Rant. Muse. Eat. Sleep. Recycle.
Friday, February 22, 2013
I haven't blogged for awhile. I think I will start back up.
Monday, April 20, 2009
All Grown Up
Newt Gingrich is fuming because President Obama shook hands with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela -- and smiled! Left-leaning organizations say they feel betrayed because Obama isn't going after the CIA agents who tortured.
I'm not an expert at much, but I spent a good 30 years in childhood and can attest to the fact that grown-up positions suck from a child's point of view. Of course, I can't know the exact breadth and depth of the challenges our president faces, but I can say this: he's acting like a grown up in dealing with them.
As a self-described, proud-ass liberal, I'd love to see him go Rambo and run roughshod over the Michelle Bachmans and Newt Gingrichs of the world. I'd like to see him make them cry. I'd like to see the torturers punished as part of an orgy of leftism that would include Bush, Cheney and Rove as cellmates and Gonzalez and Ashcroft and the rest of that regime living under an overpass together.
I'd like to see him get a wild-eyed gleam in his eye -- the one that made me so nervous with Bush -- and kick some serious ass.
But, Obama's not a cowboy. He doesn't want to be an astronaut or a fireman when he grows up because he's a fully functioning adult who has to keep it together while the kids are growing up.
Would he like to belt a couple of these jerks in the chops? I'm sure he would. But, in a two-party system, when you exclude the other party as the Dems were excluded for eight years, bad things happen. That pretty much puts the kibosh on a gib-smacking rampage.
So, metaphorically, Pres. Obama is holding a barbecue for those crappy neighbors who never mow their lawns in order to talk with them about property values; he's shaking hands with a teacher whom he despises because his kid needs a good grade for college; he's working 60 hours a week with that knuckle-cracking idiot in the office who makes his head ache.
He's doing this because grown-ups don't have the luxury of cartoonish revenge. When adults are laid off, they don't go in and shoot up the office; they curse their fate and update their resume because it's not about just them. It's also about the kids -- us.
Grown-ups forego revenge and grand gestures because they're planning for the future of others that they greatly care about.
So, he will extend his hand to those who badmouth America because grown ups say, 'sticks and stones..." And, he will treat tantrummers like Boehner and Cantor and Perry as adults in the expectation that they eventually will recognize that's what they're supposed to be.
So, when Newt is pissed off about a handshake, Pres. Obama patiently explains that the old ways of doing business didn't work -- and a handshake isn't a contract. And, to the left he explains that torture is a terrible thing, but prosecuting what was legal at the time is a waste of resources and our only recourse is to ensure it happens no more.
That's what a grown-up does. Nobody's happy, but there is a consistency of purpose and vision and there's a guiding ideal behind both situations.
Still, I would never underestimate his desire to keep us safe on the way to our own "adulthoods." Having lived through one of the most childish regimes in memory, I'm OK with having an adult in the White House.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
How's This for Brass Ballage?
On Tuesday, Republicans argued that the entire electoral process in Minnesota is filled with doubt.
In a fundraising plea to supporters, Sen. John Cornyn, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said that the court’s ruling was “fundamentally misguided” and failed to resolve the equal-protection and due-process violations alleged by the Coleman campaign, saying that some 4,400 absentee ballots remain uncounted.
“It’s frankly shocking that many of the same Democrats who so loudly decried voter disenfranchisement during the Florida recount in 2000 have so quickly run away from that principle when it no longer fits their political agenda,” Cornyn said.
Holy shit! Let me say that again more slowly: Holy. Shit.
This guy is looking to 2000 Florida as a bright and shining moment for his party? And, if you break his statement down, he's saying that the Dems were right and principled in their stand back then. But, he's "shocked" they're not supporting Coleman's position in 2009.
Let me break it down for you Mr. Cornyn: 'We try not to support cheaters. We're kind of weird about that.'
And before any of you get on your high horse [Crazy Michelle Bachman, I'm looking at you!] and say, 'Oh! He's not cheating; he's just exercising his rights under the law." BS! Norm Coleman is a cheater.
Coleman is cheating the citizens of Minnesota out of representation; with his assertions, he is cheating and cheapening the legacy of the decent principled people of Florida who back in 2000 had tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people of color bamboozled out of their votes; Coleman is cheating the U.S. by blocking a senate vote during a time of stress and change; he is cheating because he's not looking for fairness or equality or justice -- he just wants to win.
Here is Coleman's legacy: When the Election Night tally had him up by a few hundred votes, he publicly begged Franken to concede -- even though a recount was automatic by law -- in order to save the people of Minnesota the cost of a recount.
'It's what I would do,' he lied.
This reminds me of the old Southerners during the Civil Rights era who decided to filibuster -- I believe Strom Thurmond read the phonebook for hours straight -- in order to block votes on the Civil Rights bill.
My hope for this sleazebag is that he goes the way of Rudy Boschwitz and falls out of everyone's memory forever.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Oh, And I Don't LIke Ronnie, Either
I am neither angry nor irritated by conservatives who are blaming Obama for the nation's mess. Anyone reasonable knows this is an inherited situation.
But, I will not further abide with those who wish to make me a co-conspirator in canonizing Ronald Reagan.
Listen, people - I'm not that guy. I have nothing good to say about the man, so look elsewhere if you want to talk up Ronnie.
I think we spent the last eight years surrounded by Ronald Reagan's spirit: the lingering racism, the class warfare, the appropriation of the GOP by evangelicals, the demonization of progressive thought, anti-intellectualism, the notion that people in positions of financial power will police themselves and the air of general intolerance.
I remain flabbergasted that he is considered a good president. I was there and I wholeheartedly (and if I could borrow somebody's heart it would be doubleheartedly) disagree. I think he was terrible for America.
So, there's that.
Tuesday, March 03, 2009
Politics and common sense parting ways
Though I'm loathe to give that idiot a forum, I must consider the problem of Rush Limbaugh. But, at least I'll be able to focus on the abstract instead of the specifics of HOW IN THE HELL did Clear Channel decide to pay him $400 million to tear the country apart? And, why isn't anybody boycotting Clear Channel? Jeez!
Anyway, my abstract concern is the Democratic strategy to tie the GOP to Limbaugh. Intellectually, I think it's brilliant with some risks. Personally, I think it's messy and hard to support.
By messy, I mean that, at least in the short run, it gives this guy an expanded audience and puts his divisive remarks front and center. Structurally, it couldn't work any other way. After all, Clear Channel needs to protect its investment so any rebuttals by Limbaugh opponents would be "front page" news (Yes, Virginia, journalism is dead). And, since journalism is dead, you have headline writers bestowing heds like "Limbaugh Address Energizes Youth." WTF? Energize youth? Didn't the GOP just lose the youth vote in a landslide?
I would argue that what really makes the situation messy is not the guy's listeners, but his broadcast partner. They've got 400 million bones to recover. So, having Limbaugh lead the GOP is their wet dream. It's a large enough forum in which to recoup their investment.
And, here's where I see the brilliance of the Dem's strategy. Limbaugh is an entertainer, no matter his delusions of relevance. His audience is comprised of pissed off white males, with a sizeable segment of them racist (his valentine to them was his commentary on black NFL quarterbacks and Donovan McNabb). Even more than a politician, entertainers play to their base. If he attempts to pull in moderates, he will get slapped silly -- like Don Imus.
Limbaugh appealing to moderates would be tantamount to Oprah Winfrey chucking her empire to create a bass fishing show. His core would evaporate.
Imagine Limbaugh saying Hispanic immigrants are important to this nation; imagine him saying racism does exist; imagine him saying that the U.S. political and economics systems are geared to the wealthy. All of it's true, but toxic, to an audience that believes the only truly aggrieved demographic is the white male. And, here's a scary proposition: Limbaugh can't make a pan-American outreach. He can't try to get us all working together. Why? Because it goes against everything he's built his empire on. It has to be us-versus-them for him because that's his only foundation.
So, when he makes the African American man who is the elected head of the GOP apologize for calling his show what it is -- incendiary and vicious -- the Dems have painted the GOP into a corner. Republicans embrace Limbaugh and he has to embrace bigotry, class warfare and intolerance. It pays his mortgage. But, that song and dance pretty much sucked in the last election cycle.
Still, the risk lies in good people assuming desirable outcomes materialize out of thin air and hard work is optional. The risk lies in the complacency of people who think evil was overcome in that last election. They underestimate the ease of evil's task. Demolition is a heck of a lot easier than construction.
Plus, it's rarely about numbers; it's about perception. The Nazis in Germany were certainly a minority, but the perception among the German people of the era was that National Socialists were a silent, hulking majority -- listening in on every non-conforming word.
I've met many German people who survived that time. All of them, including one I've never met, the Pope, claim to have abhorred the Nazi's beliefs -- even if they were registered Nazis themselves. Judging by their tales, a dozen guys were true believers and bullied everyone else into toeing their line.
That is the risk. Limbaugh's appeal to our baser instincts could reach a critical mass with enough Americans so that opposition is cowed into silence. By digging in their heels, Republicans could tear down the Dems' hard work. Using a well-placed phrase or glowing headline, Americans could be fooled into thinking hateful beliefs are predominant again.
And, isn't it always easy to think the worst of the person next to you?
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Other than, 'Don't do that,' what is the GOP agenda? Seriously.
I ask this question in all seriousness, because I've spent hours talking with my conservative friends who say we are now living in socialist hell because of Pres. Obama's policies. I am especially curious to hear the answers of the middle class conservatives who are angry to be bailing out their neighbor who overextended. Is your answer really to let this economy run its course with no governmental intervention? Really?
Even as we go about our daily lives...
George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz et al are patting themselves on the backs for being private citizens who are not incarcerated. So, unless one or all of them decide to hold up a convenience store, that is the end of that. Don't let it eat you up.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
You know what's weird?...
I'm not carrying around the same anger that possessed me for much of the last eight years. I was no kitten-kicking anarchist; I simply lived a seething beneath the surface life. That happens when you get slapped frequently for no other reason than someone can do it to you. I was embarrassed when we bragged about torturing enemy combatants (slap) and mortified when speaking out against that was considered anti-American (slap). I was flabbergasted at the chutzpah of Lynn Cheney, an openly lesbian woman who practiced the most divisive of sexual and racial politics despite being a target for her compatriots (slap); I was dumbfounded that Halliburton could rummage through our pockets while soldiers died thanks to their bumbling (slap). I was astonished to see an alleged president of the United States so publicly bought and sold by business interests (slap). I despised Dick Cheney and he didn't care (slap). I watched a Justice Department drop racial and sexual discrimination cases so they could protect the interests of white, conservative Christians who apparently were in some kind of danger (slap).
