Archive for September, 2008

Dear Messrs. Paulson and Bernanke,

First of all, please allow me to express my admiration for the skillful way in which you have kept your hand(s) on the financial tiller, so to speak, of our U.S. Ship of State as we negotiate these treacherous waters and rapids of economic uncertainty. I would like to thank you for investing, on my behalf, in the firms of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and now, most recently, AIG.  Frankly, I would not have chosen these particular companies myself; perhaps because I am more of a neophyte in these things and therefore, sadly, a bit more cautious than you.  At any rate, with complete confidence in your sound investment decisions I am now proud to be a stockholder in these pillars of our financial system, based upon my status as a certified U.S. taxpayer.

I do have a couple of questions about my purchase, however, and I wonder if you might take a moment out of your busy schedules to provide me with, at least, the briefest of answers.  First, I was wondering: how have you determined my percentage ownership in these companies? Is it based upon the total amount of taxes I have paid since I was born, or is it only based upon my last year’s tax payment? I suppose you could also have decided to just divide up the shares equally among all U.S. taxpayers too.  I’m just not sure how you did it.  Could you let me know at your convenience? Also, I was wondering if I should expect my stock certificates to arrive via U.S. mail, or are you just going to credit my 401K account?  So far I haven’t noticed any new additions to this account (which, by the way seems to be getting smaller by the day).

Meanwhile, I have been giving some thought to what I might do with the shares I now own in these stalwarts of our economy.  Frankly, if you don’t mind, I think I would like to sell them.  Would that be OK with you? Here’s what I am thinking: I would like to take all my shares in these companies and combine them into a single monetary instrument and then use this new certificate to make a highly leveraged purchase of the Republic of Zimbabwe’s newly issued credit default swap derivatives that are firmly based upon the value of Zimbabwe’s currency futures.  Do you think I would be taking too much risk in making this investment? How do you think it would compare with my just holding on to these shares in F,F, & A that you have kindly purchased on my behalf? As always, I look forward to your expert opinion, knowing that you have my best interest (no pun intended) at heart.

Sincerely, etc. etc.

P.S.  I am a bit embarassed to say this but, to be perfectly honest, my 401K hasn’t been doing too well at all lately.  No doubt this is due solely to my utter mismanagement, with me being pretty much a lamb among the wolves when it comes to the stock market, so to speak. Well, I was wondering, since you have – and rightly so – shown such compassion and understanding for the failures in the investment judgments of F,F, & A and how you have bailed them out in their moment of need; I was wondering if you might consider a bailout of my 401K too.  I assure you it wouldn’t cost nearly as much as the bailout of F, F, & A and, while I do appreciate the opportunity to now be a shareholder in these institutions, a direct bailout of my 401K would be ever so much more helpful, in my case at the least.  Here’s what I’m thinking: if you could simply, in the spirit of the F,F, & A bailouts,  restore my 401K balance to somewhere near where is was about two years ago, I would be most appreciative, and I might even consider casting my vote for the Republican Party candidates this year (in case that carries any weight with you).  Thanking you in advance…I remain your humble servant.

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24 hours ago, John McCain said the fundamentals of our economy are sound. Today he said our economy is in a crisis. Whew! I guess a lot happened in 24 hours!  Johnny now says he wants to set up a commission when he gets to be President, sort of like the 9/11 commission, to try to figure out why the wheels flew off our economy.  I wonder what Sarah would do if she were President? Would she invoke the Bush Doctrine and save us all? The question I have is this: what happened to their answer of just a couple of weeks ago?  Remember their battle cry of DRILL BABY DRILL? How come we don’t hear it anymore? And they were so sure too!  Am I to now assume that “DRILL NOW” isn’t the solution to Wall Street’s catastrophic meltdown after all? I’m truly shattered, Johnny and Sarah.  I…I…I don’t know what to say. I’m so disillusioned!!!

