Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Reaching Economic Recovery Blindfolded

The $787 billion stimulus package passed by Congress in 2009 did better than Republicans would have you believe and worse than the progressive Democrats maintain.

The U.S. economy needs another transfusion of gigantic proportions but without the pratfalls of the last one to avoid
what Kensyian economist Paul Krugman predicts a third prolonged depression since 1873.

Actually, I have one foot on Krugman's boat and one on the dock. Which poison would you prefer:

Risking inflation and a massive debt.

Holding fast to prolonged unemployment potentially longer than in the 1930s during the last Great Depression when it took a world war to scrape ourselves out.

The error of Krugman's ways is printing money (inflation) and selling U.S. Treasury notes at loan shark interest rates.

Krugman argues the panic-generated 1873 Long Depression and 1933 Great Depression

(B)oth included periods when the economy grew. But these episodes of improvement were never enough to undo the damage from the initial slump, and were followed by relapses.
We are now, I fear, in the early stages of a third depression. It will probably look more like the Long Depression than the much more severe Great Depression. But the cost — to the world economy and, above all, to the millions of lives blighted by the absence of jobs — will nonetheless be immense. 


(Y)ou might have expected policy makers to realize that they haven’t yet done enough to promote recovery. But no: over the last few months there has been a stunning resurgence of hard-money and balanced-budget orthodoxy. 


The Obama administration understands the dangers of premature fiscal austerity — but because Republicans and conservative Democrats in Congress won’t authorize additional aid to state governments, that austerity is coming anyway, in the form of budget cuts at the state and local levels. 


It’s almost as if the financial markets understand what policy makers seemingly don’t: that while long-term fiscal responsibility is important, slashing spending in the midst of a depression, which deepens that depression and paves the way for deflation, is actually self-defeating. 

Let's leave Krugman, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to their own little world and pontificate what a new stimulus would do where the last one left off.

In the broadest terms, the 2009 stimulus with a year to go got us where we are today: Saving public sector jobs with bailouts; tax breaks for the private sector where jobs failed to materialize as hoped.

A report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office shows the Recovery Act has increased the number of workers by between 1.2 million and 2.8 million. The CBO also projects that 3.7 million jobs could be attributed to the stimulus by the end of September. 

When the Senate killed a mini-version of a stimulus bill last week most of the attention was placed on the failure to extend $47 billion in unemployment benefits.

But it also would have expanded the COBRA subsidy by $7.8 billion; increased Medicaid payments to states by $24.1 billion; extend the welfare emergency fund by $2.5 billion and provide $1 billion for summer jobs.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics for May was bloated with a once-every-decade hiring of federal census workers which accounted for 411,000 new jobs, excluding farming.  Only 41,000 new jobs in the private sector were added. Unemployment dipped to 9.7% meaning 15 million Americans out of work. The civilian labor participation force for jobs was 65% and the employment population rate was 58.7%. About 2.2 million were marginally attached to the labor force showing no improvement for the past year. Factory employment gained 29,000, bringing that total to 126,000+ in the past five months.

On the downside, construction jobs decreased 35,000 and that signals an even deeper problem.

Part of the $787 billion stimulus was a program offering an $8,000 tax credit to new home buyers. The program ended April 30 and new home sales dropped abruptly to the lowest levels in 40 years.

"The tax credit expired as the peak home-buying season kicked off," said Mark Vitner, senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities. "Imagine what would happen to retail sales if they canceled Christmas."

The backlog of unsold new homes is 210,000 which is a drain on market values and only perpetuates the drop in new construction jobs.

Another failed Obama program was helping drowning homeowners with mortgages in the Home Affordable Modification Program. Out of 3 million eligible, only 170,000 borrowers were approved and more than half of those defaulted for missing payments more than three consecutive months.

Banks bailed out by the government took the equity to regain profits but a renewed vigor by tougher banking regulators curbed their ability to loan in a much tighter credit market.

The ultimate result was between the stimulus and bank bailouts the public sector for the most part held on to their jobs, the banks rebounded and the private sector business community gained additional tax breaks and credits.

The only guy left out was the poor soul living on Main Street.

And To Think John Boehner Could Be The Next House Speaker

To hear Democratic media cheerleaders tell it, Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner had a tough day at the office Tuesday. The office of the editorial board of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, that is.

His interview did not go well and the film clips I saw made him look like he swallowed a month's prescription of a sedative moments before the sit down.

I disagree with Rachael Maddow his comments spoken in a monotone laced with no doze may cost the Republicans the November midterm elections.

Judge for yourself with the commentary and clips she provided on her nightly MSNBC broadcast and some pro and con slings and arrows in this blog roundup.

In the interview, Boehner said the financial reform legislation is as "killing an ant with a nuclear weapon." What's most needed is more transparency and better enforcement by regulators, he said.

Said one blogger:

Perhaps his dismissal of what happened to millions of jobs and the collapse of the real estate market is based on the fact that it was a Republican who was in charge when it happened and that the loose financial regulations that allowed it to happen were written by Republicans.

Now that has a familiar ring to it.

Boehner believes the Democrats are "snuffing out the America I grew up in." 
That drew this snort:
As Keith Olbermann observed, growing up the 1950's as Mr. Boehner did meant segregated schools, Jim Crow laws, anti-miscegenation laws, political assassinations, jail time for being gay, and polio. And the Edsel. Does Mr. Boehner really want to bring those things back?
Boehner raised the political mantra of the Tea Party to new levels by saying a political rebellion is brewing and "I don't think we've seen anything like it since 1776."

