Archive for December, 2010

Obama Finds a Voice; Palin Guts a Caribou

December 9, 2010 2 comments

President Barack Obama this week, may have made himself newly electable for 2012. Meantime, Sarah Palin kills animals on her Discovery Channel show to stock up for the winter. Wait…you say..those two things don’t belong in the same article! You’re right. They don’t.

The Angry Middle

Spot-on article on President Obama’s newly-found, feisty voice from the dean of political reporting, David Broder, of the Washington Post. Broder contends that what the President did this week in finding a compromise with Republicans on tax-cuts and jobless benefit extensions was recapture the middle of American politics. And his standing improves with independents with every howl from the deeply unpopular, Pelosi-wing of the Democratic Party.

It’s also tough for Republicans to keep calling the President a socialist, when an actual socialist, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, opposes him so thoroughly and visibly on the Senate floor on all this. Broder confirms what I’ve always suspected of this President. He is a left-of-center pragmatist with a capital “P.”

Sarah Palin’s Refrigerator

My status as an elitist, East Coast urbanite was thoroughly confirmed last night as I accidently came across episode-4 of Sarah Palin’s Alaska on the Discovery Channel. Sarah joined her dad, Chuck and a friend named Steve Becker in hunting down a cute caribou. As they aim their rifles at the defenseless creature, I found myself screaming at my flat-screen, “Run, little guy, run!”

Sarah, as it turns out, is NOT a great shot with a hunting rifle. She missed the creature three times as the weapon jolted up against her shoulder and seemed to cause her to miss high, above the animal’s head. Anyway, somebody (not her) finally wounds and kills the caribou and then they begin gutting it. Sarah explains why it is they cut off the four legs first and pack them up in some container, then adds it was a really good thing they killed this sucker because now everyone will have enough meat to eat for the winter.

What????? It is reported that between speaking fees and book sales alone, Sarah Palin has made $12 million since July of 2009. I respectfully maintain that as a matter of sheer survival, cutting up this caribou they killed last night into dozens of tasty packages tossed into the Palin family freezer…was not entirely necessary.

A State of Cyber War Exists

December 8, 2010 1 comment

WikiLeaks supporters in the hacking community are fighting back. They’re now trying to cripple the websites of companies that have chosen not to assist in what some are calling an internet grassroots rebellion and others call anarchy. Whatever you call it, the World Wide Web has now become a battleground.

The phrase, “one man’s freedom-fighter is another man’s terrorist,” has never been more apt. Using the technology of the modern age of communications, Julian Assange has revolutionized the impact of the internet, using its reach and its many hiding places to wage guerilla combat against the governments of the world. The attempts to stop the WikiLeaks movement have been almost laughable as governments and others- the establishment, if you will- try to figure out how to stop these folks from doing deadly damage.

Particularly alarming to U.S. authorities this week was the leak of a State Department cable that listed sites around the world whose loss could “critically impact” the communications, economy and security of the United States. We are now beyond guessing motives and looking for journalistic logic to explain the content of these leaks. With this particular release, it’s tempting to conclude that we are in a state of cyber-war and the rebellion just might actually mean to cause us real harm.

The list WikiLeaks published includes our bridges, mines and dams; critical underwater communication cables and oil pipelines; specific factories that make vaccines and weapons parts. The State Department calls it an Al Qaeda targeting list.

And so the establishment is trying to fight back. Somebody- we don’t who- has waged sophisticated denial-of-service attacks on WikiLeaks web sites. Governments have succeeded in getting many companies whose servers were being used by WikiLeaks, to kick them off their platforms. Credit card companies and PayPal are now refusing to process donations to the rebellion. Assange himself sits in a British prison as Swedish authorities seek his extradition on what may or may not be legitimate charges of rape against two women, allegedly committed last August.

And now the rebellion is responding. From this morning’s Washington Post:

LONDON — WikiLeaks supporters struck back Wednesday at perceived enemies of founder Julian Assange, attacking the websites of Swedish prosecutors, the Swedish lawyer whose clients have accused Assange of sexual crimes and the Swiss authority that froze Assange’s bank account.