I feel like a character in Portnoy's Complaint; I have awakened from those eight years and the only thing I can muster is: WTF?
What the fuck was that about?
Still, I'm not angry. Would I like to see Bush and his cronies doing time for robbing this nation blind? Yeah, sure. But, more importantly, we've got to fix a whole bunch of crap. I am... resigned to the notion that the party is over and things will be different.
Not that you can tell with the conservative GOP crowd. Lots of obstructionism going on there. A woman named Tara Wall, a GOP operative, twisted Attorney General Holder's words around to make him out to be some kind of racist. He said Americans are often cowardly when it comes to true discussions about race - and I agree. What encouraged me about Wall's comments (as well as Limbaugh's, McConnell's, McCain's, Palin's) are that in the wake of eight years of being slapped in the face by this crowd, we recognize it as the BS that it is.
Wall, for instance, went so far in her attack on Holder that she praised all the white voters for Obama -- the vast majority, of course, being white, DEMOCRATIC voters. Oooh! I bet she wishes she could take that sentence back.
You see, it's just like my mother told me. If you do dirty things and don't change, you're going to end up in places you don't want to be.
So, in conclusion, my life right now can be summed up by my last visit to Ruby Tuesdays, when the waitress wanted to know if I needed more lemonade.
"Nah. I'm cool," I said.
And, I am.
Monday, February 23, 2009
Just Got Back and I'm Getting Crap Already
OK Anonymous -
In answer to your "It appears random" remark about my first posting since the Jurassic era: thank you. It is nice to have some interaction, even if it's being poked at.
I am moved by glances, music, smells, bells and kind remarks. If moved enough, I will do what I did in the last election season -- give money I don't have to a candidate I will never meet in the hope that some small part of life in the U.S. will be better than it was before. Talk about your Chaos Theory.
But, mostly, I'm moved by small things... smells, bells, you remember (hell, it was in the last sentence). This particular song, "Flagpole Sitta" by Harvey Danger (no, it's not Lit and it's not Green Day) reminds me of how close this American Family is, even when we hate each other much of the time.
I am moved by the fact that a silly song from 10 years ago, written by someone much younger than me, from a different race and area of the country, could speak so directly to me. It's that American Family thing, again.
It's not the best part of me, admittedly, given this lyric: "I'm not sick but I'm not well/and I'm so hot/'cause I'm in hell/been around the world/and found that/only stupid people are breeding/the cretins/cloning and feeding"
Still, it's cathartic.
So, in conclusion - 'Yes. It was random, but I liked it."
I'm Back! Redux
My easy listening recommendation:
Friday, January 23, 2009
Norm Coleman, Douchebag of the Year
I LOVE this article. Lots of bile, but spot on IMO. - Jae
Thank you Proud2beMinnesotan, via neptunehillsides.blogspot.com by way of GIN AND TACOS DOT COM)
It was a banner year for assholes.
It would take one gigantic cocksucker to claw his or her way over the likes of Hank Paulson, Liddy Dole, Ted Stevens, Rod Blagojevich, “Hot Karl” Rove, Joe the Plumber, both Clintons, and more political strategists, campaign managers, and pundits than we can count.
Is there any person out there who feels able to answer the call, to remove the Excalibur Dildo from the stone and become its master? The chair recognizes the Senator from Minnesota. Norm Coleman spent 2008 with his hands wrapped around Dignity’s throat, eventually forcing its head underwater until the bubbles stopped rising.
For a man who once lost a gubernatorial race to the pro wrestler who carried the minigun in Predator, it is practically inconceivable that he could go downhill from there. Like a 16th Century explorer, Coleman decided that the only way to find out if an elected official’s career could get any worse was to provision some wooden ships, crew them with a few hundred stout men, and set sail for the edge of the map.
Coleman, widely recognized to be one of the most humorless puds on the planet (and one who looks strangely like the offspring of John Kerry and a yardstick), decided that the way to compete with comedian and former SNL writer Al Franken was to out-funny him with cute campaign ads. Rather than striking a serious tone to make Franken look like an amateurish joke candidate, Coleman managed to make himself look like the amateur.
In a thousand years scientists may understand how a United States Senator managed to look rinky-dink in a race against a smug comedian, but for the moment we remain baffled.
Among his many ads attempting to be funny, the pièce de résistance of Coleman’s idiocy was one entitled “Why Not?” The ad features three actors playing dipshit slobs in bowling shirts (you know, the condescending caricature of how six-figure DC political consultants see “average voters”) discussing Franken’s many failings in a ridiculously affected and overdone “Superfans” accent. That’s how we dress and how we talk!
The commercial ends with the alpha-Grabowski suggesting that they run for Senate themselves…why not? They’re just as qualified as Franken!!!
It’s not the most offensive ad you’ll ever see, but it sets a new mark for inanity which may not soon be equalled. Coleman’s campaign is perfectly represented in his ads, a mixture of mouth-frothing attacks and attempts at humor which appear to have been conceived, approved, and executed by a council of stroke patients.
One commercial break might feature “Angry Al“, painting Franken as an unstable, profane lunatic while the next break would bring the cloying Leave it to Beaver comedy of “Got It,” which may be the first ad to close with an image of the candidate hunching over a garbage can.
In a remarkable synthesis of the two styles, Coleman sunk to new depths in “Excuses“, in which an 8 year-old girl clutching a teddy bear hurls insults at Franken before closing with a “My dog ate it” joke.
A sampling of Coleman’s advertisements leave open the very serious question of whether or not he has ever met another human being. Running the kind of campaign that makes Americans hate politics so goddamn much, one that simultaneously insults their intelligence and bombards them with vile rhetoric, is nothing new. It’s certainly not enough to win a nondescript political figure the CotY.
However, what Coleman did after Election Day elevated him from mere ass clown to the rarefied air of the legitimate cocksucker.
Let’s say you play a basketball game and at the end of four quarters the score is tied. Do we play overtime or does one team simply demand that the other concede defeat?
If you’re Norm Coleman, and perhaps only if you’re Norm Coleman, the latter is the correct choice. Faced with an almost incomprehensibly close outcome on Election Eve, Coleman simply declared victory even though Minnesota law mandates an automatic recount in the unlikely event of a race this close.
He indignantly demanded that his opponent waive “his right” to a recount to - get this - to save the taxpayers the cost of re-counting the ballots. Those fiscal conservatives!
Note well that it isn’t the candidate’s “right” that produces recounts; it’s the voters’ right and the state’s right and responsibility to make sure that we figure out who actually won the goddamn election. Semantics, of course.
Once the recount got underway Coleman really reached into his bag of Asshole, instantly transforming from a nondescript, robotic putz into the incarnation of Nixonian paranoia coupled with right-wing Talk Radio fury.
When Franken gained votes in the recount Coleman’s leeches helpfully noted that it was producing “improbable shifts that are overwhelmingly accruing to the benefit of Al Franken. ” The Secretary of State is a Democrat, proving indisputably and for all time that the process is overwhelmingly slanted to Franken’s benefit.
Campaign lawyer and professional jagoff Fritz Knaak knoted that the integrity of the process had been “breached” and that “the supercharged environment we’re in leads us to suspect everything. ” Nixon would be proud. Knaak and Coleman concocted one baseless charge after another, including the infamous “ballots in the car” story that led Bill O’Reilly to confidently claim “the fix is in” long after Knaak, Coleman, and Gov. Pawlenty admitted that it was not true.
Like all people who go too far in politics, Coleman’s party eventually turned on him. Gov. Pawlenty took to the talk shows defending the integrity of the recount and rebuking Coleman for “throwing gasoline on the fire” of the Talk Radio histrionics.
One of Minnesota’s most prominent right-leaning newspapers editorialized: "It’s hard to believe we’re writing this, but it’s clear that Franken - known for his over-the-top humor and partisan antics - is the one acting with class in this serious situation.
Voters, indeed, deserve to know the outcome of a recount. It’s not up to those who may or may not be the winner. "With Franken in the lead Coleman did exactly as we would expect by taking his fight to court.
While the merits of his legal argument are outside of my jurisdiction, the fact remains that the courts’ rulings in Coleman’s favor have not put him back in the lead. He will continue to drag the race out into 2009, making it likely that Congress will be sworn in before the outcome is known in Minnesota.
What a year, Norm. What? There’s MORE?
Yeah, apparently this fucker is as corrupt as a cheap hard drive. CREW named him one of the most corrupt men in Congress after it was revealed that he lived rent-free in Washington on the tab of a Republican consultant who has been paid almost $2 million from Coleman’s PAC and, in a completely unrelated hiring decision, who hired Coleman’s wife as a “consultant” to the tune of $101,000.
Not salacious enough for you? Well, now the FBI is on Coleman like glue over allegations and hard evidence that an Iranian millionaire (I’m not making this up) from Bloomington, MN named Nasser Kazeminy used an offshore oil drilling company called Deep Marine Technology to funnel $75,000 to Coleman through Hays Insurance, a company whose employees consist of…Coleman’s wife (pictured, who, I shit you not, invented and markets something called the “Blo & Go“).
The Deep Marine CEO and shareholders blew the whistle, telling the FBI that no insurance or services were rendered by Hays Insurance. Coincidentally, and much to the delight of the wealthy investor behind a drilling company called Deep Marine Technology, Coleman introduced a bill in the Senate on June 12 calling for more offshore drilling in US waters.
Norm Coleman, holy shit. You are one enormous cocksucker. You managed to excel at being lame, condescending, dirty, hysterical, paranoid, and crooked all in the span of a few months.
Most people (Blagojevich for example) can only handle one at a time. And Norm, if you think that I am about to make a joke based on the phrase “handle more than one at a time” in an essay about how much wang you suck, well, unlike your campaign ads I tend to work a bit harder than that for comedy.
Congratulations, 2008 CotY Norm Coleman. May your trip home from Washington and, eventually, into Federal prison be a smooth one.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Can we PLEASE Cut the Crap About the 'New South' Now?
I have been on an Obama high for a while now, so it's good to be back and share my absolute joy that Sen. Obama is now President-elect Obama. It's so nice that I even referred to the WHITE HOUSE OCCUPANT (WHO) as president in a recent article. I have never done that, not in 8 years. Ah, the sweet nectar of forgiveness. President Obama is reaching out to opponents as he said he would and studiously approaching some very complex problems facing the nation.