I guess we won’t be hearing any answers from Johnny and Sarah for a while, at least not until they are inaugurated in January; so I thought, meanwhile, I would take a stab at solving the world’s or at least the U.S.’s economic problems while we are waiting for enlightenment from above (meaning Johnny and Sarah, of course).  With apologies to Alan Greenspan and all the other economic professionals who no doubt know tons more than I do about economics and who surely know the answer to our problem but are, for some reason, keeping quiet about it, here goes:

There are two basic types of economies, those that are stable (we’ll call those type 1) and those that are not (we’ll call those type 2).  Guess which type we have? Right. Type 2. By the way type 2 economies are not good because they don’t last and they always end in disaster. Type 1 economies are good because everybody benefits and they just go on and on. That’s the type we should be aiming for. Here’s a real simple example of a type 1 economy: Let’s assume that I have a small farm where I grow peas and you live across the street and you also have a small farm, but you grow corn. I get tired of eating only peas and you get tired of eating only corn, so we agree to trade with each other and before you know it, we’re both eating peas and corn. We could do this for a long time, until, I guess we get tired of just eating peas and corn and we turn to Fred who is a fisherman. You and I both like fish and we decide to trade with Fred for his fish, but Fred only likes spinach. However, he knows this guy who grows spinach who would like to get some peas and corn. Suddenly this starts to get complicated so we invent money. One buck is equal to a bucket of peas, a bucket of corn, or a bucket of fish. (That’s why it’s called a “buck”). Pretty soon we’re all eating whatever we like and money flows around and everybody is happy. We can do this forever. This is a stable type 1 economy and it works because it relies on fair value for goods and people all producing something that the others want and the things they produce are renewable for the foreseeable future. The essence of a type 1 economy is that it is circular and closed. The money and goods all circulate throughout the economy.

Type 2 economies are different. These are non-circular, open loop systems that succeed for short periods of time because they exploit one of the parties in the system. Type 2 systems fail when, for one reason or another, the exploitation cannot be continued or one party winds up with all the resources and doesn’t need the others. For example: take the U.S. economy in the 18th Century. This was fundamentally an economy based upon agriculture. Vast amounts of land were available for farming, but machines, like tractors, hadn’t been invented so a single farmer couldn’t really farm all the land he owned. So, the farmers went out and got slaves from Africa to farm the land. By exploiting the slaves the farmers made lots of money.

Then the industrial revolution came along with all its machines and everyone suddenly realized that slavery was evil and they fought the Civil War to end that injustice. Then the rich people built mills to make textiles and shoes and steel and all sorts of stuff. They hired cheap labor, children, women, anyone who would work for next to nothing to work twelve hours a day in the mills, and the mills turned out tons of stuff that the owners sold to everybody and they got really, really rich.

But those uppity people in the north started wanting to get paid more money for working in the mills so the owners moved the mills to the south where people, especially the children of the former slaves, would work really cheap. And the rich mill owners made lots and lots of money. The people up north had to figure out other ways to make money and began making things that the rich people wanted like cars and televisions. Eventually the people down south wanted more money for working in the mills so the owners shut them down and moved them to Mexico and China and India where they could exploit the cheap labor market and continue making fortunes.

This is sort of where the wheels really started to wobble. That’s because the Americans, who were making money in the industries that still remained here, began buying the stuff they needed from stores like Wal-Mart who sold stuff that was made in China. So, U.S. money flowed to China and shirts and jeans came into the U.S. Next thing you know the same thing was happening with televisions and cars. Pretty soon a trend developed – money left the U.S. and stuff we bought came into the U.S. (Notice how unbalanced the economy had become. In a type 1 economy money and goods flow both ways, but in a type 2 economy it is not a circle and eventually it gets really unbalanced).

Fortunately, someone came up with the great idea of creating a housing pyramid scheme in the U.S.  In this plan you could borrow money to fix up, or even buy, a  house and then flip it. Soon everyone was making money hand over fist buying and selling houses to each other that they didn’t need and the U.S. economy took off in hyperdrive. Until finally it turned out that the banks actually expected to get paid for their toxic mortgages. That’s when the wheels came off, Johnny.  Because nobody could actually pay those obscene interest rates and people didn’t really have real jobs anyway (because all the real jobs had been outsourced to India and China and Costa Rica and Timbuktu). So the banks began imploding, and they turned to the government and cried a lot about it and asked why can’t the U.S. taxpayers pay for their losses?

Well, it’s safe to say it’s a real mess now. Money goes out of the U.S. and manufactured goods come in. Money flows out and stuff flows in. It had to end some time; the housing pyramid scheme just forestalled the inevitable crunching sound on Wall Street by about ten years.

The solution for our broken economy is to create a circular, type 1 economy. If we want to include the rest of the world and make it a global economy, fine, it just has to be a fair system where money and stuff flows both ways, pretty much equally. The thing is this: we can’t go back to our 18th Century agriculture based economy, and we can’t go back to our 19th/20th Century manufacturing economy. We need to create a new foundation for a type 1 American economy that can participate in a global economy without relying on exploitation.

