Wednesday, December 31, 2008

SWINDLER OF THE YEAR

For anyone taking stock of 2008, Barack Obama is the inevitable choice as Person of the Year. But he’s not the only American whose story suggests that this thrilling, dramatic, unforgettable year will be seen as a demarcation of grand historical eras, a bright line between yesterday and tomorrow. My choice for runner-up is Bernard Madoff.

In a sense, we’re all Bernie Madoff. We’ve been running our economy in accordance with his accounting principles for a generation—and now we face a most unpleasant reckoning.

As everyone knows by now, Madoff—once one of the most respected financiers on Wall Street—stands accused of being perhaps the biggest swindler in history. Before his arrest earlier this month, he reportedly told his sons that he had defrauded investors of up to $50 billion. He allegedly followed the playbook written more than eight decades ago by the elegant grifter Charles Ponzi, who used money from new investors to pay juicy returns to old investors. That works fine for a while, but every Ponzi scheme eventually collapses in ruin.

Wall Street veterans recall how investors once begged to be allowed to invest their money with Madoff. Unlike Ponzi, he didn’t promise to deliver flashy double-digit returns overnight. He “earned” his investors 1 percent or 2 percent a month, bull market or bear, rain or shine. Because he didn’t overpromise, and because he limited his clientele, he was able to keep it going for decades.

Such steady gains, unsullied by the occasional bad year or disastrous quarter, are patently impossible. Some potential investors took one look at Madoff’s operation and took a pass. Some of the millionaires, billionaires and professional money managers who unwisely gave their money to Madoff were guilty of allowing greed to overwhelm their powers of observation and reason.

But not all of Madoff’s investors could have been in the dark. At least some must have realized how unlikely it was that he had developed some sort of Holy Grail strategy or technique that would always make money, no matter what the financial markets were doing. Some investors, I would wager, must have calculated that they could get in, get their return and get out before the whole thing fell apart.

Which makes me wonder how many of us had our eyes open when housing prices were soaring in Ponzi-like increments—by 10 percent or more a year, in some parts of the country—while middle-class incomes were largely stagnant. How many of us stopped to ask just who was supposed to be able to pay $1 million for a standard suburban split-level, even if it had an upgraded kitchen with a Sub-Zero fridge?

The whole subprime mortgage industry was based on the idea that housing prices would always rise. Given that assumption, it was perfectly rational for first-time homebuyers to sign up for adjustable-rate mortgages that they couldn’t really afford. From the moment they signed the loan papers, they would be building equity—through appreciation—that soon would make it easy, and lucrative, to refinance or sell.

In other words: get in, get their return and get out before the whole thing fell apart.

I’m not saying that average Americans were as culpable as Wall Street in creating this financial and economic crisis; our sins were venial, whereas theirs were mortal. Madoff’s alleged fraud was at least straightforward. Much worse was the creation of exotic “derivative” investment products that were bought and sold with enormous leverage—products whose true value turned out to be impossible to ascertain. As long as real estate values kept rising, it didn’t matter what these chimerical investments were worth. What mattered to Wall Street was the ability to collect enormous fees from real people, in real dollars, for trading unicorns and dragons.

After the bursting of the Internet bubble and the housing bubble, I think we’re done with bubbles for a while. Obama’s first challenge—and it may take much of his first term—is to get the economy back into a pattern of tangible, sustainable growth. He will be able to thank Madoff for giving us the simplest possible explanation of what we knew all along but chose to ignore: that there’s still no such thing as a free lunch.

Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)washpost.com.

WHORES TO MONEY

By Chris Hedges

The corporate forces that are looting the Treasury and have plunged us into a depression will not be contained by the two main political parties. The Democratic and Republican parties have become little more than squalid clubs of privilege and wealth, whores to money and corporate interests, hostage to a massive arms industry, and so adept at deception and self-delusion they no longer know truth from lies. We will either find our way out of this mess by embracing an uncompromising democratic socialism—one that will insist on massive government relief and work programs, the nationalization of electricity and gas companies, a universal, not-for-profit government health care program, the outlawing of hedge funds, a radical reduction of our bloated military budget and an end to imperial wars—or we will continue to be fleeced and impoverished by our bankrupt elite and shackled and chained by our surveillance state.

The free market and globalization, promised as the route to worldwide prosperity, have been exposed as a con game. But this does not mean our corporate masters will disappear. Totalitarianism, as George Orwell pointed out, is not so much an age of faith as an age of schizophrenia. “A society becomes totalitarian when its structure becomes flagrantly artificial,” Orwell wrote, “that is when its ruling class has lost its function but succeeds in clinging to power by force or fraud.” Force and fraud are all they have left. They will use both.

There is a political shift in Europe toward an open confrontation with the corporate state. Germany has seen a surge of support for Die Linke (The Left), a political grouping formed 18 months ago. It is co-led by the veteran socialist “Red” Oskar Lafontaine, who has built his career on attacking big business. Two-thirds of Germans in public opinion polls say they agree with all or some of Die Linke’s platform. The Socialist Party of the Netherlands is on the verge of overtaking the Labor Party as the main opposition party on the left. Greece, beset with street protests and violence by disaffected youths, has seen the rapid rise of the Coalition of the Radical Left. In Spain and Norway socialists are in power. Resurgence is not universal, especially in France and Britain, but the shifts toward socialism are significant.

Corporations have intruded into every facet of life. We eat corporate food. We buy corporate clothes. We drive corporate cars. We buy our vehicular fuel and our heating oil from corporations. We borrow from corporate banks. We invest our retirement savings with corporations. We are entertained, informed and branded by corporations. We work for corporations. The creation of a mercenary army, the privatization of public utilities and our disgusting for-profit health care system are all legacies of the corporate state. These corporations have no loyalty to America or the American worker. They are not tied to nation states. They are vampires.

“By now the [commercial] revolution has deprived the mass of consumers of any independent access to the staples of life: clothing, shelter, food, even water,” Wendell Berry wrote in “The Unsettling of America.” “Air remains the only necessity that the average user can still get for himself, and the revolution had imposed a heavy tax on that by way of pollution. Commercial conquest is far more thorough and final than military defeat.”