But, I can't help but notice that some are not sharing in my joy.
From the Christian Scientist Monitor:
>The political marginalization of certain Southern whites, economic distress in rural areas, and a White House occupant who symbolizes a multiethnic United States could combine to produce a backlash against what some have heralded as the dawn of a postracial America. In some parts of the South, there's even talk of secession.
>In an election in which barely 20 percent of native Southern whites in Deep South states voted for Obama, the newly apparent political clout of "outsiders" and people of color has been unnerving to some.
"In states like Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama, there was extraordinary racial polarization in the vote," says Merle Black, a political scientist at Emory University in Atlanta. "Black Americans really do believe that Obama is going to represent their interests and views in ways that they haven't been before, and, in the Deep South, whites feel exactly the opposite."
But for nonviolent secessionist groups like the League of the South, the hope is for a more vigorous debate about the direction of the US and the South's role in it, says Michael Tuggle, a League blogger in North Carolina.
Mr. Tuggle says his group isn't looking for an 1860-style secession but, rather, a model that Spain, for one, is moving toward, in which "there's a great deal of autonomy for constituent regions" – a foil to what is seen as unchecked, dangerous federal power in Washington.
"To a lot of people, the idea of secession doesn't seem so crazy anymore," says Tuggle. "People are talking about how left out they feel, ... and they feel that something strange and radical has taken over our country." <
What I love about these secessionists is their absolute obliviousness to the black populations within their states. The South has the highest proportion of black people in the union -- Mississippi is the state with the highest percentage. I wonder how "not so crazy" secession because of a black president would seem to them?
And, if they do secede, is their plan to do it without the permission of their black citizens? That sounds more like mass kidnapping to me. Or, are we re-thinking slavery? Wait. Didn't we fight a war over this shit? Yeah, we did. Let me steal the words from annotatedrant.com and provide my learned take on a potential Southern Strategy -- one that excepts roughly 20 percent of Southern white people and 95 percent of Southern black people.
November 3, 2004
Fuck the South.
Fuck 'em. We should have let them go when they wanted to leave. But no, we had to kill half a million people so they'd stay part of our special Union. Fighting for the right to keep slaves - yeah, those are states we want to keep.
And now what do we get? We're the fucking Arrogant Northeast Liberal Elite? How about this for arrogant: the South is the Real America? The Authentic America. Really?
Cause we fucking founded this country, assholes. Those Founding Fathers you keep going on and on about? All that bullshit about what you think they meant by the Second Amendment giving you the right to keep your assault weapons in the glove compartment because you didn't bother to read the first half of the fucking sentence? Who do you think those wig-wearing lacy-shirt sporting revolutionaries were? They were fucking blue-staters, dickhead. Boston? Philadelphia? New York? Hello? Think there might be a reason all the fucking monuments are up here in our backyard?
No, No. Get the fuck out. We're not letting you visit the Liberty Bell and fucking Plymouth Rock anymore until you get over your real American selves and start respecting those other nine amendments. Who do you think those fucking stripes on the flag are for? Nine are for fucking blue states. And it would be 10 if those Vermonters had gotten their fucking Subarus together and broken off from New York a little earlier. Get it? We started this shit, so don't get all uppity about how real you are you Johnny-come-lately "Oooooh I've been a state for almost a hundred years" dickheads. Fuck off.
Arrogant? You wanna talk about us Northeasterners being fucking arrogant? What's more American than arrogance? Hmmm? Maybe horsies? I don't think so. Arrogance is the fucking cornerstone of what it means to be American. And I wouldn't be so fucking arrogant if I wasn't paying for your fucking bridges, bitch.
All those Federal taxes you love to hate? It all comes from us and goes to you, so shut up and enjoy your fucking Tennessee Valley Authority electricity and your fancy highways that we paid for. And the next time Florida gets hit by a hurricane you can come crying to us if you want to, but you're the ones who built on a fucking swamp. "Let the Spanish keep it, it’s a shithole," we said, but you had to have your fucking orange juice.
The next dickwad who says, "It’s your money, not the government's money" is gonna get their ass kicked. Nine of the ten states that get the most federal fucking dollars and pay the least... can you guess? Go on, guess. That’s right, motherfucker, they're red states. And eight of the ten states that receive the least and pay the most? It’s too easy, asshole, they’re blue states. It’s not your money, assholes, it’s fucking our money. What was that Real American Value you were spouting a minute ago? Self reliance? Try this for self reliance: buy your own fucking stop signs, assholes.
Let’s talk about those values for a fucking minute. You and your Southern values can bite my ass because the blue states got the values over you fucking Real Americans every day of the goddamn week. Which state do you think has the lowest divorce rate you marriage-hyping dickwads? Well? Can you guess? It’s fucking Massachusetts, the fucking center of the gay marriage universe. Yes, that’s right, the state you love to tie around the neck of anyone to the left of Strom Thurmond has the lowest divorce rate in the fucking nation. Think that’s just some aberration? How about this: 9 of the 10 lowest divorce rates are fucking blue states, asshole, and most are in the Northeast, where our values suck so bad. And where are the highest divorce rates? Care to fucking guess? 10 of the top 10 are fucking red-ass we're-so-fucking-moral states. And while Nevada is the worst, the Bible Belt is doing its fucking part.
But two guys making out is going to fucking ruin marriage for you? Yeah? Seems like you're ruining it pretty well on your own, you little bastards. Oh, but that's ok because you go to church, right? I mean you do, right? Cause we fucking get to hear about it every goddamn year at election time. Yes, we're fascinated by how you get up every Sunday morning and sing, and then you're fucking towers of moral superiority. Yeah, that's a workable formula. Maybe us fucking Northerners don't talk about religion as much as you because we're not so busy sinning, hmmm? Ever think of that, you self-righteous assholes? No, you're too busy erecting giant stone tablets of the Ten Commandments in buildings paid for by the fucking Northeast Liberal Elite. And who has the highest murder rates in the nation? It ain't us up here in the North, assholes.
Well this gravy train is fucking over. Take your liberal-bashing, federal-tax-leaching, confederate-flag-waving, holier-than-thou, hypocritical bullshit and shove it up your ass.
And no, you can't have your fucking convention in New York next time.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
McCain's Conundrum, Distancing Himself From a GOP That Defines Him
By Gary Kimaya in Slate
Here is the link: http://www.salon.com/opinion/kamiya/2008/10/28/gop_shipwreck/index.html
Some conservatives have tried to argue that Bush betrayed true conservatism by running up a ruinous deficit and expanding entitlement programs like Medicare. They compare him unfavorably to Ronald Reagan, modern conservatism's patron saint. But this revisionism gets the historical record wrong.
The truth is that Saint Reagan expanded entitlements, grew the federal government -- including a $165 million bailout of Social Security -- and raised taxes. The right-wing myth of Reagan as an anti-government, anti-tax purist is just that: a myth. The same is true for his anti-Communism. Reagan talked a tough game, calling the USSR an "evil empire" and rattling his saber, but usually behaved pragmatically. When his ill-considered intervention in Lebanon failed, he wisely pulled U.S. troops out. In short, Reagan's ideology and his practice were often at odds.
The dirty little secret of modern conservativism is that Bush is more like "Reagan" -- the mythical Reagan, that is -- than Reagan himself ever was.
Bush actually did what Reagan just said he was going to: He cut taxes for the wealthy, handed over the keys to the economy to corporate interests and deregulated everything in sight. His most glaring and destructive imitation of the mythical Reagan was his catastrophic decision to invade Iraq. Fatally, Bush really believed his own Churchillian rhetoric. He decided the fight against Islamist terrorism was an epochal showdown of good vs. evil -- and unlike Reagan, he proceeded to act militarily on this grandiose belief. (Yes, Reagan illegally tried to overthrow the Nicaraguan regime, but the Iran/Contra scandal that tainted his legacy wouldn't even make the Top Ten list of Bush's misdeeds.)
This is why, to this day, the Republican Party and the mainstream right wing has never repudiated Bush. (To their credit, "Paleoconservatives" like Pat Buchanan and right-libertarians like Ron Paul and Antiwar's Justin Raimondo broke with Bush on Iraq, but they are marginal figures on the right.) How can conservatives repudiate someone who put into practice all of their most cherished ideas? To criticize Bush on substantive grounds, they'd have to explain not only why his policies violated conservative orthodoxy, but why they never once made that argument for the last eight years.
They can't do either, which is why they are forced to take the evasive, intellectually dishonest line of blaming Bush's failures on his arrogance and incompetence. Of course Bush was arrogant and incompetent, but those shortcomings don't explain his failed presidency. He failed because he acted on the extreme right-wing ideas that Reagan only paid lip service to.
The right wing is running as far away as it can get from Bush, but it still shares his beliefs. That's why it [and John McCain] cannot and will not muster any real arguments against his policies.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Another Reason I Despise George Will
George Will: Colin Powell Endorsed Obama Because He’s Black
By: Blue Texan Sunday October 19, 2008
This morning on "This Week" George Will was asked what he thought about Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama.
Black, black, blackety-black black black blackety-black.
SNUFFLEUPAGUS: We just found out that former Sec. of State General Colin Powell has said he's going to vote for Barack Obama. Big impact?
WILL: Some impact. And I think this adds to my calculation -- this is very hard to measure -- but it seems to me if we had the tools to measure we'd find that Barack Obama gets two votes because he's black for every one he loses because he's black because so much of this country is so eager, a, to feel good about itself by doing this, but more than that to put paid to the whole Al Sharpton/Jessee Jackson game of political rhetoric.
Excuse me, but what the fuck do Al Sharpton and Jessee Jackson have to do with George W. Bush's Secretary of State, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a lifelong Republican endorsing Obama?
Oh, right -- they're all black.
Pretty incredible that no one on the panel challenged Will's blatant racism (America's voting for the black guy out of white guilt) but based on the batshit crazy wingnut comments on Faux News' website. Will is just articulating what the GOP base is telling itself: Powell's just going with the brother because he's a brother.
Here's a great response to “George Will, and there were hundreds -- in TEXAS, no less!:
"George Will and the rest of the GOP Klan can bite my large white butt, Remember, the ‘R’ in Republican stands for racist. It’s part and parcel to their philosophy and platform. They live it, breathe it, feed it to their kids every morning with corn flakes and toast.
They try to dress it up, to make it more palatable to the rest of us but as the saying goes: No matter how much frosting you put on a cowpie, it’s not a birthday cake."