As I see it, our best choice is to create a technological economy. This economy would be based upon the transformation of the U.S., and eventually the world economies, into systems that rely on technology, not machines, to do work. Electricity, probably made from nuclear power and maybe solar or wind too, but not fossil fuels would provide the power to do work.  We need to create a nationwide transportation system, including high speed railways, advanced automobiles, and maybe even aircraft, that are all electrically powered. The development of this electrically powered economy would create millions of high paying jobs, but the good thing is that the people who are creating this capability are also the consumers of the capability, i.e. we will have created a stable, circular, type 1 economy.

In order to take this step we need people of vision to lead the way and we need lots of money to invest in this transformation. The money part has to initially come from the government because businesses are too conservative to take a chance and invest the amount of money needed to get this going. It’s sort of like how the government invested all that money in NASA to go to the moon and in the process created thousands of new products and businesses.  Once the government has primed the pump, so to speak, business could take over, to a large extent, the task of building this new economy.

So, that’s how I see it.  We need to continue our long progression from the old agricultural economy and the old manufacturing economy to a new technological economy. There’s just one little detail I left out. In order to make this technological great leap forward we need really first class public schools. We need the best schools in the world and the smartest students in the world, because technology requires lots of brain power and we can’t begin to go there when our students rank about 20th or 30th in the world in test scores.

We also need to get past the short-sighted,  misguided efforts of Congress to drill our way out of this crisis. That is not the solution. Even John McCain isn’t talking about that anymore.  We need really smart people with vision in our government.  Otherwise, all we’ll be left with is trying to flip our houses to the Chinese.

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Dear Barack,

I’ve noticed that you are now just about neck and neck with John McCain and I imagine that is sort of a scary thing for you. It is for me too. So, I thought I might share a couple of ideas with you on how you (we) can counter the Palin bump. That’s what it is you know – a bump. Ever since Sarah joined the ticket everybody is coming out to see Johnny; before that he was lucky to get three guys and a mule to attend one of his boring Town Hall meetings. But wait, Barack, there’s the clue!  See where I’m going yet?

OK.  You know how the other day your Vice Presidential candidate – what was his name again? Oh, yes.  Senator Biden, right. Well, Senator Biden was talking to a group of people and he made the (to me anyway) very intriguing comment that Hillary Clinton was not only qualified to be president or vice-president, but she was probably even MORE qualified that he was! Did you hear that? Yeah, it was on TV and everything. Well, I got to thinking about that and, you know, that may not be a bad idea.  Here’s what I would do: somewhere along the line, but not too far down the line, you have Senator Biden announce that he just can’t go on with this charade any more because he knows in his heart that he is not the right person to be VP. Then he says he is dropping out and says he hopes you will find someone better qualified than him. Follow me so far? OK.

Then you say a lot of nice things about ol’ Joe and then you make the surprise announcement that Hillary is now your vice presidential nominee! Great idea, huh? In fact, just to have maximum effect, you could announce this whole thing that day before the vice presidential candidates debate! Boy, I’ll bet that would make Sarah drop her AK47. Think of it. Then it would be Hillary against Sarah and you against Johnny. It’s a sure win and by doing this just before the debate it will be too late for Johnny to try to copy you and dump Sarah! You’ll be almost guaranteed to win!

But wait. I have another idea.  Look, first of all, you have to stop beginning all your sentences with “Look”. See, it sort of implies that I’m not paying attention to you – but I am! Or, maybe it sort of implies that you are superior to me or something and you’re sort of ordering me around saying “Look!” Look at what? See what I mean? Just start your sentences in a regular sort of way without always saying, “Look”.  OK? Good. Now hold on. That’s not my idea. I just wanted to squeeze in a little speaking advice for you. Here’s idea number two:

Look, taxes are a big issue and you’re just not cashing in on the subject (please excuse the pun).  Johnny says you are going to raise taxes and I know you have a formula where the lower income people will actually have a tax decrease and the rich people will pay more taxes, but it’s too complicated for some people to understand (no, really. It is.)  And Johnny is having a field day with his distortions of your position and a lot of people fall for that, not realizing that Johnny is leading them straight into tax Hell.  So, I have a plan – a simplified plan – a plan that is so easy to understand that even a redneck idiot (I’m sorry, is it politically incorrect to call them idiots? Should I have said mentally challenged or something?) could figure it out in a split second, and it’s also pretty much guaranteed to win you the election all by itself! Interested? I thought so.  Read on…

My new tax plan is based upon a simple concept (this is just between you and me) called the median American income. In case you weren’t paying attention in the fifth grade when Mrs. O’Leary was explaining the difference between a median and an average, median means the halfway point.  In other words, if I tell you that the median American income is $50,000, that means half of the U.S. population makes more than that and half makes less. Pretty simple concept, right?  As it turns out the median American income is just about $50,000, maybe a little more, but not much. If you look at the number of people who make less than $100,000 you will find there’s way more than half the population in that crowd.  I don’t know the exact number, but I’m guessing it must be at least 75% of the total American population.