The corporation is designed to make money without regard to human life, the social good or impact on the environment. Corporate laws impose a legal duty on corporate executives to make as much money as possible for shareholders, although many have moved on to fleece shareholders as well. In the 2003 documentary film “The Corporation” the management guru Peter Drucker says: “If you find an executive who wants to take on social responsibilities, fire him. Fast.”

A corporation that attempts to engage in social responsibility, that tries to pay workers a decent wage with benefits, that invests its profits to protect the environment and limit pollution, that gives consumers fair deals, can be sued by shareholders. Robert Monks, the investment manager, says in the film: “The corporation is an externalizing machine, in the same way that a shark is a killing machine. There isn’t any question of malevolence or of will. The enterprise has within it, and the shark has within it, those characteristics that enable it to do that for which it was designed.” Ray Anderson, the CEO of Interface Corp., the world’s largest commercial carpet manufacturer, calls the corporation a “present day instrument of destruction” because of its compulsion to “externalize any cost that an unwary or uncaring public will allow it to externalize.”

“The notion that we can take and take and take and take, waste and waste, without consequences, is driving the biosphere to destruction,” Anderson says.

In short, the film, based on Joel Bakan’s book “The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power,” asserts that the corporation exhibits many of the traits found in people clinically defined as psychopaths.

Psychologist Dr. Robert Hare lists in the film psychopathic traits and ties them to the behavior of corporations:

  • callous unconcern for the feelings for others;
  • incapacity to maintain enduring relationships;
  • reckless disregard for the safety of others;
  • deceitfulness: repeated lying and conning others for profit;
  • incapacity to experience guilt;
  • failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behavior.

And yet, under the American legal system, corporations have the same legal rights as individuals. They give hundreds of millions of dollars to political candidates, fund the army of some 35,000 lobbyists in Washington and thousands more in state capitals to write corporate-friendly legislation, drain taxpayer funds and abolish government oversight. They saturate the airwaves, the Internet, newsprint and magazines with advertisements promoting their brands as the friendly face of the corporation. They have high-priced legal teams, millions of employees, skilled public relations firms and thousands of elected officials to ward off public intrusions into their affairs or halt messy lawsuits. They hold a near monopoly on all electronic and printed sources of information. A few media giants—AOL-Time Warner, General Electric, Viacom, Disney and Rupert Murdoch’s NewsGroup—control nearly everything we read, see and hear.

“Private capital tends to become concentrated in [a] few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of the smaller ones,” Albert Einstein wrote in 1949 in the Monthly Review in explaining why he was a socialist. “The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.”

Labor and left-wing activists, especially university students and well-heeled liberals, have failed to unite. This division, which is often based on social rather than economic differences, has long stymied concerted action against ruling elites. It has fractured the American left and rendered it impotent.

“Large sections of the middle class are being gradually proletarianized; but the important point is that they do not, at any rate not in the first generation, adopt a proletarian outlook,” Orwell wrote in 1937 during the last economic depression. “Here I am, for instance, with a bourgeois upbringing and a working-class income. Which class do I belong to? Economically I belong to the working class, but it is almost impossible for me to think of myself as anything but a member of the bourgeoisie. And supposing I had to take sides, whom should I side with, the upper class which is trying to squeeze me out of existence, or the working class whose manners are not my manners? It is probable that I, personally, in any important issue, would side with the working class. But what about the tens or hundreds of thousands of others who are in approximately the same position? And what about that far larger class, running into millions this time—the office-workers and black-coated employees of all kinds—whose traditions are less definite middle class but who would certainly not thank you if you called them proletarians? All of these people have the same interests and the same enemies as the working class. All are being robbed and bullied by the same system. Yet how many of them realize it? When the pinch came nearly all of them would side with their oppressors and against those who ought to be their allies. It is quite easy to imagine a working class crushed down to the worst depths of poverty and still remaining bitterly anti-working-class in sentiment; this being, of course, a ready-made Fascist party.”

Coalitions of environmental, anti-nuclear, anti-capitalist, sustainable-agriculture and anti-globalization forces have coalesced in Europe to form and support socialist parties. This has yet to happen in the United States. The left never rallied in significant numbers behind Cynthia McKinney or Ralph Nader. In picking the lesser of two evils, it threw its lot in with a Democratic Party that backs our imperial wars, empowers the national security state and does the bidding of corporations.

If Barack Obama does not end the flagrant theft of taxpayer funds by corporate slugs and the disgraceful abandonment of our working class, especially as foreclosures and unemployment mount, many in the country will turn in desperation to the far right embodied by groups such as Christian radicals. The failure by the left to offer a democratic socialist alternative will mean there will be, in the eyes of many embittered and struggling working- and middle-class Americans, no alternative but a perverted Christian fascism. The inability to articulate a viable socialism has been our gravest mistake. It will ensure, if this does not soon change, a ruthless totalitarian capitalism.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

COLONOSCOPY

This is from newshound Dave Barry's colonoscopy journal:

I called my friend Andy Sable, a gastroenterologist, to make an appointment for a colonoscopy. A few days later, in his office, Andy showed me a color diagram of the colon, a lengthy organ that appears to go all over the place, at one point passing briefly through Minneapolis . Then Andy explained the colonoscopy procedure to me in a thorough, reassuring and patient manner. I nodded thoughtfully, but I didn't really hear anything he said, because my brain was shrieking, quote, 'HE'S GOING TO STICK A TUBE 17,000 FEET UP YOUR BEHIND!'

I left Andy's office with some written instructions, and a prescription for a product called 'MoviPrep,' which comes in a box

large enough to hold a microwave oven. I will discuss MoviPrep in detail later; for now suffice it to say that we must never allow it to fall into the hands of America 's enemies.

I spent the next several days productively sitting around being nervous. Then, on the day before my colonoscopy, I began my preparation. In accordance with my instructions, I didn't eat any solid food that day; all I had was chicken broth, which is basicallywater, only with less flavor. Then, in the evening, I took the MoviPrep.

You mix two packets of powder together in a one-liter plastic jug, then you fill it with lukewarm water. (For those unfamiliar with the metric system, a liter is about 32 onces.) Then you have to drink the whole jug. This takes about an hour, because MoviPrep tastes - and here I am being kind - like a mixture of goat spit and urinal cleanser, with just a hint of lemon.

