Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sheer Paranoia: Outrageous but Entertaining

A Meeting in the back room of the White House. 60

Karl Rove barks at the administrative attendant (A G-12 Civil Servant): “Hey, boob queen! Fetch me another cup of coffee! Now!”

Treasury Secretary Paulson hurriedly enters and seats himself at the table, still completely consumed reading the papers he carried into the room. He looks frightened.

The Chief of Staff is placing copies of the agenda around the conference table. Two or three other Presidential Advisors are speaking secretively in the background.

Suddenly, the door is opened again. Two Secret Service agents quickly take their places on either side, suspiciously glancing around the meeting room. One, holding the door open, states in a loud voice, “The Vice President.” Dick Cheney skulks into the room to take his seat. It is suddenly silent.

“Where the hell is Georgie boy? Get his ass in here. We’ve got some work for him to do -- some stuff for him to say. I haven’t got all day!” Cheney grouches. A staff member rushes frantically out of the room, reappearing moments later with a disheveled George Bush.

“This is your chair, Mr. President.” the staffer offers politely as he pulls out the President’s seat.

“Hey! Texas! Are you tellin’ me that you don’t have time to get to my meeting on schedule? What a loser! God!” Cheney booms at the President, disgusted.

Addressing everyone at the table, the Vice President begins. “Okay. It’s no surprise, but we’re dumping old what’s-his-name. Hasn’t got a chance. Recoup all the money we can out of his campaign coffers.” glaring at Josh Bolton, the Chief of Staff. “You got that?”

“Yes, sir. I’ll get people right on it, sir.” The Chief of Staff makes a note in his day planner.

The President, seeming confused, interrupts Cheney. “Uh, does that mean I won’t get to give more speeches? You know, campaign stuff for McCain?”

Cheney fires back. “Just do as you’re told. If they tell you to give a speech, give one. Now, shut up. We’ve got important business here.”

The Vice President turns to Henry Paulson, Secretary of the Treasure. “Hank, how far down are you today with your Goldman Sachs' paper?”

Paulson, still looking bewildered, mumbles, “Another 55 million, Dick. This sucks. I thought the market wasn’t supposed to tank until just after the election!” He continued, “I’m getting phone calls. The one percenters don’t like this. They don’t like this one damned bit! You know what that means.”

Cheney booms back. “Don’t threaten me, you bookie! It’s your job to keep the billionaires happy! You can just get your ass on the phone and quiet ‘em down.” The Vice President glares at the National Security Advisor, then turns to Karl Rove. “You said you had a new plan. Something about the Treasury.”

Karl Rove stood, organizing a few sheets of notes in his hands. “We can still turn this disaster to our advantage. This place is going to be crawling with Democrats in another couple of months, so if we’re going to strike back, we need to do it now.”

“Yeah, we’re going to be sliding out of power, but there’s still time to gut this bastard before we lose George Bush’s legal cover.” He turns to Attorney General Mukasey. “I assume that the Justice Department is still with us? I sent you a list of Republican nobodies you can prosecute if you have to prosecute someone.”

“Dick is right when he says we may as well dump McCain. That whole campaign is self-destructing as we watch. But that means we have to walk away from all the schemes we had for the next four years, no more no-bid contracts and K Street is going to get castrated by these populist do-gooders. That means no more free money for favors.”

“We’ve got to get what we can while the gettin’ is good. That’s where my plan comes in. We can resurrect the same ‘scare team’ we used for Iraq, only this time the new threat will be another Great Depression. I think if we hammer the public into a state of terror for a couple of weeks while Congress is paralyzed, we can ramrod a huge bail out scheme through and be done with it before the election.”

Secretary of Defense Gates offered to help. “I can stop all the expenditures for new military procurement. That will leave a few billion in the defense budget for a snack.”

Cheney responds in a short tone. “Yeah, yeah. Tidbits like that are okay, but we have to think big. We’re going to have to last through the next term on what we can get right now. A few billion defense dollars would normally be interesting, but we have to go for the big one this time.”

President Bush looked more and more confused, but remained silent.

Rove continues. “We can jam a $700 billion dollar bail out through in a couple of weeks. We’ll keep going public with the idea that the details are too complicated to explain, ratchet up the fear card with Depression talk ‘till the public is crazy. We can even throw in some patriotism crap or something. We can contract the Wall Streeters to administer the whole thing. They will be able to loot enough dough from that to stay loyal to us until we’re ready to come back.”

“Plus, this plan has another bonus. If we bankrupt the Treasury and the Federal Reserve, that Democrat son-of-a-bitch won’t have any cash to pay for all of his promises.”

“Face it, gentlemen. We have lost power. We can either stand here and let the poor people get all this money for their goddamned roads and schools and crap or we can funnel it into some pockets that know how to help us later, pockets with good memories of who gave them what.” Rove pauses for effect.

“Dick has decided that we’re going to do this. He expects all of you to tow the line. Yes, there is a little risk once the Democrats have a new Attorney General, but, if everything goes according to plan, we'll be sitting somewhere else with our take before they can do anything about it.”

“Page six of the agenda is a list of countries without extradition agreements along with the names of some banks. I suggest that you make arrangements for travel and moving right away, get your families ready.” He went on, joking. “Don’t steal any famous art, either!”

“This doesn’t have to be the beginning of the end for us. Dick and I like to think that this will be the end of the beginning.”

“President Bush. Anything to add?” Rove turned, condescending, to face the President.

Cheney suddenly stands, gathering his notes as he prepares to leave. The Secret Service agents, still at their stations, swing open the conference room door for his departure.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What the Bail Out Looks Like When It Saves Homeowners.

Is this the way it’s supposed to work? 60

The following fiction is a conversation between a foreclosing homeowner, Mr. Smith, and an agent from the newly created Federal Mortgage Correction Agency, FMC, Agent Brown.

