits atop her own panzer now, launching a desperate propaganda effort against Barack Obama.

Over the weekend she fired a few rounds in the widely discredited and tired linking of Obama and 60s radical activist William Ayers. Obama was 8 years old when Ayers was active in The Weather Underground and they barely know each other according to ALL legitimate news sources.

This line of attack was the work of ONE sick Right Wing Talk Show Host, Sean Sanity who pelts these ridiculous charges at Obama’s head daily.
No one took it seriously because Ayers is a respected University Professor now, and of course it would force Obama to recall McCain’s associations. McCain has been in bed with Right Wing radical think tanks like The US Council for World Freedom a gathering place for anti Semites, extremists and radicals, PNAC who planned the Iraq war in 1998, Iran Contra figures like Oliver North and convicted felon G. Gordon LIddy who plotted to kill a journalist, broke into the Democratic National Committee Headquarter and told people on his radio show to shoot ATF agents, by “aiming at the head” and of course, there’s the Keating Five Scandal which has been left alone until now.

But now McCain is completely desperate and turning to Palin for campaign advice. Palin and Hannity have bonded over their mindless hatred of Obama and their obsession with winning an election that IS LOST.
America is hurting and McCain couldn’t care less.

For 9 straight months this country has hemorrhaged jobs, banks failed, Insurance companies failed, prices are soaring, wages are way down, we are watching a severe foreclosure crisis 10,000 people a week are losing their homes and there are 2 wars raging. John McCain and Middle Class Palin want to talk about the 60s?

Palin will lead the right wing into this new incursion and there will be an Obama Offensive that exposes her war of choice as the stupidest last gasp battle since The Battle of the Bulge”
Smiles Up Front! The Bird Down Below.One picture captures the Hockey Mom's worldview. Perfectly.

Obama has had it. They put this website up today.


McCain – One of The Keating Five

The mainstream media has given you an all but free pass on your Keating Five disgrace, Gramps.

We won't.



LiddyMcCain and G Gordon Liddy (plotted to kill a journalist, proposed shooting ATF agents in the HEAD. Went to Federal Prison for 4 years)


McCain sealed his POW records and backstabbed POW families

The McCain Closet
More skeletons in their than your local Halloween costume store.


McCain's only friend in this campaign is outright fraud. Equip yourself.


Cornered and Snarling
The campaign was dead on arrival with new ideas. It was dead on "re-arrival" after the silly 'suspension'. Now begins the scorch and burn nuclear option....going fiercely negative.


McCain's "Dangerous" Calls Obama 'dishonorable'....but ad uses the most dishonorable, klutzy sound byte hack....ever?


McCain "Sooner or later people are going to figure out...."
Palin pushed for vote to help Alaska secede

TROOPER GATE can go forward.


Dow falls below 10,000 for the first time in 4 years Russia and Brazil stopped trading

Huge Job Losses In September 159,000 new unemployed...the most in 5 years

The Bailout Was A Fraud

Paul Craig Roberts, a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal

Parents unable to support their children are dropping them off at police stations and hospitals



How We Win

Go ahead. Try to convince an economically wrecked America that William friggin Ayers is their biggest concern. Knock yourself out

159,000 New Unemployed

But hey folks, you're losing sleep tonight because of Bill Ayers, right? Has nothing to do with how you're feeding your family in two weeks.
While Dittoheads 'rush' to Google 'Obama/Ayers'....
We googled “Store Closings” Witness the sad reality of business withering.

Palin Calls Obama A Terrorist Lover: "Pals"
The robotic pit bull takes her cues and tries to reignite the William Ayers link. Behold the sound of desperation.


Sure, the pit bull will fire up a nutty slice of the racist base. But crucial swing voters will roll their eyes.

Here's the Times article she's referring to.


Obama Response "Turn The Page" calls out McCain for desperation.
No Big Whoop

The Ayers/Obama angle was hyped...and it failed...on a local level in Illinois

The Horribly Tired 60's Culture War.


The Ayers connection is another ponderous attempt to reignite anti-"60s liberal" tension one more time for a nostalgic baby boom.
Get a clue....Barack Obama was eight years old.
Michigan Move

"A Complete Crock Of Crap"
And that's a Republican talking; says McCain's very public 'withdrawal' from Michigan is "a stunt"

Obama "One State From Clinching"
As polls get stronger and stronger, the Dem is just one "solid" state from the 270 Electoral Votes he needs

Katie "Annoyed Me"

Her handlers hand picked the questioner, controlled the setting, made it woman to woman...and Palin still is peeved at Couric. For what? Not talking moose recipes?

Troopergate's Next Act

The furious Alaskan GOP hustle to bury the investigation fails.
Subpoenas are next.