The instructions for MoviPrep, clearly written by somebody with a great sense of humor, state that after you drink it, 'a loose, watery bowel movement may result.' This is kind of like saying that after you jump off your roof, you may experience contact with the ground.

MoviPrep is a nuclear laxative. I don't want to be too graphic, here, but: Have you ever seen a space-shuttle launch? This is pretty much the MoviPrep experience, with you as the shuttle. There are times when you wish the commode had a seat belt. You spend several hours pretty much confined to the bathroom, spurtingviolently You eliminate everything. And then, when you figure you must be totally empty, you have to drink another liter of MoviPrep, at which point, as far as I can tell, your bowels travel into the future and start eliminating food that you have not even eaten yet..

After an action-packed evening, I finally got to sleep. The next morning my wife drove me to the clinic. I was very nervous.. Not only was I worried about the procedure, but I had been experiencing occasional return bouts of MoviPrep spurtage. I was thinking, 'What if I spurt on Andy?' How do you apologize to a friend for something like that? Flowers would not be enough.

At the clinic I had to sign many forms acknowledging that I understood and totally agreed with whatever the heck the forms said. Then they led me to a room full of other colonoscopy people, where I went inside a little curtained space and took off my clothes and put on one of those hospital garments designed by sadist perverts, the kind that, when you put it on, makes you feel even more shity than when you are actually naked.

Then a nurse named Eddie put a little needle in a vein in my left hand. Ordinarily I would have fainted, but Eddie was very good, and I was already lying down. Eddie also told me that some people put vodka in their MoviPrep. At first I was ticked off that I hadn't thought of this is, but then I pondered what would happen if you got yourself too tipsy to make it to the bath room, so you were staggering around in full Fire Hose Mode. You would have no choice but to burn your house.

When everything was ready, Eddie wheeled me into the procedure room, where Andy was waiting with a nurse and an anesthesiologist. I did not see the 17,000-foot tube, but I knew Andy had it hidden around there somewhere. I was seriously nervous at this point. Andy had me roll over on my left side, and the anesthesiologist began hooking something up to the needle in my hand. There was music playing in the room, and I realized that the song was 'Dancing Queen' by ABBA. I remarked to Andy that, of all the songs that could be playing during this particular procedure, 'Dancing Queen' had to be the least appropriate. A more appropriate song could have been "I could have shit all night, etc."

'You want me to turn it up?' said Andy, from somewhere behind me. 'Ha ha,' I said. And then it was time, the moment I had been dreading for more than a decade. If you are squeamish, prepare yourself, because I am going to tell you, in explicit detail, exactly what it was like.

I have no idea. Really. I slept through it. One moment, ABBA was yelling 'Dancing Queen, feel the beat of the tambourine,' and the next moment, I was back in the other room, waking up in a very mellow mood. Andy was looking down at me and asking me how I felt. I felt excellent. I felt even more excellent when Andy told me that It was all over, and that my colon had passed with flying colors. I have never been prouder of an internal organ.

On the subject of Colonoscopies..

Colonoscopies are no joke, but these comments during the exam were quite humorous....

A physician claimed that the following are actual comments made by his patients (predominately male) while he was performing their colonoscopies:

1. 'Take it easy, Doc. You're boldly going where no man has gone before!

2. 'Find Amelia Earhart yet?'

3. 'Can you hear me NOW?'

4. 'Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?'

5.. 'You know, in Arkansas , we're now legally married.'

6. 'Any sign of the trapped miners, Chief?'

7. 'You put your left hand in, you take your left hand out...'

8. 'Hey! Now I know how a Muppet feels!'

9. 'If your hand doesn't fit, you must quit!

10. 'Hey Doc, let me know if you find my dignity.'

11. 'You used to be an executive at Enron, didn't you?'

12. 'God, now I know why I am not gay.'

And the best one of all.

13. 'Could you write a note for my wife saying that my head is not up there?

Friday, December 26, 2008

BONUSES HANDED OUT WITH TAX PAYER DOLLARS

The global financial crisis deepens, with more than 10 million in the U.S. out of work, according to the Department of Labor. Unemployment hit 6.7 percent in November. Add the 7.3 million “involuntary part-time workers,” who want to work full time but can’t find such a job. Jobless claims have reached a 26-year high, while 30 states reportedly face potential shortfalls in their unemployment-insurance pools. The stunning failure of regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission was again highlighted, as former NASDAQ head Bernard Madoff (you got it, pronounced “made off") was arrested for allegedly running the world’s largest criminal pyramid scheme, with losses expected to be $50 billion, dwarfing those from the Enron scandal. The picture is grim—unless, that is, you are a corporate executive.

The $700-billion financial bailout package, TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program), was supposed to mandate the elimination of exorbitant executive compensation and “golden parachutes.” As U.S. taxpayers pony up their hard-earned dollars, highflying executives and corporate boards are now considering whether to give themselves multimillion-dollar bonuses.

According to The Washington Post, the specific language in the TARP law that forbade such payouts was changed at the last minute, with a small but significant one-sentence edit made by the Bush administration. The Post reported, “The change stipulated that the penalty would apply only to firms that received bailout funds by selling troubled assets to the government in an auction.”

Read the fine print. Of the TARP bailout funds to be disbursed, only those that were technically spent “in an auction” would carry limits on executive pay. But Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and his former Goldman Sachs colleague Neel Kashkari (yes, pronounced “cash carry"), who is running the program, aren’t inclined to spend the funds in auctions. They prefer their Capital Purchase Program, handing over cash directly. Recall Paulson’s curriculum vitae: He began as a special assistant to John Ehrlichman in the Nixon White House and then went on to work for a quarter-century at Goldman Sachs, one of the largest recipients of bailout funds and chief competitor to Lehman Brothers, the firm that Paulson let fail.

The Government Accountability Office issued a report on TARP Dec. 10, expressing concerns about the lack of oversight of the companies receiving bailout funds. The report states that “without a strong oversight and monitoring function, Treasury’s ability to ensure an appropriate level of accountability and transparency will be limited.” The nonprofit news organization ProPublica has been tracking the bailout program, reporting details that remain shrouded by the Treasury Department. As of Tuesday, 202 institutions had obtained bailout funds totaling close to $250 billion.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said recently, “The Treasury Department’s implementation of the TARP is insufficiently transparent and is not accountable to American taxpayers.” Barney Frank, D-Mass., chair of the House Financial Services Committee, said earlier, “Use of these funds … for bonuses, for severance pay, for dividends, for acquisitions of other institutions, etc. … is a violation of the terms of the act.”

Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa said of the loophole, “The flimsy executive-compensation restrictions in the original bill are now all but gone.” Put aside for the moment that these three all voted for the legislation. The law clearly needs to be corrected before additional funds are granted.

The sums these titans of Wall Street are walking away with are staggering. In their annual “Executive Excess” report, the groups United for a Fair Economy and the Institute for Policy Studies reported 2007 compensation for Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs (Paulson’s replacement), at $54 million and that of John Thain, CEO of Merrill Lynch, at a whopping $83 million. Merrill has since been sold to Bank of America, after losing more than $11 billion this year—yet Thain still wants a $10-million bonus.

Paulson, Kashkari and their boss, President George W. Bush, might not be the best people to spend the next $350-billion tranche of U.S. taxpayer money, with just weeks to go before the new Congress convenes Jan. 6 and Barack Obama assumes the presidency Jan. 20. As Watergate leaker Deep Throat was said to have told Bob Woodward, back when Paulson was just starting out, “Follow the money.” The U.S. populace, its representatives in Congress and the new Obama administration need to follow the money, close the executive-pay loophole and demand accountability from the banks that the public has bailed out.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

HOW MUCH IS A BILLION ANYWAY?

How many zeros in a billion?
This is too true to be funny.


The next time you hear a politician use the
word
'billion' in a casual manner, think about
whether you want the
'politicians' spending
YOUR tax money.


A
billion is a difficult number to comprehend,
but one advertising agency did a good job of
putting that figure into some perspective in
one of it's releases.


A.
A billion seconds ago it was 1959.

B.
A billion minutes ago Jesus was alive.

C.
A billion hours ago our ancestors were living in the Stone Age.

D.
A billion days ago no-one walked on the earth.

E.
A billion dollars ago was only 8 hours and 20 minutes, at the rate our government is spending it.


While this thought is still fresh in our brain...
let's take a look at New Orleans ...
It's amazing what you can learn with some simple division.


Louisiana Senator,

Mary Landrieu (D)
is presently asking Congress for

250
BILLION DOLLARS
to rebuild New Orleans Interesting number...
what does it mean?

A.
Well... if you are one of the 484,674 residents of New Orleans
(every man, woman, and child)
you
each get $516,528.

B.

Or... if you have one of the 188,251 homes in
New Orleans , your home gets
$1,329,787.

C.
Or... if you are a family of four...
your family gets
$2,066,012.

Washington , D. C

<>

Are all your calculators broken??

Accounts Receivable Tax
Building Permit Tax
CDL License Tax
Cigarette Tax
Corporate Income Tax
Dog License Tax
Federal Income Tax
Federal Unemployment Tax (FUTA)
Fishing License Tax

Food License Tax

Fuel Permit Tax

Gasoline Tax

Hunting License Tax

Inheritance Tax

Inventory Tax

IRS Interest Charges (
tax on top of tax)
IRS Penalties
(tax on top of tax)
Liquor Tax

Luxury Tax

Marriage License Tax

Medicare Tax

Property Tax

Real Estate Tax

Service charge taxes

Social Security Tax

Road Usage Tax (Truckers)

Sales Taxes

Recreational Vehicle Tax

School Tax

State Income Tax

State Unemploy ment Tax (SUTA)

Telephone Federal Excise Tax

Telephone Federal Universal
Service Fee Tax
Telephone Federal, State and Local Surcharge Tax

Telephone Minimum Usage Surcharge Tax

Telephone Recurring and Non-recurring Charges Tax

Telephone State and Local Tax

Telephone Usage Charge Tax

Utility Tax

Vehicle License Registration Tax

Vehicle Sales Tax

Watercraft Registration Tax

Well Permit Tax

Workers Compensation Tax


STILL THINK THIS IS FUNNY?


Not one of these taxes existed 100 years ago...
and our nation was the most prosperous in the world.

We had absolutely no national debt....
We had the largest middle class in the world...

and
Mom stayed home to raise the kids.

What happened?
Can you spell
'politicians!'

And I
still have to
press '1'
for English.


I hope this goes around the

USA

at least 100 times

What the heck happened? ????

Monday, December 22, 2008

Remember Lee Iacocca

Remember Lee Iacocca, the man who rescued Chrysler Corporation from its death throes? He's now 82 years old and has a new book, 'Where Have All The Leaders Gone?'.

Lee Iacocca Says:

'Am I the only guy in this country who's fed up with what's happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder! We've got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we've got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can't even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, 'Stay the course.'

Stay the course? You've got to be kidding. This is America , not the damned, 'Titanic'. I'll give you a sound bite: 'Throw all the bums out!'

You might think I'm getting senile, that I've gone off my rocker, and maybe I have. But someone has to speak up. I hardly recognize this country anymore.

The most famous business leaders are not the innovators but the guys in handcuffs. While we're fiddling in Iraq , the Middle East is burning and nobody seems to know what to do. And the press is waving 'pom-poms' instead of asking hard questions. That's not the promise of the ' America ' my parents and yours traveled across the ocean for. I've had enough. How about you?

I'll go a step further. You can't call yourself a patriot if you're not outraged. This is a fight I'm ready and willing to have. The Biggest 'C' is Crisis! (Iacocca elaborates on nine C's of leadership, with crisis being the first.)

Leaders are made, not born. Leadership is forged in times of crisis. It's easy to sit there with your feet up on the desk and talk theory. Or send someone else's kids off to war when you've never seen a battlefield yourself. It's another thing to lead when your world comes tumbling down.

On September 11, 2001, we needed a strong leader more than any other time in our history. We needed a steady hand to guide us out of the ashes. A hell of a mess, so here's where we stand.

We're immersed in a bloody war with no plan for winning and no plan for leaving.

We're running the biggest deficit in the history of the country.

We're losing the manufacturing edge to Asia , while our once-great companies are getting slaughtered by health care costs.

Gas prices are skyrocketing, and nobody in power has a coherent energy policy. Our schools are in trouble.

Our borders are like sieves.

The middle class is being squeezed every which way.

These are times that cry out for leadership.

