Sunday, February 27, 2011

DADT, ROTC, Racism, and Irony At Columbia University

I hate to say, “I told you so,” but…

Well, I told you so.

I did.

Two months ago Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed here in the land of the free and home of the brave, paving the way for gays to serve openly in the military.  We’re still figuring out the details of how, exactly, that’s going to work.  But despite all the dire predictions, so far the world hasn’t ended. The Republic hasn’t fallen. The military hasn’t resigned en mass.  The terrorists have not won.

Life in the good old USA appears to be going on same as it ever was.

Oh sure, those of us who live and work among the military, those of us who are veterans ourselves, we all know at least one raging homophobe in uniform, the righteous fire of holy hatred beading his forehead like oily sweat and the smoky red light of Jesus glinting in his eyes.  A crusty old senior NCO said to me the other day, “By God, I ever catch one of those queers staring at my ass in the shower and I’ll light him up!”  The Sarge apparently has a fairly high opinion of his own posterior, I suspect he spends a lot of time admiring it in the mirror. Frankly, I doubt he has much to worry about.  Yet, for all of that, the general consensus I hear around the base is best summed up by the young Marine I spoke to the other day: “Who the hell cares? I don’t give a damn if they’re straight or not, so  long as they can shoot straight. I’m deploying to [insert warzone here] for the third time and I’ve got more important shit to worry about.“

The only folks who actually, really, care about this issue are on Capital Hill – and they don’t really give a damn about gays in uniform.  They regard all of us as cannon fodder in the battle of politics and ideology. To them we’re nothing but political footballs they can use to score points off of the other  party.  The truth of the matter is that if liberals really cared about gays in the military, they would have forced the issue when they had the majority. And if conservatives really, really hated gays, they’d draft ‘em the way they did the poor during Vietnam and send them off to die in a foreign land for freedom, democracy, and General Motors’ bottom line. 

Ah jeez, Jim, what in the hell did you have to bring up Vietnam for? I hear you ask in that tone you use when there’s nothing on TV but reruns of Full Metal Jacket.  Nobody gives a crap about Vietnam or that poor black folks were drafted in disproportionate numbers during that idiotic conflict. There’s no draft now and we don’t do business that way anymore.  Let it go.  And now that DADT has been repealed, nobody has any reason to hate the military.  Hell, even liberals might hate the war, but we support our troops – hate the sin, love the sinner, and like that.


Unless, of course, you happen to be a student at a liberal Ivy League college.

Last week Tony Maschek stood up in front of a student assembly at Columbia University to give a speech in support of establishing a ROTC unit on campus. 

Now, Columbia is one of the oldest universities in the United States. In point of fact, it’s actually been around longer than the United States. Columbia was one of the nine colonial colleges established by Royal Charter under the hand of King George II, founded long before the Revolutionary War.  It’s the oldest institution of higher learning in New York and the fifth oldest in the United States.  Columbia is considered one of the top research institutions in the US – and therefore, the world.  According to the Wikipedia, Columbia counts among its alumni and affiliates: five US Founding Fathers, four US presidents, nine Supreme Court justices, 26 foreign heads of state, 97 Nobel Prize winners, 101 Pulitzer Prize winners, 25 Academy Award winners with over 30 Oscars, more than 30 alumni and ten affiliate recipients of the National Medal of Science, 50 recipients of the MacArthur Genius Award, and 20 living billionaires. The university staff currently includes nine Nobel Laureates, 30 recipients of the MacArthur Genius Award, four recipients of the National Medal of Science, 143 members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 38 members of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, 20 members of the National Academy of Engineering, and 43 members of the National Academy of Sciences.

That’s just for starters and it’s pretty damned impressive.

Notice anything missing?

Look carefully, I’ll wait.

Obvious isn’t it?

Yes. We’ll come back to that.

So, anyway, as I was saying, last week Tony Maschek, stood up in front of his fellow students to advocate for inclusion of the Reserve Officer Training Corps in Columbia’s curriculum.

He was booed.

A number of students hissed at him, literally hissed at him.

Much has been made of this incident in certain circles, because, see, Tony Maschek is former Army Staff Sergeant Anthony Maschek, a combat veteran and recipient of the Purple Heart for grievous wounds received in action.  In fact, Maschek was shot eleven times and spent two years in the hospital recovering – losing a leg in the process – and the students who booed and hissed heckled him as much for what he was saying as for who and what he was.

Needless to say, it didn’t take long for the outrage to boil over on conservative websites and forums – a few liberal ones too for that matter (it didn’t take long to get exaggerated all to hell either, with some versions of the story claiming Columbia students jeered Maschek but cheered Iranian President Ahmadinejad when he spoke at the World Leaders Forum there in 2007.  Um, no. Ahmadinejad’s visit was met with massive protests. Nobody cheered him. Really, didn’t happen).

To be honest, I’m not sure why booing a one-legged combat vet is any more crass or obnoxious than hissing at any other person who has been invited to speak in front of an Ivy League student assembly.  Sure, as a vet myself it irritates me, but I find that I’m not nearly as outraged as I am disappointed.  Disappointed that students at one of the world’s premier schools, young men and women who aspire to world leadership, to the Sciences, to the Arts, to Medicine, and to the Law, would behave little better than a bunch of drunken assholes in the bleachers at a tractor pull. 

I’m disappointed, but I’m not surprised.

Remember that part where I said I told you so?

When DADT was repealed, I said that those liberal universities which rejected military recruiters and ROTC units because of the military’s ban on gays serving openly would find other reasons to continue that ban - and that’s exactly what happened.

Those universities are wrong.  Wrong, foolish, and shortsighted.

The students who booed and hissed at Tony Maschek are wrong too. Wrong, foolish, and shortsighted.

Not because they booed and hissed, or rather not only because they booed and hissed, but because of what else they yelled at Maschek.

They called him a racist.

Now I’m pissed off.

See, the logic of that appalling ad hominem attack being this: the military recruits poor people, black people are poor, therefor the military targets black people, then the military sends them off to war, where they die for the White Man, ipso facto the military is racist, therefor anybody in the military or having served in the military is a racist, Quod Erat Demonstrandum.

Up above, I didn’t bring up Vietnam, the students yelling “Racist!” at Columbia University did.

The logical fallacy, the lazy thinking, the level of defective reasoning based on faulty and outdated information (which could easily be proven false with a minimum of effort – especially at a research institution with the informational resources of Columbia), is simply staggering. Doubly so considering that it happened at one of the premier institutions of education, reasoning, logic, and research in the world.  Let us hope that the hecklers either outgrow their appalling ignorance very soon or they fail out post haste and make room for someone with a modicum of reasoning ability.  If this were my kid, I’d be demanding my money back from Columbia. If I were the Dean or the board of regents at Columbia, I’d institute an immediate review of the curriculum and the instructors – and any guilty of propagating such stupefying nonsense would either be put out to pasture immediately or sent off on field research somewhere that dysentery is the national sport.

