Friday, September 05, 2008

Through Grandpa's Eyes

These photos, of my lovely older daughters with their infant sons, captures for me the essence of parental love. As all parents know, there is an unconditional element in the love you feel for your children. This is hard for non-parents to understand. I always feel honored when I get to meet someone's parents or someone's kids. The bonds between them, even when tattered, convey an intimacy that no other type of relationship can approach.

Love for another adult, for example, is a passing emotion. Hate can last longer, but it shouldn't, because it is so destructive.

But when everything else grows blurry, and you sense your own physical form is transforming back into the dust from which it came, the fact that you reproduced, bringing new humans into this world, replaces all other thoughts and feelings. Money? No emotional resonance. Possessions? Ridiculous. Politics? Not even worth mentioning. Your career? Fine, but forgettable. Even, if you are an artist, your art. You cannot take it with you, so you realize that all you've created is only for others.


Wow! Here in San Francisco, old-timers always warn that warm weather is earthquake weather. We just experienced a temblor here, as I was writing this post. It was sharp but short. I'm gonna guess it was about a 4.4...

Let's face it. Twice that strong and these would have been my final words.


Warm Nights' Writing

It is HOT in San Francisco lately. I've had a few reasons to drive into the City earlier than usual this week -- a dental crown and a board meeting -- and I'll admit my head turned a number of times. Those who never visit here don't know it, but this is a city filled with beautiful women. (For those who bend that way, it is also a city filled with beautiful men.)

Whatever. So many tiny shorts, tank tops, and light cotton dresses! So many women in great shape, shaking their long hair in the night breezes, talking happily with their companions in person or on their cell phones.

My windows are open, the fans are on, the kids are enjoying Pizza Friday Night at Dad's and I'm enjoying a baseball game on TV plus this relaxation they call blogging. Writing for me is what exercise or play is for others. There are so many words, so many stories waiting to pour out of my tortured mind, that posting to 3 or 4 blogs a day, even while holding down a full-time job, barely burns off my excess, much like the flames above a natural gas well.

I don't know that anyone appreciates this kind of writing. As I've often said here, writers are those who have to write. I have to write. If not, my mind becomes -- how can I explain this -- horny. It becomes frustrated, pent-up, tense, needing a release.

I hope for some my words are sweet-tasting, as they pour out of me. I always write not only for me but for you, my precious readers. This blog is not, so far as I know, any kind of success. I can no longer afford Statcounter, so I don't know how many people visit this space. I've stopped checking Google AdSense, since that obviously is a scam for a small-timer like me.

That leaves a rather intimate feeling -- just you and me. Thank you for showing up!

How to Spot Corrupt Politicians

I get a kick out of the way politicians try to portray themselves as "public servants" who "serve" the rest of us. There is a degree of honor in working for government agencies, especially when young, idealistic people sign up hoping to help improve the lives of others.

Three decades ago, I recall interviewing a young official in the Environmental Protection Agency, which had been formed in 1972 in response to the growing environmental consciousness sweeping the nation. His name was Steven Johnson, and his area of expertise was pesticides. He seemed all right, but what struck me most of all was how cautious he was. Unlike most of my EPA sources, and I had a lot of them, he seemed overly concerned with covering his own back than in helping solve problems.

Over the past year, this same Johnson has been in the news a lot, but not for a good reason. He has been exposed as the Bush administration's hatchet man in a regulatory scandal involving -- you guessed it -- pesticides.

Power corrupts. Holding a position in a bureaucracy too long corrupts grossly.

Most politicians I've interviewed are among the most ambitious people I've ever met -- second only perhaps to certain CEOs. Mayors, in particular, specialize in various kinds of corruption, involving misusing their power to punish enemies and reward friends.

Those who are the most corrupt (and arrogant) continue acting like local power brokers as they move up the political food chain in the state or federal government. Sometimes they become Governor, or even Vice-President. The Republican Party suffered a huge embarrassment during the Nixon administration when it came out that Vice-President Spiro Agnew was still taking bribes from construction patrons from his power broker days in nearby Maryland.

"Abuse of power" -- a phrase that covers many sins, is almost always a serious danger sign in a rising politician. Once allegations surface, reporters will run down every detail. The higher the office; the harder they will fall. It's worth paying attention to this fact of life this fall.

Agnew, like most corrupt power brokers, blamed the press. He built most of his standing among Republicans by relentlessly attacking those of us who were trying to do our jobs and report the truths as we uncovered them.