Witnesses Now Will Testify
State employees will honor subpoenas, testify about firings


Nice story compliation charts the controversy

Alaska Politics:

Palin Could Be Impeached

She'd definitely need a new job out of state.


The Good Guys in Afghanistan?
Add another sad connection to the long legacy of George W. Bush's policy of 'Who Me? I didnt see Nothin!'


Monday, October 06, 2008

The German Question

By George Friedman
Oct. 6, 2008

German Chancellor Angela Merkel went to St. Petersburg last week for meetings with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. The central question on the table was Germany's position on NATO expansion, particularly with regard to Ukraine and Georgia. Merkel made it clear at a joint press conference that Germany would oppose NATO membership for both of these countries, and that it would even oppose placing the countries on the path to membership. Since NATO operates on the basis of consensus, any member nation can effectively block any candidate from NATO membership.

The fact that Merkel and Germany have chosen this path is of great significance. Merkel acted in full knowledge of the U.S. view on the matter and is prepared to resist any American pressure that might follow. It should be remembered that Merkel might be the most pro-American politician in Germany, and perhaps its most pro-American chancellor in years. Moreover, as an East German, she has a deep unease about the Russians. Reality, however, overrode her personal inclinations. More than other countries, Germany does not want to alienate the United States. But it is in a position to face American pressure should any come.

Energy Dependence and Defense Spending

In one sense, Merkel's reasons for her stance are simple. Germany is heavily dependent on Russian natural gas. If the supply were cut off, Germany's situation would be desperate -- or at least close enough that the distinction would be academic. Russia might decide it could not afford to cut off natural gas exports, but Merkel is dealing with a fundamental German interest, and risking that for Ukrainian or Georgian membership in NATO is not something she is prepared to do.

She can't bank on Russian caution in a matter such as this, particularly when the Russians seem to be in an incautious mood. Germany is, of course, looking to alternative sources of energy for the future, and in five years its dependence on Russia might not be nearly as significant. But five years is a long time to hold your breath, and Germany can't do it.

The German move is not just about natural gas, however. Germany views the U.S. obsession with NATO expansion as simply not in Germany's interests.

First, expanding NATO guarantees to Ukraine and Georgia is meaningless. NATO and the United States don't have the military means to protect Ukraine or Georgia, and incorporating them into the alliance would not increase European security. From a military standpoint, NATO membership for the two former Soviet republics is an empty gesture, while from a political standpoint, Berlin sees it as designed to irritate the Russians for no clear purpose.

Next, were NATO prepared to protect Ukraine and Georgia, all NATO countries including Germany would be forced to increase defense expenditures substantially. This is not something that Germany and the rest of NATO want to do.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Germany spent 1945-1992 being the potential prime battleground of the Cold War. It spent 1992-2008 not being the potential prime battleground.

Germany prefers the latter, and it does not intend to be drawn into a new Cold War under any circumstances. This has profound implications for the future of both NATO and U.S.-German relations.

Germany is thus in the midst of a strategic crisis in which it must make some fundamental decisions. To understand the decisions Germany has to make, we need to understand the country's geopolitical problem and the decisions it has made in the past.

The German Geopolitical Problem

Until 1871, Germany was fragmented into dozens of small states -- kingdoms, duchies, principalities, etc. -- comprising the remnants of the Holy Roman Empire. The German-speaking world was torn apart by internal tensions and the constant manipulation of foreign powers.

The southeastern part of the German-speaking world, Austria, was the center of the multinational Hapsburg Empire. It was Roman Catholic and was continually intruding into the predominantly Catholic regions of the rest of Germany, particularly Bavaria. The French were constantly poaching in the Rhineland and manipulating the balance of power among the German states. Russia was always looming to the east, where it bordered the major Protestant German power, Prussia. (Poland at the time was divided among Prussia, Russia and Austria-Hungary.)

Germany was perpetually the victim of great powers, a condition which Prussia spent the roughly half-century between Waterloo and German unification trying to correct.

To unify Germany, Prussia had to do more than dominate the Germans. It had to fight two wars.

The first was in 1866 with the Hapsburg Empire, which Prussia defeated in seven weeks, ending Hapsburg influence in Germany and ultimately reducing Austria-Hungary to Germany's junior partner. The second war was in 1870-1871, when Prussia led a German coalition that defeated France. That defeat ended French influence in the Rhineland and gave Prussia the space in which to create a modern, unified Germany. Russia, which was pleased to see both Austria-Hungary and France defeated and viewed a united Germany as a buffer against another French invasion, did not try to block unification.