“Mr. Smith, I’m from the Federal Mortgage Correction. I understand that you’re considering foreclosure for your home here. Maybe, if we review your situation, we can offer you an attractive alternative. Let’s see. The property in question is this house, 423 Elm Street, right?” FMC field agent Brown asked.

“That’s right. Ellen and I bought this place in August of 2005. I’m pretty sure that our adjustable rate mortgage can almost be considered a sub-prime at this point.” replied the homeowner, Mr. Smith.

“That’s actually not too important, Mr. Smith. The FMC is totally directed at the future. What we are trying to do is to help you and your family keep this house.” the FMC man answered reassuringly.

“But, aren’t all the banks wrecked after the President’s bail out got shafted by Congress?” Mr. Smith responded, dejectedly.

“No, a good number of the shakier ones went down, but there are a lot of good banks that are still in business. Along with you and your house, part of our job is to get this thing working again. That includes the responsible banks that were able to go through the meltdown and stay open. We can help them, too.”

“In fact, Mr. Smith, if we can get your mortgage repaired here, just about everyone will benefit.” FMC Agent Brown answered.

“Even if the outfit that lent us the money is one of the ones than went belly up?” Mr. Smith asked.

“Let’s talk about your mortgage. You originally financed through Nationwide Mortgage Finance, here in River City, right?” Agent Brown began.

“That’s right, but they went out of business.” Mr. Smith continued.

“I know. But your mortgage wasn’t really in Nationwide, Mr. Smith. It had been ‘bundled’ and sold to a finance firm in Arlington. They packed it up and securitized it and a lot of other mortgages, then sold them to a company called Shelby and Barsh. S and B is out of business, but they weren’t holding your mortgage when they failed. Most of their assets, including your mortgage, were sold on ahead to an investment banking company called Mazzara which was held by a sovereign wealth trust in the UAE. That is where your mortgage is right now.” Agent Brown explained.

“They pretty much told me that when I spoke to the Mortgage Help Line, but they didn’t know the details. Our problem got started when we tried to refinance.” Mr. Smith complained. "We listed it for sale, but that went nowhere."

“Right, Mr. Smith. That is where we come in. I have our records of the history of that first mortgage here. Let’s go over the numbers and make sure that they are accurate.”

“You purchased the home at its appraised value in August of 2005 for $229,500. You made a $14,500 down payment. Your mortgage for the balance of $215,000 ran 48 months at 5.25% until it reset at 6.75% this year. Your mortgage payments at 5.25% were $1966 a month. You have a good record of making those payments until just recently.”

“When your rate reset, you were looking at $2430 a month, and you tried to refinance. The appraisal on your refinance dropped to $188,000 so the best loan you could get was going to short your mortgage payment around $500 a month. I assume that is when you decided to foreclose.” Agent Brown offered, checking his file.

“That’s right. We pretty much went from owning a $229,000 house at 5.25% to owning a $188,000 house with a 6.75% rate on a $215,000 mortgage. We made those payments for four months through the summer, but we just couldn’t keep up. It seems like everything else went up at the same time.” Mr. Smith explained.

“Is the Federal Mortgage Correction going to buy this house for us? I mean, how does that work? Ellen and I have thought about every possible way we could keep this house, but we came up with nothing.” Smith asked.

“Well, Mr. Smith, FMC isn’t going to buy your house for you. That isn’t exactly how the bailout works. What we can do is make it so you can stay in it with a mortgage payment you can afford. To accomplish that we can offer a two pronged solution.

“First, we can take some of the $700 billion, track down whoever holds your mortgage and make them an offer. Naturally, they would like to get all $215,000 that was financed in the first place. That is not going to happen. They are going to get to start talking to us at the current $188,000 appraisal, but from there, they will have to decide what it’s worth to them to not wind up owning your foreclosed house. I would estimate that this mortgage can be purchased from them for around $165,000 or so.”

“After we obtain the house, you and the FMC will have to arrive at a new mortgage agreement. That is the second prong. We never wanted to be in the mortgage business, so we’re already out of our comfort zone. The interest on your new mortgage is going to have to compensate us for our investment and our trouble. In our favor, we can make a little money. In your favor, you can have a solid thirty year mortgage at market rates -- a mortgage with a payment you can live with -- but you’re not going to get the money your mortgage holder lost getting out of your foreclosure. We’re the ones who did the heavy lifting on that account, and we will get that money. Your new mortgage will make it possible for you to pay for the house and settle with us.”

“Our purchasing muscle and the foreclosure threat knocked $23,000 off the appraised value you were trying to refinance. Your new mortgage with us will be for the appraised value of $188,000 and that figure will determine your mortgage payments. The outfit in UAE will have purchased a discounted copy of your $215,000 original mortgage and wound up with $165,000. Compared to worthless, toxic paper, which is what it was before we bought it, they will probably feel like they did the best they could have expected.”

“All the details of this agreement will have to wait until you get through the mortgage application process, but they will probably wind up looking about like what we have discussed. Can we make this deal?” the Federal Mortgage Correction agent asked, smiling.

What in the world could be better than bailing out bankers?


The Non-Economic Analysis of What Just Happened.

The endless story of the primary and secondary models? 59

If you are George Bush, you have presented the primary model which argues that the national economy is going to meltdown any moment. You have also produced a secondary model which should propel the primary model to your desired results. The secondary model was the first dismal failure. Its increasing odor has now drawn the primary model into the swamp with it.

I have watched this unfold with the other politics wonks on my favorite web site. Comments and posts which had previously only infrequently amounted to more than a few paragraphs now present multipage quotations about who did what, when they did it and what the results were. The least interesting but probably the most educational are accounts of past legislation, particularly Senator McCain’s endless penchant for deregulation following his rehabilitation to the neo-cons after the Keating Five problem.