I concur. Hell, I don't think anyone's stated the obvious. The GOP has had every opportunity to consider an African American candidate. And, contrary to the reports I originally read, Colin Powell was not actively pursued by the GOP higher ups. He was considering it himself, but demurred because he didn't feel he could be protected. The chants of 'Run, Colin, Run' only came from the GOP after he had decided not to run.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
America's Relationship to the GOP
Milhouse to Bart Simpson: Remember the time your cat ate my goldfish? And you lied and said I never had goldfish. Then why did I have the bowl Bart? Why did I have the bowl?
Monday, October 13, 2008
I'm No Michael Richards Fan, But This Was Some Sublime Writing
Kramer: Oh Helene how are you?.
Helene: I Haven't worked since 1934 how do you think I am?.
Kramer: Well that's only 58 years.
Helene: It was a Three Stooges short, "Sappy Pappies." I played Mr. Sugerman's secretary remember?.
Kramer: Right,right, that was Shemp right?.
Helene: No, no Curly. The boys play three siblings, who find a baby, the baby's been kidnapped, and the police think they did it.
Kramer: Uh right.
Helene: But, but of course they didn't do it, the police have made an awful mistake.
Helene: Moe hits Curly with an axe; the Stooges catch the kidnappers.
Helene: But it's too late.
Helene: The baby's dead.
Helene: The boys are sent to Death Row and are executed.
Kramer: Well I don't remember that part.
Helene: I played Mr. Sugerman's secretary.
Kramer: Oh yeah you were very good!.
Helene: It was so sad, for the Three Stooges, what with the dead baby, and the stooges being executed and all.
Kramer: Yeah well that was an unusual choice for The Stooges.
Friday, October 10, 2008
Bank Robber Hires Decoys on Craigslist, Fools Cops
By Caroline McCarthy, CNET News
In an elaborate robbery scheme that's one part The Thomas Crowne Affair and one part Pineapple Express, a crook robbed an armored truck outside a Bank of America branch in Monroe, Wash., by hiring decoys through Craigslist to deter authorities.
It gets better: He then escaped in a creek headed for the Skykomish River in an inner tube, and the cops are still looking for him. "A great amount of money" was taken, Monroe police said, but did not provide a dollar value.
It appears to have unfolded this way, according to a Seattle-based NBC affiliate: Around 11:00 a.m. PDT Sept. 30, the robber, wearing a yellow vest, safety goggles, a blue shirt, and a respirator mask went over to a guard who was overseeing the unloading of cash to the bank from the truck. He sprayed the guard with pepper spray, grabbed his bag of money, and fled the scene.
But here's the hilarious twist. The robber had previously put out a Craigslist ad for road maintenance workers, promising wages of $28.50 per hour. Recruits were asked to wait near the Bank of America right around the time of the robbery--wearing yellow vests, safety goggles, a respirator mask, and preferably a blue shirt. At least a dozen of them showed up after responding to the Craigslist ad.
"I came across the ad that was for a prevailing wage job for $28.50 an hour," one of the unwitting decoys, named Mike, said to the NBC station. As it turns out, they were simply placed there to confuse cops who were looking for a guy wearing a virtually identical outfit.
Authorities eventually found the getaway inner tube (a getaway inner tube!) and suspect that accomplices may have picked up the robber in a boat. According to the NBC affiliate, police hope to track him down by figuring out who posted the Craigslist ad in the first place.
Craigslist founder Craig Newmark was not immediately available for comment.
Thursday, October 02, 2008
Honest to God - Someone Wrote This
Newsweek Blogger MrZoid: No sir, it is as far fetched as it gets. All politics aside, Dinosaurs and Human beings never roamed the earth at the same time; I reference you to the procedure of carbon dating. No more conversation on this topic please, for the sake of all on this board, no more dinosaur talk.
Preparing for jaw to drop. Wait for it. Wait for it....
Newsweek Blogger Guesswhat_imaconservative: mrzoid...i'm a chick...and no it's not far-fetched. guess you never been to glen rose, tx. carbon dating is bs by the way. they've dated fish as being extinct for millions of years, then found live ones. oopsy. dino discussion dropped.
And, there it is. The failure of our educational system. The Cubs' reason for losing. Santa's mistress. It's all here. I have peered into the face of abject stupidity and it has no self-esteem issues.
OK. I have to repeat this with amazement in my voice:
"They've dated fish as being extinct for millions of years, then found live ones."
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
GOP Running With Scissors and No Leadership
From Slate.com: Lord of the Flies" inside the GOP:
So who runs the Republican Party? Apparently nobody. Perhaps the most startling political development of the bailout process thus far was the amazing lack of leadership on the GOP side of the aisle.
Let's run down the list of Republican leaders who attempted to persuade skeptical House Republicans: President Bush, John McCain, Dick Cheney, and John Boehner. (We'd add Newt Gingrich to this list, but no one is quite sure if his last-minute support was actually cover for his behind the scenes whipping against the bill.)
Bush's leadership and trust issues within his party has been evidenced for quite some time, and the icing on the Bush legacy cake is that fact that he could only convince FOUR Texas House Republicans to support his bill.
And then there's John McCain, who last week decided to insert himself into the process and then (before the bailout failed) took credit for getting wavering House Republicans on board. Perhaps he did get a few wayward House GOPers on board -- but it wasn’t enough.
Now McCain gets a double stomach punch: He's stuck being seen as supportive of this bailout (which isn’t exactly popular with the conservative grassroots) and he gets to share in the blame for the defeat since he didn't have enough political capital to get this done (By the way, not a single member of the Arizona GOP delegation voted for this bill). Watching the McCain campaign deal with this yesterday, one could sense that they were fearful that they were going to look inept and take an even deeper political wound than they sustained last week.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Another Hail Mary from McCain? He's Going to Run Out of Hails or Marys Pretty Soon
What Is Politics?
By Marc Armbrinder
This is the time when politics matters the most, not the least.
* When the philosophical differences that each party organizes around are put to the test of reality.
* When conflict builds consensus.
* When the public craves answers and debate from their politicians.
* When the stakes of the presidential election could not be more acute.
Comparative advantage: the best thing the presidential candidates can do now is to practice their politics honestly, not to abandon politics altogether -- itself, of course, a political move.
Suspending your campaign basically says: all that over the past sixteen months? It wasn't important. Ignore what I said or did. Too late.
The tough thing here for McCain is that nobody in Washington asked him to come back; nobody seems to need him to come back; and that Democrats simply do not trust John McCain's motives.
Friday, September 19, 2008
"Do Not Go to Ortho" Nothing Political Today, Just Supporting a Fellow Twin Cities' Blogger
Do not go to Otho. I'm not talking about the food, the drinks, or the decor. The reason you should not go there is much more serious.Background: My good friend Imran and I threw a party at our building last Friday night. It was 80's themed with costumes, decorations, and a professional DJ. Many people we work with celebrated with us - public defenders, private attorneys, city attorneys, county attorneys... It was a welcoming environment and everyone had a blast. We even worked out a deal with Otho for a late night happy hour special and 80's music for our guests starting at midnight after the party ended.
Background on Otho: It's located in the Skyscape Condominium complex. Considering both Grant Park Condos and Skyscape are full of young professionals adjacent to this restaurant, you would expect it to be constantly crowded. But it's not. Imran and I always tried to support business there.
We had celebrated a birthday there. And Imran and his fiance had their engagement party there. We thought we were doing our local establishment good by bringing them our business.
What happened: At midnight, as we were cleaning up the party room, I received a phone call from one of my guests: "The bartender is saying there aren't any drink specials. He's being really rude about it." I walked over to try and clear up the problem. I walked toward the establishment and many of my other guests were standing outside talking about how rude the bartender was being to them. I walked inside and asked to speak to the manager.
When I found her she indicated to me that now they were honoring the special and playing the music. I thought the problem was solved. I was excited because the wild party-goers had calmed down and now everyone was talking in different groups. No one was boisterous. No one was going nuts. And there were only 4 people in the entire bar that were not with our party.When Imran came, he ordered a few shots for himself and two friends.
The aforementioned bartender poured them and then printed up the bill. Imran was planning on spending more money, so he told him to hang on to it and he'd pay it. That was not good enough for the already angry bartender who continued to wag the bill in front of him to get him to pay immediately. Oblivious, Imran then went to grab the other two shot-takers to come to the bar. The bartender followed him with the bill in hand.
He approached him and said:"Hey, [racial slur] take your fucking shots and pay your bill!"
Imran was so shocked by this statement, he said, "What the fuck did you just say?" As words were exchanged, the bartender said, "If we were out on the street, I'd fucking kill you!" and proceeded to come from behind the bar in an aggressive manner.
Several people were witnesses to the bartenders aggression. The manager grabbed me and told me that Imran had to be kicked out of the establishment. I saw the confrontation and went between everyone and grabbed Imran and said,
"Let's get out of here." Once outside, I found out what happened and came in and told everyone who I brought to Otho that we were leaving and not giving them another cent of our money.That bartender used a racial slur against my friend and threatened his life. The establishment kicked my friend out.
That bartender was back at work at Otho the next night. I would not be surprised if he had a history of such behavior based on how he was acting to the patrons before he served Imran. To this date, no formal apology has been issued to Imran and as far as I know that bartender is still working there.
The service industry is no place for racism or violence; and therefore, should have no place for Otho.
Do not go to Otho.
If they are willing to keep such a person under their employ, they do not deserve your money or your time. And please, tell everyone you know.Update: Both my friend and others have been in touch with management several times since this incident. One individual stayed after we all left that evening to speak with the manager and Imran himself called after he got home. As far as I know, no apology has been issued nor has there been any action taken against the bartender.
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Secret Killing Program In Iraq
This is what my own personal fear has always been. America has already been listening in on her citizens' electronic conversations. Now, there is a secret and, I assume, high-tech assassination program. Are we to believe we'd never be targets?
Bob Woodward's new book says this new, secret killing program in use in Iraq has been much of the reason violence there is down.
Militant of Reddit, a community of bloggers, chimes in. He or she hints about having inside information about the program. Here is the link -
"When this program is shown to the world, it will be marveled at, until the basic methods sink in. This, coupled with news that special forces were able to listen in on every move and heartbeat of the Iraqi PM...
"All I can get away with saying is put two and two together. And then, ask yourself whether this is a technology and a tactic and a program that you feel comfortable with your government having and keeping secret.
