Wednesday, September 6


How does one handle the suicide of a beloved friend?

Early this morning I got a call from a close female friend of 17 years who, not incidentally, is the head of a small firm that my company does business with. Our relationship sprang from the extraordinary service she and her two brothers (who are partners in her company) have provided to us. Their 14-member staff built their company around servicing my company's promotional needs (a spend of about $4 million per year) and became indispensable to us. Since I head that spend, over the years the female CEO and her two brothers have become my partners and dear friends.

Some months ago my Fortune 200 company decided that we could save some money (I have challenged that assertion) by dealing only with leaders of (whatever) industry. They've established national contracts in a number of categories, thus eliminating relationships with local, long-established vendor relationships.

Three months ago the strategic sourcing group of my company decided to transfer our business to one of the largest companies in the promotionals and incentives industry. From the beginning all of our power buyers opposed the move, citing the service level we have been accustomed to plus the fact that our incumbent vendor was the #2 in pricing among the national companies solicited for the RFP. We were overruled. The transition has been a nightmare, with the new approved vendor proving to be inept, inattentive, missing deadline after deadline and generally requiring of our internal customers an unacceptable level of increased workloads (we're talking about the key marketing executive of each of our business units) just to keep the project from exploding. And, during all of this, we were asking our incumbent vendor, which we were effectively putting out of business, to assist us in that effort. But our marketing group, as opposed to the sourcing group, continued to point out the defects in the new relationship and hoping that we could salvage the relationship with our incumbent vendor.

Well, last night one of the partners, the beloved brother of the CEO, whom we business owners worked with day in and day out, shot himself in the heart. He and his brother and sister have virtually all their financial holdings invested in the company we just put out of business -- and mind, it was for ephemeral projected savings of pennies (a projected $2 million over three years -- which I have repeatedly challenged as legitimate -- in a company that last year reported earnings well in excess of $1 billlion).

I have spent most of today delivering the news personally to each of our marketing executives, who reacted with intense grief and shock. The director of the strategic sourcing group who spearheaded this effort (I didn't tell him myself -- I was too bitter) and heard the news from another source, came to my office and told me, "I feel as if I have blood on my hands." I was pleased that he had enough of a heart to feel that.

I understand that business requires some tough decisions. People who are laid off sometimes kill themselves. Do we blame those who make those decisions? I guess it depends upon what basis those decisions are made, and how they are delivered and executed.

For myself, and in this situation, I am locked in grief. I loved Al. He was the epitome of the service mentality, proactive, always looking out for our interests, ready to go to the office at midnight if needed, and always, always, prepared to do anything that was required, no matter when or what. Plus, he was very huggable.

I worry now about his surviving brother and sister. They established the culture of their company, which could be summed up as the customer is always right, fix anything, don't show them anything until it's perfectly right. They are both people who internalize everything, present an incredibly strong front and never say "it can't be done." They gave their employees terrific benefits, even profit sharing opportunities. That's only 10 people now out of work (11 if you count Albert), but I guess that doesn't matter much to the big picture guys.

It's a far cry from what I'm experiencing with the new, approved national vendor.

How does one reconcile this Bush-inspired culture that worships Wal-Mart but touts support for small business?

I don't believe it can be done.

Now, the ultimate. I've been asked to eulogize the man at his funeral. The man I couldn't stop my company from putting out of business, whose death I feel partially responsible for. Yes, I know in my head I'm not. But try being in that position and not feeling in your heart that someone you cared for died because you toed the company line. Not that the company would have changed its policy, mind you, but the fact is I know I could have walked out in protest. I didn't. It wouldn't have changed anything, and that's what I told myself. But it's no comfort now.

I'm not going to feel like posting much in the next few days.

Tuesday, September 5


An extraordinary interview with legendary folk singer Pete Seeger.

I have to relate my own history with folk music. From the time I was thirteen I was an aficionado of folk music, organizing folk groups and singing publicly as often as the opportunity arose. Inspired by Joan Baez, I even went back to The English and Scottish Popular Ballads recorded by Francis Child, sometimes known as the "Child Ballads," locating the out-of-print volumes and learning and performing them. Pete Seeger, of "Where Are All The Flowers Gone?" fame, was one of my favorites, along with Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, The Kingston Trio, and, later, Joni Mitchell, Peter Paul & Mary, and Gordon Lightfoot. Oh, there were so many great folk acts, too many to recount!