Rest easy, dear visitor. This post is all about models not history. Those energized web posters mentioned above can either establish a compelling argument for the culprit in this mess, or at least, wall paper the entire affair with their too-easily-copied-and-pasted quotations. (If you still have an appetite for more of that stuff, visit my favorite after you finish here.

and on to the forums “Domestic Politics” and “Economics.” It’s all there waiting there for you.)

Now to the models. A quick description might be in order. The primary model of any communication defines the essence of it, the question, the answer etc. The secondary model defines the mechanism of its transmission. In a sense, the primary model is the message; the secondary model is the massage.

Primary models have the foundational quality of being about something. Secondary models, on the other hand, deal entirely with the business of communicating the primary model. Both are critically important aspects of communication’s effectivity as one of the pillars of human affairs.

Concerning the proposition of Mr. Bush’s inflammatory warning about the economy, no one I’ve encountered can confidently say whether or not the threat he describes is real. That state of affairs, for example, decries his track record of secondary models in rather harsh terms. Yes, we know what his initial proposition contains, however, the secondary model he employed to manipulate us into action is, frankly, insulting. As such, it is nothing new.

So, what exactly is this secondary model we are looking at here? That is, of course, the secondary model as we see it, not the “lipstick” version rolling around the House Committee Hearings.

It’s suspiciously intriguing that, like the last one, this one began on 9/11.

The Secondary Model:

The President approaches the nation breathlessly communicating an immense threat. No one has any particular way of knowing any more about the threat than they did the last time he did this Once more, we only seem to know what he and his cabinet appointees are telling us about it. Now come the questions.

Do we trust this man? Has he told us the truth before? Has he always acted sincerely in our interests? Does it turn out that our idea about his judgment could bear the facts that came out later? Like last time?

Did he tell us the truth about the threat? Did he know about it earlier than when he told us about it? Is he telling us everything he knows now? Is he telling us enough so we can make a reasonably good decision about what to do? Or, is it like last time?

The “when” became a rather “pregnant” issue with the last threat he told us about. Did this new threat of his just “pop up out of the blue” without warning? Like last time?

The President has told us that we must act fast, and by “act” he means that we should do what he suggests we do, fast. Like the Patriot Act. Like the Military Force Authorization. Like the pharmaceutical bill. Right away, please! We have to do everything right away or face the dire consequences? Of course. It’s urgent. If we are foolish enough to wait, to think about it, all will be lost!

We can think about it later. This is a lot of our money. We’ll have time to think about it while we are paying it back.

Do we trust this man with even more of our money? Has he done a good job with the money we have given over to him in the past? Has he told us what he bought with it? Who got it? Where it is now?

Then, of course, there are the experts. They are the ones who know all abut this. Why it is urgent. Why it is worth so much. What happens if they don’t get it. Have we had good results with his experts in the past? With Donald Rumsfeld? With Carl Rove? With House Speaker DeLay? Does this President show us his good judgment in picking his experts? Do we think that, somehow, he has started to do better? Did we trust those people? Should we have trusted them? Like last time?

The expert here is Treasury Secretary Paulson. The company that is getting discussed as the next corporate fatality of this mess is called Goldman Sachs. Treasury Secretary Paulson used to be the CEO of Goldman Sachs. He apparently has $630 million dollars worth of Goldman Sachs stock in his personal fortune.

Should we trust him? Has he always done a “good job” in the past? Was he as surprised as the President when this just suddenly happened? Would he have come up with the same plan if Goldman Sachs weren’t tanking with the other investment banks?

All of this is the secondary model. These unfortunate men have started this sales effort with utterly derelict credibility. The taxpayers they are trying to convince are already exhausted, injured and, deservedly, suspicious. They are afraid. The first issue of this secondary model was to frighten them further. Like last time?

Does anybody else worry that this might not be what it is presented to be? I guess we are pretty much done with George Bush’s judgment. That leaves us stranded in an unpleasant place where we have been before, stranded with only our judgment -- our intuition. Since we have no facts, we can only try to do better than we did last time.

Friday, September 19, 2008

How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

The one week plan to get rich quick,

at least boost your trust fund. 57

Monday: Buy a bank with your trust fund.
Tuesday: Deposit $99,999.00 in you account.
Wednesday: Leverage all assets by a factor of thirty, securitize and sell.
Thursday: Rob the bank.
Friday: Show up and withdraw your FDIC guaranteed deposit.
Saturday and Sunday: Hide the money, complain about over-regulation and the Democrats.
Next Monday: Shop for another bank.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Why Not Revisit 9/11 Seven Years Later?

Messages and lessons we must not neglect.
The 9/11 Attack seen through the eyes in three faces. 56

On the seventh anniversary of the attack of 9/11, 2001, only the most callous can avoid the inevitable mix of both consolation and cause. There were causes which precipitated the attack. There were causes which precipitated the responses to it. Are we finally, after seven years, prepared to examine this again in the cold -- and far less emotional -- light of the present day?

Perhaps the clearest view can be expressed by attempting to place ourselves in the momentary place of players far closer to the event. Let us indulge ourselves with speculation as to the thoughts of three people. First, of course, ourselves; next, a nondescript, common citizen of Baghdad and, finally, Osama Bin Laden.

As we watched the catastrophe in New York and, minutes later, at the Pentagon, we took the moment to invest in an uneducated but comforting question. “Why is this happening? Why are ‘they’ doing this to us?”

We have a certain sickening feeling when we recall the answer to that question, an answer which seemed to fulfill all the requirements of common sense and non-nutritious nationalism. “They hate our freedom.” That “sickening feeling” can, more constructively, be called objective remorse. After all this time we have come to know much more about why that attack was possible, and probably, even inevitable.

