Monday, September 29, 2008


In my opinion, all the evidence points to the wheels coming off the McCain-Palin Express.

John McCain seems to not have a clue about the economic crisis or anything else about reality in the world today. (And need I mention that neither does George Dubya Bush?) McCain tried to use the economic meltdown as an excuse to suspend his campaign and cancel the first debate with Barak Obama, using the excuse that the economic crisis demands his full attention. Obama correctly pointed out that the President typically needs to do more than one thing at a time!

The McCain position on the military situation in Iraq and Afghanistan - essentially to stay the Bush course - is a failed position as we watch U.S.-led actions on Afghanistan increasingly give ground to resurgent terrorists and extremists. And now U.S. and Pakistani forces are shooting at each other across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

And where is Sarah Palin? She seems to be under wraps except for - and as a result of - her two forays into talking to the press. (Have you watched her interview with Katie Couric?? Scary!) Right-wing Republicans are calling for her to step down from the ticket, and some campaign inside sources are saying that she's "clueless."

I find it painful to watch the McPalin machine disintegrate, even though it makes me happy. We need real leadership and vision next year, and McCain-Palin represents everything but.

Monday, September 22, 2008


As the U.S. financial crisis rolls on, we're doing two things: 1) keeping our fingers crossed that we don't lose our shorts, and 2) trying to figure out what the heck is going on. I read a lot of articles in the business sections of newspapers, and also columns by various "experts" and those who are "not-so-expert-but-with-an-opinion." I understand some of the basics of what's happening; but I also understand that the stock market, and the investment industry in general, is really legalized gambling.

Here are some example, ripped from the business section of the New York Times today:

" Short-selling has been blamed by banking executives for contributing to the decline in financial stocks...." So, what is short-selling? " Short-sellers borrow shares of companies' stocks and sell them, hoping to later repurchase them at lower prices and profit from the spread." So part of the federal strategy to fix the crisis is a temporary ban on short sales of 800 financial stocks.

"The shorting rule on Friday made it more expensive to purchase put options on stocks, which are bets that the stock's price will fall." Hmmm...kind of like a game of blackjack....

"Some of the investing strategies that are in flux because of the rule changes include index futures arbitrage [?] and merger arbitrage [?]. For instance, traders who want to make a bet on whether the merger involving the Bank of America and Merrill Lynch will go through will not be able to use short-selling this week to do so." Kind of like picking horses at the race track, I guess.

Finally, the Chief Investment Officer of a "giant bond firm" said of the federal plan: "This is a revolutionary move where we now expect and the market expects a transformation of wild, wild west capitalism to hopefully the benevolent fist of government."

Now, let me be clear here; I understand that nobody is forcing me to invest money in stocks and bonds - my wife and I could simply keep all of our cash under the mattress. But we've been told that our money is secure in banks, and insured up to $100,000 - great, but what if we have more than that? We understand that investing in the market has risks; fine. What bothers us is that the investment markets seem to be ruled by a bunch of high-stakes gamblers who are largely unregulated and whose greed for personal wealth overrides any concerns for the regular folks like us who trust them with our hard-earned money.

It bothers me when I get to an understanding that the investment industry is legalized gambling with little or no oversight. It bothers me when an industry leader says that government regulation is a "revolutionary move."

So yes, like John McCain, I don't really understand economics. But unlike John McCain, I want to end the big tax breaks for the guys and gals of Wall Street who make huge profits by gambling with my money, and I do want government to be Big Brother with eyes on Wall Street making sure that the investment and banking and insurance industries are playing by a set of rules that protect my investments in their poker party.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Front page headline, New York Times, Sunday September 14, 2008: "With Push from White House, U.S. Arms Sales Rise Sharply." The U.S. A. has, for a long time, been the world leader in selling and supplying weapons of destruction for the masses (WDMs). The Times article explains that so far this year, U.S. sales and transfers of instruments of war (probably spun by the neocons as "instruments of peace") is at just above $32 billion, compared to $12 billion in all of 2005.

The pie chart below, from the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, tells the tale:

The U.S. is - by far - the largest arms dealer in the world, and has been for a long time. Of course, these sales and transfers, mostly to the Middle East, but also to Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe and Canada, are - of course - "...about building a more secure world."

The Bush years have shown several consistent themes to the rest of the world. One of them, the Mysterious "Bush Doctrine" that possibly-presumptive V.P. Palin wasn't aware of, has shown the world that the U.S. can and will pre-emptively use our military might against anyone we even suspect might threaten our security. We can get away with this because our military might is basically unchallenged in the world - in terms of the number and caliber of our weapons.

The McPaign-Palin junta embodies this militant style of government - we'll challenge anyone who even thinks about challenging us or our allies, like Russia vs. Georgia or Iran vs. Israel. And our foreign policy will be to shoot first and ask questions later, as exemplified in Iraq.

In 2006 the U.S. sold $16.9 billion ($16,900,000,000) worth of weapons. I don't know if all of this is made in the U.S.A., where it represents American jobs, but think about how we could transform this large sector of the economy into something more productive and sustainable for ourselves and the rest of the world. What if U.S. foreign policy focused on waging peace with words and deeds, backed by a strong but sub-dominant military, instead of waging war with weapons and threats?