But Pete Seeger was The Real Thing, like Joanie. These were people who lived what they sang, who were activists as well as performers. Pete at 87 has seen and experienced it all -- the early labor movement, WWII, the McCarthy era, Vietnam, Iraq ... And, as this interview demonstrates, has come out of it with an optimism and faith that is enduring.

I sang "Waste Deep in the Big Muddy," [ed. note: next line is "and the big fool says to push on"] and this time only at a station in Detroit cut it out. But the rest of the country heard it, so seven million people heard it. Who knows? Later that month, in late February, Lyndon Johnson decided not to run for re-election. The song would be probably just one more thing. I honestly believe that the future is going to be millions of little things saving us. I imagine a big seesaw, and at one end of this seesaw is on the ground with a basket half-full of big rocks in it. The other end of the seesaw is up in the air. It's got a basket one-quarter full of sand. And some of us got teaspoons, and we're trying to fill up sand.

A lot of people are laughing at us, and they say, "Ah, people like you have been trying to do that for thousands of years, and it's leaking out as fast as you're putting it in." But we're saying, "We're getting more people with teaspoons all the time." And we think, "One of these years, you'll see that whole seesaw go zooop in the other direction." And people will say, "Gee, how did it happen so suddenly?" Us and all our little teaspoons. Now granted, we've gotta keep putting it in, because if we don't keep putting teaspoons in, it will leak out, and the rocks will go back down again. Who knows?
Realize that little things lead to bigger things. That's what Seeds is all about. And this wonderful parable in the New Testament: the sower scatters seeds. Some seeds fall in the pathway and get stamped on, and they don't grow. Some fall on the rocks, and they don't grow. But some seeds fall on fallow ground, and they grow and multiply a thousand fold. Who knows where some good little thing that you've done may bring results years later that you never dreamed of.


Six years after the disastrous, dubious election of 2000 (and two years after a similar one in 2004), the mainstream press is still not making a major issue of the proven problems with electronic voting. The NY Times offers a tepid beginning.

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Why, according to the latest Gallup poll, do only 37% approve of Mr Bush's handling of the economy, and 70% think economic conditions are getting worse?

Notice the graph. Contrast the growth of family incomes for all, blacks and hispanics under Bill Clinton with the loss under George W. Bush.

One way to comprehend what is happening is to look at the split between how much of the economy is won by profits and how much by wages.

The share allotted to corporate profits increased sharply, from 17.7% in 2000 to 20.9% in 2005, while the share going to wages has reached a record low.

Meanwhile, a large section of the workforce - the unemployed or those not seeking work - have not benefited from economic growth.

Unemployment has remained stubbornly high despite the economic recovery, with the latest figure at 4.7% compared to 4% at the end of 2000. Overall job growth in the first half of the current decade has been just 1.3%.

In the 1990s, job growth of some 12% goes some way towards explaining why prosperity in that earlier period spread down the income scale.
From 1992 to 2005, the pay of chief executive officers of major companies rose by 186%.

The equivalent figure for median hourly wages was 7.2%, leaving the ratio of CEOs' pay to that of the average worker at 262.

In the 1960s, the comparable figure was 24.

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Great relief here at the home of Motherlode and The Sage.

Monday, September 4


AmericaBlog is reminding readers that Congressional Republicans in 1996 blocked measures proposed by Bill Clinton to fight terrorism.

The post below quotes an October 2003 article by William River Pitts which listed some of the measures attempted or taken by The Big Dog as he practically begged the Congress and the nation to wake up to the terrorist threat, most of which were either sabotaged or mocked by Republicans.

So when you hear the familiar accusations that Bush is tough on terrorism and Clinton is to blame for 9/11, recount the facts, not the myth.

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Don't miss Mark Kleinman's Winglish Dictionary. It's too true to be funny. But it is, anyway.


ABC is reportedly airing a six-hour "docudrama" called The Path to 9/11. The screenwriter is a personal friend of Rush Limbaugh, which fact alone should make one suspicious of its historical integrity. The film purportedly (since as Firedog Lake says, pre-release copies have been sent to right-wing blogs and talk show hosts, but not to lefties, so we have to go by reports) blames 9/11 on failures of the Clinton administration and portrays Bush as vitally concerned about terrorism.

It's the typical wingnut "blame Clinton" response. But in October 2003 William Rivers Pitt begged to differ.

The two great myths that have settled across the nation, beyond the Hussein-9/11 connection, are that Clinton did not do enough during his tenure to stop the spread of radical terrorist organizations like al Qaeda, and that the attacks themselves could not have been anticipated or stopped. Blumenthal's insider perspective on these matters bursts the myths entirely, and reveals a level of complicity regarding the attacks within the journalistic realm and the conservative political ranks that is infuriating and disturbing.