There were reasons which explained it, but now we realize that those were reasons we had never considered. Our intellectual curiosity, prior to the attack, was never sufficient to explore just exactly what we had done to them, or, at least, what we had done to them as it appeared through their eyes.

The matter called me to revisit the chilling admonition of a certain Marine officer. He said, “If you find yourself in the midst of a shooting match, and, if you have no clear idea of why the other guy is shooting at you, that is, no idea of what he wants, leave. You have no business there.” My conclusion: “If those are the facts of the moment, the matter has no meaning and no possible constructive outcome.”

Next, a visit -- some months after 9/11 -- to Baghdad. “Shock and awe,” evaluated by the military command of Sadam Hussein’s army had one interpretation, possibly a tactical one, devoid of very much legitimate or popular social politics. “Shock and awe” interpreted by the man walking home in the streets of that distant city has another. Unavoidably, we must assume that he had certain questions in his mind as he ran for his life. “Why is this happening? Why are ‘they’ doing this to us?”

Finally, we stop over for a moment in some chilly cave, the uncomfortable refuge of the perpetrator and planner of the attacks in New York and Washington. Osama Bin Laden is not wondering “Why is this happening? Why are ‘they’ doing this to us?” at all. He has either had reasons or made reasons to answer those questions already. His reasons and his answers had already served to inspire all those young men who were willing to sacrifice everything to carry out his deathly mission in the United States.

Could there have been more to that remote conversation and planning than a “hatred of our freedom?” Did the “wrongs and injuries” that convinced those boys of the necessity of this, amount to something more substantial? Something we missed in the history of our own behavior? Or, at least, something we had assiduously avoided ever noticing?

Here in the United States, we were not allowed to even offer a conjecture that their suicidal passion had any meaning whatsoever. Far be it from us to even speculate, much less investigate, the possibility that we found ourselves involved in an exchange of consequences instead of a crazed act of psychopathic killing frenzy.

History makes its future concrete not from sand and cement, but from details and subtleties. It also makes strange bed fellows. It pays wages to the unlikely in currencies which have value only as a result of their moment of existence. Through this dark chapter, the least deserving, that is, Bin Laden and his counterpart, George Bush, have reaped unanticipated, synergistic extra profits.

Osama Bin Laden had little interest in military success. His satisfaction came from the fear he created. Injuring the United States, for him, could be far more substantial if he could degrade our Constitution and our social fabric. He, undoubtedly, celebrated in whatever way was correct to his religion, when the Americans made “shock and awe” over Baghdad, a serendipitous and unplanned extra benefit to his initial ambitions with the jet liners.

George Bush, likewise, was handed a birthday cake without a birthday. Those falling buildings could be converted by his servant, Carl Rove, into political octane of a stratospheric quality he never imagined. Out came “cut and run” and “stay the course,” all hypnotic invitations to endorse his oil wars and his morbid, domestic machinations and propaganda. If his rich friends made their fortunes drilling out petroleum made by ancient swamps, Bush made his by ruthlessly harvesting the unexpected opportunities of this modern moment.

9/11 calls us to our own inner thoughts. What, exactly, have we as individuals concluded about the facts of this tragic matter? Are we able, or, are we willing, to attempt to examine the unmanipulated reality of this whole affair, now, with clearer heads seven years later?

Perhaps, we are simply too busy or too shallow or too comfortable in this current cess pool of nationalistic drivel and fear. Perhaps, we will need to repeat what we have done previously, experience more “baffling” consequences of it, before we are motivated to consider changing ourselves and our national behavior. This improved destiny will probably never be the result of our fear. It will much more likely be an honest return from our rediscovered honor.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Short and Bitter Fiction

Why not science fiction?
Are we really ready to elect something like this? 55

Consider the news for Friday, May 8, 2009.

“This is CDN News Service. I am Harry Smith. The summary of today’s events:

White House medical affairs spokesman, Jerry Hart, today announced that President McCain, now in the ninth day of his coma, has been transferred along with the White House medical staff to facilities at Bethesda Naval Hospital. Hart told reporters that the President’s condition had stabilized, making the trip in Marine One to Maryland an acceptable risk. Photographers were not allowed during the transfer.

White House Spokeswoman, Lydia Blank, spoke to reporters at the daily briefing, “We expect President McCain to make a full recovery and to return to the Oval Office within a few days.”

In other news, Vice President Palin is returning to Washington six days earlier than scheduled from the African Union meeting in Khartoum. Unofficial sources close to the White House have said that Air Force Two is being escorted by long range Navy combat aircraft.

Her return is just one day after the African Union’s insistence that the “College of the Redeemer,” two educational facilities which opened earlier this year in Khartoum and Mogadishu by USAID, be closed, a demand supported by a number of NATO allies. It is hoped that the closure will soften the African Union’s demand for a reduction of US peace keepers in Darfur and slow the increasing number of recent attacks on peace keeper forces from both the refugee settlement there and the insurgents. The representatives of the African Union at the Khartoum meeting have placed the matter under advisement.

In New York, the Russian Federation’s UN Ambassador, Vitaly Schevshenko, has formally issued a statement reemphasizing his nation’s complete support for the African Union’s demands, telling CDN’s UN reporter, “Our friends in the region clearly have no interest in American soldiers, colonial oil schemes or religion. They know only too well the price they will pay for allowing those things. I hope all member states of the African Union know they do not face this latest American intervention alone.”

Meanwhile, House members of the Armed Forces and Foreign Relations Committees have unanimously voted to urge the President to withdraw US forces from the Darfur mission based on cost considerations as the US economy continues to worsen.