Maddow and her fellow progressives, better schooled in history than the minority leader, pointed out that little event called the Civil War.
Boehner said he wants to raise the age of Social Security retirement to 70, explained accordingly:
 “We’re all living a lot longer than anyone ever expected,” Boehner said... “And I think that raising the retirement age — going out 20 years, so you’re not affecting anyone close to retirement — and eventually getting the retirement age to 70 is a step that needs to be taken.”…
Boehner also floated several other reforms to Social Security, paired with raising the retirement age, to make it more solvent. Boehner said benefits should be tied to increases in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) instead of wage inflation, and he suggested reducing or eliminating benefits to Americans with a “substantial non-Social Security income” while retired.
“We just need to be honest with people,” he said. “I’m not suggesting it’s going to be easy, but I think if we did those three things, you’d pretty well solve the problem.”
Correct me if I'm wrong, Mr. Minority Leader, but Social Security benefit increases in deed are tied to the cost of living index.
Here's a gotcha which embarrassed  the minority leader:

Pandering John Boehner appeared on Hugh Hewitt's show on May 27th to complain President Obama was doing too little:
It’s becoming increasingly clear that the Administration is not fulfilling their responsibility to the people of the Gulf Coast area or the people of the United States.
But Friend of Big Oil John Boehner told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review today that President Obama is doing too much:
Boehner said Obama overreacted to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The spill might warrant a "pause" in deepwater drilling, but Obama's blanket ban on drilling in the gulf -- which a judge overturned last week -- could devastate the region's economy, he said. Louisiana State University scientists estimate the ban could have affected more than 10,000 jobs.
Hey, Dude, what about the 16,000 jobs lost as a result of the blowout, the economic impact on the entire Gulf Coast and the ruination for years of an ecological system depended upon by thousands of species of fish and wildlife.
Summed up one critic:
I also find it disturbing that Mr. Boehner, along with a number of other Republicans, are cavalierly tossing around death and killing metaphors to describe the Democrats; they're "snuffing out America," or candidates talking freely about "taking out" their opposition through Second Amendment remedies or "gathering your armies," not to mention the ubiquitous Hitler and Holocaust imagery that pops into the campaign ads from Alabama to Alaska. I realize all campaigns go overboard, but where the Democrats were mean to George W. Bush and called him names, these folks are skating a little to close to dangerous. There's a difference between snark and death threats.
We've heard that tit for tat before. 
Here's what I think. John Boehner is a lousy mouthpiece for the Republican Party. The GOP is leaderless but not rudderless. Their best spokespersons are Sarah Palin who coins catchy phrases that stick -- "death panels" -- and frequent other misrepresentations of fact -- Ronald Reagan attended Eureka College in California (Illinois, actually) -- and conservative radio mega ego Rush Limbaugh. They will gain seats in both Houses not because of their lack of oratorical eloquence and opposition of no but because of history and voter anger over jobs, unemployment and frustration of a cursed Democratic administration. Yes, the party of no plays a small part of that equation. Good political strategy but bad for governance. The party out of power is always 100% accurate in hindsight. Wouldas and shouldas don't mean much.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Kagan Hearings Are A Farce, She Said, Until She Was Nominated

 In a 1995 book review, Elena Kagan wrote that the Supreme Court confirmation hearings were an "air of vacuity and farce."

Now that Kagan is the nominee, she changed her mind and now agrees the lifetime appointees should remain mum if questions from senators “have some bearing on a case that might some day come before the Court.”

Her epiphany came, she testified Tuesday, when Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah took her aside and urged caution in her testimony.

Furthermore, she testified she would not discuss past Supreme Court decisions. 

This proves the obvious. Why hold the hearings? It's a dog and pony show.

Instead, we are spoonfed garbage from Republican senators that Kagan's mentor Justice Thurgood Marshall was some liberal freak activist who supposedly once said make a decision and let the law catch up with it. The man has been dead 17 years.

And Democratic members on the Judiciary Committee lambaste the current Chief Justice John Roberts court as conservative activists. In case you haven't heard, activist is a dirty word in political parlance addressing the courts.

These decisions, Kagan responded, are what they are. Brilliant. And a rose is a rose is a rose.

The fact is less than 20% of Americans have ever heard of Kagan, the Obama administration's Solicitor General, and my guess is that less than 1% can name all nine current justices of the high court and that same 20% could not name the justice she is replacing.

Yet, we must endure more days of hearings and unless an illegal housekeeper or an Anita Hill incident is surprisingly sprung, the chances of the full Senate confirming Kagan are
a slam dunk.

I rarely rue for the old days but it wasn't until the middle of the last century that the Senate hold hearings because it infringed on the integrity of the Judicial branch of government. Newsweek:

“For most of American history, the Senate considered Supreme Court nominees without soliciting [the nominees’] input,” wrote Benjamin Wittes, of the Brookings Institution, in his 2006 book, "Confirmation Wars."  Politicians considered it an intolerable affront to judicial independence to ask a nominee how he would vote on a matter; to answer any such question was unthinkable.
It was not until the high court’s epochal decision desegregating public schools, in 1954, that senators began to be emboldened to press nominees by asking directly or indirectly about what they would do if confirmed. It was an effort to exert some influence on a judiciary that--since Brown v. Board of Education--has assumed a far more commanding role in setting national policies via interpretation of the Constitution. 

The 1987 Reagan nomination of Robert Bork killed by the Democrats is my time line for the extreme partisanship. Ever since Bork, both parties and their special interest backers have one upped each other and turned the nomination process into a Roman gladiator spectacle.

I could care less Kagan is charming when she handles questions such as this as reported in the New York Times.

But the hearing placed an early emphasis on more abstract issues like Kagan’s judicial philosophy about constitutional change. (Sen.Patrick) Leahy (D-Vermont) asked her to expound on how the Constitution had been amended, and she plunged into a kind of Civics 101 discourse on the framers, drawing a contrast between clear-cut provisions like the one that requires senators to be at least 30 years old, and other more general provisions, like the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures.
“Those provisions,” she said, “are meant to be interpreted over time.” 


I loved Newsweek's description:

Within a couple of hours after Supreme Court nominee Kagan began her long-awaited question-and-answer session with the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday morning, most of the 19 committee members had left the chamber for much of the time. The spectator gallery was far from full—especially after Sen. Herb Kohl, a Wisconsin Democrat, dispatched people to the exits by announcing: “Let’s talk about antitrust.”

Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma is fast becoming a favorite of mine for telling it as it is.

"Why should we have this dance if we're not going to find out real answers about real issues about what you really believe?"

Coburn is the guy in the MSNBC promos for its morning show with former congressman Joe Scarborough. Standing  on the Senate building steps being told of Congress's disapproval rating, Coburn said Congress stinks and questions the sanity of those 23% who think they are doing a good job.