MasterCard, which pulled the plug on its relationship with WikiLeaks on Tuesday, also seemed to be having severe technological problems.

The online vengeance campaign appeared to be taking the form of denial of service attacks in which computers across the Internet are harnessed – sometimes surreptitiously – to jam target sites with mountains of requests for data, knocking them out of commission.

The online attacks are part of a wave of online support for WikiLeaks that is sweeping the Internet. Twitter was choked with messages of solidarity Wednesday, while the site’s Facebook page hit 1 million fans.

The establishment’s attempts to silence WikiLeaks have, so far, been ineffective. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of mirror web sites that have sprouted across the globe that are keeping the site up. The list of these web sites is easy to find and WikiLeaks is not hard to get to on your office or home computer.

Where all this ends is anyone’s guess. This really does seem to be right out of some edgy science-fiction book. A novelist, I think, could surmise how this story will unfold as well as any security expert or CIA analysis team.

Ultimately, one would think human nature will run its course. Heady with excitement with their cause and their impact, and now counter-attacking against the establishment with cyber warfare- how far will the rebellion go? Will they start taking down web sites of bloggers who disagree with Assange? Why not? They have no qualms attacking the web sites of companies who have every right to conduct business with whomever they want.

One thing becoming clearer in my mind, is that when WikiLeaks releases documents revealing America’s security soft-spots and Assange’s supporters start taking down the web sites of those who they perceive as disagreeing with them- this movement seems to become increasingly less about free expression and more about creating chaos in the name of truth.

The Haynesworth Era is Over

December 7, 2010 Leave a comment

The Redskins have just suspended Albert Haynesworth for the rest of the season without pay. They will save almost a million dollars with the move. Meaning he pretty much stole about $31 million over the past two years.

I’m pretty sure I called him a creep once. Ah, here it is, June 18th of this year. Called him a sorry-ass too:

For those of you who don’t know about this creep, Albert Haynesworth is the highest paid defensive lineman in the NFL, brought in by the Washington Redskins last year and apparently told by owner, Daniel Snyder that he’d be allowed to play the position any way he wanted to. Fast forward a year and there’s a new coach in town who wants Albert to play a different position as part of what’s called a 3-4 defense.

He demanded to be traded. He refused to attend voluntary training sessions. The Skins tried to dump his sorry ass but apparently no other team wanted to swallow his bloated salary or a $20 million bonus that was due to him in the Spring. Coach Mike Shanahan made it clear- if we can’t trade you and you take this $20 million bucks, we expect you to play whatever position we decide.

He took the money and then refused to show up to mandatory training sessions and this week, reiterated his intent to leave Washington and play elsewhere.

His teammates have turned against him, calling him selfish. The fans, of course, loath him. He has burned every bridge he had in Washington and now possibly, across the NFL. And if the Redskins can’t get rid of him, he will remain a cancer on the team for the entire season.

Cut him. Swallow the losses and cut him. Let the millions of dollars in losses burn a great big hole in Dan Snyder’s pockets as a lesson to not be such a chump about bringing in high-priced free-agent divas.

Well, I’ll be darned. They didn’t cut him. He did remain a cancer for the three-fourths of the season. Dan Snyder has a HUGE, well-deserved hole in his pocket.

Here are excerpts from the statement by Coach Shanahan:

Despite the club’s numerous attempts to persuade Albert Haynesworth to abide by the terms of his contract, he has repeatedly refused to cooperate with our coaching staff in a variety of ways over an extended period of time….he has consistently indicated to our defensive coaches that he refuses to play in our base defense or on first-down or second-down nickel situations. He also has refused to follow the instructions of our coaches both during weekly practices and during actual games as well….Yesterday, when Albert was at Redskin Park, he told our General Manager Bruce Allen that he would no longer speak with me. Although suspending any player is not a decision that a head coach enters into lightly, I believe the situation has reached the point where the club clearly has no alternative.

As Haynesworth spoke to the media yesterday, I noticed an enormous diamond earing he was sporting in his left ear. I thought to myself, that thing must be worth $50,000! Hang on to it, Albert. A reminder of the days when you used to be a high-paid NFL star.