"I know the broad overview of what this program is and how it is operated - how much of the specifics I know is a matter I'll leave alone. But do you, the voter and citizen of a 'free' country, enjoy the idea that people can be tracked and listened to no matter where they go or what they're doing or what precautions they take? When the very sustenance they take in results in the loss of their privacy? Sure, in this situation one would think, 'Oh, but they're terrorists!' But do we -- now -- believe in summary executions on the battlefield? And, wouldn't you like to know what this is all about, considering the level of secrecy and threat coming from washington these days?"
Thursday, September 04, 2008
Lawyers have a phrase that goes something like "If the facts favor you, argue the facts. If the facts don't favor you, but the law does, argue the law. If neither the facts nor the law favor you, attack your opponent." The strategy of the McCain campaign seems pretty obvious. Unfortunately, the "elite" "liberal" media appears for the most part to have been entranced by what was in reality nothing more than pushing attack buttons. The uniform praise for this speech from the media is really an embarassment. Sure it sells copy and raises ratings, but there is more at stake here.
-- John, Charlottesville, VA
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
The Southern Strategy - That the GOP is Never Called On and Racist Voters
Richard Nixon strategist Kevin Phillips in an interview included in a 1970 New York Times article, he touched on its essence:
"From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don't need any more than that... but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That's where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats."
Now that the Bristol/Sarah Palin issue is a rallying incident for the arch-conservatives, I am once again confronted with rampant, flaming racism. I'd like to address at least one of them. I'll put it in the form of a question. Black people in America - when they've had the vote - have voted for white politicians in every election in the nation's nearly 250 year history. Why are we singled out as racists when we vote for the ONLY black candidate ever to win a major party primary? I have white friends who don't want to vote for Obama and one of the reasons I don't see them as racist is they don't make an issue of black people voting for him. Quick hint: if you're on a message board, bitching about black people voting for Obama you're probably a racist.
Oh, and by the way - tokens, quotas, pre-marital/unprotected sex are cool with the GOP, now? Sweet! I would join, then... if not, you know, for that whole racism thing.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
$400 Million? Really.
Rat-bastard Rush Limbaugh has taken his first name to heart and bum-rushed the Billionaire Boys Club. Having signed a Howard Stern-like contract worth $400 million dollars over, I think, an eight-year period, I assume he feels both vindicated and validated. Liberals and moderates may hate him, but those same diehards who swear Bush is doing as good a job as Brownie love him unconditionally.
"We should lock up all those damn drug users No excuses! They hurt America and make me sick!!" Rush cried. "Ditto," said his adorers.
But, when Rush was busted with Oxycontin -- and its heroinish properties -- all of a sudden crime and punishment looked a lot less welded together. It was more a matter of crime and forgetfulness. Or, crime and relevant philanthropy. Whatever happened to that jail time, Rush? Wouldn't want hypocrisy seeping out of your ass along with the Alli residue, would we? I'm sure sometime before his contract kicks in, this honorable man will voluntarily report to a jailhouse somewhere.
But, I'm not mad at Rush. His good fortune has opened my eyes even more. There is no more class war because the rich have won. The lower and middle classes suck on the teat of television and pray to be Gossip Girl or 90210 worthy. Disoriented, we vote against our best interests, lose sleep over celebrity missteps, become insensitive to the suffering of others, unlearn our meager school lessons and forget that even a planet can be a finite thing.
Typical Americans are counted on by political heavies to hate people of other colors/countries, lower means and different values. So, when somebody like Limbaugh gets $400 million for furthering this nation's divisiveness, there isn't even a yawn. Certainly, Gilbert Arenas' $111 million contract can be faulted for valuing athletic accomplishment over, say the worth of a good teacher. But, this really stings.
A company is paying a man to tear America down. According to the book 'The Big Sort,' we are already cliquing off and finding less common ground. They are paying a man to sort us out by skin color, by ideology, by political party and loose us upon each others.
How soon before dislike transmogrifies into hatred? -- not for the lunatic fringe, because that's been the case for a while. I'm talking societal hatred on a civil war scale. Straight brother against gay brother; black citizen against white citizen.
Here's a fun fact: the Democratic Party hasn't won a majority of white males in a presidential election since the 1960s. Why? Civil Rights, the notion of giving African Americans equal access in American society drove millions of white men and women away. Yet, the GOP continually makes a claim at being a Big Tent party. How does it get away with being so racist in the mainstream media without being called for it?
What I really enjoy are the pundits who diss black people for being 90 percent Democrat. In a world gone crazy, this is my test for sanity. As I see it, only one out of 10 black people wants to associate with a party that dislikes them. I think 10 percent is kind of high, but there are probably enough personal excuses to justify it.
And, when I'm invited to discuss the GOP ideology; use my own intellect to see how it offers an alternative? I say, GOP ideology my ass. Their ideology is that white people should run the country exclusively. Now, I have no problem with white people, but I think large numbers of them are being bamboozled by their "leaders."
Think about it. If this bullshit racism hadn't been our MO for so long, we might have among our strongest allies a stable African continent. Instead, we treated those nations and people like we treated our own black citizens and robbed, raped, killed and cheated them.
Now, we wring our hands because China is enjoying Africa's largesse. The most resource-wealthy continent on the planet generally views us an oppressor and would prefer to do business with a totalitarian state. Huh. Chickens do come home to roost.
And, this is the world of Rush. People are seen as inferior based on arbitrary traits such as race.
In our world we pay him almost half a billion dollars, but in a perfect world he'd be in jail. We've got some work to do.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
And now for something completely different...
"Well, I can't believe I Can't Believe It's Not Butter and the stuff I can't believe is not I Can't Believe It's Not Butter are not butter, and I believe that they both just might in fact be butter, but in cunning disguises, and in fact there's a lot more butter out there than we believe."
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Are U Distracted?
They call us the chattering masses. I think I know why. It's cold out here in the wilderness of ignorance. It's not that we're stupid as Americans, it's just the distractors are so good at distracting. In the midst of two wars and a class struggle that the upper class is winning in a rout, we're most concerned about Britney Spears' shaved twat, Roger Clemens getting a couple of hypos up the ass, whether Diablo Cody is the second coming of Neil Simon and white guys in the news media debating whether it's harder to be black or a woman.
While we're away, they're selling our country out from under our feet. The Chinese government and businesses are buying up our debt, a national ID is being set up, war profiteers are scurrying like rats on the battlefields where young men and women (American and others) lie dead -- and Rudy Giulani has proclaimed himself the true agent of change.
We're looking for iPod solutions -- easy, breezy resolve to terrorism, war, nuclear holocaust and a broken down planet. We just plug our ears for a few minutes and that hideous roar will quiet down. Just wait a minute. Too bad for us, that's not the vacuum cleaner humming on the far edge of our bliss. We've got burglars in our house who are taking baseball bats to our Family Guy figurines, pissing in our popcorn and eyeing our goldfish with lust in their hearts.
We need to unplug our ears and point our fingers. Tell Bush and Cheney they're war criminals. Tell Dubai-based Halliburton to give back our money or we will declare war on a corporation. Ask what the hell is taking so long to build New Orleans. Smack a sissified Democratic Congress in the balls. Give every profiteering, motherless, snake of a war contractor the bum's rush and tell each one we'd rather have honest, undocumented Mexicans than conniving patriots.
I'll share with you my one small act of resistance. I will NEVER acknowledge that a legitimate president occupied the White House from 2000 to 2008. In my world, it was unoccupied. There was no "administration," there was a regime. And, if I am ever unlucky enough to be in the same room with George Bush, I promise you, I will turn my back on his sorry ass.
Having ranted of piss, popcorn and goldfish, I guess this is where you say, 'So, Jae, you say, who do you like in the upcoming elections?'
I need some Hope. And, Hope, thy name is not Clinton. Sure, Obama and I share a skin color, but I think it's deeper than that. All we've managed to do with Bushes and Clinton is to get exactly where we are. I don't like it here. I've got young kids who I love very much and want to have a wonderful life. I'll be damned if they'll ever be pushed into a servant class simply because the rich pass the laws nowadays. Bush and his cronies (with Democratic complicity) have made it harder to pay for college; harder to get out from under crushing debt; harder to find living wage jobs. They're busy manufacturing the next generation of serfs.
I'm not looking at Obama's voting record (although I like what I've seen). "Present" is a political expediency and the lifeblood of a do-nothing Senate. I'm looking at the fact that he wants to lead us out of this mess. We hate each other up in here. That's fine for Sen. Clinton; she has attack dogs in her campaign. Hate, in some cases, motivates people more than hope. Obama is walking a fine line by example. He's trying to excite us about what we can still do; he's trying to take hate and fear out of the equation. And, I believe him. I was never more furious than when Sen. Clinton cried that some people are "right" and some people are "wrong" suggesting, of course, that she was right.
I would have sworn it was George Bush talking.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
The REAL Iraq War
And, this is why conservatives and their "patriotism uber alles" B.S. sticks in my craw. These so-called patriots are robbing us blind! This is a long article but if you can get down to the stories about Bunny Greenhouse and Russell Skoug and see what "cost plus accounting" is, I think you'll understand what Bush/Rove/Cheney hath really wrought:
The Rip-off in Iraq: You Will Not Believe How Low the War Profiteers Have Gone
by Matt Taibbi
How is it done? How do you screw the taxpayer for millions, get away with it and then ride off into the sunset with one middle finger extended, the other wrapped around a chilled martini? Ask Earnest O. Robbins -- he knows all about being a successful contractor in Iraq.
You start off as a well-connected bureaucrat: in this case, as an Air Force civil engineer, a post from which Robbins was responsible for overseeing 70,000 servicemen and contractors, with an annual budget of $8 billion. You serve with distinction for thirty-four years, becoming such a military all-star that the Air Force frequently sends you to the Hill to testify before Congress -- until one day in the summer of 2003, when you retire to take a job as an executive for Parsons, a private construction company looking to do work in Iraq.
Now you can finally move out of your dull government housing on Bolling Air Force Base and get your wife that dream home you've been promising her all these years. The place on Park Street in Dunn Loring, Virginia, looks pretty good -- four bedrooms, fireplace, garage, 2,900 square feet, a nice starter home in a high-end neighborhood full of spooks, think-tankers and ex-apparatchiks moved on to the nest-egg phase of their faceless careers. On October 20th, 2003, you close the deal for $775,000 and start living that private-sector good life.