OK. Now, I have to take a moment to give credit to the inspiration for my idea. His name is Willie Sutton.  In case you haven’t heard of him, Willie was a notorious bank robber back in the 1920s and 1930s. While he was in jail (he spent a lot of time in jail) he was interviewed by a reporter who wrote that he asked Willie, “Why do you rob banks?” Willie famously replied, “Because that’s where the money is.”  Willie later denied he ever made that statement, which was a dumb thing to do because it’s really the only thing he’s famous for.

Anyway, if you start thinking along Willie’s line there and how it could apply to taxes you pretty quickly come to the conclusion that if you are the government and you need to raise money you should tax the rich “because that’s where the money is”. Makes sense right? Yeah, it’s actually obvious when you think about it. So, here’s the plan: you state a new, simplified tax policy if you are elected. The policy says that people who make less than $100,000 a year will pay NO INCOME TAX.  None. Zip. Nada. Zero. This would be about 75% of the population, as I already said. People who make more that $100,000 will pay a bunch more than they used to. In fact the tax rate will be determined by how much money the government needs but it’ll be a graduated rate. Maybe the people who make only $101,000 will pay a 30% tax while those who make over 50 million will pay a 50% tax, and those who make over a billion will pay  90% tax. No forms to fill out or anything – just do the calculation and send the money in. I’ll let you figure out the details.  I figure the government can easily rake in as much money this way as it does now, and hey, these rich people can afford it too, right?

But here’s the beauty of the idea: 75% of the people will be overjoyed and are guaranteed to vote for you!  They don’t pay any taxes at all under your plan!!!  On the other hand, 25% of the people will be mad as Hell, of course. But who cares? You win! And even better, John McCain can’t steal the idea like he stole your “Change” thing. Think about it. If he tried to take this and turn it around so only the poorest 25% of the people paid taxes the country would go bankrupt in about three days, because they don’t have any money! The Republicans can never do this!! They will hate it, but you will win by a landslide!

Well, Barack, there you have it: a couple of surefire ways to win the election. What do you think? Pretty good, huh?  No, no, no. Don’t thank me….. I’m just here to help.

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There are some of life’s lessons that we all learn at a very early age.  I can still vividly recall an important lesson I learned when I was only five years old. I had just started the first grade (my particular school allowed five-year-olds to enter the first grade at that time – it was probably a bad decision). My mother had bought me a pack of marbles and I was anxious to play marbles in the school play-yard during recess. I suppose a lot of younger people don’t even know what I am talking about here.  Anyway, this bag of marbles wasn’t just your ordinary cats eyes; it also had two gargantuan marbles – maybe an inch or more in diameter.  They were giant cats eyes. They were my prized possession. During recess I found a group of third graders playing marbles and I asked if I could play too. They took one look at my pack of marbles and said, “SURE!” Well, needless to say it wasn’t long before I had lost everything.

I then asked the boy who had won all my marbles to give them back. He said he wouldn’t because they were playing for keeps.  This was a new concept for me because when I had played with my friends we always played for “fun”. You always returned what you won so you could play against each other again tomorrow. Well, it wasn’t long before I was in tears. What I really wanted back was the giant cats eyes; I didn’t care much if the boy kept the small ones. After much pleading the bigger boy said he would give me back the small cats eyes, but not the gigantic ones. And that’s how it ended.  I never did get my prized marbles back, and I learned the meaning of “playing for keeps”.

I read in the news today that the investment bank of Lehman Brothers is on the ropes. It seems they made a lot of bad investment decisions, like buying toxic mortgages. Of course they knew what they were doing.  Those toxic mortgages carried truly outrageous interest rates and whoever owned them could potentially make gargantuan profits.  And, of course, that was Lehman’s plan. They were going to stick it to the poor, hapless homeowner who had made the mistake of signing up for one of these instruments of financial torture and bleed them till they were dry of every cent they owned. And in that way Lehman and their investors would all acquire gigantic fortunes.  And if the homeowners reneged on the mortgage the bank would seize their house and sell it and still make a gargantuan profit because house prices were skyrocketing and Lehman plays for keeps, just like all the rich folks and their Wall Street investment banks.