Columbia banned the military from its campus in 1969, during the height of the Vietnam war, and stopped teaching military science classes in the early 1970's. It should be noted that the ban, here and on liberal campuses elsewhere, had absolutely nothing to due with gays serving openly.  DADT became a cause celebre decades later. Columbia students desiring a career in the military are forced to attend ROTC programs and military classes at other nearby colleges - the hypocrisy of this is interesting, given its similarity in some regards to the out-of-sight, out-of-mind logic of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell or the Separate But Equal thinking that preceded it.  Despite the repeal of DADT, and University President Lee Bollinger’s promise to reinstitute the ROTC program at Columbia, little progress toward this end has been made.  A significant fraction of the faculty and a slight majority of the students are against allowing the military to return to Columbia.  Exactly as I predicated, now that DADT is gone other reasons will be found to maintain the status quo.

Other liberal US campuses, such as Stanford and Berkley, are similarly inclined.

At this point, it should be obvious that this really has nothing whatsoever to do with DADT.

The ban on the military has become institutionalized and even though the stated reason for it no longer exists, another will be found or manufactured (Ironic isn’t it? How similar to the hidebound reasoning of those in the military who wished to continue DADT? But I digress).

This is wrong. Wrong, foolish, and shortsighted and I expected better from such a prestigious institution.

Liberals, especially liberal campuses such as Columbia, should be demanding ROTC units.

They should be demanding the right to train America’s warriors.

The reason for this is twofold and should be obvious to even the most limited intellect:

First. lack of a military ROTC program at Columbia is, itself, racist. It’s also classist. It’s also immoral. 

For a lot of people, the military is our ticket to a better life.   Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about.  For a lot of folks, the military is indeed a way out of poverty, a way out of the dead end alleys of the ‘hood and the projects.  For those who manage to survive the streets and the drugs and the gangs and do reasonably well in an over crowded, underfunded inner city high school, a ROTC scholarship provides a path to higher education – and a better life – that might not exist otherwise. The same is true for those of us who come from small town bumfuck America, where the only factory closed years ago and there are no jobs and no opportunities unless you want to flip burgers or milk cows for welfare wages.  Now here’s the thing so pay attention: plenty of people are willing to serve time in the military in order to get that education, to earn that opportunity for a better life. They are willing to risk their lives for their country of their own free will because their lives are already at risk, at risk from drugs, from poverty, from gangs, from lack of opportunity, from dead ends and closed factories and small horizons.

Yes! Exactly, that’s the whole point, Jim you idiot, I hear you say. The military preys on poor people.  Military recruiters entice poor people into the service with a promise of a better life, then sends them off to war. That’s the whole point. It’s immoral!

No, what is immoral is the reasoning that says those people would somehow be better off staying in that dead end.

Let me ask you this. What if, instead of joining the military, that same poor black kid joined the fire department and risked his life charging into burning buildings for a paycheck, which he then saved so that he could one day afford to go to some crappy local community college?

Would that be any more moral?

The simple truth of the matter is that those who would deny the military access to Columbia and other campuses are engaged in a moral hypocrisy writ large – by failing to institute an ROTC program, they deny poor and minority students access to a Top Tier education and regulate them to second class citizenship.

They deny poor people a choice.

How moral is that?

Second but just as importantly, Liberals, such as those at Columbia who are so critical of the military, are self-selecting themselves out of the decision making process.  They are leaving the professional Officer Corps – which defines the senior US military leadership, including those who advise the President and Congress and formulate US military policy and who often go on to post-military careers in politics and business – to be shaped almost entirely by conservative educational institutions.  

Up above I asked you if you noticed anything missing from Columbia’s list of distinguished graduates. 

I noticed it right away. Did you?

How many graduates on that distinguished list were career military leaders? How many of the them were Generals, Admirals, Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs, Secretaries of Defense, National Security Advisors, Directors of the CIA or NSA?

Sure, there have been a few, a very few, such as Admiral Hyman Rickover and Alfred Thayer Mahan.  But what percentage compared to the number of notable scientists, engineers, statesmen, politicians, lawyers, judges, diplomats, and business leaders? 

By denying the military access to Columbia, Liberals make the military all the more a bastion of conservative thought.

This is dangerous. Dangerous to the military and to institutions of higher learning alike, institutionalized single points of view are always dangerous.  This stratified attitude is contrary to democracy, to the republic, and to the very ideals which liberal institutions such as Columbia claim to hold dear. 

Ironic isn’t it, that liberals are at least partially responsible for shaping the very attitudes among our military leadership that they themselves despise.

Ironic isn’t it, that a deeply conservative institution, such as the military, has almost always benefited from a liberal education.

Those two military leaders I named above, Rickover and Mahan, brought radically different viewpoints to the military – to the Navy specifically.  They were both responsible for initiating fundamental transformations of the force.  Alfred Thayer Mahan became one of the world’s greatest military strategists, he formulated the Mahan Doctrine and played a significant role, along with his classmate Teddy Roosevelt, in establishing the United States as a world super power during the early part of the last century. Hyman Rickover is considered the father of the nuclear Navy, one of the pillars of modern US military strength, and one of the principle reasons we still are a super power. 

If more professional military leaders were trained at institutions such as Columbia, perhaps it wouldn’t have taken 17 years to repeal DADT.

You might want to think about that for a minute or two.

Funny how it’s military conservatives who are the ones seeking a liberal education.

Funny how  it’s liberals who are denying them the opportunity.

Irony indeed.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Death Panels and Taxes

President Obama had barely finished outlining his proposed budget yesterday when FoxNews’ Sean Hannity turned a crimson shade of apoplectic.

Hannity could barely get words out around his outrage:

This is a cowardly budget! I'm going to tell you why because he didn't, he didn’t … and I think there's a set-up going on here! He didn't deal with all the entitlements … and here's what I think he thinks he's going to do, he thinks he can pull off a Clinton! That … he's not going to deal with entitlement reform which is where the real savings would be. He's going to let the Republicans do it! And then he'll, you know, send all the Democrats out there to say Republicans want old people in this country to die and eat dog food!

(Hannity obviously hasn’t priced a can of dog food lately, but I digress).

See it?

Right there in that last sentence? 

Hannity is outraged because he realizes that conservative pundits like himself have been hoist on their own petard. 