This past week, I found it hypocritical in the extreme for the right-wing extremists to blame the press for the Palin pregnant daughter one in the press broke that story, although plenty of reporters knew about it. Rather it was the Palin family that broke the story, in the process loudly blaming the Left and the press with one broad stroke.

There is zero evidence to back up the charge that the Obama campaign was in any way involved in spreading rumors about the Palins -- nada. If you have some, show it to us. Otherwise, back off!

Again, it is often an indication of personal corruption when a politician tries to shove blame off on the press. We're such an easy target -- have been ever since Plato's Cave.

If anyone thinks reporters will back off examining all the evidence under this kind attack machine, think again. I've always told my employees and students if they come under this unwarranted attack, redouble your effort. "(S)he doth protest too much."

Remember, we've been around this block too many times. Get ready for some explosive developments, ye who cast the first stone...


Thursday, September 04, 2008


John McCain gave a disappointing speech tonight. He seemed to lack energy, vitality, and even a commitment to the words slipping from his lips. A very wise, observant (if young) witness to his speech reviewed it for me before I actually saw it, because I was at a launch party for my company in Redwood City.

Once I saw a rerun, on CNN, I realized my advisor had nailed it -- John McCain blew his big chance to convince the American people he has anything to offer beyond the corrupt Bush program that has bankrupted this nation, destroyed our reputation worldwide, and left the least among us standing on their roofs in a flooded city, abandoned, ignored, even despised by the likes of Sarah Palin and the other evangelical Christian rightists who once again have hijacked the Republican Party.

What a shameful performance!

Assuming the common people of this nation still possess any sense of decency and a commitment to democracy, Barack Obama has a lock on the Presidency. If not, I shudder to think what our nation would be like should President McCain die, leaving a small-town attack dog as President.

Her hand on the nuclear button? That is the most frightening prospect in my lifetime. Honestly, if Palin becomes President, I will have to leave my country, as much as I love it. She is the scariest political figure in modern American history. A monster hiding in a mother's uniform.

Luckily, according to all the initial polls, most Americans have already recognized what a terrible leader she would make. All the polls are moving to Obama, and given McCain's awful performance tonight, within a week or so, both the projected electoral and popular votes will indicate a massive Democratic victory in November.


Please Click Here!

Where will it take you? To a wonderful, 60-second "elevator pitch" for the company I work for -- Predictify.

Little companies like ours represent the lifeblood of the U.S.economy. Even when joblessness hits the highest levels in many years, our tiny operations are hiring people, creating opportunities and new technologies that will help people do things never before possible.

This is not a partisan Republican or Democratic issue. This is a small business issue.

Please follow the link, and if you like our pitch, vote for it. Your "thumbs-up" is a vote for the entrepreneurial spirit that truly makes this country great.

Thank you.


Firing Up the Base

Sarah Palin energized conservatives and reactionaries with her vicious personal attacks on Barack Obama last night.

She also energized the much larger Democratic grassroots movement. Most people in this country do not support Palin's political positions -- anti-abortion, anti-environment, anti sex-ed, anti-intellectual, pro-drilling, pro-guns, pro-pork barrel politics, and that's only the beginning.

Most importantly, she is fiercely pro-American and anti-global.

The problem is not that Palin isn't charming, articulate, or tough -- she may well be all those things and more. It's that none of that matters one whit. She is an extremist, which is why McCain picked her. McCain himself has chosen to discard his long record as a maverick to pander to the marginalized right.

Why don't these neo-Reaganites get it? They're lost in the swirl of history. They are facing backward. This is no time for nationalistic demagoguery. This is a time to rebuild our shattered links throughout the interlocked global economy.

Thank God we have an alternative. Obama has clearly outlined an intelligent foreign policy to replace the belligerence of the Bush administration. And you know, at the end of the day, this country is in awful shape.

Our national economy is staggering. Our home mortgage market is wrecked. Inflation is growing. Our national debt -- the essential measure of national security -- is soaring to record levels. We are so indebted to China that it would be out of the question to have any serious confrontation with them. The dollar is at record lows. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are again headed for bankruptcy. Government spending, under Bush, is profligate. Illegal spying on citizens, secrecy, political corruption at the highest levels of the Bush administration all stand in stark contrast to the clean government run by Bill Clinton.

Then, under a Democrat, we were a prosperous country, without serious enemies at the nation-state level, respected and even loved around the world. When 9/11 happened, I like most Americans supported my government to go after the perpetrators. As I've stated many times, I continue to support the military actions in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But the war on Iraq was folly. That it is possibly winding down is a blessing, except that the winner is not the U.S., but Iran, which now emerges as the power broker in the region.