I place the court confirmation process as it now exists in the same category of the president pardoning some stupid turkey on Thanksgiving Eve.

Why I Am Not In Awe Of The Rich And Famous

A friend from the 1960s tracked me down after all these years and in our email exchanges asked what I thought about Joe McCain.

Joe is Arizona Sen. John McCain's younger brother. He worked briefly for the two San Diego dailies in the late 1960s where my friend and I toiled.

Joe immediately established himself as a legend. Not as a reporter. As a prankster of which survivors of those days still fondly recall.

Joe is the literal definition of a Navy "brat." It was beneath his dignity as the son of a famous admiral and brother of the more famous prisoner of war in Vietnam that a lowly editor assign him the mundane task of providing the papers' readers with the vital statistics of birth, marriage and death notices.

Joe was fired for showing his disdain by sneaking into the day's list of divorces:

"Mouse, Mickey vs. Minnie."

Joe was quickly rehired and assigned as a general assignment reporter unfortunately under my domain as assistant city editor.

I honestly cannot recall whether he was any good as a reporter and writer. I do recall him returning about 30 minutes before deadline on a story I assigned.

Instead of briefing me what he had and starting writing, Joe walked over to another part of the newsroom and began regaling them with his nocturnal adventures of the past evening.

"Get your ass over here, McCain," I shouted. "We're on deadline." In those days, we could talk that way in newsrooms.

"You can't talk to me that way," Joe shot back.

"I just did," I said. "Do your damn job."

My friend Janet recalls another occasion. The two engaged in an argument and Joe pushed her into a trash can. She had to be restrained by others in the newsroom. 

"Had I caught his skinny ass, I would have dismembered him," she recalled.

I haven't followed Joe McCain's career since he left the San Diego newspapers. Here's one report I found on a quick Internet search:

In late October 2008, it was reported that Joe McCain called 911 emergency services in Virginia to complain about traffic. He was campaigning in the state for his brother at the time.

That is typical of Joe as I remember him.

Joe also defended his brother who claimed during the campaign he couldn't remember all of the homes he and his wife owned.

Joe immediately jumped to his brother's defense that he wasn't elitist and came from a "middle class" Navy family. True, but elitists also includes "privileged."

The reason I yelled at Joe in those bygone days was that I had no fear nor awe of what may be described by a once popular program as the "Rich and Famous."

I was one of them during those critical years growing up between the ages of 13 and 18.

My father somehow found the $2,000 tuition fee ($35,000 by 2006, the 50th anniversary of my class reunion) to send me to Webb, a boarding school, considered an elite school in California and an equal to those such as Choate on the East Coast attended by the Kennedys and other mucky mucks.

My classmates in the 1950s were from the day's rich and famous. From movie families such as Koster, Kahn and Astaire, to Firestone and Guggenheim, to San Francisco's most powerful with names that included Fleischakker, Sutro and Roos.

I assure you they put their pants on one leg at a time, just like me and the rest of us. At Webb, we were treated equally by the teachers we called masters.

Wealth meant nothing when it came to discipline and violating the honor code. Fred Astaire Jr. was kicked out of school for some infraction and although a few raised eyebrows, it was par for the course.

The Roos scion I learned was far from immortal. One morning he was found dead, naked and hanging from the ceiling with one of his belts. That was a learning experience from the mind of 15 year olds.

Snobbery based on family fortune was almost non-existent.  I was judged not as a son of a dirt farmer but how I performed in the classroom and athletic field.

The strange thing was that the bonds created in boarding school rarely extended beyond graduation except for a very few. When the class reunions of 25 and 50 years were held, I am told those attending were quite small in numbers.

After graduation, I returned to visit the campus once, weeks after I married, to show my bride.

I sought out one classmate of my fellow 1956 graduates. That was Dan Guggenheim who was a stock broker in Newport Beach where I was living at the time. Dave Firth, another classmate, visited me when I was a junior in college.

This is embarrassing for me. Erik Larsen, another classmate of mine for four years, contacted me and visited twice after our 50th school reunion was held. He was a day student, living at home in Claremont, and to this day cannot place him anywhere in my memory bank. Even a review of five school "El Espejo" annuals didn't help. Sorry, Erik. My mind works in mysterious fashion I can't always explain.

As a newspaper reporter, one meets the "rich and famous" routinely. And, with the foundation and background formulated in my high school days, I was never in awe or intimated by the powerful.

I interviewed Ronald Reagan once when he was California governor. Nice guy. He offered me those damn jujube candies on his desk where he preferred to talk about other actors he knew rather than the subject I came to interview.

And the number of officious bastards I tried to interview were endless. During the Vietnam War, a downed Navy pilot Dieter Dengler was captured by the enemy, escaped and air lifted to Naval Hospital in San Diego. I was sent to confirm his presence and interview the officer.

The Navy's PIO, a captain whose name I cannot recall, yelled at me for entering his office without permission.

"Get our of here before I throw your sorry ass in the brig," he shouted at me. "Don't you know who I am?"

I told him his name and rank didn't mean squat to me personally but could he confirm Lt. Dengler was in the hospital ward.

My photographer, a retired Navy combat photog, quickly grabbed me and nudged me out of the office.

The paper won that battle. Nolan Davis, the only black reporter on the staff, went to the hospital, donned the clothes of an orderly, grabbed a bucket and mop, and strolled the hallways until he found the pilot and asked him a few questions before someone on the ward got wise.

Ah, those were the good old days. But for me, the rich and famous are all the same. Some are good guys. Others are jerks.

And we all put our pants on one leg at a time.

Politico: Brother: Wives handle McCain finances (August 22, 2008)

Monday, June 28, 2010

The King Of Pork Is Dead, Long Live The Process

The loss of Sen. Robert Byrd who died Monday is not any particular game changer of politics played out in Washington for it is peanuts compared to other people's pork he fed the folks in his home state of West Virginia.

Byrd was dubbed the "King of Pork" and damned proud wearing that mantel no matter how hard the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste tried to embarrass him. Byrd even flipped the bird at his detractors.