To other news, at the first official news conference on the destruction of the Cruiser USN Hampton and the Chevron tanker, Titan, in the Persian Gulf last week, a Navy spokesman released the initial results of the investigation.

“The explosion was a nuclear device targeting the Hampton. Titan was destroyed due to its proximity to the primary target. We now know that the device causing the explosion was not a missile or a weapon released from an aircraft, although its origin remains uncertain. Additional threats made by Sheik Kadid in the second video, released this week, are being studied by the Department of the Navy. Naval Intelligence is so far unable to determine if these videos were prepared by those responsible for the attack.”

White House reporters were not allowed questions at the briefing.

Finally, the Vice President’s policy advisor, Pastor Danny Truth, is being rushed to Washington for top level consultation with Sara Palin upon her return. White House spokeswoman, Lydia Blank, told reporters about the move today.

“Pastor Truth’s return to Washington at this time should encourage Americans. His attendance at the National Security Meeting next Tuesday indicates that the Vice President is considering all alternatives for the US response to the Gulf attack.”

Monday, September 8, 2008

Mean and Tasteless Poetry: Welcoming Sara

The milk man said good morning 52

Morning, ma'am,

Your two per cent is less today than gas is by the gallon.
And, your neighbors are excited about the big election.
That cagey fighter pilot's called out missus Palin,
sweet Alaskan butt, to remind him of his last erection.

Victory! Senator McCain's found special, secret polls,
big news showing Obama's crew sliding into disrepair -
under attack by strong, yet compassionate, Christian souls
and a vampy veep who cleans her rifle while she skins her bear.

Oh my! Who could compete? He's just certain her wave will last!
She's quick, delightful, the governor and, quite the mama!
Abortions, gays and those Russians! When the final vote is cast,
her interviews will have elected Barack Obama!

Will you be wanting cream tomorrow?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Earmarks and Ear Rings

How to strike a deal with a prostitute.
How to look beyond the insult of the ear marks to the real injuries of the budget. 53

At election time we are usually bombarded with promises to relieve the burden of earmarks. It is a promise made by the man who is not “behind the curtain.”

There are indeed two great currents of our money flowing through the process in Washington. Like a tsunami, there is a small wave traveling along the surface where we can see it, but there is an immense movement below the surface, finally materializing as it ultimately inundates our coastal cities. Concerning the matter of earmarks, the situation is the same. They are little more than insulting distractions, mosquito bites on the tail end of a bull.

A short note on the meaning of term may be in order. In the old days, that is, in the days when people read books, the corner of a page might be turned to assist the reader in returning to some specific material of special interest. Translated to the hundreds of pages of a typical issue of legislation, earmarks , at least in concept, serve the same purpose. Whatever the original focus of the bill in question, earmarks typically appear in some convenient, rarely read section, thus, the name.

To the originator of the earmark, however, a convenient means to locate his “little jewel” among the great body of “other stuff” in his bill, might include folding the corner of the page containing his earmark in his copy.

The exact nature of the earmark, that is, its nature with respect to more normal and transparent congressional decisions, is interesting. The usual process of allocating our tax money through the representative process of our Congress refers, somewhere, to a kind of general (majority) agreement as to the legitimacy of the proposal. In the optimistic idealism of our Constitution, a bill is written proposing an expenditure on a certain project, the Congressional Representatives all read it, argue about it, and perhaps negotiate compromises between differing views of it and, finally, pass it.

The life story of an earmark is somewhat different. Whatever project is proposed in an earmark typically reveals certain other character traits. It is something which will assist its author’s reelection. It is usually presented as something not really meriting the attention of the entire Congress in the sense that more central legislation might. Perhaps the goal of the earmark is presented as a matter of too small a fiscal significance to “tie things up.” More commonly, the benefactors of the earmark are seeking some advantage not particularly appetizing to the taste of the full House, hence the wide variety of the things -- from short expensive bridges to doughnut museums.

One might think that such highly exclusive interests would fail to garner Congressional votes, and if so, one would be partially correct. Happily, at least for the successful ear markers, this dismal possibility is mitigated by other rather arcane traditions in the Congress. Yes, although the bridge earmarked by one voice will hardly serve to interests of a constituency a thousand miles away, there remains the prospect of “mutual back scratching.” Supporting, or at least , failing to oppose, that distant pork will inevitably arise again later as a promise by its sponsor to support something much closer to home, say, so close as to be in one’s very own Congressional district. In that case, a bridge -- no matter how exclusive its benefit -- can often be converted directly into votes in a reelection campaign.

Occasionally, earmarks really do actually serve the interests of the country in some redeeming way. Usually however, this happy exception is little more than a passing dream in a windstorm. Perhaps Mullah Nassr Edin’s political axiom that “all political possibilities can also be political liabilities if they appear at cocktail parties without their lipstick” may be applied just here.

Patience, please. We’re getting to the prostitute part. A tedious context must be presented for my readers who have lives beyond obsessive political wonkerism.

We may need to ask, “What political purposes are served by ranting and railing about earmarks?”

First things first, be advised that all the earmarks (including $350,000,000 for Sara’s on-again off-again “bridge to nowhere”) in aggregate comprise no more than a “gnat’s sneeze” when compared to the massive flow of our money through the Congressional budget process. For example, we allocate around $400,000,000,000 (four hundred billion compared to $350,000,000 -- three hundred fifty million) annually for the visible elements of our defense expenditures.

Obviously, constructive efforts to maximize the effectiveness of the much larger amount would represent a laudable legislative effort on the part of a Senator. Yet, we find him repeatedly hawking one complaint after another about the smaller amount. Earmarks enjoy the unlikely advantage of being “insulting” to voters and taxpayers far away from the bridge. In fact, at least to voters and taxpayers, earmarks can be made far more “insulting” than a couple of “whoops, we missed that one” moments revealed in the review of the incredibly more massive defense allocation, for example. The "insult" is personal! After all, most of those tax payers will never have a chance to drive across that bridge.