This type of "toughness" we no longer need. John Wayne is dead, and everything he stood for is dead with him. The macho, jingoistic, racist right wing still can make noise: witness the crap show they are staging in Minneapolis, but their days are numbered.

At least I hope so. Otherwise, our days as a nation worthy of anyone's respect are numbered, and the U.S. will fall as all empires fall -- rotting from the head. Good people, sincere people, fall for the type of attack rhetoric Palin specializes in. Suddenly they feel good about themselves. Why? Because, secretly, they don't feel good about an eloquent black guy who speaks the truth. They don't want to be told to cut back on their gas-guzzling vehicles. They don't want to admit that the chant "We are Number One" is morally wrong and utterly inaccurate. They don't want to accept that the world has changed, and Grandma's values are so outed as to be laughable.

We are a nation of minorities. Unless we build a coalition of the thoughtful, demagogues like Sarah Palin will rise to do their dirty work, much as happened in Italy and Germany in the '30s. Right-wing extremism has always been the greatest threat facing Americans -- not the phony anti-Communist red herring.

Republicans always govern on the basis of fear and hate. This year's ticket is no different. Yuck. It turns my stomach. For once in history, ordinary Americans have an opportunity to leave our ugly collective past behind and really embrace the future. Do we as a people have the courage to do so -- that is the question.

The one piece of great news today is that Palin's speech so enraged Democrats that Obama raised over $10 million in immediate donations. That surge of support will continue, which means he will at least have the tools to try and counteract her smear propaganda.


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Wonderful Speech/Quedstionable Speaker.1

(Note: this post has been revised.)

I'd give Sarah Palin an A+ on her performance tonight. She's a political superstar for the Right. Even if McCain loses this election, Democrats have to recognize that there is a new girl on the scene, and she's every bit as compelling as Barack Obama. Why? Because she never mentioned her obnoxious social views. She stuck to the main message of her party, which no one could disagree with...Cleaning up Washington.

Of course, she failed to mention it is the Republican Party which has soiled our government, wrecked our economy, and isolated this nation from its allies all around the world.

Palin's new. As she learns the ropes, and is she moderates her extreme positions on abortion, sex ed, Creationism, and other issues -- i.e., if she moves to the true middle of her own party -- some Americans other than the extremist base of the Republican Party just might vote for her, someday in the future.

The sad facts are her political positions frighten any reasonable person. She is exactly who she claims to be -- a small town gal -- with all of the ignorance, bias, and parochialism you would expect.

Obama will still beat McCain, as she is extremely unattractive to centrists, moderates and progressives. Her attacks on Obama are tasteless, standing in stark contrast to his unwillingness to criticize her at all.

That is the true test of character, and in that, Palin fails miserably. She's nothing but Karl Rove in high heels.


Fear-Mongering & Idiocy

The overweight middle-class SUV drivers who subscribe to voo-doo science (the Bible vs. evolution) don't know or care that they consume an unfair portion of the world's resources, or that they are therefore personally responsible for Third World poverty, finally got their moment tonight.

They got to cheer Rudy Giuliani, the godless, personally corrupt exploitative ex-mayor of New York (whom I like a lot) as he manipulated their self-satisfied desire to maintain their unfair lifestyle advantages and their a-historical fears of "terrorists."

People will vote for any fool out of fear.

People will also vote for a person who they think will maintain their privilege, whether they deserve it or not.

Therefore, Giuliani boosted McCain tonight. How sad. How irrelevant. Hopefully, Americans are bigger than this, or at least 51% of them are. But maybe not. Maybe this country is so selfish and ignorant and in such a state of denial that this kind of pandering will swing their votes.

Dear reader, if you are one of these, shame on you! Shame on your inability to cut through the crap. Have fun with your choice...a GOP ticket that will continue to lead us into unnecessary wars and economic ruin.

But do not complain to me four or eight years from now. I warned you.


Taxes & Death

There's nothing any of us can do about dying, as it is the one certainty truly beyond our control.

The other certainty, according to the aphorism, is taxes. Why is that? Where do taxes come from and why do they seem to suck the guts out of whatever we are able to make as hard-working Americans?

The reason I want to talk about taxes is that this week is the Republican Party's convention. In all my years as a journalist, the only national convention I ever attended was the GOP's, in San Diego in 1996.

As a partial explanation, since I could easily have been credentialed to most of the conventions the past 30 years, I chose this one because, as editor/producer of the first daily political website ever launched, The Netizen, I wanted to see whether Republicans would embrace the Internet better than the Democrats had...