I come before you today not to bury or malign the longest serving senator in United States history but to reflect on the impact he bestowed on his fellow West Virginians, recipients of more federal money than any of the other 49 states.

Robert Byrd was old school politician. Until stepping down two years ago as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, of which he served as a member for 49 years, he doled out at least $5.5 billion in projects for West Virginia.

And that was only since 1991 which the watchdog group tracked. It does not include $1.2 billion from 1995 to 2008 in projects the group claims most likely attributed to Byrd.

Whether West Virginia voters endorsed their senator's political stands on other issues, it didn't matter for he was their rainmaker and why he was elected a record nine terms.

Even as age was wearing down the old warhorse, the last two budget sessions of 2008 and 2006 indicates he was still on his game.

In 2008, Byrd sent $326 million to West Virginia which was $179.80 per person. It ranked 4th nationally. The national average was $33.77 per person.

In 2006, it was $239 million in pork projects that amounted to $131.58 per person when the national average for all other states was $30.55.

Let's put aside all the statues, monuments, roads, highways, bridges and buildings named after Sen. Robert Carlyle Byrd in West Virginia. In stead, let's peek at the year 2005 for specific allocations he and his constituents deemed necessary to be paid by other people's money:

Agriculture -- $11,452,000

   -$4,418,000 for the GIS Center of Excellence at WVU
   -$3,638,000 for the Appalachian Fruit Laboratory in Kearneysville
   -$860,000 for Appalachian small farmer outreach
   -$711,000 for aquaculture product and marketing development
   -$654,000 for agriculture waste utilization research
   -$569,000 for water pollutants research
   -$300,000 for the Potomac and Ohio River Basin Soil Nutrient Project
   -$150,000 for turfgrass research in Beaver

Energy and Water -- $75,372,000

   -$25,000,000 for the Marmet Lock on the Kanawha River
   -$9,000,000 for the Nuclear Engineering Teaching Laboratory Training Facility at Camp Dawson
   -$6,600,000 for Bluestone Lake dam safety
   -$59,000 for Island Creek at Logan

Interior -- $18,066,000

   -$4,275,000 for the New River Gorge National River
   -$3,400,000 for Harpers Ferry National Historic Park
   -$1,086,000 for molecular biology and a water resource study at Leetown Science Center
   -$1,000,000 for freshwater mussel recovery and the Wild Fish Propagation Center at White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery

Labor/HHS -- $56,528,000

   -$20 million for WVU to construct a Biomedical Science Research Center
   -$4 million for Mountain State University to construct the Allied Health Technology Tower
   -$2 million for Marshall University for a mobile medical unit that will provide pediatric care to children in rural areas of Wayne, Lincoln, and Cabell counties
   -$1,050,000 for the West Virginia High Technology Consortium Foundation
   -$135,000 for the Kanawha County Board of Education for the Herbert Hoover High School Technology Project

Military Construction -- $23,150,000

   -$13 million for a C-5 airport parking apron/hydrant system at Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport in Martinsburg
   -$6 million for a fire crash rescue station at Yeager Air National Guard Base
   -$4,150,000 for a C-5 flight simulator at Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport in Martinsburg

Transportation/Treasury -- $95,350,000

   -$15 million for the King Cole Highway in Mingo County
   -$15 million for Corridor H
   -$3 million for improvements to U.S. Route 35 in Mason County
   -$1.4 million  for WVU’s Exhaust Emissions Testing Initiative
   -$750,000 for the I-95/West Virginia Drive Interchange
   -$200,000 for street scape improvements in Berkeley Springs, which offers visitors “state-of-the-art spas, unique shops and local arts, all surrounded by West Virginia’s splendid outdoors.”

Veterans Affairs/HUD -- $61,429,250

   -$4,296,000 for the Vandalia Heritage Foundation
   -$2,037,000 for Glenville State College for the construction of a new campus community center and the planning and design of a new science center
   -$1,250,000 for the McDowell County Commission for infrastructure and site development at Indian Ridge Industrial Park
   -$750,000 for Beckley for downtown revitalization
   -$657,000 for the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation in Lewisburg for facilities construction
   -$97,000 for the Strand Theatre Preservation Society in Moundsville for theatre renovations
   -$97,000 for the Tyler County Commission for facilities construction and renovations
   -$72,750 for the Wetzel County 4-H Camp in Martinsville for facilities renovation.

Sen. Byrd was the "conscience" of the U.S. Senate who rewrote Senate rules and carried a copy of the U.S. Constitution in his coat pocket at all times.
But most of all he was the gravy train express for West Virginia and the epitome of when all is said and done the only thing that matters is looking out for the people who got him there. 



My condolences to the Byrd family and the people of West Virginia. The obituary I have written is not an indictment of the man who died at age 92. It is the portrayal of a political reality in which our system of governance works in the narrow prism of pork and earmarks. For a man who prided himself on the rule of law and the constitution, Sen. Byrd turned his back on a process by abusing power as a senior committee member and condoning the practice of earmarks allowing federal money spent without a hearing. But it is a proven process in Congress where deals are made under the umbrella that if you vote for my project, I'll vote for your lousy bridge to no where in some other state.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Rumors, Heads Fly In Afghan-Pakistan-Taliban Talks

There are conflicting reports out of the Afghanistan capital of Kabul that President Hamid Karzai has held face-to-face talks with Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of a particularly brutal militant group with ties to al-Qaida.

Al Jazeera, a normally reliable Arab news agency, reported the meeting Sunday. The presidential palace denied such a meeting. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul had nothing to report.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said earlier in the week that that the Haqqanis were probably irreconcilable with the Afghan government and unlikely to give up their al-Qaida ties.

And CIA Director Leon Panetta told ABC's Sunday news show "This Week" he was skeptical because militants had no reason to negotiate seriously.

All who did speak pointed the finger at Pakistan's army and intelligence service brokering the meetings. Al Jazeera said the Pakistan officials accompanied Haqquani to the talks.

The Haqqani network is a group high on the CIA's hit list that is believed to have been behind some of the most sophisticated attacks across Afghanistan.

Al Jazeera reporter Zeina Khodr said Pakistan is trying to forge a deal that would safeguard its interests in Afghanistan.