He had his rebuttal all set, script written, guests booked – and then the President didn’t cooperate. Ooooh that wraskely wabbit!

A quick review of Fox’s other talking heads confirms the basic observation and you can reverse engineer the pre-game strategy meetings from their universally sucker-punched expressions.  It’s the same slapped-in-the-face look Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, otherwise known as “Baghdad Bob,” had on his face when he finally realized Saddam’s army had been outflanked and American tanks were rolling through the streets of Baghdad directly behind his TV studio. 

Hannity and the usual FoxNews Rogue’s Gallery were all set for the President to propose cuts to the sacred cows of Medicare and Social Security, then they could have launched the Mother Of All Battles: Death Panels II, Obama Killed My Mama!

Instead, the President suggested that Republicans, those supposed flinty-eyed fiscal conservatives, make the first proposal.

House Budget Committee Chairman, Paul Ryan, was also outraged.  Ryan claims the President “punted” by not proposing cuts to entitlement programs.

Conservatives love to be on record hating entitlement programs – but you’d be hard pressed to find a middle class conservative over 65 who doesn’t depend on both Social Security or Medicare for their very existence. You hear a hell of a lot of talk lately about “privatization” and “getting the government out of healthcare,” but the simple truth of the matter is that prior to entitlement programs, when both healthcare and retirement were private affairs, the vast majority of elderly Americans had neither.  American Seniors today damned well remember how their grandparents struggled back in the 30’s and 40’s and 50’s when there were no government run social programs for retirement. They damned well remember the Great Depression when there were no government safety nets and they remember the destitute and the poverty and the hopelessness. And, by God, they damned well depend on those programs today, yes they do.

And yet, and yet, perversely they rail against “entitlement programs” and hate the liberals who made the very programs they depend on each and every single day. 

Of course, to be fair, Democrats hate the President’s proposed budget as well. Democrat Kent Conrad, the Senate Budget Committee chairman criticized Obama’s plan, saying:

"We need a much more robust package of deficit and debt reduction over the medium and long-term. It is not enough to focus primarily on cutting the non-security discretionary part of the budget, which accounts for just 12% of spending this year."

Conrad is correct, however note that he also didn’t specifically mention Social Security or Medicare by name – because whomever does that first is going to get burned in effigy by the opposing party, the public, and the media (which is, of course, exactly what Sean Hannity was so pissed about when Obama didn’t do it). You’d have to be an idiot, or a true patriot, to commit that kind of political suicide.

Here’s the funny part, it’s all a smoke screen.

Well, a lot of it anyway.

Social Security has no impact on the national debt, the deficit, or the budget.  Medicare and Medicaid do, but not exactly in the manner folks like Hannity would have you believe.

Social Security is funded via the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) from a dedicated Social Security withholding tax on every US worker’s paycheck.  Let me spell that out for the slow people in the class, Social Security is not funded from Federal Income Tax, but rather from a specific income withholding with matching funds from employers. A separate payroll tax funds Medicare. The combined tax for both of these programs is 15.3%, half (7.65%) paid by you, half by your employer. If you’re self-employed, you pay all 15.30% but the “employee” part (since you’re both the employer and employee) is deductible from your federal income tax (so, technically if you wanted to argue the point, I’m wrong – a small, very small, percentage of federal income taxes do, in a way, go to Social Security. Sort of. If you’re self employed).  FICA withholdings are paid into a trust fund, the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund.  Each month Social Security checks are issued and paid for out of Social Security revenues, any shortfalls are made up from the trust fund.  Under most circumstance, Social Security takes in more, a lot more, than it pays out – for example in 2007 the fund, between FICA tax revenue and interest on the fund, took in $2.2 trillion more than it paid out.  Last year, because the economy sucked, the fund lost a bit – but not much in the grand scheme of things.  When the program first started way back in the 1930s there were roughly four people paying into the program for every one person collecting a check. Now a lot of folks likened Social Security to a Ponzi scheme – which it is, after a fashion. But see a Ponzi scheme works, as long as there are more people paying in than checks being sent out.  Currently there are about three people paying in for every check going out, and as the Baby Boomers retire that ratio will drop to roughly two to one where it will hold and then slowly climb back up over the next couple of decades as the Boomers die off. There’s a lot of talk of Social Security “going broke” and it will, about 30 years from now, if nothing is done or if the population continues to age without regaining a more natural balance – both of which are extremely unlikely.

Whoa, hold on there, Jim, I hear you say in that outraged tone you use when you’ve watched too much FoxNews, the Trust Fund is joke, those filthy bastards in Congress keep raiding it!  Um, yes, that’s how it’s supposed to work.  The trust fund isn’t some huge pile of cash stashed under Ben Bernanke’s mattress.  Social Security revenue is converted into Special Series government bonds, sold to the public, and used to finance the business of the United States. That’s how it’s supposed to work as defined by Title 42 of United States Code, Section 401(a).  At the moment, the Fed has about $15 trillion in outstanding obligation, i.e. the amount the government would have to pay if every single one of those bonds were cashed at once.  And yes, that would most certainly bankrupt the country, just as if every member of a bank chose to withdraw all their funds at the same time would bust the bank – which is why there are certain safeguards in place to prevent both events.  Yeah, ok, Jim, but why then all this hoopla about the trust fund? Because currently Social Security payments are made from revenue (those FICA withholdings you see on your check stub each week), when outputs exceed input the difference will have to be made up from the trust fund – that point, if nothing else is done at all – will be decades from now. And even then, all it means is that the US Treasury would have to make up the difference from its obligation, in other words we’d have to use federal tax dollars to make up the shortfall.  Again this is assuming that nothing is done, at all, in the next couple of decades.  A tiny increase in the percentage of FICA withholding, for example, would shove that deadline back another decade, or further. So would upping the retirement age from 65 to 65.5 or 66 or even 70 – you know, as the population ages and people remain active longer and longer and want to stay in the work force. A restored economy would also significantly add to the fund.  There are many, many simple and painless and even desirable solutions to this distant problem – most of them are those “common sense” solutions you hear so much about from Conservatives pundits.