But when you look around, you've got to ask: 'Where have all the leaders gone?' Where are the curious, creative communicators? Where are the people of character, courage, conviction, omnipotence, and common sense? I may be a sucker for alliteration, but I think you get the point.

Name me a leader who has a better idea for homeland security than making us take off our shoes in airports and throw away our shampoo?

We've spent billions of dollars building a huge new bureaucracy, and all we know how to do is react to things that have already happened.

Name me one leader who emerged from the crisis of Hurricane Katrina. Congress has yet to spend a single day evaluating the response to the hurricane or demanding accountability for the decisions that were made in the crucial hours after the storm.

Everyone's hunkering down, fingers crossed, hoping it doesn't happen again. Now, that's just crazy. Storms happen. Deal with it. Make a plan. Figure out what you're going to do the next time.

Name me an industry leader who is thinking creatively about how we can restore our competitive edge in manufacturing. Who would have believed that there could ever be a time when 'The Big Three' referred to Japanese car companies? How did this happen, and more important, what are we going to do about it?

Name me a government leader who can articulate a plan for paying down the debit, or solving the energy crisis, or managing the health care problem. The silence is deafening. But these are the crises that are eating away at our country and milking the middle class dry.

I have news for the gang in Congress. We didn't elect you to sit on your asses and do nothing and remain silent while our democracy is being hijacked and our greatness is being replaced with mediocrity. What is everybody so afraid of? That some bonehead on Fox News will call them a name? Give me a break. Why don't you guys show some spine for a change?

Had Enough? Hey, I'm not trying to be the voice of gloom and doom here. I'm trying to light a fire. I'm speaking out because I have hope - I believe in America . In my lifetime, I've had the privilege of living through some of America 's greatest moments. I've also experienced some of our worst crises: The 'Great Depression,' 'World War II,' the 'Korean War,' the 'Kennedy Assassination,' the 'Vietnam War,' the 1970's oil crisis, and the struggles of recent years culminating with 9/11.

If I've learned one thing, it's this: 'You don't get anywhere by standing on the sidelines waiting for somebody else to take action. Whether it's building a better car or building a better future for our children, we all have a role to play. That's the challenge I'm raising in this book. It's a "Call to Action" for people who, like me, believe in America '. It's not too late, but it's getting pretty close. So let's shake off the crap and go to work. Let's tell 'em all we've had 'enough.'

Make your own contribution by sending this to everyone you know and care about. It's our country, folks, and it's our future. Our future is at stake!!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

FRED REED

Conservatives, Barely. Maybe. But I Doubt It.
A Question of Semantics

December 13, 2008

I am trying to understand conservatives. The word has got to mean something, unless of course it doesn’t. For years I thought it meant someone like my grandfather, a professor of mathematics at a small college in the South. He embodied courtesy, respect for learning, personal responsibility, compassion for those in the town who found themselves in distress, dignity, a love of the language, a morality opposed to promiscuity and bastardy, and a quiet Christianity having nothing in common with the cruelty and hostility of today’s unlettered evangelicals. I thought it a pretty decent package, though I had problems with the part about avoiding promiscuity.
Over my years of writing this column, I have received a great deal of mail from people, entirely male so far as I can remember, calling themselves “conservatives,” yet having nothing in common with granddad. (I use quotation marks, though I will omit them in what follows as being annoying, because there are many people who regard themselves as conservatives but are decent people.)
These email conservatives are a specific type of person, characterized by:
(1) Hostility to other groups—blacks, Mexicans, homosexuals, and Jews for example. In earlier times they would have detested the Irish, Italians, Asians, and Slavs;
(2) A view of life as conflict, struggle, and war. We must arm, arm, arm. Commerce also is a fight to the death in which we must prevail by any means. We must not become soft and weak, as only the strong and resolute will survive in this dog-eat-dog world; this finds philosophical support in Social Darwinism, which says let them starve if they can’t keep up. Further, we must breed like incontinent oysters or the Chinese (Moslems, Africans, etc) will overwhelm us. This often shades into:
(3) Subclinical paranoia. The (pick one) Jews, communists, Russians, Chinese, Moslems are insidious, fiendishly patient—waiting, waiting for us to falter so that they can take over and enslave us. You have doubtless heard this sort of thing: The gates of Vienna, what Lenin said about probing with a bayonet, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Strange shapes twist in the inner fog. Spies are everywhere, traitors await their chance, dissent is not dissent but a prelude to treason.
(4) An obsession with profits and economic growth for their own sake. “For their own sake” is a key qualifier. They do not ask “How much growth of what kind where for what purpose?” Nor do they ever use the phrase “quality of life.” They want more housing starts, more construction, more population to buy the houses without regard for anything else. People exist to serve the economy, not the other way around. On libertarian sites this sometimes approaches belief in capitalism as a supernatural force: The Invisible Hand of the market. This view is facilitated by:
(5) A lack of esthetic sensitivity. Where other people see a towering redwood forest as a place of contemplation, of solemn ancient beauty and God’s handiwork, the conservative (of the type I am talking about) sees timber suitable for making weatherproof decks for yuppies (at a good profit). Whales? Dog food. The Grand Canyon? A potential tourist bonanza needing only a four-lane highway, several malls with five-star hotels, and a Disneyland park with an Old West theme and mechanical-burro rides.
For them, everything is raw material for making a buck. They honestly seem to have no idea why anyone would object to killing everything and bulldozing everything else since there is money in it. Thus they hate enviro-wackos as perverse and irrational. This save-the-spotted-owl business is lunacy, they figure It’s just a freaking bird, for god’s sake, and we could put a subdivision where it nests. And then a mall. Tied into this view is a tendency to regard people likewise as raw material, a view underpinned by:
(6) A lack of empathy. Suppose that squishy bleeding-heart do-gooders object to the employment of children of ten, for twelve hours a day in Indonesian sweatshops, making pricey running shoes for people who don’t run. This will infuriate the conservatives (again, of this type). The factory makes money, doesn’t it? Photos from war zones of children with their entrails hanging out? The communist media are trying to sap the public’s will to fight. These conservatives just don’t care, and can’t care.
Now, by the foregoing I do not suggest that they are always wrong in their prescriptions. Sometimes there are enemies abroad (chiefly because other countries also have their martial paranoids). Immigration by incompatible groups may well be inadvisable. And so on. Yet these same people will find enemies where they are and where they aren’t, oppose immigration whether it makes sense or not, because it is how they think.
Whatever the wisdom in a particular case, I believe that most of politics can be explained by friction between those who have the above-mentioned traits, and those who don’t. Emotion determines policy, and the mind provides a window dressing of plausibility.
Consider empathy and its lack, perhaps the most profound dividing line in politics. Do you remember the uproar over exploitation of migrant workers in California? One side was willing to pay ten cents a head more for lettuce so that the migrants wouldn’t have to live in hovels; the other side wasn’t. Similarly, the Pentagon is perfectly willing to bomb cities and kill indiscriminately, to torture prisoners; the other side cringes.
A recurring example is the dispute over national medical care. The conservatives oppose it because they say it would become a bloated federal program, as it probably would. (They do not oppose bloated federal programs that produce profits, as for example the military, but have a deeply principled aversion to anything that might require them to pay taxes. Note that they favor private charity over public welfare, because they don’t have to pay for the former.) They simply can’t care what happens to others.
I have noticed that women are scarce among this group. They by nature do care. I have never heard a woman talk about the need for a pre-emptive nuclear strike against China. Many men do, all of the type who call themselves conservative.
What happens of course is that conscienceless, amoral men dress themselves in whatever ideology suits their purposes. Stalin was no more a socialist than he was the Tooth Fairy. However, since socialism requires that the state control the economy, it appeals to dictators. Thus the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. “Free enterprise” appeals to those who want no interference with their rapine, who want to run sweatshops, starve sharecroppers, and make billions on subprime mortgages. Same people, different scaffolding.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Thursday, December 4, 2008