Besides the U.S., Pakistan arch enemy India has sent more troops to its part of Kashmir and eastern Afghanistan to fight militant groups it says Pakistan supports.

"We have seen no evidence that they are truly interested in reconciliation, where they would surrender their arms, where they would denounce al-Qaida, where they would really try to become part of that society,” Panetta said.

The top U.S. intelligence official admitted the American-led counterinsurgency effort is facing unexpected difficulties which leads him to believe no Taliban force would contemplate a power-sharing arrangement in Kabul.

Rumors of the Karzai-Taliban talks have circulated since last Wednesday when President Obama fired Gen. Stanley McChrystal and replaced him with Gen. David Petraeus.

Karzai has expressed willingness to talk with Taliban leaders in the past year but those signals, U.S. officials claim, were intended to pacify local constituents.

The Times:

Panetta reiterated the narrow goal Mr. Obama set for the Afghan war: “The fundamental purpose, the mission that the president has laid out, is that we have to go after al-Qaida. We’ve got to disrupt and dismantle  al-Qaida and their militant allies so they never attack this country again.” 

Such comments fly in the face of intelligence estimates of only about 100 al-Qaida terrorists fighting in the Afghan provinces. However, such estimates are about six months old and many foreign fighters may have returned to join the Taliban in the summer battles.

The Times:

But Mr. Karzai and Pakistani leaders believe that with the United States scheduled to begin a withdrawal next year, it makes sense to work aggressively toward a coalition that would involve elements of the Karzai government and the Taliban, both largely from the dominant Pashtun ethnic group. That has led to nervousness on the part of Tajiks and other ethnic minorities, which fear Pashtun domination. 

With casualties rising among NATO forces fighting in the south, Taliban atrocities have too. MSNBC:

In the latest such violence, the headmaster of a high school in eastern Ghazni was beheaded by militants on Saturday, the Education Ministry said. A high school in the same district — Qarabagh — was set on fire the same day.



If the U.S. is spending about $63 billion to ramp up the Karzai government and he negotiates a settlement with the Taliban which would make Pakistan happy, wouldn't the thought occur to Washington to get the hell out. Finally.

New Research Finds Fat Surgery A Family Success

I have battled obesity most of my adult life and in the past year considered gastric bypass surgery or at least a lap band procedure.

I mention it only because a story Saturday is circulating about a New Jersey researcher who concluded two family members having the surgery are more successful in weight loss and improved health yardsticks than those who try it alone.

That makes sense even though it rules me out since I'm single.

Dr. Gus Slotman, a clinical professor of surgery at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey — Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, said the best results were competitive siblings who lost 86% of excess weight compared to 60% of patients doing it solo.

Slotman announced findings of his three-year clinical research at the annual meeting of the American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery Friday. 

He compared 91 patients undergoing surgery with a family member to a group of bypass surgery patients matched in age, gender and body mass index (BMI), who went through it alone. 

“Families have a built in support system that can turn a good result into a great result, particularly during the first year after surgery when people are having to dramatically change what they eat and adjust to a new lifestyle,” says Slotman...
The benefits went way beyond the weight loss. A year after surgery, diabetes had resolved in 65% of those who had surgery with a family member, as compared to 31% of those who had surgery alone. High blood pressure went down to normal in 60% of those who had surgery with a family member, as compared to 33% of those who had surgery alone.

I have been intrigued with the successes of gastric surgery since watching a "60 Minutes" segment last year and recommendations from my health insurance broker.

My insurer, Health Net, is not so ecstatic even though it could save them a bunch of money.

My primary physician isn't exactly floored with the idea either as she outlined the game plan. 

First, I must have supervised weight-loss diet and weigh-ins for six months. Just finished that cycle. After losing 21 pounds on Nutri-System I hit a wall and lost only one in the past two months.

Second, I would be referred to a gastric surgeon to determine if the operation was mandatory to the degree of being a life-or-death decision. 

Only with both primary and surgeon signing off would I undergo surgery covered by insurance of which I would pay the 15% balance due. Not knowing the cost, I doubt I could afford it.

Even though my weight loss has improved my diabetes now requiring less dosages of insulin and my blood pressure and cholesterol levels normal, my age is a factor which may limit me to the least invasive lap band procedure. Two years ago my cardiologist refused open heart surgery to remove the pericardium, the protective sac around my heart, because he didn't believe I could survive the trauma.

What I don't understand from the research I is how anyone could not benefit, especially from the more invasive bariatric surgery.

In layman's terms, it shrinks the stomach where it tells you in pain it can't take any more rather than a chemical signal sent to your brain with the same message. My brain has the uncanny knack of telling me to hell with it and eat on.

NutriSystem has helped me eat less and more nutritionally. Cheeseburgers with fries and three-egg breakfasts with sausage and hash browns and dinners with a pound or more of red meat topped with a pint of ice cream for dessert are ancient history in my household. Don't miss them and the thought makes me want to vomit.

It all starts and ends in the head. Because of the 22 pounds lost since the first week of February and despite a mountain to go, I for the first time in nearly 50 years like my body.

The David Weigel Saga On Speaking Out of School

Let's see if I got this right. The Washington Post hired an on-line reporter to cover the Tea Party and other conservative causes because his resume was that of a libertarian conservative.

Three months later the Post fires the reporter, Dave Weigel, because a gossip website published snide remarks in emails  he wrote about the very conservatives he was paid to cover.

That's when all hell broke loose. You would have thought Ben Bradlee, managing editor of the Washington Post, had fired Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein three months into the Watergate burglary story back in 1972.

To give you an idea of the thunder bolts launched by the gods of media heaven, I will take you on a reactionary journey from my colleague Kathy Kattenburg's blog roundup in The Moderate Voice, to Ezra Klein's defense to a satire on the Post's ombudsman.

I hope you were taking notes because I defy anyone to explain and define what exactly is an "objective" reporter.

A good reporter is always accurate in his factual presentation. He is never objective because there is never enough space or air time to list every single fact to an issue that satisfy every reader or listener.
Reporters are biased. Get over it. They're humans as the rest of us. The trick which isn't always achieved is setting those internal mechanisms aside when sitting in front of a keyboard or live mik.