Now, here’s the part nobody ever mentions: it could go the other way just as easily. I.e. if we were to experience another sudden population increase, another Baby Boom (perhaps at the end of this war) the fund would eventually get another huge increase pushing the date of accounting back many decades – and that is if no modifications to the current program is made in any way – add that to the current projections and you’ll find that the program could remain solvent for nearly another century.  Here’s the really funny part, you don’t need to have more babies, a population surge could be induced in other ways – say by encouraging large scale legal immigration.  Something else to note: a lot of illegal immigrants pay into Social Security via stolen or falsified Social Security numbers; very very few get anything out, that’s like free money for the rest of us – to the tune of billions – which more than offsets the cost of those who defraud the program, illegals and valid US citizens alike. Kick out the illegals who contribute to the Social Security fund, and you get to pay for the cheats. Didn’t think of that, did ya?  That’s OK, neither did Rush, or Glenn, or Sean, and Palin is making the derp derpa derp noise in her head  – which is just another reason not to listen to any of them. Just saying.

To review, Social Security does not affect the current debt, deficit, or budget. Social security is in no immediate danger.  The Social Security Trust fund is functioning exactly as designed.  And social security is not an entitlement, or a freebee, or redistribution of wealth, or any other such bullshit, it is retirement insurance backed by the US Government and nothing more.  It’s not a crisis – though pretending that it is makes good political hay with a rather large conservative voting demographic that spends most of its time being scared shitless of one damned thing or another.  If the Obama budget had mentioned Social Security in any way whatsoever, today you’d be hearing the words “Death Panels” on every conservative talk show in the county – and Hannity’s reaction is proof positive of how disappointed those conservative pundits are that it’s not.

Medicare is another story.

Medicare was designed to function much like Social Security (and was, in fact, created as part of the Social Security Act of 1965).  Because of massive increases in medical costs, far beyond the annual cost of living increases covered by Social Security, Medicare spending increases significantly from year to year and this year will make up over 20% of the Federal budget.  As of 2008, costs exceed revenues and the program will go broke within the next ten years if nothing is done, and likely sooner if medical costs continue to increase at the rate they have historically.  Americans pay on average double per capita in medical costs what the citizens of every other advanced nation in the world do.  And this nonsense of “the best medical system in the world” is exactly that, utter nonsense. That is a complete and total myth, a lie Americans tell themselves so they can feel superior instead of facing the easily proven truth – and the idiots repeating this lie loudest are the ones without medical care. The American medical system isn’t even in the top ten, hell it isn’t even in the top thirty, and is in point of fact this year ranked 37th by the World Health Organization, barely above Slovenia in things like access, life expectancy, preventable deaths, basic health, rate of infection or sickness, prevention, immunization, education, infant mortality rates, affordability, long term care, pre-natal care, and so on in nearly every single category that matters.  And the costs of medical entitlement programs are the second largest cause of our current financial woes.

Again, to review, we pay twice as much for about one third the medical care that all those “socialist” countries do.

Which was the whole damned point of healthcare reform.

You remember healthcare reform, right? The same exact reform that Sean Hannity and others of his ilk protested so vehemently? The same reforms that Sarah Palin condemned as Death Panels? The same reforms that Conservatives fought so hard against and the reforms they’re trying to repeal and defund right now? Oh, yes, that healthcare reform. Heh heh. Oops. Perhaps they should have participated in the process, instead of acting like spoiled children.  The President tried to make decent healthcare available to all Americans for a price we all could afford and the Right not only vilified him for it, they labeled him an enemy of America. 

Now they’re upset that he didn’t bend over so they could rape him some more? 

Ryan’s wrong, Obama didn’t punt, he did an end run.

If Conservatives want a realistic budget, they will have to fix healthcare. 

Healthcare reform is a dirty word in America specifically because Conservatives made it a dirty word.  So, if they want to fix the second largest expenditure we have, they are going to have to be the bad guys. 

You makes your bed, you lies in it – those are the rules.

And that takes us to the final piece, the single biggest expenditure we have and the Conservatives’ biggest and most bloated sacred cow: Defense.

You want to talk about entitlement programs? You want to talk social welfare? Government bailouts? The money loaned to the auto industry, the money given to Wall Street, the money spent on every single welfare cheat and Social Security fraud and illegal alien anchor kid sucking up space in one of our public schools combined is nothing compared to amount of taxpayer dollars thrown at the defense industry.   We cannot balance the budget, we cannot pay off the national debt, we cannot reduce the deficit, unless we drastically reduce defense spending. Period. 

The Secretary of Defense knows this, he has taken steps to significantly reduce his budget.

It won’t work.

Here’s why:

Conservatives will do everything in their power to put that money right back.

Let me give you an example:  Speaker of the House John Boehner condemned the President’s budget for not going far enough, for being cowardly, for not trimming away the fat and the pork and the things a deeply indebted nation must do without.  The Speaker feels so strongly about this that he threatened to shut down the government, actually shut down the government, shutter the doors and turn off the lights.

But what Boehner failed to mention is that while he castigated the President for not cutting non-essential programs, Boehner himself is the leader of a large group of congressmen who insist that the military buy an “alternate” engine for the already enormously expensive F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.  That airplane was supposed to be a jack-of-all trades military fighter, a single ring to rule them all if you will. Stealthy, fast, fighter, bomber, vertical take-off, carrier capable, multi-mission configurable, and etcetera and everything including the kitchen sink and a cappuccino maker – and it was going to do all that at half the cost of the very, very expensive F-22.

Yeah. Sure.

Today, the F-35 is single most costly weapons program in the history of the United States.

Yes, you read that correctly, the F-35 program is costing us more than the Manhattan Project, the crash program which created the first atomic bombs during WWII. The F-35 airplane program costs more, enormously more, than the nuclear powered aircraft carriers it will someday land on. The airplane, which was supposed to save us money, is now years overdue, uncounted billions over cost, and mired in technical problems that will probably kill a few dozen pilots before they’re fixed – if they ever are – and it won’t do one goddamned thing to help our soldiers, sailors, and airmen fight the conflict they are currently engaged in any way whatsoever.  

If ever there was program ripe for some trimming, it’s the F-35.

Instead, Boehner wanted to spend $450 million of your tax dollars to develop and manufacture an “alternative” engine for the airplane that will never be used. Why? Well, because that engine would be manufactured in his home state, that’s why.  Just for reference, that $450 million is more than twice what Alaska’s Bridge to Nowhere would have cost.  The difference being that bridge would have eventually paid the money back in tolls, the F-35 program won’t.  Worse, having two different engines, made by two totally different competing manufacturing lines, would require two differently trained ground crews, logistics chains, and technical schools to maintain and operate – oh, and by the way, the parts aren’t interchangeable. Those of you experienced in military operations, especially maintaining military systems at combat ready in a war zone, should understand exactly what I’m getting at here – sooner or later, this kind of bullshit kills people, usually pilots. Taken far enough, it will lose the war for you. (There’s also a certain degree of irony here, given that the folks behind this nonsense think that multiculturalism and pluralism are bad for people, but good for airplane engines.  Again, I digress. Excuse me).