The Nats: Overspending into Respectability

December 6, 2010 Leave a comment

So if you’re not into baseball you won’t care that the Washington Nationals just signed a guy names Jayson Werth to a 7-year contract worth $126 million. A lot of people, especially baseball experts and columnists, are all aghast…oooh, they paid too much…ooh, he’s already 31, ooh…now the price for all baseball free agents will skyrocket.

None of these experts get it, nor do many of the fans. First of all, really, what the hell does anyone care how much the Lerner family, the owners of the Nationals, pays a player? Is it your money? No. And as for the Nationals driving up the price for other free agent players, do I really care that the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees now have to pay more to stock their little dream-teams? If so- too bad and good. I do not care that the rich boys now have to dig deeper into their pockets.

Did the Nationals need to do this? You bet they did. Nobody in baseball can compete with the monster teams that throw money at players like drunken sailors. To break into this little club and no longer remain mired with the image of a small, parochial little baseball town, the Nationals needed to make a statement- and they did.

The Washington metropolitan area is not a small market. Actually, it’s the 4th largest metro area in the nation. It’s about time the Lerners started paying top dollar free-agent contracts to improve the team. Six years of promises of building a farm system and stocking up the team with draft choices has netted Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, two possible future hall-of-famers (and a lot of other, talented but lesser-known players)- but nothing that would lead to an immediate improvement of a ball club that lost 96 games last year and considered it an improvement.

In addition to the players you draft and develop, you have to buy a few as well. So, in one fell swoop- the Nationals have sent a message to baseball—yes, we will compete with you. Yes- we will overpay if it’s necessary to get into the game. It says to our homegrown all-star 3rd baseman, Ryan Zimmerman who was upset we let slugger, Adam Dunn go to the White Sox…no, Ryan- we do care. We will build a good ballclub around you and, see, you really do want to stay past the 2013 season and sign a new contract with us.

And if baseball insiders such as the new, obnoxious GM of the New York Mets, make fun of us in Washington for spending a gazillion dollars on a player most of the geniuses don’t deem to be worthy of the big contract- does it occur to any of these brilliant men- that other players might actually like to play for ball clubs that pay top dollar? As word spreads that the Washington Nationals are overpaying spreads among the athletes and their agents…don’t you think D.C. has just now become a lot more attractive to them?

A lot of the experts don’t think Jayson Werth merits such a long, rich contract; that by its end he’ll be 39 and a washed-up has-been. So what? If he gives us 5 productive years and the length of the deal is what it took to get him here- who cares if he’s not productive at age 37—it would still have been worth it.

So for you inside baseball men gathered in Florida for the start of the sport’s winter meetings today- go ahead and laugh at the Nationals all you want. Make jokes about Washington’s deficit spending. Mock our efforts to play with the big boys and get some of the top talent in the game.

But get ready to open up your checkbooks- because we just made your financial lives a living hell. Maybe it’s the populist/anarchist in me, but I am having serious trouble conjuring any sense of sympathy for a bunch of rich, fat men who have lorded over the sport for decades on end.

We just stuck it to your respective pocketbooks and hopefully, we’ll stick it to you on the field too. Deal!

Ever Seen a Homeless Former Lawmaker?

December 1, 2010 Leave a comment

As Congressmen and Senators flail about trying to figure out whether or how or if to extend unemployment benefits for millions of out-of-work Americans- the class divide between our lawmakers and those they represent has never been so evident.

They do not understand our world because they are not of it. Nearly half of all our national lawmakers are millionaires; 261 of them. In the real world, only 1% of us can claim millionaire status. A new study by the Center for Responsive Politics finds the median wealth of a U.S. House member is $765,000. The U.S. Senate is a more exclusive club, of course, and the median wealth there is $2.38 million.

Interestingly enough, while the economy has been in the crapper, the average wealth of our national lawmakers increased by more than 16% between 2008 and 2009.