FRED REED COLUMS

Precedent O'Bama, Wedding Bombs, and Other Good News

Maybe, If You Are Smoking Something Really Good

 

November 9, 2008

 

I’m going to slit my wrists. I’ve been reading the news again. I always want to slit my wrists when I do that. I know, I know: I’ll get encouragement from readers. OK, then, I won’t, just to spite them. Ha.

One story says that Americans owe some bizarre sum on the credit card and god knows how much on the McMansion and on the five-hundred horsepower riding mower with a mini-combine, backhoe attachment, and satellite GPS for mowing the half acre. I think I’m supposed to feel sorry for them. Actually I think they are a persuasive argument for eugenics.

I don’t get it. What is wrong with these idiots? Debt is easy to avoid. Herewith some blinding wisdom: If you can’t pay for it, don’t buy it. You saw it here first, a percipient contribution to economic theory. Works like a charm, too. Or how about this? Don’t buy more house than you can live in. Move over, Keynes, Ricardo, here I come.

Another story is about how banks are all unhappy because they’ve got bad loans. A probing question if I may (characteristic of this column): Who made the bad loans? Permit me another searing insight. If you lend money to people who can’t pay it back, they won’t. I know, I know, a difficult concept. Not something a Wall Street banker would know.

Thank god America isn’t a third-world country. In Mexico, the radio station of the local university, and other commie fronts, grouse about la impunidad, impunity, meaning that high-ranking criminals never get punished. You know, like the GQ-cover psychopaths who brought about the savings-and-loan scandal, or Milken, Boesky, and Levine, or Enron, and now the impoverishment of half the planet. But what can you expect? Mexico is a very corrupt country.

What I think is, we need a mass hanging. But no. The culprits will just reshuffle into the administration of Precedent O’Bama and remain attached, tick-like, to the withering federal dugs. The rats in the rafters may not be savory, but they look out for each other.

But on to matters of more import than whether we have anything to eat. I read that the world has gone euphoric over Precedent O’Bama. Simultaneously, O’Bama wants to send more troops to Afghanistan. I’ll give euphoria two more weeks. His chief virtues are that he isn’t Bush and isn’t McCain. When you have to choose between two candidates of whom each is worse than the other, you can bet life ain’t gonna be ham hocks and home fries.

Next, I see that the military has bombed another wedding in Afghanistan, killing forty-one. I guess it’s because civilians are easier to kill. They don’t hide very well. Usually they are unarmed.

Anyway, on BBC World News I saw some gringo colonel, maybe called Greg Julian, explaining that it was the Taliban’s fault when America bombs weddings. Most likely the plane had Taliban pilots. Recruiting is getting difficult, and I guess the Air Force has to take just about anybody.

But it wasn’t the fault of the military. In thirty years of covering the Pentagon, the military never did anything wrong. That’s a pretty good record. I know because they told me.

Anyway, Colonel Julian was impressive. He clearly had the makings of a future chief of staff. He was good-looking, delivered the word from corporate in grammatical English, and had the unnerving wholesomeness of a Christian Boy Scout. Definitely JCS material, depending only on his PowerPoint technique . He explained that the military goes to great lengths to avoid bombing weddings, that wedding-avoidance is practically an obsession, and they would try to keep from doing it too much in the future. I reckon it must have made any survivors feel good.

Funny, I too try to avoid bombing weddings, but I’m a lot more successful at it, despite a much smaller budget.

Now, I don’t want to sound cynical or anything. Still, I’d like to know how the good colonel would look at things if his daughter, if he has one, were having her wedding and kerblooey! Daughter and forty members of the family and close friends suddenly become clotting goo over a fifty-yard radius and the bombers say, “We’re sorry, kind of, but that wedding looked just like a troop concentration.” Troop concentrations always feature a woman in a white dress holding flowers. It’s what they teach at West Point.

Stray memory: I read once that bin Laden said he wanted to suck the US into long drawn-out losing wars to bankrupt the country and end its influence over the Moslem world. I don’t know why I thought of that. I need to focus better.

On to jollier topics, specifically federal porn. I find in Der Spiegel Online that Germany has decided against strip-search x-rays at airports. It’s because Germany carries civil liberties and privacy to impractical extremes whereas we, more realistic, know that the most innocent-looking girl probably has a bomb hidden in her skivvies. Those cheesecake scanners doubtless cost only a million bucks each, a song, times all the gates in all the airports in the world. This establishes pretty clearly that no economic interest is involved.

I bet the guys at TSA (Tits Scanners, and Ass) fight over the job of monitoring that screen. Hooboy. Especially as resolution increases. (Pressing research idea: Are color x-rays doable? Bombs probably come in different colors.) Maybe the government could recoup the cost by selling instant prints on request when some hot-ticket babe from a cheerleading squad comes through. Her boyfriend might want them. The rest could go to marketing at cellulite reduction outfits.