I'm not comfortable knowing that my country is the largest weapon dealer in the world. I see this as a losing game, one that ignores the realities of the planet and the people on it. What do you think?

Friday, September 12, 2008


The McCain campaign, what I call McPaign, is about what we expected from the Republicans - again. This time, however, they've modified their tactics to include a darker shade of Palin. What a combination they make - the old warrior-maverick, loyal Bush-voting, lobbyist-favoring, richer than your 1,000 closest friends combined, S&L scandal-laden Senator, and the young and perky, shotgun-toting, moose-gutting, uber-mother, Jesus-loving, take-no-prisoners, thanks but no thanks, came out of nowhere, presidential candidate arm-candy, trophy V.P. puppet.(see note 1) Whew - beat that combo, Obamabiden!!

No matter that everything this duo says is total bull-moose. No matter that they each contradict everything they say. No matter that even the lies they tell, the ones the media has overwhelmingly exposed, just keep getting told. But if you believe the media (a real stretch most of the time), these two are more popular than vanilla ice cream on mom's apple pie. Why? What gives?

Let me put it as delicately as I can: the American voting public has demonstrated twice in the last two presidential elections that they are, um, well - idiots. There; I said it in print. And you know what they say: the third time is the charm. The Republican base loves these two, and maybe the simple fact is that those of us who don't think electing McPaign is a good idea are in the minority. I can't tell you how many friends and relatives are saying - half seriously - that if McPaign is elected, they're leaving the country for someplace where sanity prevails.

The McPaign ticket is based on nationalistic jingoism, loyalty to the wounded warrior, and enthrallment with a tough-talking and folksy female. Forget the facts here - that the economy is beyond the toilet and in the sewer, American jobs are disappearing faster than snickerdoodles at a kids birthday party, the global climate is on a crash course with a world we don't want to live on, the "global war on terror" is a tremendous failure and has put America in a much more dangerous place than ever, and that the ideals and morals - not to mention a little thing like our Constitution itself - have been turned upside down for the benefit of the profit-above-all-else corporations and their puppets. Hey - who cares?? We'll get a President and a V.P. we want to drink a beer with!!

So hang on folks, it's a wild ride that will become even scarier with time. Good luck to all of us!

(Note 1 - a woman friend of mine is responsible for the arm-candy-trophy designations; I would never risk my life by uttering such overt sexist remarks!)

Thursday, September 04, 2008


While watching Governor Sarah Palin speaking at the Republican National Convention, I began taking notes every time she said something that just didn't seem to be correct. This post is an example of political chicanery at its best, using one of the items from Palin's speech.

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin talked about the big pipeline that will be built from Alaska to the lower 48 states:

That pipeline, when the last section is laid and its valves are opened, will lead America one step farther away from dependence on dangerous foreign powers that do not have our interests at heart.


Here's the real story. The oil companies that have been pumping oil from the North Slope of Alaska are coming to the end of the oil that is easily recovered in those fields. There is a lot more oil there, but it is much more difficult, and expensive, to recover. Those oil fields contain a lot of natural gas; however, there is no way to get the natural gas to the lower 48 United States, where there is a market demand for the gas.

The solution? The big oil companies will build a big pipeline from the Alaska North Slope to the lower 48 in order to deliver that gas to a welcoming market. The profits from the sale of the natural gas will finance the more expensive extraction of oil from the North Slope oil fields. And, of course, the State of Alaska and Alaskan citizens get a big share of the profits.

So what about leading us away from "dependence on dangerous foreign powers?" A few facts:
  • In 2007 the United States imported 4,607,582 million cubic feet (mcf) of natural gas (add six zeros for the number of cubic feet)
  • Of that total, 3,836,770 mcf were imported via pipeline, and 770,812 as liquefied natural gas (LNG) aboard ships
  • of the total gas imported via pipeline, 98.6 percent was from Canada and the remainder from Mexico
  • of the total LNG imported to the U.S., 58.5 percent was from Trinidad, 14.8 percent from Egypt, and 12.3 percent was from Nigeria.
Unless I've missed something in the news lately, I don't think that Canada, Mexico, Trinidad, Egypt and Nigeria are "dangerous foreign powers."

There's another interesting piece to this tale. There are presently exports of natural gas from Alaska; 60,765 mcf in 2006 (the latest year for which numbers are available). All of this natural gas is exported to one country - Japan - and I assume that it is shipped as LNG. So why not ship the natural gas from the North Slope to the lower 48 states as LNG? Because people in the lower 48 states don't want LNG terminals built in their back yards.

So here's the real story:
  1. the Palin Pipeline will have nothing to do with leading "America one step farther away from dependence on dangerous foreign powers that do not have our interests at heart."
  2. the Palin Pipeline has nothing to do with our dependence on foreign oil.
  3. the Palin Pipeline is being built for one reason - profits for the oil companies and the State of Alaska, some of which will be invested into recovering more oil from the North Slope oil fields as the existing easily-produced oil runs out - which might be a zero sum game in terms of the amount of oil shipped to the lower 48 states.
The tale of Palin's Pipeline was a well-written piece of fiction for a cynical speech given by an unknown pit bull with lipstick. I hope the American voters see through this Republican spin and look at the real issues.

Information sources:
- Alaska Business Magazine
- Energy Information Administration (official energy statistics by the U.S. government)