The Harsh Reality for Some

Here, now, some numbers from that part of the world that is so foreign to our well-to-do representatives:

The National Employment Law Project says 26 states will be phasing out extended jobless benefits between December 4th and January 1st. The Labor Department figures 635,000 people will be cut off from unemployment benefits by December 11th, more than 1.6 million by Christmas and 3.29 million by the end of January.

The number of food stamp recipients, already at a record-high of nearly 42 and half million, is likely to soar.

And people have never been jobless this long…ever before. Those who have been unemployed for six months or more now make up 45.5% of the total of unemployed Americans. There are approximately 5 job seekers for each job-opening in the country.

This is why people are running out of unemployment benefits and soon to be applying for food stamps, seeking help from family and friends, applying for community resource and state programs like TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families).

The Comfy Reality of the Elite Political Class

What happens to the poor politician who gets thrown out of office or retires? Here’s a clue: It doesn’t involve food stamps.

No, generally, they have a brand, spanking new career ahead of them as lobbyists or CEO’s or become members of various boards of directors of large multi-national corporations.

There is a ridiculously feeble law that prohibits lawmakers from cashing in within the first year of leaving office- but after that it’s easy pickings.

Here are but a few examples:

After his re-election defeat, former Senate Majority Leader, Tom Daschle, promptly took a position with the K Street lobbying firm of Alston & Bird. For that 1st year he couldn’t be an actual registered lobbyist, he was appointed a “special policy advisor.” Alston & Bird’s clients include CVS Caremark, the National Association for Home Care and Hospice, Abbott Laboratories and HealthSouth. Between January and September of 2008, the firm was paid nearly $6 million to represent these companies and associations before Congress and the executive branch. In 2008, Senator Daschle reportedly made $2 million. He was recommended for the position at the lobbying firm by an old buddy, former Senator Minority leader, Bob Dole. They take really good care of each other.

Before he became Vice President, based on his experience as a Congressman ,White House Chief of Staff and Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney became CEO of Halliburton which, of course, makes its money getting government contracts. Cheney’s net worth, reported to be between $30 million and $100 million, came mostly from the Halliburton gig as well as his gross income of nearly $9 million.

Former Louisiana Congressman Billy Tauzin resigned from his seat and went on to head up the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America or PhRMA, a trade group that represents pharmaceutical companies. He left last June and pulled in a cool $2.5 million a year. Tauzin had other options. The Motion Picture Association of America offered him $1 million a year to lobby for the film industry but got outbid by PhRMA.

Former House Majority Leader, Dick Armey, left Capitol Hill to join the lobbying team for the law firm, DLA Piper as a “senior policy advisor.” He reportedly made $750,000 a year there. He then joined FreedomWorks, a conservative political group with a simple motto: Lower Taxes, Less Government, More Freedom. As of 2008, he was making $550,000 a year there, and if that sounds low, it’s deceiving. He made $250 thousand a year from FreedomWorks, toiling for 18 hours a week. The other $300,000 came from related organizations, according to IRS filings.

Former House Majority Leader, Dick Gephardt ended 30 years of service in Congress in 2005 and started his own lobbying firm, the Gephardt Group. He joined the EMBARQ Corporation board of directors in June, 2007. In March 2009, Mr. Gephardt was named to the board of directors at the Ford Motor Company. A couple of months ago he was named to the board of directors of Amerilink Telecom, a U.S. distributor of products from Huawei Technologies, a giant Chinese telecommunications company. I don’t have his income figures, but food stamps are not part of the picture.

In Conclusion….

I’ve got nothing against public service. In fact, it seems like a great deal, with an inescapably obvious and lucrative career path. But the world these men and women live in, while in office and after they leave it, resembles nothing like the lives led by normal, average Joe Six-Pack Americans. By the way, I’ve also got nothing against millionaires and if I could figure out a way to become one, would gladly do so.

But if you wonder why these folks seem tone-deaf sometimes…if you wonder why they don’t seem to care all that much about people who are unemployed and are about to lose their jobless benefits- their last source of income in this world….if you wonder why they are SO disconnected from the lives of ordinary, hard-working Americans- it is because their lives and, most likely, yours- have very little to do with one another.