Finally, to the matter of the prostitute. Let us imagine a sexually repressed evangelical in a distant city to attend a meeting of, say, a Sunday School Budget Convention. It is the evening after a long day of conferencing. He finds himself in the absolutely worst part of town, piloting his rented car along dark dismal streets lined with, shall we say, “women of the night.”

There they are. Lined up one after another, each competing for his attention. We arrive at the focal question. Will he select his secret evening company based on her ear rings?

Our evangelical might glance at those baubles for an instant, but his more energetic attention will quickly migrate to other features, you know, matters of a more substantial interest.

In our tortured analogy, of course, the ear rings represent the earmarks. But what do those “other matters” represent? The invitation offered to voters by the Senator’s flammable campaign diatribe about earmarks is an invitation to be transfixed on the ear rings, ignoring all the other considerations. Once again, he will say “Those bastards over in Fartandbolt County have a fine new bridge paid for by your tax dollars! Every cent interloped from the General Fund by that crooked Senator of theirs!”

It is, perhaps, a message made all the more poignant when considered in the sight of your own delapidated bridge, that is, the one right here in Boltandfart County. The ambition of this Senator, populist hero that he is -- or claims to be, is to distract us from the fact that the defense allocation contains five hundred “whoops!” items, each with a taxpayer cost ten thousand times larger than the entire cost to replace both bridges. And, that would not be the cost of replacing them with hard bid contracts, either. That would be the cost of replacing them with “brother-in-law,” no-bid babies of the worst variety! (“We simply had to buy a fleet of Bentley convertibles to pull the gravel trailers!”)

So, we have made a comparison between the bridge costs and the Congressional budget’s defense allocation. So what? Defense spending, often, but not always, at least results in something tangible (the Osprey? As in: "It's an Osprey! Don't stand under it when it 'flies' over!") which can appear on a video. The unseen killer traveling below the tsunami’s modest surface wave is comprised of far “stinkier” matters than a wasteful defense budget. In this sense, we once again descend with the evangelical’s eyes as he sizes up those now infamous "other matters" in the process of selecting his prostitute.

Yes, we can be insulted by Fartandbolt’s good fortune at our expense, but that new bridge is little more than a “slap on the cheek” when we consider the "other matters." If that new bridge in the next county is a “slap,” there are other budget drains more akin to having a vampire inserting a permanent blood capture needle in one’s artery. The campaigning Senator works diligently to keep our attention on the slap and off the needle.

Do we really want to conduct our electoral responsibilities based on an ear ring?

What exactly are these vampires extracting from us? In a land with wealth so great that we hardly notice the needle, that is, where we seem to perpetually enjoy the ridiculously false luxury of considering only the ear ring, we can be deceived by immensely over priced “elephants” (not a Freudian slip, usually...) which seem to provide at least a “little something” for a price so outrageous that it would never bear the bright illumination of a sunny day. Examples? Of course.

The pharmaceutical bill written for us by drug company lobbyists is the polar opposite of any imaginable bargain it might promise for the price. Yes, we have a nice discount on our medicine, but the price is unfathomable. Predictably, every economizing advantage is, essentially, illegal. What a coincidence!

The "deregulation of everything" seemed to be a means to eliminate inefficient and over priced government controls. Instead of the promised reduction in our costs for everything from electricity to mortgage loans, we have wound up suffering through the total exploitative vaporization of Enron and the taxpayer bail out of Bear Stearns.

The destruction of unions, for example the air traffic controllers union, was touted as a way to really save some bucks. Now we spend money at an incredibly increased rate to compensate for labor shortages. The workers remaining are fighting to perform their life saving tasks with equipment which belongs in a land fill. The airlines, far from being able to fulfill their promise to pass such savings on to us as consumers, are now raising fares weekly amid a customer population stranded in planes unable to take off where even a bag of peanuts is now offered at a price.

No-bid military contractors performing theoretically necessary tasks of all sorts at costs beyond measure (one bottle of drinking water in Iraq: $8.80?) were proposed as a means to lower the price of war-fighting. Halliburton is no petty crook. Its corporate extraction of tax money will reach toward one half trillion dollars before we finish in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that incredible amount of compensation will be for what we taxpayers might generously consider a few billion dollars worth of honest work.

If current matters are too troubling, reach back in history. The famous Keating Five bail out money is quite possibly still financing some small part of McCain’s campaign or, at least, some of his houses. Enron’s carefully engineered brown out in California, that is, the one which suddenly required out-of-state generated power to be imported at eight times the cost of the local stuff, was not “chump change.”

These are not simple cases of building a bridge for someone else. These are major withdrawals of major amounts of our economic blood. They have been carefully crafted by the most exploitative Congressmen and Senators, executed not as earmarks but as central legislation and protected by the absolute perfidy of other legislative, judicial and executive branch crooks and criminals (Those would be the “hard working” politicians who are now retired into $50 million dollar homes somewhere nice.) who were supposedly responsible for “checks and balances.”

Once these “blood sucking” programs are in place, they can last for decades, every day promoting dynastic fortunes resourced by our tax money. (For example, California is still suffering under the burden of the desperate contracts it got railroaded into to turn the lights back on. This even after the alleged death of Enron!)

So, no matter how appealing it may be to just gaze at the ear rings, keep track of the more important stuff, too. Don’t let them lead you down the path of simply responding to insults about someone else’s bridge while they slip the needle into your artery for a permanent blood draw!

They won’t quit just because you have been manipulated to deliver another election to them. Like the prostitute. They see themselves as the gift that just keeps on giving.