Besides, a guy I'd long liked, mainly because of his integrity and his wicked sense of humor, was the party's nominee that year -- Bob Dole. As I stood on the vast convention floor during his acceptance speech, I was struck by how tiny he appeared, like a miniature silver banana (or a similar item) standing limply out on a perch high above a massive, adoring crowd.

His speech was, frankly, boring, without a trace of his trademark humor. He never did achieve the erect posture that his listeners so palpably wished for...So, I wandered around the floor. This was exciting, in a way, for me. I bumped into Senators, Governors, and lots of ordinary Americans.

It was a great experience for me, but not one I've since been tempted to repeat, although I've gotten invitations from both parties to return as a witness of their gatherings. Honestly, my time is too valuable to wander around yet another convention center among partisans, be they Republicans, Democrats, or some other party.

I guess I'm just not the kind of person who gets excited by partisan gatherings. They make me feel queasy.

But, back to taxes. I don't trust either party's plans, as so far revealed, about taxes. What we need in this country is to avoid taxing working people and small business operators. I don't know how to put a number on the level at which taxes should kick in, but my gut sense is that no person or business should have to pay any taxes whatsoever on income of under $250,000.

Why is this unrealistic? Because, the main income fueling our bloated federal government bureaucracies is the taxes assessed on you and me, my friends, not the super rich.

What does that make me? An Independent, waiting to examine much more specific economic plans than either candidate has yet announced, before I make my choice who to support on this particular issue -- taxes.

It's only one issue, but this week, it is the right issue to be focusing on, IMHO.


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Obama Starts Pulling Away

For the first time this election cycle, Obama is pulling in over 50% of the voters in two influential tracking polls -- Rasmussen and Gallup. The RCP national average now has Obama with a 6.4% lead in the popular vote, 49.2% - 42.8%. It's too early to tell whether this is a somewhat delayed bounce from the Democratic Convention; a negative response to the stumbling start to the Republican Convention; or the decisions by the "undecideds" to break Obama's way.

I do not believe this trend will prove to be permanent. My experience says that McCain is due for his own bounce, assuming he handles his convention as well as Obama handled his. There is also a natural see-saw effect in public opinion polls that almost seems disconnected from the issues or events occurring on the campaign trail.

Today, for the first time this cycle, I went through a state by state electoral vote assessment, and came up with the most improbable of all outcomes -- a 269-269 tie in the electoral college. Whatever else happens, let's hope that does not come to pass. Just as in 2000, there appears to be a good chance that one party may win the popular vote while the other wins the electoral vote. Either tally could break either way.

There really are only about a dozen "swing states" and one candidate or the other has a 5% or larger margin in most of those. We just seem to be living in a time when the nation is politically divided right down the middle, at least when it comes to Presidential politics.

Congress is another matter. The Democrats are poised for big gains there, probably claiming a solid 10-vote or greater margin in the Senate and a very big majority in the House, where every seat is up for grabs.

Meanwhile, the coverage continues to revolve largely around the "values" and "character traits" of the candidates, as opposed to substantive issues. That's unfortunate, but unlikely to change any time soon.


Monday, September 01, 2008

Why You Vet a Candidate -- First!

So now the Republican V-P candidate not only has a Down's Syndrome baby among her five kids, she has a husband who calls himself the "First Dude," and a 17-year-old unmarried daughter who is 5 months pregnant. The candidate also is under investigation for abuse of her authority as Governor of Alaska.

What else is going to come out about this woman? We know her husband has at least one DUI. We also know she only allowed the news of her daughter's pregnancy (which should trigger a huge scandal among conservative evangelicals) to come out due to rumors that her own Down's Syndrome baby was actually her daughter's.

Apparently, the timing in this case just barely clears the daughter of that pregnancy.

Who are these people? What kind of dysfunctional family is this. What kind of "family values" are on display here? McCain's questionable choice is not receiving as much scrutiny as it would have had today been the first full day of the GOP Convention events, which is what it was supposed to be.

Instead, Republicans are drawing a huge sigh of (temporary) relief that Gustav has (temporarily) pushed their party's news off the front page. The real reason the convention was postponed has less to do with the storm than with the mess that is turning out to be McCain's impulsive V-P selection.

Stay turned. This kind of political situation gets worse before it gets better. The national press corps hasn't even started digging into the Alaska Governor's past and present fully. My hunch? Palin will have to prematrely "withdraw," either before she's nominated, or (worse, for the GOP) afterward.

McCain will then get a second chance.

And the Democrats will have enough ammunition about his lack of judgment to carry them well into November.