Starting in 1995, Clinton took actions against terrorism that were unprecedented in American history. He poured billions and billions of dollars into counterterrorism activities across the entire spectrum of the intelligence community. He poured billions more into the protection of critical infrastructure. He ordered massive federal stockpiling of antidotes and vaccines to prepare for a possible bioterror attack. He order a reorganization of the intelligence community itself, ramming through reforms and new procedures to address the demonstrable threat. Within the National Security Council, "threat meetings" were held three times a week to assess looming conspiracies. His National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, prepared a voluminous dossier on al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, actively tracking them across the planet. Clinton raised the issue of terrorism in virtually every important speech he gave in the last three years of his tenure. In 1996, Clinton delivered a major address to the United Nations on the matter of international terrorism, calling it "The enemy of our generation."

Behind the scenes, he leaned vigorously on the leaders of nations within the terrorist sphere. In particular, he pushed Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to assist him in dealing with the threat from neighboring Afghanistan and its favorite guest, Osama bin Laden. Before Sharif could be compelled to act, he was thrown out of office by his own army. His replacement, Pervez Musharraf, pointedly refused to do anything to assist Clinton in dealing with these threats. Despite these and other diplomatic setbacks, terrorist cell after terrorist cell were destroyed across the world, and bomb plots against American embassies were thwarted. Because of security concerns, these victories were never revealed to the American people until very recently.

In America, few people heard anything about this. Clinton's dire public warnings about the threat posed by terrorism, and the massive non-secret actions taken to thwart it, went completely unreported by the media, which was far more concerned with stained dresses and baseless Drudge Report rumors. When the administration did act militarily against bin Laden and his terrorist network, the actions were dismissed by partisans within the media and Congress as scandalous "wag the dog" tactics. The TV networks actually broadcast clips of the movie "Wag The Dog" to accentuate the idea that everything the administration was doing was contrived fakery.

The bombing of the Sundanese factory at al-Shifa, in particular, drew wide condemnation from these quarters, despite the fact that the CIA found and certified VX nerve agent precursor in the ground outside the factory, despite the fact that the factory was owned by Osama bin Laden's Military Industrial Corporation, and despite the fact that the manager of the factory lived in bin Laden's villa in Khartoum. The book "Age of Sacred Terror" quantifies the al-Shifa issue thusly: "The dismissal of the al-Shifa attack as a scandalous blunder had serious consequences, including the failure of the public to comprehend the nature of the al Qaeda threat."

In Congress, Clinton was thwarted by the reactionary conservative majority in virtually every attempt he made to pass legislation that would attack al Qaeda and terrorism. His 1996 omnibus terror bill, which included many of the anti-terror measures we now take for granted after September 11, was withered almost to the point of uselessness by attacks from the right; Jesse Helms and Trent Lott were openly dismissive of the threats Clinton spoke of.

Clinton wanted to attack the financial underpinnings of the al-Qaeda network by banning American companies and individuals from dealing with foreign banks and financial institutions that al Qaeda was using for its money-laundering operations. Texas Senator Phil Gramm, chairman of the Banking Committee, killed Clinton's bill on this matter and called it "totalitarian." In fact, he was compelled to kill the bill because his most devoted patrons, the Enron Corporation and its criminal executives in Houston, were using those same terrorist financial networks to launder their own dirty money and rip off the Enron stockholders.

Just before departing office, Clinton managed to make a deal with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to have some twenty nations close tax havens used by al Qaeda. His term ended before the deal was sealed, and the incoming Bush administration acted immediately to destroy the agreement. According to Time magazine, in an article entitled "Banking on Secrecy" published in October of 2001, Bush economic advisors Larry Lindsey and R. Glenn Hubbard were urged by think tanks like the Center for Freedom and Prosperity to opt out of the coalition Clinton had formed. The conservative Heritage Foundation lobbied Bush's Treasury Secretary, Paul O'Neill, to do the same. In the end, the lobbyists got what they wanted, and the Bush administration pulled America out of the plan. The Time article stated, "Without the world's financial superpower, the biggest effort in years to rid the world's financial system of dirty money was short-circuited."