Only after they win their election will they notice that you've pulled out their needle!

Inspector General? Here?

Dreaming of an even bigger government
spending our tax money for something we actually need? 54

This election has turned the phrase “Changing Washington” into little more than a mechanical chorus. What exactly are these people talking about when they promise something like that? The more scurrilous of the politicians pound the table, threateningly, warning the “big money boys” in D.C. that “change is coming.” Although a majority of Americans feel strongly that a good number of these leeches belong in a cell right next to Abramhoff or DeLay, we may have to accept the idea that “changes” for these lobbyists and influence peddlers will probably not amount to much more than adjusting a few numbers in their seven digit “take.”

As an ardent Obama supporter, I would love to look my readers in the eye and honestly claim the prospect of a perfect difference, a perfect “change.” That would be fool hardy. We have plenty of Democrats in the Congress who haven’t even so much as lied about wanting a Washington with less corruption since they left their high school civics class.

Shooting a rubber band at a single cock roach might be effective and gratifying, but it hardly represents a serious approach to permanently eliminating the pests from your home.

Among the citizens, cynicism runs rampant. Most of them believe that we can never regain control of our country -- spelled tax dollars -- from these pandering, criminal opportunists. “K Street” has managed to castrate “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue” more effectively than the British did in 1812. Its domination of the Congress, both the House and the Senate, has no particular historical precursor. That relatively recent strategic victory for the special interests is more akin to a gay child S and M porn film.

The cynics are definitely right on one count. These high class crooks have abundantly shown that they own any part of the government which can serve them.

Enough ranting. What about a bigger government? That hardly seems like a solution to much of what is vexing us! Egads, shades of Reagan!

Well, that gloomy appraisal might be true. It depends on two questions. First, how, exactly, do we see the correct management of our national descent from a rich superpower to whatever it is we seem destined to become? Second, will we, as citizens, even dare to have the optimism to think we can still create an effective part of our government that will actually function?

What are we talking about here? What new part of government do we need to consider?

Tempting the possibility of my being, righteously, called an elitist, I direct your thoughts to a play by the old French author, Mr. Moliere. The title of the play is “The Inspector General.” It is a period comedy with a fine plot not particularly relevant right here. However, it does have a very relevant context. The basic theme of the play is about an Inspector General, authorized by the King, with the responsibility of inspecting everything all across the country, that is, roads, schools, hospitals, tax collections and essentially anywhere else that the King’s money (The King thought, in those days, that all tax revenues were HIS money. How antiquated compared to our representative form of government!) had any part in financing.

The relevance is clear for the following reason. The horrible looting which is our curse at the present moment has, as its central mechanism, fundamental deceptions with regard to issues such as cost, waste, value and effectivity. We pay monumental amounts of our tax money for things with names which suggest one thing only to get the leftover scraps of something quite completely different, utterly useless to us, after these “K Street” lobbyists have gorged themselves and their host corporations on all the sweetest meat, the freshest fruit and the finest wine in our federal expenditures.

These parasites have mastered every odious technique required to keep us confused about the actual facts concerning these undertakings of theirs. The consequences of this redistribution (a favorite word of their corporate benefactors condemning our resistance to their grotesque and growing wealth...) have grown so large as to represent a threat to national security, that is, a clear and present danger. We have become unable to squeeze enough of our tax resources through the prevailing process in Washington to accomplish things we urgently need (and should, in a more perfect world, be easily able to afford), such as school building repairs, bridges, roads, dams, hospitals and the like.

Interestingly enough, pretty much the exact things that the old French King’s Inspector General was inspecting in his ancient mission!

If our proposed addition to the size of government is to be able to confront and correct this criminal looting, it will first have to elude the inevitable sabotage which routinely perverts any actual democratic proposals from emerging from Congress alive and breathing, that is, functional in a way still consistent with some small remnant of the high ambitions of their origins.

It is no secret that the Republican strangle hold on Congress has, as its greatest ambition, the goal of proving that government will not work. Assisting these knuckle-dragging neo-cons is a convincing crowd of other half-witted reactionaries including, to our great embarrassment, more than a few fully tenured Democratic fixtures in the House and Senate. These “patriots” with such a vicious penchant to redirect honest tax money to their very close friends will clearly do anything (yes, anything...) to get the funds they need to be reelected. Their Congressional jobs are simply too profitable, we are told, to ever expect anything else from them! We regretfully embrace this dismal expectation. These “public servants” have obviously woven positions for themselves with wages so great as to unavoidably create a depressing, self-fulfilling prophecy of outrage and pilfering.

Oh yes, these bottom feeders may drink sparingly of the vast cash river rolling through Washington, just an imperceivable nip here and there when we aren’t watching, but they take enough to undercut our every ambition as taxpayers and citizens.

Can we envision a solution? Yes, we can. (!?!)

Consider the following proposal for a modern day equivalent to that old Inspector General in Moliere’s comedy. No, quite aside from mass lynchings, resurrected guillotines or straightforward wild west style American mob justice, we find these adversaries far too powerful and well entrenched for a head-on approach. Believe me, they enjoy a carefully constructed protective blanket constantly refreshed by their associates in places of great power.

First, the necessity of doing something. As Americans we face a very difficult decade of slowly recovering from the great looting ($10,000,000,000,000) successfully extracted from us by the Bush Government. We can fall blindly into our inevitable role as the weak, bad creditor, pathetically begging our lenders for just a little compassion over and over as we are repeatedly unable to repay, or we can dust off our famous national ability to successfully respond to our precarious position. That latter course will require that we seriously stop wasting money and begin to retire our debt. That is the “happy” story through which we will be able to stand on our own two feet within a mere decade. The “unhappy” version includes stories which either assume a much longer period or plots where we never again stand on those feet of ours.