But wait, it gets better.

President Obama, President Bush before him, the last three secretaries of Defense, the heads of the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps,  and dozens of lawmakers have repeatedly tried to kill this goddamned worthless engine – but John Boehner, who trumpets fiscal responsibility, insists that it be made. Over the next three years, that engine would have cost you, the taxpayer, more than $3 billion – the cost of one Nimitz class aircraft carrier.

$3 billion.

That’s one airplane.

No, strike that. That’s one component of one airplane.

Now, take the entire Department of Defense and multiply it times 100 Senators times 435 Congressmen and you’ll have some idea of where your money is actually going and why we’ll never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever get a balanced budget unless we first do something about Defense.

John Boehner would have you believe that the tiny handful of women who get some government assistance for their $90 Planned Parenthood abortions are robbing you blind.  The Tea Party wants you to believe that teachers are stealing your money, that paying the highly educated professionals who are teaching the next generation how to successfully compete in an ever more complex world (not to mention giving them the basic skills they will need to maintain the technological marvel that is the F-35) aren’t worth paying a living wage and that our schools aren’t worth funding. Conservatives would have you believe that it’s the National Endowment for the Arts, or after school programs for poor kids, or government cheese that is bankrupting the country.

But it’s not.

It’s arguing over programs that aren’t broken.

It’s paying twice as much for half as much healthcare.

It’s billion dollar jet engines.

It’s trillions in greed, and selfishness.

It’s self serving hypocrites just like Sean Hannity and John Boehner. 

That’s exactly what it is.



Note: in a late vote today, the alternate jet engine for the F-35 was finally killed by Congress.  John Boehner voted to keep the program.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Stonekettle Station’s List of Things You Shouldn’t Have to Tell Business Leaders


Like you, these days I hear a lot of things about business.

Particularly I hear a lot of things about American business and what we can do to make more of it, more product, more jobs, more money, more opportunity, more business. You hear it on street corners among the unemployed. You heard it during the recent elections. The new Congress has gone on and on about it – and then focused on denying Americans access to healthcare and making sure a handful of women don’t get government funded abortions.

The President focused on it during the last State of the Union address.

Talk of business dominates the media.

No wonder, of course, it’s been a bad decade for American business, this first ten years of the new century – which is damned peculiar if you think about it as American business usually thrives under a Conservative wartime administration.  The country may go to hell, as it did during Vietnam, but business – especially those who supply the beans and bullets – more often than not make out like bandits.

Well, until the economy tanks, that is.

During Vietnam, that implosion didn’t happen until the mid 70’s, after the conflict was over and the bill for a decade of war came due – right about the same time OPEC began flexing its muscles.  We went into a  fairly ugly recession but it didn’t really last all that long. Energy prices and consumption reached a new balance and the country, including business, had enough capital reserve at all levels that we could recover pretty quickly without any great loss of prosperity. Things really got cooking when Reagan arrived in Washington and cranked the military/industrial complex back up to 11.  He could do that, mostly because America was between shooting wars at the time.  Of course, Reagan was borrowing against the future, betting that the expanding economy would create enough wealth to pay the bill on his investment.  It didn’t, and we’re still paying premiums on that dead horse, but it sounded good at the time and for a while there it even looked like he might pull it off. Instead it turned out to be the classic Ponzi scam, as usual.

This time around, however, the shit hit the fan early on in the conflict.   We were already hip deep in two wars when the housing bubble burst.   Exacerbating the situation is the type of conflict we are fighting, i.e. a war of pacification. It’s a war of boots on the ground, of occupation, small arms and body armor and individual citizen soldiers and of hearts and minds. It’s a war of remotely operated drones and smart weapons and ideas.  What that translates to is that the usual self-licking ice-cream cone of the military/industrial complex that would during a more traditional conflict drive the economy and keep a large workforce of American businesses happily cranking out ships and tanks and bombers, is instead not hiring. Or rather, they are hiring only a small cadre of highly specialized technicians instead of the massive semi-skilled workforce they once would have.  This war costs the country just as much, if not more, than a traditional conflict – without even the momentary economic benefit of a wartime workforce or huge plus-up in military forces to draw off the unemployed. It’s making a small handful of very large defense contractors richer, but that war expenditure isn’t trickling down very far. Lay that on top of the Wall Street implosion, which managed to destroy not only the Monopoly money created in the mortgage bubble but a significant chunk of America’s real wealth too.  The astounding thing was how many Wall Street firms were nothing but smoke and mirrors, empty shells like a Hollywood movie set made up almost entirely of that same Monopoly money, when the bubble burst they didn’t just go bankrupt, they evaporated.

Some of these old and venerated companies, companies such as Lehman Brothers, were, in the end, no more real than Enron or those billion-dollar DotComs that consisted of little more than a couple of Power Point slides, a handful of longhairs, and a Ping-Pong table.  Nothing they built lasted, if indeed they actually built anything at all. When the bubbles burst they simply vanished without a trace – no different than those fly-by-night telephone scam operations whose offices are an endless series of false fronts and fleabag motel rooms.  Most of the their white collar workforce ended up on the street, but the CEOs? The CAO’s? The COOs? The movers and shakers? Sure, someday they might even be held accountable. Someday.  But, most? Well, they just moved on to other offices and other businesses and learned not one damned thing.

And why should they? Business rewards the very executives who destroyed those self same companies – and will destroy the next one, and the next one, and the one after that. See, because most of them just don’t care. Unlike the titans of industry of years past, this generation of jackasses does not build, they don’t make, they don’t create, they leave no legacy. They take.  Ultimately, this mindset will destroy American business, because these so-called executives are teaching the next generation to be just as greedy and self-serving and as destructive as they are. 

The lesson of Wall Street is this: Get while the getting is good, get rich, get out, and let the peons deal with the resulting mess.

There are a lot of things that can be done to turn around this downward spiral, but much of it depends on teaching the next generation of business leaders, embedding in them things that should be self obvious to every business executive, but apparently are not:

- If you show no loyalty to your employees, you have no right whatsoever to expect any loyalty in return.  Period. There was a time when people expected to work at a single company their whole lives, so why don’t they anymore? Because if you act like a mercenary, so will your employees. Because if you treat your employees like the enemy, they’ll will be the enemy.  If you don’t trust your employees, they won’t be trustworthy.  And most especially if you engage in unethical behavior, so will your employees – you steal from investors, your employees will steal from you. You’re the leader, your people are a reflection of you.

First Corollary: If your people hate coming to work, they’ll find excuses not to work. 