A few months later, in March 2004, your company magically wins a contract from the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq to design and build the Baghdad Police College, a facility that's supposed to house and train at least 4,000 police recruits. But two years and $72 million later, you deliver not a functioning police academy but one of the great engineering clusterfucks of all time, a practically useless pile of rubble so badly constructed that its walls and ceilings are literally caked in shit and piss, a result of subpar plumbing in the upper floors.
You've done such a terrible job, in fact, that when auditors from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction visit the college in the summer of 2006, their report sounds like something out of one of the Saw movies: "We witnessed a light fixture so full of diluted urine and feces that it would not operate," they write, adding that "the urine was so pervasive that it had permanently stained the ceiling tiles" and that "during our visit, a substance dripped from the ceiling onto an assessment team member's shirt." The final report helpfully includes a photo of a sloppy brown splotch on the outstretched arm of the unlucky auditor.
When Congress gets wind of the fiasco, a few members on the House Oversight Committee demand a hearing. To placate them, your company decides to send you to the Hill -- after all, you're a former Air Force major general who used to oversee this kind of contracting operation for the government. So you take your twenty-minute ride in from the suburbs, sit down before the learned gentlemen of the committee and promptly get asked by an irritatingly eager Maryland congressman named Chris Van Hollen how you managed to spend $72 million on a pile of shit.
You blink. Fuck if you know. "I have some conjecture, but that's all it would be" is your deadpan answer.
The room twitters in amazement. It's hard not to applaud the balls of a man who walks into Congress short $72 million in taxpayer money and offers to guess where it all might have gone.
Next thing you know, the congressman is asking you about your company's compensation.
Touchy subject -- you've got a "cost-plus" contract, which means you're guaranteed a base-line profit of three percent of your total costs on the deal. The more you spend, the more you make -- and you certainly spent a hell of a lot. But before this milk-faced congressman can even think about suggesting that you give these millions back, you've got to cut him off. "So you won't voluntarily look at this," Van Hollen is mumbling, "and say, given what has happened in this project … "
"No, sir, I will not," you snap.
"… 'We will return the profits.' …"
"No, sir, I will not," you repeat.
Your testimony over, you wait out the rest of the hearing, go home, take a bath in one of your four bathrooms, jump into bed with the little woman… . A year later, Iraq is still in flames, and your president's administration is safely focused on reclaiming $485 million in aid money from a bunch of toothless black survivors of Hurricane Katrina. But the house you bought for $775K is now assessed at $929,974, and you're sure as hell not giving it back to anyone.
"Yeah, I don't know what I expected him to say," Van Hollen says now about the way Robbins responded to being asked to give the money back. "It just shows the contempt they have for us, for the taxpayer, for everything."
Operation Iraqi Freedom, it turns out, was never a war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq. It was an invasion of the federal budget, and no occupying force in history has ever been this efficient. George W. Bush's war in the Mesopotamian desert was an experiment of sorts, a crude first take at his vision of a fully privatized American government. In Iraq the lines between essential government services and for-profit enterprises have been blurred to the point of absurdity -- to the point where wounded soldiers have to pay retail prices for fresh underwear, where modern-day chattel are imported from the Third World at slave wages to peel the potatoes we once assigned to grunts in KP, where private companies are guaranteed huge profits no matter how badly they fuck things up.
And just maybe, reviewing this appalling history of invoicing orgies and million-dollar boondoggles, it's not so far-fetched to think that this is the way someone up there would like things run all over -- not just in Iraq but in Iowa, too, with the state police working for Corrections Corporation of America, and DHL with the contract to deliver every Christmas card.
And why not? What the Bush administration has created in Iraq is a sort of paradise of perverted capitalism, where revenues are forcibly extracted from the customer by the state, and obscene profits are handed out not by the market but by an unaccountable government bureaucracy. This is the triumphant culmination of two centuries of flawed white-people thinking, a preposterous mix of authoritarian socialism and laissez-faire profiteering, with all the worst aspects of both ideologies rolled up into one pointless, supremely idiotic military adventure -- American men and women dying by the thousands, so that Karl Marx and Adam Smith can blow each other in a Middle Eastern glory hole.
It was an awful idea, perhaps the worst America has ever tried on foreign soil. But if you were in on it, it was great work while it lasted. Since time immemorial, the distribution of government largesse had followed a staid, paper-laden procedure in which the federal government would post the details of a contract in periodicals like Commerce Business Daily or, more recently, on the FedBizOpps Web site. Competitive bids were solicited and contracts were awarded in accordance with the labyrinthine print of the U.S. Code, a straightforward system that worked well enough before the Bush years that, as one lawyer puts it, you could "count the number of cases of criminal fraud on the fingers of one hand."
There were exceptions to the rule, of course -- emergencies that required immediate awards, contracts where there was only one available source of materials or labor, classified deals that involved national security. What no one knew at the beginning of the war was that the Bush administration had essentially decided to treat the entire Iraqi theater as an exception to the rules. All you had to do was get to Iraq and the game was on.
But getting there wasn't easy. To travel to Iraq, would-be contractors needed permission from the Bush administration, which was far from blind in its appraisal of applicants. In a much-ballyhooed example of favoritism, the White House originally installed a clown named Jim O'Beirne at the relevant evaluation desk in the Department of Defense. O'Beirne proved to be a classic Bush villain, a moron's moron who judged applicants not on their Arabic skills or their relevant expertise but on their Republican bona fides; he sent a twenty-four-year-old who had never worked in finance to manage the reopening of the Iraqi stock exchange, and appointed a recent graduate of an evangelical university for home-schooled kids who had no accounting experience to manage Iraq's $13 billion budget.
James K. Haveman, who had served as Michigan's community-health director under a GOP governor, was put in charge of rehabilitating Iraq's health-care system and decided that what this war-ravaged, malnourished, sanitation-deficient country most urgently needed was … an anti-smoking campaign.
Town-selectmen types like Haveman weren't the only people who got passes to enter Iraq in the first few years. The administration also greenlighted brash, modern-day forty-niners like Scott Custer and Mike Battles, a pair of ex-Army officers and bottom-rank Republican pols (Battles had run for Congress in Rhode Island and had been a Fox News commentator) who had decided to form a security company called Custer Battles and make it big in Iraq.
"Battles knew some people from his congressional run, and that's how they got there," says Alan Grayson, an attorney who led a whistle-blower lawsuit against the pair for defrauding the government.
Before coming to Iraq, Custer Battles hadn't done even a million dollars in business. The company's own Web site brags that Battles had to borrow cab fare from Jordan to Iraq and arrived in Baghdad with less than $500 in his pocket. But he had good timing, arriving just as a security contract for Baghdad International Airport was being "put up" for bid. The company site raves that Custer spent "three sleepless nights" penning an offer that impressed the CPA enough to hand the partners $2 million in cash, which Battles promptly stuffed into a duffel bag and drove to deposit in a Lebanese bank.
Custer Battles had lucked into a sort of Willy Wonka's paradise for contractors, where a small pool of Republican-friendly businessmen would basically hang around the Green Zone waiting for a contracting agency to come up with a work order. In the early days of the war, the idea of "competition" was a farce, with deals handed out so quickly that there was no possibility of making rational or fairly priced estimates. According to those familiar with the process, contracting agencies would request phony "bids" from several contractors, even though the winner had been picked in advance. "The losers would play ball because they knew that eventually it would be their turn to be the winner," says Grayson.
To make such deals legal, someone in the military would simply sign a piece of paper invoking an exception. "I know one guy whose business was buying weapons on the black market for contractors," says Pratap Chatterjee, a writer who has spent months in the Mideast researching a forthcoming book on Iraq contracts. "It's illegal -- but he got military people to sign papers allowing him to do it."
The system not only had the advantage of eliminating red tape in a war zone, it also encouraged the "entrepreneurship" of patriots like Custer and Battles, who went from bumming cab fare to doing $100 million in government contracts practically overnight. And what business they did! The bid that Custer claimed to have spent "three sleepless nights" putting together was later described by Col. Richard Ballard, then the inspector general of the Army, as looking "like something that you and I would write over a bottle of vodka, complete with all the spelling and syntax errors and annexes to be filled in later." The two simply "presented it the next day and then got awarded about a $15 million contract."
The deal charged Custer Battles with the responsibility to perform airport security for civilian flights. But there were never any civilian flights into Baghdad's airport during the life of their contract, so the CPA gave them a job managing an airport checkpoint, which they failed miserably. They were also given scads of money to buy expensive X-ray equipment and set up an advanced canine bomb-sniffing system, but they never bought the equipment. As for the dog, Ballard reported, "I eventually saw one dog. The dog did not appear to be a certified, trained dog." When the dog was brought to the checkpoint, he added, it would lie down and "refuse to sniff the vehicles" -- as outstanding a metaphor for U.S. contractor performance in Iraq as has yet been produced.
Like most contractors, Custer Battles was on a cost-plus arrangement, which means its profits were guaranteed to rise with its spending. But according to testimony by officials and former employees, the partners also charged the government millions by making out phony invoices to shell companies they controlled. In another stroke of genius, they found a bunch of abandoned Iraqi Airways forklifts on airport property, repainted them to disguise the company markings and billed them to U.S. taxpayers as new equipment. Every time they scratched their asses, they earned; there was so much money around for contractors, officials literally used $100,000 wads of cash as toys. "Yes -- $100 bills in plastic wrap," Frank Willis, a former CPA official, acknowledged in Senate testimony about Custer Battles. "We played football with the plastic-wrapped bricks for a little while."
The Custer Battles show only ended when the pair left a spreadsheet behind after a meeting with CPA officials -- a spreadsheet that scrupulously detailed the pair's phony invoicing. "It was the worst case of fraud I've ever seen, hands down," says Grayson. "But it's also got to be the first instance in history of a defendant leaving behind a spreadsheet full of evidence of the crime."
But even being the clumsiest war profiteers of all time was not enough to bring swift justice upon the heads of Mr. Custer and Mr. Battles -- and this is where the story of America's reconstruction effort gets really interesting. The Bush administration not only refused to prosecute the pair -- it actually tried to stop a lawsuit filed against the contractors by whistle-blowers hoping to recover the stolen money.
The administration argued that Custer Battles could not be found guilty of defrauding the U.S. government because the CPA was not part of the U.S. government. When the lawsuit went forward despite the administration's objections, Custer and Battles mounted a defense that recalled Nuremberg and Lt. Calley, arguing that they could not be guilty of theft since it was done with the government's approval.