Yet more glad tidings. A while back I read where the Chinese did their first space-walk. On another page it said that as usual the Chinese economy had grown at twelve percent or some such number, and then I found a website talking about how China was buying up all the natural resources of Africa. The US can’t because it doesn’t have any money. It owes it all to China. And that’s because we borrowed from Beijing to make kinky nekkid-women scanners for ill-bred affirmative-action retreads at Homeland Security to look at, and bombs to drop on Afghanistan. Which doesn’t make sense, because Afghanistan was pretty much rubble from the start. It’s always been rubble.

I wish we had adult leadership like China has.

And now I hear that NSA is buying Bride magazine. Sounds like they’re hunting. Hey, stay single, or wear Kevlar and disperse quickly. (OK, I may have made that part up. I’m not sure.)

I can’t take any more of this. I really am going to slit my wrists. I swear it. Anyone need A-Positive? Send a bucket.

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Air Power

Zooming and Booming for the Sheer Hell of It

 

November 16, 2008

 

OK, today I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about air power. You will never need to read anything else. These revelations will provide blinding insight into our current wars. Here we go. Hold on.

The key: Air power is really good for things it is really good for, but works lousily for things it doesn’t work well for. (If “lousily” wasn’t a word, it is now.)

The foregoing is genius incarnate, and would revolutionize military thinking if the Air Force understood it, which it doesn’t. As is usual with our late-simian species, the fly-guys' motivations are instinctual and emotional, with reason a pretext slathered on afterwards and accountability a no-show.

Now, it is chic among Military Reformers and other fern-bar Clausewitzes to say wisely that air power is impotent and useless and accomplishes nothing. This is not true. In its own kind of war, it works splendidly. Often it is the only thing that could. Anyone who thinks that airplanes are pointless gewgaws should talk, say, to Japanese survivors of the Coral Sea and Midway, or of Yamato’s death run.

See, what airplanes are good at is blowing up expensive, visible, identifiable things, to include other airplanes. An aircraft carrier in the open Pacific fits the bill nicely. You can’t hide aircraft carriers very well. They don’t look like anything else. Even a Marine pilot would never mistake one for an olive orchard, or the cathedral at Chartres, or the Gobi Desert. They just don’t look the same. With enough bombing runs, an airplane can hit a carrier, which reduces the number of enemies instead of increasing it.

What air power isn’t good at is fighting guerrillas and insurgents, especially in populated areas. Why? Lots of reasons. First, pilots have no idea what they are bombing. They are flying at three hundred miles an hour over countries, often obscured by trees, in which everybody looks exactly like everybody else. So they guess, or bomb where the intelligence children tell them are terrorists. (That was almost a sentence.)

Now, the word “intelligence” sounds much better than “bureaucratized clandestine confusion,” which is more accurate. The intelligence agencies have enshrouded themselves in an aura of inexorable usually fatal infallibility. (“My name is Bond…Fred Bond.”) This is good PR. It is little else.

These are the same intelligence agencies, remember, that didn’t know where the Japanese fleet was in 1941 despite rumblings of war, agencies that were taken by surprise by the North Korean attack in 1950, and then by the Chinese entry into that war, that didn’t anticipate the behavior of the Vietnamese in that war, despite Bernard Fall’s books and the highly documented experience of the French. When the military made a well-executed raid into Hanoi to free American prisoners at Son Tay, the intel people hadn’t noticed that the prisoners had been moved. They were surprised when the Berlin Wall went up, and when it came down. They failed to foresee the collapse of the Soviet Union. (Their reason for existence was to know about the Soviet Union.) They missed on 9/11. Earlier, when the Air Force bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, it was because the spooks didn’t know where the embassy was that day. (Granted, embassies are hard to locate. They roll about on wheels, creep down alleys at night, and wear dark-colored clothing, that sort of thing.) The intel weenies also didn’t foresee the behavior of either Iraqis or Afghans, despite great archives of historical evidence (unless you think the US knew about these upcoming messes and invaded anyway). And so on.

These are the geniuses picking targets. You see the problem.

Now, we read a lot of PR about “surgical strikes” and “precision weapons.” Think carefully about this. Intel says a terrorist leader of indescribable potency is in a house in a flimsily constructed suburb. The Air Force then makes a surgical strike with a five-hundred-pound bomb, taking out half a block. Pretty surgical, that. Perhaps it was the right block—it is possible—but still kills seventy-five people. The male relatives of the dead then join the insurgency. Ray-rah air power. The Air Force can’t afford to understand this, as then it would have to find a day job.

So why does the Air Force engage in counterproductive tactics with totally inappropriate airplanes? Because it’s the only kind of airplanes it has. Why? Because fast, screaming, roaring, flashy zoom-buggies with lots of screens and switches and rockets are fun. Never, ever underestimate fun as a driver of military policy. A hot fighter is the world’s pizzazziest, priciest, swooshiest video game, an air-borne dirt bike with all the fixin’s. Really. You may think I’m trying to be snotty and clever. Think again. (All right, I’m trying to be snotty and clever, but what I’m saying is still true.)

Do you think I spent thirty years covering the military because I wanted to butcher puzzled third-world illiterates tending goats? No. It was fun. Low-level pop-and-drops in an F-16 out of Shaw AFB, F-15 air-to-air against Guard A-7s over Holloman, bomb runs at four hundred feet over hazy Wyoming badlands like the doorway to hell in a B-52—god, what a freaking trip, far better than growing up. Snazzy mask and helmet, five-g turns with your face flowing back behind your ears, world going inverted, burners kicking in…Hoo-ah!

It’s not called a joy stick for nothing.

And jet jocks get paid to do this. Whether it serves a practical purpose doesn’t matter. Not with rides like those. If you think these things don’t matter, you are out of your mind.

However, the glory days are coming to a close. Fighter guys are now in the position of cavalry in 1914, addicted to the Noble Horse but, in an age of machine guns, wire entanglements, and massed artillery, as viable as slide rules in Santa Clara. The reason is the armed drone, the Predator being a good example. These things now have the range, optronics, data links, and so on to carry serious missiles to hit the wrong targets and piss off entire populations as well as real horses—fighter planes, I meant to say—can. They are lots cheaper than piloted whiz-gizmos, and a bloodless unaccountable CIA geek in Colorado or wherever can fly them. Same stupid effect, but none of the fun. Call it anti-chivalry. Death by nerds without souls.