Second Corollary:  You can’t do more with less, the only thing you do with less is less.  Your people need tools, training, and assets. Give it to them, even if you have to pay for it out of your bonus.

- Build a better mouse trap. The world is full of crappy products and crappy customer service.  If a customer wants crap, they can always find it cheaper elsewhere.  If you want people to beat a path to your door, don’t make crap. The product matters.  Your customers don’t give a good goddamn about your process, they are interested in only one thing: Product. Quality matters. People will pay more for it. Customers will seek it out. Reputation matters most especially. Lose yours, and the end is near.

First Corollary: If you produce a faulty product, make good on it promptly.  Admitting your mistakes, and then fixing them, will do more for your bottom line than any other single thing you can do. Period.

- Motivational Posters have never motivated anybody. Ever. That’s your job.  If you put up motivational posters, you’re basically saying that you can be replaced by a piece of cardboard printed with a trite slogan (and you probably have other bad habits too). Something else, Motivational posters are insulting – and not just because you spent $120 on a framed picture of two guys in a canoe while your people have to scrape for office supplies to do their jobs. You’d motivate them more if you ordered the whole office pizza for lunch and used the remainder to stock the supply closet.

- If you don’t invest in your company’s future, your company doesn’t have a future. 

- You can innovate, or you can talk about innovating. To paraphrase General Douglas MacArthur, you can’t bomb half a bridge. Either innovate or don’t. If you innovate, fund it, follow through, or don’t innovate because you’re just wasting company assets.

First Corollary: There’s nothing worse than an outfit that spastically keeps changing direction.

- If you acquire a failing business, don’t adopt their business model.

- Business consultants have no interest whatsoever in improving your business. Seriously, if your business was running smoothly, you wouldn’t be giving them money, would you?

- Suck-ups, Kiss-Asses, and Yes-Men make lousy managers, don’t cultivate them.

First Corollary: If your people are only telling you what you want to hear, you should start worrying immediately.

- If you outsource technical expertise and capability, you’re capitalizing your competition. There was a time in America when big manufactures made most of their product components themselves.  Then came a concept called RONA, Return on Net Assets, it’s a ratio – the ratio of profit to company assets.  In simple terms: If you can maintain a steady level of income while at the same time significantly reducing company assets, you massively increase profit – which was the original idea behind outsourcing.  This goes wrong any number of ways (not including the loss of jobs at home), but the worst is when an industry ends up creating their own replacement, which basically describes American manufacturing’s relationship to Asia. First they make the car parts. Pretty soon they stop making car parts, and start making cars. Eventually they realize they don’t need you anymore. Ditto computers. Ditto everything else.

- Beware the serial CEO.

- Don’t teach your grandmother how to suck eggs, i.e. MBA’s shouldn’t be making engineering decisions, or telling programmers how to code, or making medical treatment decisions, or etc and so on. Being fluent in jargon does not equal actual knowledge or experience. You have experts for a reason, listen to them.  If you’ve outsourced all your expertise, better learn to speak Chinese.

- Nobody ever understood a subject from looking at a couple of Power Point slides.

- Meetings don’t produce solutions. Good meetings identify problems and outline issues.  Problems are solved after the meeting by two guys shooting the shit in the hallway.  If you encourage people to talk to each other, you’ll have more solutions and less problems.

- If you spend most of your time in meetings, you’re not really doing anything. Just saying.

- Information Technology is a science, not an art. Hire actual IT people, degreed, certified, or otherwise credentialed.  Don’t hire your nephew just because he’s “good at that Facespace thing.”  IT is the core of modern business. IT makes you global. IT is the single most important division you have – don’t agree? Remember that when the federal regulators subpoena your email for the last three years.

First Corollary:  If you outsource IT, you’re giving an outsider full access to every single secret you have, make damned sure you know who you’re getting in bed with. Better yet, don’t outsource IT, hire good people and give them a reason to be loyal. Remember I said this when the federal regulators come knocking.

Second Corollary: There is nothing more debilitating to efficiency and the bottom line than a lousy database design.  Hire somebody who actually knows what they are doing and can prove it, pay them well, give them the tools they need. Make damned sure they listen to the users.

Third Corollary: Your webpage matters. It is your public face.  Hire somebody who actually knows what they are doing, i.e. a professional webpage designer.  Here’s how you tell: if the prospective designer enthusiastically agrees with your idea for a flaming, rotating logo that flashes in jittering colors and plays the company song written by your brother-in-law, don’t hire him.  Oh, and put your goddamned phone number on the top of every page in a large font.

Fourth Corollary:  Worry less about your employees surfing Craigslist on company time, and more about the fact that the most visited addresses detected by your nanny software are job search sites (or Wikileaks).


and finally and most importantly:

- You. Are. Not. Entitled. To.  A.  Bonus.

If you get one, make damned sure it’s because you earned it.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Glenn Beck: The Drooling Face of Insanity


I generally don’t promote MSNBC

That said, watch this clip from Media Matters:

Here’s Beck’s original 1 February, 2011 show: Part A, Part B, Part C. If you’ve got a strong enough stomach and if the batshit booger-eating crazy of Beck isn’t enough for you, read the comments on YouTube under the videos.


Ancient Babylon.

Ancient Babylon.

Say it really slow and ponderously, you know, like you’re insane. Also, wave your hands a lot.

Aaaanciiet Babiloooooooon…


As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I know a little something about Iraq.  I didn’t have anything to do with planning the first war there, but I was involved in plans for the current one.  Let me draw you a map:



Ancient Babylon sits in the Euphrates River Valley, between the modern day ports of Umm Qasr (about were the ancient city of Ur is on the map) and Al Basrah (a little north of Lagash) and Baghdad (which is up near where Assur is on the above map).

Now, here’s a map of the invasion:


Note that we rolled right through the middle of the ancient city state of Babylon. 

Right the fuck through the middle of it.

Bombing as we went. 

Now, we didn’t actually bomb the actual ancient city ruins of actual old Babylon. For good reason, because there’s nothing there but some old bricks, a museum, and an archeological dig.  It’s a big, desolate hole in the ground. 

Not to mention that we had orders not to destroy any more than we had to. 

Not to also mention that we were supposed to preserve Iraq’s national treasures for the Iraqi people.

And just to mention one more time that there wasn’t anything there of military value worth bombing.

We were only marginally successful.  Ultimately battles were fought all through this area and a lot of ancient ruins got chewed up.  Then, well then we built Camp Alpha on top of the old Babylonian ruins. We bulldozed helicopter landing pads, and parking lots for our Armor and dug latrines.  Our tanks crushed ancient paving stones into dust and the rumble of those 60 ton machines caused the ancient Ishtar Gate to collapse.  We were condemned by the British Museum and historians around the the world, including and especially American historians, for destroying priceless and irreplaceable relics of ancient Babylon. 