The experienced reporters don't express their deepest prejudices in writing unless they want those opinions thrown back in their face as happened to David Weigel. We live in a nasty society and Washington D.C. is especially cruel. If you live by the sword, you die by the pen, I always say.

I lived by a code of journalistic ethics which I stretched to the hilt. It was part of selling a story called an "angle" or "slant."

I would and still do "slant" the facts to support an "angle" that Jack Abramoff was a crook but by God had facts to support it and reactions from other to say I was full of prunes.

Don't laugh. We lived by the credo "fair and balanced" long before Fox News stole the term and abused its meaning.

The best reporters tell stories that grab readers by the neck. It's the "hook" that the beast lures to catch the reader in the first two paragraphs or the first two seconds of a broadcast.

Much is made of Weigel being hired by the Post to write about the Tea Party and conservatives because he was a libertarian and understood the mindset.

That is a valid reason most of the time. I mean you don't hire someone in sports to cover the Federal Reserve.

My first truly great editor Jim Dean at the old Santa Ana Register was assigning new beats for reporters and one vacancy was covering San Juan Capistrano. I volunteered, boasting I was raised there and knew the town and its rich history.

Jim looked at me with a disgusted look. "That's as bad as asking Bobby Kennedy to cover his brother Jack," Jim mocked. He assigned me to the Newport Beach beat.

As young reporters develop their trade, smart editors will take notice and assign them stories and beats where they have shown some expertise.

I made my mark as a police and government reporter. I recall walking into the news room one day. The night city editor handed me a press release and told me to interview the Coldwell Bank chairman of the board. At the time all I knew was banks were for checking accounts and auto loans.

I filed the story but not after I called the Coldwell PR guy. With total loss of pride, I read the story to him for blatant errors and gross misrepresentations. I then informed the night city editor never to pull that on me again. He informed me I was the only reporter available and the assignment came directly from the publisher's office. Oh.

But I digress. David Weigel got caught in the same trap as Helen Thomas and hundreds before them. You would think in today's age of 24/7 cable, blogs, emails, Facebook, Twitter and gadgets anyone can record and launch immediately to cyberspace, they would learn.

They don't.

William Shakespeare was right as far back as 400 years ago. "Kill the messengers," he wrote in Hamlet.

The most prestigious broadcasters in my time were Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. They were maligned by the far right, among other things, for working for CBS they called the Communist Broadcasting Company.

The best writer/reporter I ever knew was a despicable chap of flawed character, M. J. Lagies, who most of you probably never heard of.  The targets of his sharp pen hated him but none ever beat him in a court of law.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Financial Reform Comes Cheap Compared To What Fannie And Freddie Lurk

In the polarization of politics, parsing words of politicians has become a fine art form by opponents to score points as if the public has a mental scoreboard in their heads.

I'm drawing from memory here as most voters would on criticism tossed at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate
Banking chairman Chris Dodd.

After passage of the health reform legislation, Pelosi said we won't know what's in the law until it plays out in real time.

After the joint conference agreement on the pending financial reform package, Dodd said he hoped the new regulations would work.

That's how I understood what they were trying to say.

The Republican attack machine framed it differently. They suggested Pelosi didn't bother to read the health legislation. And Dodd was dabbling in some unproven experiment for heavy-handed governmental interference of the capitalist system.

Both pieces of legislation are 1,500 to more than 2,000 pages thick. Not in a million years am I so altruistic that I believe all 535 House and Senate members read every word of both legislative proposals.

Nor do I believe every subsection of each law will work as intended.

Laws are not set in concrete. They can be amended. They can be improved to meet the test of pragmatism. They can be dropped as failures. Awkwardly, it takes Congressional action to do that.

During the 1992 presidential campaign, the one proposal Ross Perot advocated I subscribed to was that each law passed by Congress have a two to five-year sunset clause to determine if it was working.

Now that's a reasonable concept rather than the Republican battle cry to repeal the health reform law because they don't like the one section, of hundreds, that mandates purchase of insurance coverage. Some opponents, such as former Alaska half-Gov. Sarah Palin, I presume would not settle for less than a repeal of the entire legislative act.

As for the financial reform legislation, no one other than a cheer-leading President Obama, who does not have a vote, is so bold as to predict passage, especially in the Senate.

What Dodd maybe was referring to as a "hope," is based on what a batallion of lawyers will write as specific regulatory rules applying to each subsection of the massive legislation overhauling our financial industry how it conducts business.

How that plays out is anyone's guess. Here are two analyses that may help in determing the prospective winners and losers.

What I object to is that the financial reform package exempted Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac which were instrumental in creating the housing market collapse.

The Congressional Budget Office says Fannie and Freddie will end up costing taxpayers more money than the historic bailout of the financial industry.

Congress voted in 2008 to effectively place the two mortgage giants in a federal receivership  by taking over 80% of its paper holdings.

So far the tab stands at $145.9 billion, and it grows with every foreclosure of a three-bedroom home with a two-car garage. The CBO predicts that the final bill could reach $389 billion.

Rather than being in the lending business, Fannie and Freddie are just as active in the foreclosure end of it.

Every 90 seconds in the first quarter of this year the two giants foreclosed on a home they financed and guaranteed to pay back investors.

By the end of March they owned 163,828 foreclosed homes, about the same number of total households in Seattle.

"Our business is the American dream of home ownership," Fannie Mae declared in its mission statement, and in 2001 the company set a target of helping to create six million new homeowners by 2014. The New York Times, reporting from Casa Grande, about an hour's drive from Phoenix:

Fannie and Freddie increased American home ownership over the last half-century by persuading  investors to provide money for mortgage loans. The sales pitch amounted to a money-back guarantee: If borrowers defaulted, the companies promised to repay the investors.
Rather than actually making loans, the two companies — Fannie older and larger, Freddie created to provide competition — bought loans from banks and other originators, providing money for more lending and helping to hold down interest rates.

They paid no heed to predator lenders requiring no money down, balloon payments nor financial statements
from new home buyers' ability to pay.

The result is Fannie and Freddie today are the nation's largest landlords.

The two companies together accounted for 17% of real estate sales in Arizona during the first four months of the year, almost three times their share of the market during the same period last year, according to an analysis by MDA DataQuick. 