Three-Year's Lessons

East Biloxi House. Photo by David Weir.

Three years ago, my ex-girlfriend and I were sitting right here in my flat watching, horrified, the 24/7 hurricane coverage as Katrina flooded New Orleans. Like most people, here and around the world, we were outraged by the images of hundreds of thousands of poor residents who had been utterly abandoned by every level of government that should have been there for them.

The failure started at the top, where President Bush had diverted so many military and National Guard units to Iraq that there was no one to come to residents' assistance.

Meanwhile, with the national media diverted by the drama in New Orleans, few of us yet realized that Katrina had essentially destroyed vast areas of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

In the aftermath of the storm, the failure by all levels of government intensified. When I visited Biloxi, where my girlfriend had relocated to help with relief efforts, three and then four months after Katrina, the devastation remained for all to see, and government relief agencies were nowhere to be seen.

Thanks to a wave of volunteers, mainly church groups, the storm's survivors were gaining a small slice of hope that someday they might again have homes and a rebuilt community.

We now know what the government officials were doing -- turning what used to be a vital East Biloxi residential community over to the multi-billion casino industry. One glaring example of what the priorities were: The reopening of the first big casino in January 2006, while many storm survivors still huddled in the ruins of their condemned houses, their cars, or in tents.

For avaricious businessmen and politicians, hurricanes represent not human tragedy but a new opportunity for "windfall" profits. The usual rules get suspended, courtesy of the the briefcases of cash that get transferred from lobbyists to politicians. Taking care of the victims who, in many cases have lost everything they had, is left to the good church people.


Three years later, a much smaller hurricane (Category 2, not 5) is battering Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. This is the first time since Rita (which hit right after Katrina) that a tropical storm with hurricane-force winds has revisited this area.

Once the storm passes, and the dramatic TV coverage has ended, it will be imperative to monitor the new political economy that emerges in those areas hardest hit. If I were a betting man, I'd lay down money on who will be the winners and who will be the losers. That this is so easy to envision puts the essential lie to notion of a "natural disaster" -- there is nothing natural about the human pecking order in this society.

The game is rigged. The rich get richer; the poor get poorer. What is needed is a fundamental transformation of social values; what we'll get from the headline-seeking politicians who visit the scene of destruction will be pandering and empty promises.


Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Fortuitous Storm

Republicans can thank Hurricane Gustav.

Now, the two people they least wanted to appear at their convention, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, have the perfect excuse to not attend, under the pretense that they are actually doing something about big storm churning in from the Gulf toward the same communities that were leveled by Katrina three years ago.

Of course, they can and will do nothing useful. It's all symbolic. More importantly, it's all in reaction to the Bush administration's shameful failure during the Katrina disaster. As usual, in case you've forgotten, Bush was on vacation. Cheney was probably out shooting somebody somewhere.

What ensued was the worst human and property damages in the history of this country. I need not go into further detail here, because my reporting post-Katrina is well-documented in the earlier archives of this blog.

The Republicans also have the perfect excuse to delay the start of their convention, which is useful, since they are in disarray following McCain's impulsive choice of a running mate who has not yet even been vetted by the professionals in his camp. My GOP sources tell me they are scared to death that this woman has skeletons in her closet that the other main contenders for the post do not.

Take Bobby Jindal, the Governor of Louisiana. He is emerging as a heroic public figure much like Rudy Giuliani did after 9/11. Instead of having this attractive figure on the ticket, McCain's party has a woman who decided to have a baby with Down's Syndrome at age 44, and then agreed to run to be Vice-President!

Who is going to take care of that poor child?

I have, through marriage, a niece with Down's Syndrome. She's around 20 now. These special kids may seem deficient in their mental abilities, which they clearly are, but they also exhibit an excess of emotional ability, e.g., the ability to love.

It is unimaginable to me, a parent, if I had fathered a Down's Syndrome child, that I would leave her for the rigors of a campaign for the highest political offices in the land.

What kind of parent is this woman?

McCain has always been a rebel, and he's always acted impulsively, as his wives and children can attest. These are not necessarily bad qualities. But in choosing a woman who may be the most risky choice since Eagleton, McCain has truly doomed his chances.

Make no mistake. The Democrats are united and ready. There is not even one Hillary voter who would ever back this GOP ticket. Hillary's supporters are pro-choice feminists, i.e., on the right side of history.

McCain has just driven them all, en masse, to Obama.

I had (secretly) been hoping this would be a close and interesting race. But McCain has already dug his own grave. Ignore the polls for now. Wait approximately a month. By then, Obama-Biden will have a double-digit lead.