But Glenn Beck has been on Fox all week telling people this idiotic nonsense.  We didn’t bomb Ancient Babylon because of some secret Bible prophecy that we’re trying to bring about. According to Glenn, Satan, the Communists of the old USSR, the Socialists, Nazis, the Muslim Brotherhood, American Progressives (members of the Republican Party I’d just like to point out) and Barack Obama are all scheming together to bring about the Shiite dream of a reborn Islamic Caliphate which is also the New World Order run by the Illuminati and the Masons and George Soros.  Everybody, and I mean every damned body, is out to get us - and by us, Glenn means the five people he considers actual real Americans.  If he could work in Napoleon, a couple dozen Flying Saucers, the National Inquirer’s Pig Boy he’d have a SyFy movie of the week.

Now, you wouldn’t think that anybody capable of feeding themselves would listen to this raving loon with anything other than utter disbelief. No, you wouldn’t think so.

But there are. There are whole forums of these brain damaged spasm monkeys who believe him.

As Eugene Robinson said on Hardball, if you were saying this crap anywhere but Fox or in church the guys with the butterfly nets would snatch your ass off the street and pump you full of happy juice before you started eating your own excrement. 

Look, I’m not a clinical psychologist, but even I recognize gibbering paranoia when I see it.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Careful What You Wish For: The Cost of Revolution In Egypt

Two weeks ago not one in a thousand Americans could have found  Tunisia on a map.

Most still can’t. 

And I will bet you even money that if you ask the ten people nearest you right now who the recently ousted Tunisian evil dictator was, you’ll get nine answers that are the equivalent of “uh, um, I dunno” and one guy who fakes a heart attack to get out of answering.

But today, they’re cheering for democracy in Tunisia.

Two weeks ago not one in a hundred Americans could have found Egypt on a map without help from Google.

Most still can’t. 

And if you’d have asked most Americans who Egypt’s Grand Pananjurum (King? Sheik? Prime Minister? Or is it President?) was last Monday, most of them couldn’t have identified Hosni Mubarak if his name was spelled out on their palm in magic marker. 

There are damned few Americans who used the word “Egypt” in the last year (prior to this week anyway), and damned few outside the state department or the Egyptian expat community who’ve given Egypt a second thought in the same period. Or in the last two years. Or three. Or thirty.  I don’t recall Egyptian democracy being a big topic during the last election cycle. Did the President mention it during the State of the Union address? Did the Republicans bring up Egypt during the Rebuttal and I just missed it?

In fact, I had to go back nearly ten years to find “Egypt” mentioned above the fold on the front page of any major newspaper in the US. 

Frankly, damned few Americans could give two shits about Egypt.

Prior to this week anyway.

But now? What do we want? We want Whathisname-the-Evil-Pananjurum (King? Dictator? Sheik? Prime Minister? President?) out! When do we want it? We want it now! Oh yes, Whathisname has got to go, hey hey ho ho! Freeeeedom!

Suddenly, democracy in Egypt is a big deal.  To Americans.

Last week we were worried about our precious tax dollars being squandered on abortion for liberal welfare cheats.

The week before that we wanted the government out of our healthcare, by God!

The week before that it was jobs.

And the Week before that it was the debt, and the deficit, and China, and 2nd Amendment rights!

But, all that pales when it comes to our burning desire for Egyptian democracy.

Muhammad Hosni Sayyid Mubarak became President of Egypt in 1981.  I remember the day. I remember watching him on the news. He was sworn into office on October 14, 1981, to be precise, but he really assumed power on the 6th – it was kind of a big day. Lots of noise and hoopla. Now, that’s about thirty years in power, for those of you not good with the math. Thirty years. And in all that time, I can recall damned few Americans getting spun up over “democracy” in Egypt. I’m trying to remember the last time I saw a bunch of Tea Party types waving “Free Egypt!” signs. Or a bunch of liberal students marching on the Berkley campus demanding free elections in Egypt.   Near as I can figure, the closest most Americans have gotten to thinking about Egypt in the last two decades was watching Brandon Frasier and Rachel Weisz battle the evil undead during the first two installments of The Mummy (frankly, I don’t remember who Frasier and the replacement chick fought in the third one, was it flying monkeys maybe?).

And the reason Americans don’t give a shit about Egypt has a lot to do with Hosni Mubarak.

Used to be we thought about Egypt a lot.  When I was growing up, Egypt appeared above the fold all the time.

See, prior to Mubarak there was Anwar Sadat. You may have heard of him, he got blown up in a grenade attack and then shot – along with about thirty others, including the country’s Vice President, Hosni Murbarak – by his own troops on October 6th, 1981, during a parade celebrating the Egyptian Army’s crossing of the Suez and invasion of the Sinai during the Yom Kippur War. Sadat was hated by a lot of Egyptians, including his own army and a lot of other people in the Muslim world – in fact, three former American presidents showed up for his funeral (Ford, Carter, and Nixon) but only one Arab leader – because first he got his ass handed to him by the hated Israelis and then he went and made peace with them.  Everybody in the world was awestruck by those pictures of Carter and Sadat and Menachem Begin at Camp David, well, everybody except for the shamed and defeated Egyptian Army and the Pan Arab Nationalists that is. While the peace treaty was generally popular in Egypt, it resulted in that country’s expulsion from the Arab League who saw peace with Israel as a betrayal and pandering to the Zionists and to Evangelical Christians (and in fact, Pat Robertson gave Sadat the Prince of Peace award, which, you know, really helped his image in the Arab world). His government was a corrupt mess. During the last decade of his presidency, Egypt was in constant turmoil with rampant rioting and unrest.  Sadat’s attempt to implement the so-called Free Market in Egypt resulted in the 1977 Bread Riots after he lifted price controls and government regulation.  Revolution was the watch word, and in fact it was revolution by the parents of the current  batch of revolutionaries who swept Mubarak to power in the chaotic days after Sadat’s assassination at the hands of an enraged Army Officer and his troops.

Before Sadat, it was Gamal Abdul Nasser Hussein, the great pan-Arab nationalist and hero.  I once spent a couple of years sitting off the coast of North Africa, much of it north of the Libyan/Egyptian border city of Gamal Abdul Nasser.  Nasser was a big deal, hell, half the kids in the Middle East are named after him, including one of Mubarak’s own. He raised a lot of hell and scared the shit out of the West and the United States on more than one occasion – people got all sweaty about Saddam’s ambition and Ba’athist talk of unified Arab States?  Saddam was a pissant compared to Nasser – and in point of fact, worldwide Arab Nationalism all during the 50’s and 60’s was called Nasserism and Saddam’s Ba’ath Party was a direct descendent of that movement.  And if Muslim military forces hadn’t gotten soundly trounced by the Israelis during the Six Day War, today you might be buying your oil from the United Arab States of Nasser.