It turns out though that the Brothers Lehman made a slight miscalculation.  Not only could the people who received the mortgages not begin to make the outrageous interest payments, but the housing market was tanking and trying to sell a house in this market was like trying to sell ice to the Eskimos.  So, the next thing you know, the third-graders at Lehman are watching their bank go belly up, and they desperately start looking for a sucker, I mean buyer, who will buy their whole banking business, including all those toxic mortgages. Surprisingly, it’s hard to find anyone who is in the market for toxic mortgages these days.

In desperation, the Brothers Lehman turn to their buddy, Mr. Bernanke,  at the Federal Reserve because he is loaded with money.  They want the Fed to help them make a deal by guaranteeing to any buyer that the Fed will cover any losses from the toxic mortgages if the potential buyer will just buy the whole Lehman business. Right now, the word is that Bank of America is interested and so is Barclays, but having the Fed make guarantees to a foreign bank is a little dicey for Chairman Bernanke, so the deal will probably be done with BoA. And once again, just like in the case of Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac, the American taxpayer (that would be you and me) is being called upon to ultimately give billions of dollars to the banks so they won’t lose anything on their toxic mortgages.

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a little tired of this.  Those bankers are all big boys; they knew what they were getting into – just like the third graders at my school. And if there is one thing for sure – those third graders in the banks play for keeps. Just miss a couple of mortgage payments and your house will be foreclosed and you’ll be out on the street with nothing before you can say “usury”. The banks always play for keeps.  So why should this be different? Didn’t they know they were playing for keeps? Did the poor third graders at Lehman lose their big shiny marble?  So what? Let them fail, the banks were playing for keeps and they knew it.  Here’s my plan: send in the vultures to pick the bones clean.

Then, if our good and kindly Fed really wants to help save the country they can step in with our tax dollars and set up a brand new National Home Loan bank- except this bank will have rules barring them from usury. There will be maximum interest rates tied to the rate of inflation, for all loans.  There will be strict regulations preventing them from giving loans to people who can’t possibly afford to repay them, and they will be prohibited from assuming that house prices will go up any faster than the inflation rate when they qualify people for home loans. This would be a non-profit bank created to benefit the American taxpayer so that never again will American citizens loose their homes to scheming, profiteering bankers because of speculation and usurious interest rates. Pretty good idea, right?

See, third-graders, we’re playing for keeps now.

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I would guess that most of us can recall exactly where we were and what we were doing when we first heard about the horrific attacks  on the Twin Towers and the subsequent attack on the Pentagon.  There aren’t many moments in your life, no matter how long you live, that you will recall as vividly as the moment you learned about it. The assassination of John F. Kennedy was also like that for me.  I don’t think anyone really feels that they have heard a satisfactory explanation of why Lee Harvey Oswald killed him. That was over forty years ago, and there are still many people who don’t believe the results of the official U.S. government investigation.

The U.S. government’s 9/11 Commission Report has also failed to gain unanimous support.  The report is primarily an analysis of how we failed to prevent the attacks and how we failed to be aware that they might even occur. However, the greatest failure of the report is that no attempt is made to understand what motivated the attacks.  We are left to believe that the motive of Al Qaeda is some sort of radical Islamic hatred of the Christian and Jewish west.  However, just a simple observation of the attacks themselves show quite clearly that the attacks were not at all an attempt to begin a religious war or even to wage a terrorist campaign against people who were not of the Islamic faith. Look at their targets:

The World Trade Center could be described as the financial capital of the multinational businesses of the United States. The twin towers were not only functional centers of finance, they were iconic symbols of America’s mighty economic impact throughout the world. The second target, the Pentagon, is another icon as well as the functional center of the vast military might of the United States.  Long after the attacks occured, and after much investigation, it has been learned that the U.S. Capitol building was the intended target of United flight 93.  The aircraft that crashed in Shanksville, PA after heroic intervention by its passengers. The U.S. Capitol building is also an icon and the functional center of our government.  The 9/11 attacks were an attack on a U.S. financial – military – government triad.  While it would have been easy, there were no attacks on any Christian churchs, Jewish synagogues, Mormon, Buddhist, or Hindu temples or any other religious organizations or icons.  The attackers may well have all been Islamic, but the attacks were not about Islam.