This laundry list of partisan catastrophes goes on and on. Far from being inept on the matter of terrorism, Clinton was profoundly activist in his attempts to address terrorism. Much of his work was foiled by right-wing Congressional conservatives who, simply, refused to accept the fact that he was President. These men, paid to work for the public trust, spent eight years working diligently to paralyze any and all Clinton policies, including anti-terror initiatives that, if enacted, would have gone a long way towards thwarting the September 11 attacks. Beyond them lay the worthless television media, which ignored and spun the terrorist issue as it pursued salacious leaks from Ken Starr's office, leaving the American people drowning in a swamp of ignorance on a matter of deadly global importance.
Couple this with other facts about the Bush administration we now have in hand. The administration was warned about a massive terror plot in the months before September by the security services of several countries, including Israel, Egypt, Germany and Russia. CIA Director George Tenet delivered a specific briefing on the matter to the administration on August 8, 2001. The massive compendium of data on Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda compiled by Sandy Berger, and delivered to Condoleezza Rice upon his departure, went completely and admittedly unread until the attacks took place. The attacks themselves managed, for over an hour, to pierce the most formidable air defense system in the history of the Earth without a single fighter aircraft taking wing until the catastrophe was concluded.

It is not fashionable these days to pine for the return of William Jefferson Clinton. Given the facts above, and the realities we face about the administration of George W. Bush, and the realities we endure regarding the aftermath of September 11, the United States of America would be, and was, well served by its previous leader. That we do not know this, that September 11 happened at all, that it was such a wretched shock to the American people, that we were so woefully unprepared, can be laid at the feet of a failed news media establishment, and at the feet of a pack of power-mad conservative extremists who now have a great deal to atone for.

Had Clinton been heeded, the measures he espoused would have been put in place, and a number of powerful bulwarks would have been thrown into the paths of those commercial airplanes. Had the news media been something other than a purveyor of masturbation fantasies from the far-right, the American people would have know the threats we faced, and would have compelled their Congressmen to act. Had Congress itself been something other than an institution ruled by narrow men whose only desire was to break a sitting President by any means necessary, we would very probably still have a New York skyline dominated by two soaring towers.

Had the Bush administration not continued this pattern of gross partisan ineptitude and heeded the blitz of domestic and international warnings, instead of trooping off to Texas for a month-long vacation, had Bush's National Security Advisor done one hour's worth of her homework, we probably would not be in the grotesque global mess that currently envelops us. Never forget that many of the activists who pushed throughout the 1990s for the annihilation of all things Clinton are now foursquare in charge of the country today.

And, firmly in charge, they've done very little about protecting the country since 9/11. There is, of course, the miserable grade the 9/11 Commission gave the Bush administration. But read also this riveting exchange just posted by The New Yorker entitled, "The World After 9/11."

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E Pluribus Media answers the question with, "Nothing."

It's a terrific post, but I would beg to disagree in part. The Bush administration has accomplished, at least, the following:

It has turned a largely valiant, undaunted people into a quivering mass of fearful boogey-man spotters.

It has minimized or, at worst, eradicated some of our most precious civil freedoms, breaking the law and violating the Constitution in the process.

It has successfully prosecuted class warfare in our country, enriching the already-rich, diminishing the middle class and adding to the number of Americans living in poverty and without health insurance. It has presided over an economy in which wages are stagnant but corporate profits are at an all-time high.

It has stacked the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary with right-wing justices who will rubber-stamp conservative positions and actions.

It has advanced the notion of "imperial presidency" to a frightening degree.

It has greatly decreased the stature of the United States in the eyes of the world, emboldening our enemies and weakening our alliances.

It has weakened our pollution standards, increasing man-made health hazards.

It has made a mockery of the electoral process, successfully stealing elections across the country.

Its policies have increased the number and strength of our enemies, creating more jihadists than ever, and resulting in an increase in terrorist attacks worldwide.

It has increased our national debt by 49% and taken us from a budget surplus of $250-plus billion to a deficit of approximately the same amount.

It has polarized American society to a degree of incivility not dreamed of even during the Clinton years.

It has reduced the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division to a sick joke.

It has sacrificed nearly 3,000 military and contractor lives (and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives) and squandered $300 billion in taxpayer dollars in a war of choice in Iraq, and in the doing has plunged that country into a desperate state of want and civil war.

It has returned Afghanistan to a state of tribal fighting and greatly advanced the heroin trade.

It has violated the Geneva Convention and made torture an acceptable tactic of war and investigation.

That's only the beginning. You can add more to the list. I'm sitting here on a rainy Dallas morning feeling depressed at the recollection of all this criminal administration has accomplished.