In a century we’ve gone from Baron von Richthofen to a dinosaur eyeing a thin crust of ice forming on his swamp and thinking, “This can’t be good.”

See? Now you understand air power.

 

The below explains pilots. This column believes in one-stop shopping.

What Have the Bastards Done to My Country?

Thoughts in an Insurrectionist Vein

 

December 4, 2008

Oh god. It’s getting worse. Everything. I knew it would. Death and taxes are long shots by comparison.

So I’m in Washington, a federal enclave, as someone said, surrounded on all four sides by reality. This was supposed to be a medical trip to have vital internal organs pawed, sliced, and injected with strange fluids. Kidneys, carburetor, remaining brain, that sort of thing. But this is Washington. Horrors everywhere.

Hillary. I don’t hate Hillary. She’s smart, tough, sane, been around, corrupt, and personally repellent as a fanged garden slug. By today’s standards, that’s a bargain.

But why the hell is she Secretary of State? How many years has she spent abroad? What languages does she speak? What does she know about the street in Karachi, Cairo, Guadalajara? She probably thinks Mumbai is what you eat with a RC Cola.

See, what’s happened is that we are ruled by an incestuous bridge club clucking to itself in what amounts to a thermos bottle. Hillary is SecState because Precedent O’Bama wants to heal rifts within the Democratic Party. It would make more sense to poison the lot, but never mind. Everything is about domestic politics. And these dismal retreads promote each other in circles. Hillary goes from governor’s wife to First Basilisk to senator to SecState. Oh help.

Same with Cuba. The good of the country doesn’t matter. We gotta keep the rubes gurgling with delight. That’s all that counts. The US continues to make itself loathed in Latin America, in substantial part because of that stupid embargo. Why? Because a noisy rabble of pseudo-Cuban losers in Miami votes Republican. But of course it doesn’t matter what the rest of the world thinks. All those funny little countries around the world really don’t have anything we need, except our economy, and China will give us visas to visit our industry. Perhaps.

And then there’s this business of having a black president. It seemed like a good idea. We’ve had white ones forever and it hasn’t worked, so a black one made sense. We have now established that a black president is exactly like a white one. Next time, maybe a Melanesian or Lao. I hoped O’Bama would stand in the Rose Garden and holler, “You blue-eyed muhfuhs done got it all wrong, and I’m gonna unscrew things.” No. Smart guy, decent guy, guy you could heist a brew with and tell dirty stories, but it’s business as usual. Same tired hacks.

I think I know why. Inexperience. Ponder his relation to the Five-Sided Wind Tunnel on the Potomac. I spent thirty years covering the military and I know all the Pentagon’s songs. O’Bama doesn’t. He missed Vietnam, wasn’t in the military, hasn’t had much to do with generals or soldiers. It’s not his fault and it isn’t a character defect, but there it is.

So in walks Power Point Petraeus, back from bombing weddings in Afghanistan. Power Point is impressive. I’ve never met him, but I’ve met plenty of identical units. Erect posture, firm handshake, carefully deferential enough but you can just tell he’s strong and reliable. And he can sling the lingo (“Ohhhh, I love it when you talk that way.”) with the stern honesty of an overgrown Boy Scout and the guile of a serpent, and he’s patriotic to the gills and he’s got charts.

And O’Bama doesn’t know better. So Afghan brides will continue to need Kevlar dresses.

Meanwhile, things get loonier on the street. I went to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore from DC by train and, so help me, they’re doing the same garish security theater on trains that they do at hairports. Cops and German Shepherds everywhere. To buy a freaking commuter-rail ticket, you need a photo ID, and they type heaven know what into a computer.

Okay, suppose I show up at the Obedience Training window with my suitcase full of Semtex, buy my ticket with my own ID or any ID with a balding ugly mutt on it—they barely look at it—and blow the 9:07 MARC to metallic sawdust. After the fact they assemble my shards, check the computer, and determine that It Must Have Been Fred. This miraculously brings the dead back to life. Bet you didn’t know I had such powers.

None of it makes sense, except as Pavlovian conditioning. Every few minutes a tedious recording plays in stations saying to call some number if you see suspicious behavior. Blah blah blah. No one pays the least attention. No one writes the number down. Has anyone ever called it?

“Uh, I want to report suspicious behavior.”

Voice, annoyed at having the Redskins game interrupted: “Yeah, what?”

“Well, there’s like, this guy, he has a funny looking raincoat and he keeps, you know, looking around, and I think his left hand is twitching.”

“Uh…yeah. Tell him to stop twitching.”

“What if he, you know, blows up or something?”

“What am I, your mother?”

I don’t get it. Something is happening to this country. It still has a lot going for it—friendly people, great diners, good blues, country bands, widespread availability of illegal drugs. But the government is out of control. Everything is illegal and watched. It’s getting so you can’t shoot cats from a car window with a twelve-gauge any more. Who wants to live in that kind of world? We’ll probably be overrun by cats, drown in them.

Today I went to the Hill to see the new Visitors Center. As usual, cops everywhere, squad cars parked on sidewalks, steel stop’em-cars plates rising from streets. People don’t seem frightened, but the government is, or pretends to be.

The Visitors Center turns out to be underground at the Capitol. It is said to have cost $761 temporarily deflated green ones and has the mental fingerprints of Albert Speer all over it: It’s huge, drab, squarish, monumental without even being imposing, with the √©lan of a K-Street office building.

I don’t get it. This is the country that produced Peggy Lee and Tampa Red and the ‘fitty-sedden Chevy, the country that spits techno-whizz golf carts onto Mars just like it was even possible, that brought the hamburger to gorgeous bejuiced perfection and invented most of the modern world. It’s the home of sand-lot baseball and Little Peggy March and BB guns and Tasty Freeze. It is, in a phrase, one fine place.

How did it sink to being a proto-Soviet surveillance state that builds vast awful Visitor Centers in the style of a Hitlerian mauseoleum? You can’t go to the john without a photo ID anymore. Something ain’t right.