If we are to understand what 9/11 was all about we need to consider one very important point: every single attacker was on a suicide mission. Why is that important? Consider Japan at the close of World War II.  Defeat was seen to be inevitable. Many Japanese feared severe retribution from American forces.  Their backs were against the wall and they expected no mercy. Thus was born the Kamikaze pilots, the “Divine Wind”.  The Kamikaze pilots flew their bomb-laden aircraft directly into American warships in a last ditch attempt to stop the advance of the U.S. Navy and a subsequent invasion. There is little doubt that the courage of these Japanese pilots was sustained, in part, by their trust in God.  However, no one has ever suggested that the Kamikaze attacks were some sort of group of religious fanatics.

Toward the end of World War II the Nazis in Germany also planned to develop a suicide bomber squadron called the Leonidas Squadron. The pilots would fly Messerschmitt Me328 aircraft, equipped with a single 2,000 bomb, into selected Allied targets. There were problems with development of the aircraft, however, and the squadron never saw action.

The common thread among the Nazis, the Japanese Kamikaze, and the Al Qaeda attackers is that they were all desperate attacks. Suicide attacks are always an indicator that the attacker feels severely oppressed and near defeat, but out of a sense of patriotism, rage, and injustice decides to make one final attempt to destroy a hated enemy even if it means his own death.  It’s not about converting someone to his religion, nor is it because he is unhappy that people on the other side of the world don’t worship the same God he does.  The 9/11 attacks were desperate moves by men who felt their backs were to the wall.  But why did they feel that way? And why us? What did we do?

We didn’t do anything. Neither you nor I, nor any of the people who died in the attacks were a threat to Al Qaeda.  The people who were killed are what our military would call “collateral damage”. Sort of like the innocent civilians who were killed in the “Shock and Awe” campaign in Iraq.  The real targets were the iconic, and also functional, buildings of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the Capitol.  But why? Why strike at the heart of our multinational business system, our military, and our government? It’s because these Al Qaeda terrorists, and their leaders, view these three icons as one sort of an unholy Trinity, and it was this Trinity that was threatening their very existence. Al Qaeda was, and is, made up of desperate men, but they are not crazed religious fanatics.

OK, so how can these people feel so threatened? What could we be doing to them that would make them feel that they are on the brink of destruction?  The answer is the same answer that can be given as the cause of all wars: they perceive us as stealing their wealth. It is our wealth that allows us to live. Our homes, our jobs, our land, our money, our industries – all these things, and more, could be considered our collective wealth.  For the people of this part of the world, their principle source of all their wealth lies in a single word: “oil”.

The U.S. has a long and checkered history of being in the oil business in the Middle East.  When Iran nationalized their oil operations in 1951, the U.S. began efforts, led by the CIA, to depose their leader. This succeeded in 1953 when the Shah of Iran was reinstated and Iran began to sell cheap oil to American oil companies again. The Shah was deposed in the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and they haven’t been very friendly to us ever since. Similarly, Saddam Hussein nationalized the Iraqi oil industry in 1972 and tossed the American oil companies out of Iraq. The U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 and captured Saddam. He was executed on Dec 30, 2006.  The Iraqi Oil Ministry is now negotiating oil deals with Exxon Mobil, BP, Shell, Total, and Chevron so that U.S. companies can pump oil from Iraq again.

It is interesting to note that almost all of the 9/11 Al Qaeda terrorists were from Saudi Arabia. So is Osama bin Laden. None of the terrorists were from Iraq.  Yet, when the U.S. invaded Iraq, Al Qaeda was quick to enter Iraq and join the fight against the U.S. In the past Osama bin Ladin has stated that some Al Qaeda attacks were due to the U.S. support of Israel and its perceived unfair treatment of Palestinians.  It is pretty clear that Al Qaeda sees itself as a sort of defender of last resort of the entire Middle East, defending it from domination, and the subsequent loss of its wealth, by the U.S. Unholy Trinity of our  multinational businesses, military, and government.  The thing is, this is not exactly an irrational fear.

In 1997 the Project for the New American Century was founded. It’s stated proposition was that, “American leadership is good for both America and for the world.” It has been a strong advocate for American leadership, or domination, of the world.  It has been very influential in the Bush administration. In 1998, members of the organization, including Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz warned President Clinton that Saddam was a threat and should be removed because of his weapons of mass destruction.  In a report written in 2000 the group warned that “Over the long term, Iran may well prove as large a threat to U.S. interests in the Gulf as Iraq has.” Paul Wolfowitz became President Bush’s Deputy Secretary of Defense in 2001 and, immediately after the 9/11 attacks, pressed for the invasion of Iraq, an idea also strongly pushed by John McCain at the same time. Donald Rumsfeld was President Bush’s Secretary of Defense at the time.