It costs the government about $10,000 to sell each foreclosed house and recoup less than 60% of what the homeowner failed to pay after a resale at deflated market values than the original mortgage purchase price.

Some sales are to investors who "flip" the houses for quick profits after the government repaired interior damage and maintained its yards.

Fannie more than Freddie have programs to new homebuyers who pledge to use the houses as their primary residence.

As to the maintenance costs, just the cost of contracting mowing an empty foreclosed property costs $80 per month. The Times:

That's a monthly grass bill of more than $10 million.
All told, the companies spent more than $1 billion on upkeep last year. 

To ensure more new homeowners buy the foreclosures, Fannie and Freddie agreed to sell to nonprofits usuing taxpayer grants from the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program.

Chicanos por la Causa, which won $137 million under the program in partnership with nonprofits in eight other states, plans to buy more than 200 homes in Phoenix in the next two years. It plans to renovate them to sell to local families.

Another gimmick:

Fannie Mae last summer announced that it would give people seeking homes a "first look" by not accepting offers from investors in the first 15 days that a property is on the market. It also offers to help buyers with closing costs, and prohibits buyers from reselling properties at a profit for 90 days, to discourage speculation. Fannie Mae said that 68.4% of buyers this year had certified that they would use the house as a primary residence.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is our problem because Congress bought them for us without our asking.

Friday, June 25, 2010

First Storms Approach Gulf Coast, Capping Would Stop, Cleanup Worsen

Relief well drilling, capping and cleanup crews will be forced to evacuate in as early as three days if the first tropical storms of the hurricane season find a path to the Gulf of Mexico.

The National Hurricane Center by mid-Friday placed a 70% chance one of the storms with winds in excess of 100mph will whip through the area where an oil well blowout of volcanic proportions has spewed an estimated 60,000 barrels of oil and gas daily since April 20.

However, computer models were divided evenly whether the storm would head directly to the blowout site 40 miles south of Grand Isle, La., or west to inland Mexico.

Usually, rig operators begin closing down as early as 120 hours before a storm of 40mph winds. BP engineers said crews and support ships at the blowout site will remain as long as possible.

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, in charge of the government's response team, said on CNN this morning that contingency plans were well prepared.

No matter what the plans, the cap on the ruptured well will be removed from siphoning and the full force of the blowout estimated unimpeded at 100,000 bpd will directly enter the sea already blackened with oil plumes.

Drilling on the two relief wells will be terminated for the storm's duration and not resumed until at least a week after their crews return.

Storms or hurricanes will not disturb the capping and containment pipes and submersible submarines at the rupture point 5,000 feet below the surface. But all piping to the surface will be removed.

What is unknown is the volume of surface oil slick surged to inland beaches, marshes and drinking water sites from the force of the tropical storm or hurricane. Nor do experts agree on how much disturbance the storms will have on the gigantic oil plumes in shallower waters of 2,000 to 3,000 feet.

Earlier this week, the New York Times talked to industry officials about evacuation procedures in the event of tropical storms and hurricanes.

“An early hurricane season or a series of hurricanes could be a double whammy, disrupting both the relief-well process as well as the recovery of the leaking oil,” said Donald Van Nieuwenhuise, director of geoscience programs at the University of Houston.

Hurricane forecasters say as many as seven hurricanes and two dozen storms are predicted through the end of November.

Last season was rather benign, rarely interrupting work on the nearly 4,000 oil rigs in deep and shallow water in the Gulf.

Coast Guard offshore compliance officer Steve Sutton said oil companies have filed evacuation and return plans his office approves.

“But we don’t tell them when they have to leave,” Sutton said, and  “we don’t prescribe" when they return.

 Holly Hopkins, an expert on production operations with the American Petroleum Institute, said that of all its workers in the gulf, BP would probably want those at the well site — which in addition to the roughly 250 people aboard the relief-well rigs includes scores of engineers and technicians aboard large oil-processing vessels and smaller service ships — to be “the last ones out” as a storm approaches. “Obviously, safety’s first,” she said. “But they’re going to want to stay on location as long as possible.” 

She said last-minute evacuation by helicopters is complicated since they cannot operate safely in winds in excess of 45mph.

If any of the equipment encountered storm conditions it would have to be inspected before work could resume, adding to the delays, she said. 

Whether government inspectors are directly involved, the Times article did not say.



The first hurricane will be put up or shut up time for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. After throwing public tantrums, the Army Corps of Engineers reluctantly authorized a prototype six-mile sand berm drudged from the Gulf inland shores constructed on his coast barrier islands. Whether the six-foot-tall, 25-foot wide berms of sand withstand the wind and ocean ferocity during the storm is crucial. Skeptics said the dredged Gulf floor would only accelerate the velocity and volume of surge action into coastal inlets.

Opening Salvos In Cal Gov Race: Didn't Vote vs. Chameleon

In the campaign to be elected California governor -- a job no one in their right mind would want -- the opening salvos between Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown perfectly frame the candidates' Achilles heels.

The Republican Whitman paints Brown as a chameleon in a television ad released Friday. In a montage of old news video clips, one shows a 1992 debate where Bill Clinton says Brown "reinvents himself every year or two."

Brown's union supporters earlier blanketed the airwaves with a video showing Whitman explaining why she didn't vote for 28 years as she made her fortune as a corporate CEO. "But, why?" the reporter keeps asking. "I should have but didn't," she keeps saying.

The winner of the Nov. 2 election is saddled immediately with a $19 billion budget deficit. Whitman, 54, has spent zero minutes in government and only the last two years thinking about it. Brown, 72, was born in government and has lived his entire life in the trade, if one dares call it that.

"Jerry Brown is in many ways very unusual because he has been many, many things," Jack Citrin, director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, said. 

The opening Whitman ad is described by the Los Angeles Times:

The ad opens and closes with Brown's image on a 45 rpm record. The not so subtle message? That Brown is a relic of a bygone era, sure to be contrasted with Whitman's EBay resume. In between is a video collage of images ranging from Vietnam-era helicopters to peace march imagery of the 1970s to shots of Brown and Clinton on the campaign trail in the 1990s. 