German unification changed the dynamic of Europe. First, it created a large nation in the heart of Europe between France and Russia. United, Germany was economically dynamic, and its growth outstripped that of France and the United Kingdom. Moreover, it became a naval power, developing a substantial force that at some point could challenge British naval hegemony. It became a major exporting power, taking markets from Britain and France. And in looking around for room to maneuver, Germany began looking east toward Russia. In short, Germany was more than a nation -- it was a geopolitical problem.

Germany's strategic problem was that if the French and Russians attacked Germany simultaneously, with Britain blockading its ports, Germany would lose and revert to its pre-1871 chaos. Given French, Russian and British interest in shattering Germany, Germany had to assume that such an attack would come. Therefore, since the Germans could not fight on two fronts simultaneously, they needed to fight a war pre-emptively, attacking France or Russia first, defeating it and then turning their full strength on the other -- all before Britain's naval blockade could begin to hurt. Germany's only defense was a two-stage offense that was as complex as a ballet, and would be catastrophic if it failed.

In World War I, executing the Schlieffen Plan, the Germans attacked France first while trying to simply block the Russians. The plan was to first occupy the channel coast and Paris before the United Kingdom could get into the game and before Russia could fully mobilize, and then to knock out Russia. The plan failed in 1914 at the First Battle of the Marnes, and rather than lightning victory, Germany got bogged down in a multifront war costing millions of lives and lasting years. Even so, Germany almost won the war of attrition, causing the United States to intervene and deprive Berlin of victory.

In World War II, the Germans had learned their lesson, so instead of trying to pin down Russia, they entered into a treaty with the Soviets. This secured Germany's rear by dividing Poland with the Soviet Union. The Soviets agreed to the treaty, expecting Adolf Hitler's forces to attack France and bog down as Germany had in World War I. The Soviets would then roll West after the bloodletting had drained the rest of Europe. The Germans stunned the Russians by defeating France in six weeks and then turning on the Russians. The Russian front turned into an endless bloodletting, and once again the Americans helped deliver the final blow.

The consequence of the war was the division of Germany into three parts -- an independent Austria, a Western-occupied West Germany and a Soviet-occupied East Germany. West Germany again faced the Russian problem. Its eastern part was occupied, and West Germany could not possibly defend itself on its own. It found itself integrated into an American-dominated alliance system, NATO, which was designed to block the Soviets. West and East Germany would serve as the primary battleground of any Soviet attack, with Soviet armor facing U.S. armor, airpower and tactical nuclear weapons. For the Germans, the Cold War was probably more dangerous than either of the previous wars. Whatever the war's outcome, Germany stood a pretty good chance of being annihilated if it took place.

On the upside, the Cold War did settle Franco-German tensions, which were half of Germany's strategic problem. Indeed, one of the by-products of the Cold War was the emergence of the European Community, which ultimately became the European Union. This saw German economic union and integration with France, which along with NATO's military integration guaranteed economic growth and the end of any military threat to Germany from the west. For the first time in centuries, the Rhine was not at risk. Germany's south was secure, and once the Soviet Union collapsed, there was no threat from the east, either.

United and Secure at Last?

For the first time in centuries, Germany was both united and militarily secure. But underneath it all, the Germans retained their primordial fear of being caught between France and Russia. Berlin understood that this was far from a mature reality; it was no more than a theoretical problem at the moment. But the Germans also understand how quickly things can change. On one level, the problem was nothing more than the economic emphasis of the European Union compared to the geopolitical focus of Russia. But on a deeper level, Germany was, as always, caught between the potentially competing demands of Russia and the West. Even if the problem were small now, there were no guarantees that it wouldn't grow.

This was the context in which Germany viewed the Russo-Georgian war in August. Berlin saw not only the United States moving toward a hostile relationship with Russia, but also the United Kingdom and France going down the same path.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who happened to hold the rotating EU presidency at the time, went to Moscow to negotiate a cease-fire on behalf of the European Union. When the Russians seemed unwilling to comply with the terms negotiated, France became highly critical of Russia and inclined to back some sort of sanctions at the EU summit on Georgia. With the United Kingdom being even more adamant, Germany saw a worst-case scenario looming on the distant horizon: It understood that the pleasant security of the post-Cold War world was at an end, and that it had to craft a new national strategy.

From Germany's point of view, the re-emergence of Russian influence in the former Soviet Union might be something that could have been blocked in the 1990s, but by 2008, it had become inevitable. The Germans saw that economic relations in the former Soviet Union -- and not only energy issues -- created a complementary relationship between Russia and its former empire. Between natural affinities and Russian power, a Russian sphere of influence, if not a formal structure, was inevitable. It was an emerging reality that could not be reversed.