The fact that these three people immediately advocated an attack on Iraq as a response to 9/11 indicates that their view of the conflict is not too different from that of Osama bin Laden.  This is a conflict between America and its policy of financial, military and political dominance throughout the Middle East and a small group of guerrilla fighters who view this as nothing less than the theft of the entire region’s wealth.Basically they feel they are getting a really, really bad deal.

There is no doubt that these guerrillas are fanatical fighters.  There is no doubt they feel their backs are to the wall. There is no doubt they will employ suicide tactics again if they feel it will help achieve their objective. And there is also no doubt that this war is not about religion.  It is not about Islam or Christianity. Nor is it about American freedom.  It’s not about any of the great emotional issues that the leaders of all countries always try to stoke in order to get their young men to go out and die for their country.

The cause of the 9/11 attack is not radical Islam; it is the same as the cause for every war that has ever taken place. It’s about wealth. It’s about money. It’s about some people believing they are being exploited so badly that they and their way of life can’t survive, and the people on the other side not even aware of this and, come to think of it, not even caring whether they survive or not anyway.

The tragedy is that it is the innocent who always suffer the most.

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It was the Greeks who invented democracy, but their democracy was very different from ours.  In ancient Athens citizens voted directly on the issues, sort of like the traditional New England town meetings in the U.S.  However, as the U.S. developed it became clear that this type of democracy simply could not function in a land as large as ours and a new form of democracy, representational democracy was created.  This is the form of government we have today: we elect our Representatives and Senators, our President and Vice President, and we expect them to perform and make decisions on our behalf.  The problem is that sometimes it doesn’t seem that our representatives remember just what our interests are.  Sometimes our representatives are swayed by inputs from lobbyists.  Sometimes our representatives just don’t seem to have good judgment – at least they don’t make the decisions we would have made.

We are in an interesting position now – actually we have been in this position for ten years or more – we can, if we want to, return to a more “pure” form of democracy, a form of democracy that more closely resembles ancient Greek democracy or New England town hall style democracy. We can vote via the Internet.  This isn’t a new idea, the concept was discussed by Jodi Kantor in a CNN article in 1999, and I imagine others had talked about it before that.  Perhaps many Americans thought we weren’t quite technologically ready for it then. There were concerns about security and fraudulent voting and such.  There were, it seems, also concerns by some elected officials that they might be out of a job if this happened. So it didn’t.

Now, about nine years later, we are no closer to using the Internet to cast our votes than we were then.  The issues about voting security have long been put to bed. After all, if our banks are happy to conduct millions of financial transactions every day over the Internet it ought to be safe enough for secure, private voting too.  Yet, it is surprising that we don’t even talk about this. We don’t even do this on the level of small town voting, and yet it would be so easy and convenient to have virtual town meetings and let everyone vote on issues relevant to any particular town. But we don’t

I guess everyone has heard that we, the USA, have now officially lost the lead in physics research to Europe. You know, the CERN facility in Switzerland and the large hadron super collider that will soon try to create the conditions that existed immediately after the Big Bang.  Well, we haven’t only lost the lead in physics to Europe, we’ve also lost the lead in democracy to Europe (Oooohhh…those “European ideas” the Republicans are so afraid of). In 2007, Estonia (yes, Estonia) conducted their Parliamentary elections using Internet voting.  It went very well, thank you. What did you expect?  So now the good citizens of Europe have shown that they have the technology to transform democracy and lead it into the 21st century, while the U.S. pretends that it can’t be done and just ignores the whole idea.

The thing about Internet voting is that it could allow each of us to vote on issues that we care a lot about, things like: should we go to war with Iran now or wait a year; should we go ahead and actually build the bridge to nowhere; should we make the rich pay their fair share of taxes; should we make the taxpayers bail out the banks; should we have national health care; should public education be free all the way up through college level; and whatever else we think we should do.

So how come no one talks about this? How come no one is interested? It can be done. Estonia (a former member of the Soviet Union) already did it! It’s time for America to awaken from its Bush/Cheney induced narcolepsy.  Those Europeans, with all their scary “European ideas” are leaving us in the dust in technology, education, health care, and now, even democracy.  It would be very simple to start using Internet democracy for small towns; but it could quickly grow and be used on the state and national level. We certainly have the technology readily available.  Perhaps we should listen to Robert F. Kennedy when he quoted George Bernard Shaw who said, “Some men see things as they are and say why – I dream things that never were are say why not?”