Fareed Zakaria has a remarkably sensible column denouncing the current hysteria over Iran.

He points out that Ahmandinejad, unlike Hitler in Germany, is not in complete control of his country. As a theocracy, it's really ruled by the mullahs. He contrasts U.S. resources with those of Iran -- its military budget is 1% of ours, and our defense outlay is double the entire Iranian GDP. He portrays the Iranian president as a swaggerer (like his American counterpart) who is greatly enjoying his 15 minutes of fame, compliments of the Bush administration, which he has won by simply goading the U.S.

Read the whole thing. It's a marvel of sanity in this new rage of fearmongering. And if there's any 1938 "appeasement" going on, it's by those who fail to understand that the greater threat to the U.S. is an internal one.

Can everyone please take a deep breath?
Iran is run by a nasty regime that destabilizes an important part of the world, frustrates American and Western interests, and causes problems for allies like Israel. But let's get some perspective. The United States is far more powerful than Iran. And, on the issue of Tehran's nuclear program, Washington is supported by most of the world's other major powers. As long as the alliance is patient, united and smart—and keeps the focus on Tehran's actions not Washington's bellicosity—the odds favor America. Ahmadinejad presides over a country where more than 40 percent of the population lives under the poverty line; his authority is contested, and Iran's neighbors are increasingly worried and have begun acting to counter its influence. If we could contain the Soviet Union, we can contain Iran. Look at your calendar: it's 2006, not 1938.

Sunday, September 3


British diplomat Craig Murray tells a horrifying tale of his days as ambassador to Uzbekistan. When Bush rails against "Islamic fascists" that "fear democracy" and "hate our freedoms," he betrays himself as the worst of hypocrites. Uzbekistan is one of the most repressive tyrannies in the world today, but it's our "friend" because the government celebrates torture and feeds the CIA the results of that torture. Forget that the intelligence is nonsense; it provides a pretext for American actions and stokes the fears of the voting public.

Read the article. You'll see what I mean.

It was clear by the time I arrived in Tashkent a few months later that the United States was handsomely rewarding Karimov's cooperation. Hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid were flowing to the country -- after the U.S. government, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, repeatedly certified that the Uzbek government was making progress on human rights and democracy. According to a press release distributed to local media by the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent in December 2002, the Karimov regime received more than $500 million in U.S. aid that year alone. That included $120 million for the Uzbek armed forces and more than $80 million for the re-branded Uzbek security services, successor to the KGB.

In other words, when the prisoner was boiled to death that summer, U.S. taxpayers had helped heat the water.

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Might Hillary decide not to run?

“I would not be surprised if she were to decide that the best contribution she can make to her country is to forget about being president and become a consensus-maker in the Senate,” said a leading Democratic party insider. “She believes there is no trust between the two political sides and that we can’t function as a democracy without it.”
“The prospect of a Hillary for President campaign has put much of the Democratic establishment in a bind,” Time concluded. “The early line is that Hillary would be unstoppable in a Democratic primary but unelectable in a general election.”

The solution, insiders say, is for Clinton to take over as Senate minority leader in 2009 from the lacklustre Harry Reid, senator for Nevada.
On one subject, Clinton’s friends are united. They all believe that Bill, her closest adviser, wants her to go for it.

Bill's sentiments notwithstanding, a run by Hillary for the Democratic presidential nomination would be very divisive for the party. As the NY Times says today:

All that said, she has hardly been a profile in courage. Almost every move Mrs. Clinton has made regarding Iraq reflected her desire to find — or create — a center position on every issue. The resolution she endorsed was extremely vague, more of a potential political embarrassment to the administration than a restriction on the military. Her speech in 2002 was classic triangulation, in which she posed two clear opposing positions and then placed herself in between. And her clash with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld last month, while dramatic, was late in the game, and an obvious attempt to make it clear to the restive antiwar voters that she was not an appropriate target.

Mrs. Clinton’s biggest flaw is her unwillingness to risk political capital for principle. That is not to say that she lacks principles, but whenever her moral convictions become politically inexpedient, she will struggle to find a way to cloak them in vague rhetoric or deflect attention with a compromise that makes the danger go away.

All that is an issue of leadership, and it will be grist for discussion if she decides to run for president in 2008. Right now we are talking about a Senate race, and Hillary Clinton has been an excellent senator for New York.

Yes, Hillary has been an excellent senator and would make an excellent president. But she's not electable by the general voter population, and Democratic voters in particular would have a hard time with her past positions on Iraq.

At least, I know I would.

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