Before Nasser, it was Muhamad Naguib, who (along with Gamal Nasser) led the 1953 Egyptian Revolution against his predecessor, the Sultan, King Farouk and the ruling Muhammad Ali Dynasty (Muhammad Ali? Where have I heard that name before?). Naguib didn’t last long, Nasser got sick of sharing power with him and had him locked up for the next two decades until he was freed by Sadat. Before the kings and the Sultans it was the British and before them it was the Ottomans and before them it was the Romans and before them it was the Pharaohs and nobody gives a crap who it was before that.

If you’ve been paying attention, you might notice something, to wit: the longest period of peace and stability in Egypt since the time of the Pharaohs has been this last thirty years under the rule of Hosni Mubarak.

Big deal, Mubarak is an asshole.  We want him out and democracy in!

Yeah, yeah, I hear you.

Couple of things you might have missed though:

First, I waited to write this piece for a reason. What could that be? Well in a word, stones. Sticks and stones actually. See, a whole lot of very na├»ve folks seemed to think there was going to be some kind of peaceful transition from dictatorship to democracy.  This delusion baffles me. Peaceful transition?  Egypt has never had a peaceful transition of power. Ever. And by ever, I mean all the way back to the Pharaohs.  And I am hard pressed finding even single example of a peaceful transition from authoritarianism to democracy anywhere, including our own history here in the US.  And sure enough, this morning the protests turned violent. Today it’s stones and Molotov cocktails and shots in the air.  Tomorrow, the next day, the bullets won’t be into the air- and hell, they aren’t already. Buildings are burning and the looting has started and the revolution is in full swing. Hamas, Al Qaida,  and those who thrive on war and terror and revolution won’t be far behind.  The kids rioting in the streets don’t have leaders, they are a mob, somebody will move to fill that vacuum, watch and see if they don’t.  The army swore to stay out of it, they’ll never be able to live up to that promise.

I’ve heard and read dozens of interviews with the rioters.  You can’t call them revolutionaries, not yet anyway. Revolutionaries have a plan, a goal, leaders. These people are rabble.  The interview I heard this morning on NPR is a perfect example: Question: What do you want? Answer: We don’t know, we just want Mubarak out.  Right.  Create a power vacuum in the Middle East, see if democracy fills it. Good luck, don’t forget your galoshes, because you’re about to be up to your neck in shit.

Here’s a funny thought, a whole lot of the Americans clamoring for democracy and freedom in Egypt right now are the exact same folks who thought Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship was a fine, fine place to conduct “enhanced interrogation” precisely because it wasn’t a democracy.  An outbreak of freedom there is going to put a real crimp in the old Rendition program now isn’t it? Looks like we’ll have to send detainees to Bulgaria and Jordan instead. But I  digress.

But here’s the real kicker:

How much is democracy in Egypt worth to you?  $4? $5? $6? Because that’s where the price for a gallon of gasoline is headed. Go check the pumps, it’s up ten cents already and climbing fast. Oil last week was about $75 a barrel, today it’s over $100 and soaring.  Suez canal, you know. Runs through Egypt, past Cairo. Or did you forget about that? And a rather large percentage of Middle Eastern Oil bound for Europe and the US passes through that channel.  The Commodities Market is in full blown panic and the oil companies are busy fanning the flames despite the fact that there has been absolutely no disruption of supply. Yet. What? Why would oil companies stir up panic?  Because it’s nothing but pure profit, that’s why, and that’s how it’s done. And it’s not just Exxon and BP, it’s Wall Street too. Sound paranoid? Sound crazy? Sound like something Glenn Beck would say? Let me draw it out for you: the huge jump in oil stocks this morning allowed BP to project a profit for their shareholders for the first time since the Deep Water Horizon explosion – this is a direct result of the revolution in Egypt. The more of Egypt that burns, and the longer it takes, the better for the oil industry and the worse for you.  None of the industry’s equipment or supply is in Egypt. They lose nothing, and gain everything

Now, consider this: The US Midwest and the East Coast are in the grip of one of the worst winters on record and as of this morning Texas has resorted to rolling blackouts because of dramatically increased power consumption due to the cold weather – what do you think is going to happen to the price of heating oil? Followed by the price at the pump? Followed by your electric bill?  Or didn’t you think that far?  It’s not just Egypt – that’s just icing on the cake. Industry analysts started talking about $5 dollars per gallon of gas a month ago – and that, my friends, is a dirty trick, a market manipulation and a self fulfilling prophecy. Oil Execs engage in it all the time.  It’s a standard tactic. Talk about price increases, just hinting at a price increase from some obscure industry expert, and the market reacts and prices increase. Understand, the physical cost of getting the oil out of the ground, shipping it, and refining it doesn’t increase, what increases is the price of oil shares on the market and that is how money is made right out of thin air  – throw in a refinery malfunction or a pipeline failure or a convenient revolution on top of the Suez Canal and see what happens.  The $5 dollar a gallon talk started because the oil companies were pissed about the Fed’s moratorium on deep water and coastal drilling.  Then winter and revolution happened.  Happy days. For investors. 

Then there’s Israel. 

Israel and Egypt have been at peace for nearly 40 years, since that day Sadat and Begin and Carter all shook hands in the Rose Garden and earned themselves the Nobel Peace Prize.  Whether or not a new revolutionary government in Egypt, one padded with members of the Muslim Brotherhood and the fiery passions of Islamic revolutionaries, chooses to honor that peace remains to be seen.  Peace, war, or something in between, it’ll be a while – maybe even years – before we know for sure. 

Think the oil market is soaring now?  Let there be even a whisper of conflict between the new powers in Egypt and Israel – or even continuing and sustained uncertainty – and see what happens to the price of oil. 

Two weeks ago, not one in a hundred Americans could have found Egypt on a map.

Maybe one in a thousand could have named Egypt’s president – after all, he’s never been on Dancing With the Stars.

Today, they demand revolution.

You want Mubarak gone?

You love the sound of revolution in Egypt? In Tunisia? And the rumbling of it in Jordan and Yeman?

How much is it worth to you?

It’s one thing to call for revolution in Middle East without personal consequence to yourself, but I’m wondering how long this righteous fire will last once the bill comes due.