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Maybe they’re just karma chameleons.  It’s all just so confusing. There is an old Chinese proverb that says “A tiger does not change its stripes”, but these two “Republicans” seem to be trying to get off that bandwagon faster than you can say “Dick Cheney”.  Suddenly, these two characters are now calling themselves the candidates of “Change”.  It’s Johnny’s new mantra: “Change is Coming!”  Hold on Johnny boy, hold on just one pea pickin’ minute here. Didn’t you and your new gal say you were Republicans? And aren’t Republicans supposed to be CONSERVATIVES?  And doesn’t conservative mean you like things the way they are and you don’t want to change? Sure it does.  That’s why all the rich folk are Republicans – they have their money and they want to keep it that way.

Johnny, think about this for a minute.  Remember a few months ago when you said you were willing to stay in Iraq for a hundred years? You do remember, right? Your memory isn’t changing on us, is it?  OK…. Well, what happened to that? You don’t talk about that any more. Is that because George Bush has basically agreed to Barack Obama’s plan to pull U.S. troops out in a couple of years? Does that mean you’ll put them back in when you are President?  Johnny, you say you are a maverick, which basically is a way of saying you are a rebel. You just don’t go along with the way the people in charge want to do things. Is that correct?  OK.  Then why did you vote for George Bush’s policies 90% of the time?  Doesn’t it seem that the only thing that is changing here is your memory of what you have done?

OK, Johnny.  We’re just trying to understand you. Just tell us, are you for the Bush policies or against them? Is that too difficult a question? It looks like you are 90% in favor, based upon your voting record. Are we supposed to think that is a good indicator of how much “CHANGE IS COMING”?  The question I am sort of wondering about is this: does anybody on the Straight Talk Express even know what “straight talk” means?  Remember when you said you wanted to “Bomb, Bomb Iran”?  I know you do, but I’m wondering if, despite all your experience of Viet Nam, whether you take war as seriously as a lot of other people. Could it be that time really does heal all wounds and even your memory of your own suffering in war is fading? Here’s a little refresher on what happens when you do things like “Bomb, Bomb Iran”.  Remember now, Johnny?

And Sarah!!  Sarah, Sarah, Sarah… what are we to make of you? Is your memory failing too?  You said you were against the so-called Bridge to Nowhere, but have you forgotten that you were originally for it? You say you are against federal earmarks or “pork”, right? Have you forgotten that in 2000 you hired the law firm of Hoffman, Silver, Gilman, and Blasco to lobby on behalf of your home town of Wasilla, Alaska? Have you forgotten that you actually appeared in Congress in 2000 to request earmark legislation for Wasilla?  Have you forgotten that your home town received nearly $27,000,000 in federal earmarks, i.e. PORK, by 2004?  And now you are against it?  Isn’t it really true that you are actually the Queen of Pork?

Johnny and Sarah, it just looks like you two will say anything to get elected.  You say you are both mavericks now. Oh, boy. I guess that means you go wherever you want and do whatever you want, but, I wonder, how reliable are you? Is either one of you dependable in a crisis? Does anyone in the U.S. have any idea at all of what you really stand for? Johnny, you and Sarah are ready to change course in a Presidential heartbeat.  So if you tell me today that you are going to do something, how do I know you will really follow through? How do I know I can trust you? You keep changing your tune.  You are in love with change now, yet you call yourselves conservatives. You deny so many of the things you’ve done in the past and now you say, “Trust Me, Love Me, Choose Me!”

I’m sorry Johnny-boy and Sarah.  You guys are just four more years of the old Bush/Cheney deceptions. I know. I can hear the mindless chanting of the crowds: “USA ,USA, USA”.  These same people voted for Bush/Chaney – TWICE!!! Can you believe it? It is truly amazing.  I hear you when you say the solution is to DRILL NOW, even though you know it isn’t. Even though you know it is impossible. It’s just a line, isn’t it, Johnny?

You guys have got the same half of the country fooled again, just like Bush.  But it’s different now.  This country is tailspinning into an economic disaster we can’t vote for flibbertigibbets like you guys. We all know that the only thing you care about, the only thing you want is to be President and Vice President and nothing more.  We know that, Johnny.  But, you see, there’s just NO DOUBT,  it’s our lives too.

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