The jury disagreed, finding Custer Battles guilty of ripping off taxpayers. But the verdict was set aside by T.S. Ellis III, a federal judge who cited the administration's "the CPA is not us" argument. The very fact that private contractors, aided by the government itself, could evade conviction for what even Ellis, a Reagan-appointed judge, called "significant" evidence of fraud, says everything you need to know about the true nature of the war we are fighting in Iraq. Is it really possible to bilk American taxpayers for repainted forklifts stolen from Iraqi Airways and claim that you were just following orders? It is, when your commander in chief is George W. Bush.
There isn't a brazen, two-bit, purse-snatching money caper you can think of that didn't happen at least 10,000 times with your tax dollars in Iraq. At the very outset of the occupation, when L. Paul Bremer was installed as head of the CPA, one of his first brilliant ideas for managing the country was to have $12 billion in cash flown into Baghdad on huge wooden pallets and stored in palaces and government buildings. To pay contractors, he'd have agents go to the various stashes -- a pile of $200 million in one of Saddam's former palaces was watched by a single soldier, who left the key to the vault in a backpack on his desk when he went out to lunch -- withdraw the money, then crisscross the country to pay the bills. When desperate auditors later tried to trace the paths of the money, one agent could account for only $6,306,836 of some $23 million he'd withdrawn.
Bremer's office "acknowledged not having any supporting documentation" for $25 million given to a different agent. A ministry that claimed to have paid 8,206 guards was able to document payouts to only 602. An agent who was told by auditors that he still owed $1,878,870 magically produced exactly that amount, which, as the auditors dryly noted, "suggests that the agent had a reserve of cash."
In short, some $8.8 billion of the $12 billion proved impossible to find. "Who in their right mind would send 360 tons of cash into a war zone?" asked Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight Committee. "But that's exactly what our government did."
Because contractors were paid on cost-plus arrangements, they had a powerful incentive to spend to the hilt. The undisputed master of milking the system is KBR, the former Halliburton subsidiary so ubiquitous in Iraq that soldiers even encounter its customer-survey sheets in outhouses. The company has been exposed by whistle-blowers in numerous Senate hearings for everything from double-charging taxpayers for $617,000 worth of sodas to overcharging the government 600 percent for fuel shipments. When things went wrong, KBR simply scrapped expensive gear: The company dumped 50,000 pounds of nails in the desert because they were too short, and left the Army no choice but to set fire to a supply truck that had a flat tire. "They did not have the proper wrench to change the tire," an Iraq vet named Richard Murphy told investigators, "so the decision was made to torch the truck."
In perhaps the ultimate example of military capitalism, KBR reportedly ran convoys of empty trucks back and forth across the insurgent-laden desert, pointlessly risking the lives of soldiers and drivers so the company could charge the taxpayer for its phantom deliveries. Truckers for KBR, knowing full well that the trips were bullshit, derisively referred to their cargo as "sailboat fuel."
In Fallujah, where the company was paid based on how many soldiers used the base rec center, KBR supervisors ordered employees to juke the head count by taking an hourly tally of every soldier in the facility. "They were counting the same soldier five, six, seven times," says Linda Warren, a former postal worker who was employed by KBR in Fallujah. "I was even directed to count every empty bottle of water left behind in the facility as though they were troops who had been there."
Yet for all the money KBR charged taxpayers for the rec center, it didn't provide much in the way of services to the soldiers engaged in the heaviest fighting of the war. When Warren ordered a karaoke machine, the company gave her a cardboard box stuffed with jumbled-up electronic components. "We had to borrow laptops from the troops to set up a music night," says Warren, who had a son serving in Fallujah at the time. "These boys needed R&R more than anything, but the company wouldn't spend a dime." (KBR refused requests for an interview, but has denied that it inflated troop counts or committed other wrongdoing in Iraq.)
One of the most dependable methods for burning taxpayer funds was simply to do nothing. After securing a contract in Iraq, companies would mobilize their teams, rush them into the war zone and then wait, citing the security situation or delayed paperwork -- all the while charging the government for housing, meals and other expenses. Last year, a government audit of twelve major contracts awarded to KBR, Parsons and other companies found that idle time often accounted for more than half of a contract's total costs. In one deal awarded to KBR, the company's "indirect" administrative costs were $52.7 million, and its direct costs -- the costs associated with the actual job -- were only $13.4 million.
Companies jacked up the costs even higher by hiring out layers of subcontractors to do their work for them. In some cases, each subcontractor had its own cost-plus arrangement. "We called those 'cascading contracts,' " says Rep. Van Hollen. "Each subcontractor piles on a lot of costs, and eventually they would snowball into a huge payout. It was a green light for waste."
In March 2004, Parsons -- the firm represented by Earnest O. Robbins -- was given nearly $1 million to build a fire station in Ainkawa, a small Christian community in one of the safest parts of Iraq. Parsons subcontracted the design to a British company called TPS Consult and the construction to a California firm called Innovative Technical Solutions Inc. ITSI, in turn, hired an Iraqi outfit called Zozik to do the actual labor.
A year and a half later, government auditors visited the site and found that the fire station was less than half finished. What little had been built was marred by serious design flaws, including concrete columns so shoddily constructed that they were riddled with holes that looked like "honeycombing." But getting the fuck-ups fixed proved problematic. The auditors "made a request that was sent to the Army Corps, which delivered it to Parsons, who then asked ITSI, which asked TPS Consult to check on the work done by Zozik," writes Chatterjee, who describes the mess in his forthcoming book, Baghdad Bonanza. The multiple layers of subcontractors made it almost impossible to resolve the issue -- and every day the delays dragged on meant more money for the companies.
Sometimes the government simply handed out money to companies it made up out of thin air. In 2006, the Army Corps of Engineers found itself unable to award contracts by the September deadline imposed by Congress, meaning it would have to "de-obligate" the money and return it to the government. Rather than suffer that awful fate, the corps obligated $362 million -- spread out over ninety-six different contracts -- to "Dummy Vendor." In their report on the mess, auditors noted that money to nobody "does not constitute proper obligations."
But even obligating money to no one was better than what sometimes happened in Iraq: handing out U.S. funds to the enemy. Since the beginning of the war, rumors have abounded about contractors paying protection money to insurgents to avoid attacks. No less an authority than Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress, claimed that such payoffs are a "significant source" of income for Al Qaeda. Moreover, when things go missing in Iraq -- like bricks of $100 bills, or weapons, or trucks -- it is a fair assumption that some of the wayward booty ends up in the wrong hands. In July, a federal audit found that 190,000 weapons are missing in Iraq -- nearly one out of every three arms supplied by the United States. "These weapons almost certainly ended up on the black market, where they are repurchased by insurgents," says Chatterjee.
For all the creative ways that contractors came up with to waste, mismanage and steal public money in Iraq, the standard remained good old-fashioned fucking up. Take the case of the Basra Children's Hospital, a much-ballyhooed "do-gooder" project championed by Laura Bush and Condi Rice. This was exactly the sort of grandstanding, self-serving, indulgent and ultimately useless project that tended to get the go-ahead under reconstruction. Like the expensive telephone-based disease-notification database approved for use in hospitals without telephones, or the natural-gas-powered electricity turbines greenlighted for installation in a country without ready sources of natural gas, the Basra Children's Hospital was a state-of-the-art medical facility set to be built in a town without safe drinking water. "Why build a hospital for kids, when the kids have no clean water?" said Rep. Jim Kolbe, a Republican from Arizona.
Bechtel was given $50 million to build the hospital -- but a year later, with the price tag soaring to $169 million, the company was pulled off the project without a single bed being ready for use. The government was unfazed: Bechtel, explained USAID spokesman David Snider, was "under a 'term contract,' which means their job is over when their money ends."
Their job is over when their money ends. When I call Snider to clarify this amazing statement, he declines to discuss the matter further. But if you look over the history of the Iraqi reconstruction effort, you will find versions of this excuse everywhere. When Custer Battles was caught delivering broken trucks to the Army, a military official says the company told him, "We were only told we had to deliver the trucks. The contract doesn't say they had to work."
Such excuses speak to a monstrous vacuum of patriotism; it would be hard to imagine contractors being so blithely disinterested in results during World War II, where every wasted dollar might mean another American boy dead from gangrene in the Ardennes. But the rampant waste of money and resources also suggests a widespread contempt for the ostensible "purpose" of our presence in Iraq.
Asked to cast a vote for the war effort, contractors responded by swiping everything they could get their hands on -- and the administration's acquiescence in their thievery suggests that it, too, saw making a buck as the true mission of the war. Two witnesses scheduled to testify before Congress against Custer Battles ultimately declined not only because they had received death threats but because they, too, were contractors and feared that they would be shut out of future government deals. To repeat: Witnesses were afraid to testify in an effort to recover government funds because they feared reprisal from the government.
The Bush administration's lack of interest in recovering stolen funds is one of the great scandals of the war. The White House has failed to litigate a single case against a contractor under the False Claims Act and has not sued anybody for breach of contract [Jae's Note: But, it went full-bore against Affirmative Action at the U of Michigan and Southern Illinois and other universities]. It even declined to join in a lawsuit filed by whistle-blowers who are accusing KBR of improper invoicing in Fallujah. "For all the Bush administration claims to do in the war against terrorism," Grayson said in congressional testimony, "it is a no-show in the war against war profiteers." In nearly five years of some of the worst graft and looting in American history, the administration has recovered less than $6 million.
What's more, when anyone in the government tried to question what contractors were up to with taxpayer money, they were immediately blackballed and treated like an enemy. Take the case of Bunnatine "Bunny" Greenhouse, an outspoken and energetic woman of sixty-three who served as the chief procurement executive for the Army Corps of Engineers. In her position, Greenhouse was responsible for signing off on sole-source contracts -- those awarded without competitive bids and thus most prone to corruption. Long before Iraq, she had begun to notice favoritism in the awarding of contracts to KBR, which was careful to recruit executives who had served in the military. "That was why I joined the corps: to stop this kind of clubby contracting," she says.
A few weeks before the Iraq War started, Greenhouse was asked to sign off on the contract to restore Iraqi oil. The deal, she noticed, was suspicious on a number of fronts. For one thing, the company that had designed the project, KBR, was the same company that was being awarded the contract -- a highly unusual and improper situation. For another, the corps wanted to award a massive "emergency" contract to KBR with no competition for up to five years, which Greenhouse thought was crazy. Who ever heard of a five-year emergency? After auditing the deal, the Pentagon found that KBR had overcharged the government $61 million for fuel. "The abuse related to contracts awarded to KBR," Greenhouse testified before the Senate, "represents the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have witnessed during the course of my professional career."