France has Poland and Germany between itself and Russia. Britain has that plus the English Channel, and the United States has all that plus the Atlantic Ocean. The farther away from Russia one is, the more comfortable one can be challenging Moscow. But Germany has only Poland as a buffer. For any nation serious about resisting Russian power, the first question is how to assure the security of the Baltic countries, a long-vulnerable salient running north from Poland. The answer would be to station NATO forces in the Baltics and in Poland, and Berlin understood that Germany would be both the logistical base for these forces as well as the likely source of troops. But Germany's appetite for sending troops to Poland and the Baltics has been satiated. This was not a course Germany wanted to take.

Pondering German History

We suspect that Merkel knew something else; namely, that all the comfortable assumptions about what was possible and impossible -- that the Russians wouldn't dare attack the Baltics -- are dubious in the extreme. Nothing in German history would convince any reasonable German that military action to achieve national ends is unthinkable. Nor are the Germans prepared to dismiss the re-emergence of Russian military power. The Germans had been economically and militarily shattered in 1932. By 1938, they were the major power in Europe. As long as their officer corps and technological knowledge base were intact, regeneration could move swiftly.

The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and its military power crumbled. But as was the case in Weimar Germany, the Russian officer corps remained relatively intact and the KGB, the heart of the Soviet state, remained intact if renamed. So did the technological base that made the Soviets a global power. As with Germany after both world wars, Russia was in chaos, but its fragments remained, awaiting reconstruction. The Germans were not about to dismiss Russia's ability to regenerate -- they know their own history too well to do that.

If Germany were to join those who call for NATO expansion, the first step toward a confrontation with Russia would have been taken. The second step would be guaranteeing the security of the Baltics and Poland. America would make the speeches, and Germans would man the line. After spending most of the last century fighting or preparing to fight the Russians, the Germans looked around at the condition of their allies and opted out.

The Germans see their economic commitment as being to the European Union. That binds them to the French, and this is not a bond they can or want to break. But the European Union carries no political or military force in relation to the Russians. Beyond economics, it is a debating society. NATO, as an institution built to resist the Russians, is in an advanced state of decay. To resurrect it, the Germans would have to pay a steep economic price. And if they paid that price, they would be carrying much of the strategic risk.

So while Germany remains committed to its economic relationship with the West, it does not intend to enter into a military commitment against the Russians at this time. If the Americans want to send troops to protect the Baltics and Poland, they are welcome to do so. Germany has no objection -- nor do they object to a French or British presence there. Indeed, once such forces were committed, Germany might reconsider its position. But since military deployments in significant numbers are unlikely anytime soon, the Germans view grand U.S. statements about expanded NATO membership as mere bravado by a Washington that is prepared to risk little.

NATO After the German Shift

Therefore, Merkel went to St. Petersburg and told the Russians that Germany does not favor NATO expansion. More than that, the Germans at least implicitly told the Russians that they have a free hand in the former Soviet Union as far as Germany is concerned -- an assertion that cost Berlin nothing, since the Russians do enjoy a free hand there. But even more critically, Merkel signaled to the Russians and the West that Germany does not intend to be trapped between Western ambitions and Russian power this time. It does not want to recreate the situation of the two world wars or the Cold War, so Berlin will stay close to France economically and also will accommodate the Russians.

The Germans will thus block NATO's ambitions, something that represents a dramatic shift in the Western alliance. This shift in fact has been unfolding for quite a while, but it took the Russo-Georgian war to reveal the change.

NATO has no real military power to project to the east, and none can be created without a major German effort, which is not forthcoming. The German shift leaves the Baltic countries exposed and extremely worried, as they should be. It also leaves the Poles in their traditional position of counting on countries far away to guarantee their national security. In 1939, Warsaw counted on the British and French; today, Warsaw depends on the United States. As in 1939, these guarantees are tenuous, but they are all the Poles have.

The United States has the option of placing a nuclear umbrella over the Baltics and Eastern Europe, which would guarantee a nuclear strike on Russia in the event of an attack in either place. While this was the guarantee made to Western Europe in the Cold War, it is unlikely that the United States is prepared for global thermonuclear war over Estonia's fate. Such a U.S. guarantee to the Baltics and Eastern Europe simply would not represent a credible threat.

The other U.S. option is a major insertion of American forces either by sea through Danish waters or via French and German ports and railways, assuming France or Germany would permit their facilities to be used for such a deployment. But this option is academic at the moment. The United States could not deploy more than symbolic forces even if it wanted to. For the moment, NATO is therefore an entity that issues proclamations, not a functioning military alliance, in spite of (or perhaps because of) deployments in Afghanistan.

Everything in German history has led to this moment. The country is united and wants to be secure. It will not play the role it was forced into during the Cold War, nor will it play geopolitical poker as it did in the first and second world wars. And that means NATO is permanently and profoundly broken. The German question now turns into the Russian question: If Germany is out of the game, what is to be done about Russia?

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Copyright 2008 Stratfor.