Naturally, we will have to “make do” with a much cheaper military. Our lenders will, sooner or later, require that of us to free up the money we owe them. Perhaps spending only half of the combined allocation of the rest of the world will be sufficient. We will have to take steps to greatly improve the efficiency of our foreign policy expenditures, eliminating the looters who cling like vampire bats to every act of national altruism. On the other hand, acting reasonably internationally is far more cost effective as an avenue to national security than all those ridiculous and expensive Cold War weapons systems (the X44 Galactic Death Ray? just what we need in Baghdad or Basra...).

The reconstruction of our infrastructure, long a well worn threat to incite our fear during campaigns, will arrive at our door in a far more concrete style, you know, the sort of thing that comes with monthly bills. Big ones. Our government programs will be stripped of our present indulgent excesses either by our new high born ideals or the rather less glorious insistence of those who hold our loans. After all, we can hardly deny that we did, in fact, sign those notes George Bush kept rushing out to the Chinese or the Saudis for more borrowed money.

In the words of that great military genius, Donald Rumsfeld, “Sometimes Democracy can get petty messy.” We have definitely been pretty messy.

Did anyone think we were going to somehow wallow through this debt of ours without some serious belt tightening? It is so immense that we can’t even convince our lenders that we can quietly dump it on our unsuspecting children. Those who have financed this incredible, reckless debt of ours have in mind to start getting their cash back way before that.

What can we add to our government?

An office of schedule and budget. Oh, you say, we already have all sorts of bureaucracies that take care of that job. Really? Have they taken care of it? Does anyone think they can be “fixed” in a way that will cause them to take care of it in the future? Won’t it simply become another expensive layer of the failed system we have now?

Not if we do it right. And, it’s clearly time that we did it right. We elect managers in federal elections, enough of them to represent each district corresponding to the present rate of its consumption of federal money. These people become the staff of the Office of Budget and Schedule. Each successful candidate would win an election in his own region, the place where the most possible voters would be aware of his character. The day after the election, the names of all these winners would be placed in a giant pot. A random drawing would then assign every one of them to someplace else, that is, someplace other than the place where they won their election. Although hardly perfect, such an arrangement would make pre-established cronyism significantly more difficult.

The directors of this new government branch would be recruited from the Justice Department’s career lawyers, the professional, bipartisan staff of the Congressional Committees responsible for “getting our money’s worth,” career procurement staff from the Defense Department, seasoned engineers from the Transportation Department, etc. Every one of these appointees would receive a lifetime wage and benefits package (similar to Supreme Court Justices?) in the hope that many of them would not fall to corrupt motives. Whatever the cost might be, I suspect it would ultimately be an incredibly good investment.

No one could disagree that such a system would not be, theoretically, entirely redundant. Likewise, no one could disagree that such a system would actually be exactly the way to make drastic accountability changes in Washington. Everyone currently in a position to spend our money has trusted advisors. The problem seems to be that, although these money folks trust them, we, as citizens, can’t. We need our own advisors, and we need to place then in positions where no one can get to them for any more of those “special favors.” Let these new federal employees seek after our credibility as taxpayers instead of professing mastery of techniques certain to either confuse us or simply “keep us quietly in the dark.”

Oh my! The government would be paralyzed by the delay of channeling everything through yet another layer of regulation. Well, they, and we, have brought this on ourselves.

Give this new bunch the task of evaluating everything we intend to spend money on. Are the plans complete? Are they simply a place to start, to open the coffers, so subsequent cost overruns, suspicious changes and huge, out-of-scope additive alternatives can “slide through” a little more gracefully later? Does the program accompanying the expenditure actually have a reasonable chance of doing what is intended? Can we reveal exactly who wants it without a Congressional subpoena?

The Office of Budget and Schedule will have no voice whatever with respect to the programs proposed. That is a Congressional task. It will, however, have everything to say about whether or not a program has been accurately represented to the public, whether or not it has been prepared adequately to justify starting the flow of our federal tax dollars into it, whether or not it has been contracted and bid legally, whether or not it has a reasonable chance to succeed and whether or not any alternatives have been explored.

The “Schedule” part of this idea has to do with programs which should, at some point, end, but don’t. Aside from the inevitable excuses for this endless drain on our money, the graft seems to build in intensity the longer these jobs continue. As they extend further and further beyond their original (approved) scope, everything possible is added to them, unexamined, unauthorized and unassociated expenses approved piecemeal, usually offered up as desperate, last gasp chances to somehow salvage a poorly planned program -- or at least create additional excuses or camouflage for its failure.

Usually with only a few hundred million more dollars the sow’s ear at least begins to look like a silk purse. That is, if it doesn’t become top secret. From us.

Enforcing this new inspection regime is simple. Add another required signature to every government payment. It enjoys the full “brutality” of a one size fits all solution. Let these people evaluate everything -- military procurement, transportation expenditures, foreign aid effectiveness, emergency relief programs, every kind of civil works. Allow the evaluations to extend to nonmaterial areas -- educational improvements, crime abatement, climate and energy subsidies, corporate encouragement and assistance, borrowing money, social programs and the rest.

As taxpayers and citizens, these new “eyes” of ours must be empowered to see absolutely everything we are asked to spend our tax money creating. If there were areas where the past record of federal spending justified more of our trust, perhaps they could be excluded. But are there any areas such as those? The parasites have slowly embedded themselves and their interests into every penny we send to the Treasury and every penny which flows out of it.

It is highly unlikely that we would “throw the baby out with the bath water” by simply taking a look at some imaginary expenditure which finds itself somehow exempt from the looters. They are everywhere and in everything. The only arguments we hear are between them as they discuss who will savage our money first!

We really can do this. Register. Vote. Elect Barack Obama. Then,

keep raising hell!