And how did her superiors in the Pentagon respond to the wrongdoing highlighted by their own chief procurement officer? First they gave KBR a waiver for the overbilling, blaming the problem on an Iraqi subcontractor. Then they dealt with Greenhouse by demoting her and cutting her salary, citing a negative performance review. The retaliation sent a clear message to any would-be whistle-blowers. "It puts a chill on you," Greenhouse says. "People are scared stiff."
They were scared stiff in Iraq, too, and for good reason. When civilian employees complained about looting or other improprieties, contractors sometimes threatened to throw them outside the gates of their bases -- a life-threatening situation for any American. Robert Isakson, a former FBI agent who worked for Custer Battles, says that when he refused to go along with one scam involving a dummy company in Lebanon, he was detained by company security guards, who seized his ID badge and barred him from the base in Baghdad. He eventually had to make a hazardous, Papillon-esque journey across hostile Iraq to Jordan just to survive. (Custer Battles denies the charge.)
James Garrison, who worked at a KBR ice plant in Al Asad, recalls an incident when Indian employees threatened to go on strike: "They pulled a bus up, got them in there and said, 'We'll ship you outside the front gate if you want to go on strike.' " Not surprisingly, the workers changed their mind about a work stoppage.
You know the old adage: You don't pay a hooker to spend the night, you pay her to leave in the morning. That maxim also applies to civilian workers in Iraq. A soldier is a citizen with rights, a man to be treated with honor and respect as a protector of us all; if one loses a limb, you've got to take care of him, in theory for his whole life. But a mercenary is just another piece of equipment you can bill to the taxpayer: If one is hurt on the job, you can just throw it away and buy another one. Today there are more civilians working for private contractors in Iraq than there are troops on the ground. The totality of the thievery in Iraq is such that even the honor of patriotic service has been stolen -- we've replaced soldiers and heroes with disposable commodities, men we expected to give us a big bang for a buck and to never call us again.
Russell Skoug, who worked as a refrigeration technician for a contractor called Wolfpack, found that out the hard way. These days Skoug is back home in Diboll, Texas, and he doesn't move around much; he considers it a big accomplishment if he can make it to his mailbox and back once a day. "I'm doing a lot if I can do that much," he says, laughing a little.
A year ago, on September 11th, Skoug was working for Wolfpack at a base in Heet, Iraq. It was a convoy day -- trucks braved the trip in and out of the base every third day -- and Skoug had a generator he needed to fix. So he agreed to make a run to Al Asad. "If I would've realized that it was September 11th, I never would've went out," he says. It would turn out to be the last run he would ever make in Iraq.
An Air Force vet, Skoug had come to Iraq as a civilian to repair refrigeration units and air conditioners for a KBR subcontractor called LSI. But when he arrived, he discovered that LSI had hired him to fix Humvees. "I didn't know jack-squat about Humvees," he says. "I could maybe change the oil, that was it." (Asked about Skoug's additional assignment, KBR boasted: "Part of the reason for our success is our ability to employ individuals with multiple capabilities.")
Working with him on his crew were two other refrigeration technicians, neither of whom knew anything about fixing Humvees. Since Skoug and most of his co-workers had worked for KBR in Afghanistan, they were familiar with cost-plus contracting. The buzz around the base was that cost-plus was the reason LSI was hiring air-conditioning guys to work on unfamiliar military equipment at a cost to the taxpayer of $80,000 a year. "They was doing the same thing as KBR: just filling the body count," says Skoug.
Thanks to low troop levels, all the military repair guys had been pressed into service to fight the war, so Skoug was forced to sit in the military storeroom on the base and study vehicle manuals that, as a civilian, he wasn't allowed to check out of the building. That was how America fought terrorism in Iraq: It hired civilian air-conditioning techs to fix Humvees using the instruction manual while the real Humvee repairmen, earning a third of what the helpless civilians were paid, drove around in circles outside the wire waiting to get blown up by insurgents.
After much pleading and cajoling, Skoug managed to convince LSI to let him repair some refrigeration units. But it turned out that the company didn't have any tools for the job. "They gave me a screwdriver and a Leatherman, and that's it," he recalls. "We didn't even have freon gauges." When Skoug managed to scrounge and cannibalize parts to get the job done, he impressed the executives at Wolfpack enough to hire him away from LSI for $10,000 a month.
The job required Skoug, who had been given no formal security training, to travel regularly on dangerous convoys between bases. Wolfpack issued him an armored vehicle, a Yugoslav-made AK-47 and a handgun, and wished him luck.
For nearly a year, Skoug did the job, trying at each stop to overcome the hostility that many troops felt for civilian contractors who surfed the Internet and played pool and watched movies all day for big dollars while soldiers carrying seventy-pound packs of gear labored in huts with broken air conditioning the civilian techs couldn't be bothered to repair. "They'd have the easiest thing to fix, and they wouldn't do it," Skoug says. "They'd write that they'd fixed it or that they just needed a part and then just leave it." At Haditha Dam, Skoug witnessed a near-brawl after some Marines, trying to get some sleep after returning from patrol, couldn't get a group of "KBR dudes" to turn down the television in a common area late at night.
Toward the end of Skoug's stay, insurgent activity in his area increased to the point where the soldiers leading his convoys would often drive only at night and without lights. Skoug and his co-workers asked Wolfpack to provide them with night-vision goggles that cost as little as $1,000 a pair, but the company refused. "Their attitude was, we don't need 'em and we're not buying 'em," says Thomas Lane, a Wolfpack employee who served as Skoug's security man on the night of September 11th.
On that evening, the soldiers leading the convoy refused to let Skoug drive his own vehicle back to Heet without night-vision goggles. So a soldier took Skoug's car, and Skoug was forced to be a passenger in a military vehicle. "We start out the front gate, and I find out that the truck that I was in was the frickin' lead truck," he recalls. "And I'm going, 'Oh, great.' "
The bomb went off about a half-hour later, ripping through the truck floor and destroying four inches of Skoug's left femur. "The windshield looked like there was a film on it," he says. "I find out later it was a film -- it was blood and meat and stuff all over the windshield on the inside." Skoug was loaded into the back of a Humvee, his legs hanging out, and evacuated to an Army hospital in Germany before being airlifted back to the States.
When Skoug arrived, it was his wife, Linda, who had to handle all his affairs. She was the one who arranged for an air ambulance to take him to Houston, where she had persuaded an orthopedic hospital to admit him as a patient. She had to do this because almost right from the start, Wolfpack washed its hands of Russell Skoug. The insurance policy he had been given turned out to be useless -- the company denied all coverage, beginning with a $72,597 bill for his stay in the German hospital. Despite assurances from Wolfpack chief Mark Atwood that he would cover all Skoug's expenses, neither he nor the insurance company would pay for the $16,000 trip in the air ambulance. Nobody paid for the operations Skoug had in Houston -- as many as three a day, every day for a month. And nobody paid for his subsequent rehab stint in another Houston hospital -- despite the fact that military law requires every company contracting with the government to fully insure all of its employees in the war zone.
Now that he's out, sitting at home on his couch with only partial use of his left hand and left leg, Skoug has a stack of unpaid medical bills almost three inches tall. As he speaks, he keeps fidgeting. He apologizes, explaining that he can't sit still for very long. Why? Because Skoug can no longer afford pain medication. "I take ibuprofen sometimes," he says, "but basically I just grin and bear it."
And here's where this story turns into something perfectly symbolic of everything that the war in Iraq stands for, a window into the soul of for-profit contractors who not only left behind a breathtaking legacy of fraud, waste and corruption but, through their calculating, greed-fueled hijacking of this generation's broadest and most far-reaching foreign-policy initiative, pushed America into previously unknown realms of moral insanity. When I contact Mark Atwood and ask him to explain how he could watch one of his best employees get blown up and crippled for life, and then cut him loose with debts totaling well over half a million dollars, Atwood, safe in his office in Kuwait City and contentedly suckling at the taxpayer teat, decides that answering this one question is just too much to ask of poor old him.
"Right now," Atwood says, "I just want some peace."
When Linda Skoug petitioned Atwood for help, he refused, pointing out that he had kept his now-useless employee on the payroll for four whole months before firing him. "After I have put forth to help you all out," he wrote in an e-mail, "you are going to get on me for your husband not having insurance." He even implied that Skoug had brought the accident upon himself by allowing the Army to place him at the head of the convoy: "He was not even suppose [sic] to be in the lead vehicle to begin with."
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the story of the Iraq War in a nutshell. In the history of balls, the world has never seen anything like the private contractors George W. Bush summoned to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Collectively, they are the final, polished result of 231 years of natural selection in the crucible of American capitalism: a bureaucrat class capable of stealing the same dollar twice -- once from the taxpayer and once from a veteran in a wheelchair.
The explanations that contractors offer for all the missing dollars, all the myriad ways they looted the treasury and screwed guys like Russell Skoug, rank among the most diabolical, shameless, tongue-twisting bullshit in history.
Going back over the various congressional hearings and trying to decipher the corporate responses to the mountains of thefts and fuck-ups is a thrilling intellectual journey, not unlike tackling the Pharaonic hieroglyphs or the mating chatter of colobus monkeys. Standing before Congress, contractors and the officials who are supposed to monitor them say things like "As long as we have the undefinitized contract issue that we have ... we will continue to see the same kinds of sustension rates" (translation: We can't get back any of the fucking money) and "The need for to-fitnessization was viewed as voluntary, and that was inaccurate as the general counsel to the Army observed in a June opinion" (translation: The contractor wasn't aware that he was required to keep costs down) and "If we don't know where we're trying to go and don't have measures, then we won't know how much longer it's going to take us to get there" (translation: There never was a plan in place, other than to let contractors rip off every dollar they could).
According to the most reliable estimates, we have doled out more than $500 billion for the war, as well as $44 billion for the Iraqi reconstruction effort. And what did America's contractors give us for that money? They built big steaming shit piles, set brand-new trucks on fire, drove back and forth across the desert for no reason at all and dumped bags of nails in ditches. For the most part, nobody at home cared, because war on some level is always a waste. But what happened in Iraq went beyond inefficiency, beyond fraud even. This was about the business of government being corrupted by the profit motive to such an extraordinary degree that now we all have to wonder how we will ever be able to depend on the state to do its job in the future. If catastrophic failure is worth billions, where's the incentive to deliver success? There's no profit in patriotism, no cost-plus angle on common decency. Sixty years after America liberated Europe, those are just words, and words don't pay the bills.