Whitman campaign strategists say they will portray Brown, who served as governor from 1977-1983, as a typical free-spending Democrat who busted the state surplus with outrageous spending programs.

The Brown camp counters that as governor the surplus he took was shifted to cities and counties who lost revenue as a result of the Proposition 13 property tax curbs voters approved in 1978.

Brown spokesman Sterling Clifford said: "If Meg Whitman had ever bothered to vote, she might know that Jerry Brown cut taxes by $4 billion, built up a surplus and created 1.9 million new jobs for Californians" before he bailed out counties and cities.

Brown, who has served as governor, attorney general, secretary of state and mayor of Oakland among his assortment of jobs on the public payroll, is by his Jesuit upbringing personally frugal.

As governor, he rented a cheap apartment rather than live in the governor's "mansion" and drove his own 1972 Plymouth in stead of a limousine chauffeured by a California Highway Patrol officer.

On the campaign trail, he flaunts his frugality compared to the lavish lifestyle of the vast personal wealth Whitman has achieved.

But it is a fine line he walks.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports he and his wife, former Gap executive Anne Gust, own a custom-designed, $1.8 million house, a Zen-inspired, five-level architectural gem perched high in the wooded Oakland Hills overlooking San Francisco Bay.

Slumish compared to Whitman's $3 million home in the Silicon Valley community of Atherton.

As Round One ends, Whitman is the ruthless tycoon too busy to vote and Brown the lizard of many colors.



All I can say at this stage of the campaign is at least Brown knows what he's getting into.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Extra! Extra! Free Condoms For First Graders

Provincetown, Mass., school district now allows free condoms given to first graders upon request. This is serving a softball right up Bill O'Reilly's alley. Film at the click of your finger.

Judge Shoots Obama In The Foot, Again, On Gulf Moratorium

 In a game of chess, the Obama administration may appeal a federal judge's second order ending the government's six-month moratorium on some drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

The government in effect is stalling for time as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar crafts a new moratorium that he hopes will pass the legal hurdles posed in the first one issued May 5.

Fifth District Judge Martin Feldman Thursday rejected to stay his decision June 15 when he ruled the government failed to prove its case shutting down exploratory drilling platforms in the Gulf was necessary for safety reasons just because one failed.

 No immediate word from the government that it take its case to the 5th District Court of Appeal.

The case involves only the moratorium applied to the 33 deepwater exploratory rigs in the Gulf. There are more than 3,600 wells now drilling in deep and shallower waters of 500 feet or less.

It is unknown whether work on the 32 rigs has resumed although industry experts said last week it would be unlikely until the path was cleared from legal stays, appeals and the now possibility of a new moratorium.

The moratorium designed to allow time for the government to assess the safety conditions on all drilling wells was invoked after the Deepwater Horizons platform exploded April 20 that killed 11 crew. The resultant blowout has dumped an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 barrels daily of gas, crude and dispersant chemicals causing what the government classifies as the worst accidental environmental disaster in the nation's history.

Salazar on Thursday told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee the Department is reviewing plans for BP, the leaseholder of Deepwater Horizons, to drill off the Alaska coast.

Interior's former Mineral Management Services agency waived environmental review of the Liberty Fields project in 2007.

"The whole process for approving Liberty was bizarre," one of the scientists said in a New York Times story Wednesday.

Liberty Fields is a 31-acre mound of gravel dumped three miles off the Alaska coast in the Beaufort Sea and is considered by BP and the government at that time a land-based oil drilling operation even though pipes would extend at least eight miles out to sea in search of a deepwater oil reserve.

The project has already received its state and federal environmental permits, but BP has yet to file its final application to federal regulators to begin drilling, which it expects to start in the fall, the Times reported.
 Rather than conducting their own independent analysis, federal regulators, in a break from usual practice, allowed BP in 2007 to write its own environmental review for the project as well as its own consultation documents relating to the Endangered Species Act, according to two scientists from the Alaska office of the federal Mineral Management Service that oversees drilling. 

BP said Liberty would provide about 400 jobs and add an estimated 100 billion barrels of oil produced from U.S. lands.

Welcome Back To Afghanistan, Gen. Petraeus

 Besides my computer crashing and taking care of nasty business in my drug coverage caused by cutbacks in California's Medicaid bankrupt system, I was effectively muzzled by weariness yesterday to file a column on Afghanistan.

So a day late and many dollars short, I think what I began to write still holds true. Here's the first part.

 By naming Army Gen. David H. Petraeus the new military commander in Afghanistan, Barack Obama is failing to take advantage of a crisis -- his chief of staff's term -- and taking his eye of the ball -- his words during his successful presidential campaign.

"This is a change in personnel, but it is not a change in policy," Obama said in public comments after he accepted Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's resignation.

"As difficult as it is to lose Gen. McChrystal, I believe it is the right decision for our national security."

First of all, McChrystal's disparaging remarks of NATO, diplomats and politicians were ill advised but spoken out of a frustration for a failed mission in Afghanistan.

It is based on nation building and not national security.

And the president should review the policy he crafted with Petraeus and do what President Nixon did in Vietnam.

I can define the new policy in two words.

Back Off.

Vice President Joe Biden had it right from the beginning. Conservative columnist George Will had it right. And Richard N. Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, got it right Wednesday.

That's as far as I wrote until my little world crashed.

After sleeping on it, Obama's decision to remove a mouthy, almost insubordinate general was the correct option for it preserves the concept of civilian control over our military.

To "demote" Petraeus to replace McChrystal in Afghanistan was a political necessity because the former has the chops to carry out the mission and the support of Senate Republicans to confirm as easy as a slam dunk as Sen. John McCain might have said. That support extends to the far left of the Democratic Party.

Obama has chosen not to second guess his policy for the Afghan/Pakistan theater. Fair enough. His new miracle worker is Petraeus.

Lots of luck.

Let's review the Obama policy which now stands dead center of when it was launched and when the targeted pullout begins next summer.

The counterinsurgency concept is failing to win the hearts and minds of Afghans because its government remains corrupt and feeble in the provinces controlled by the Taliban. If the U.S. jerked its billions of dollars in support annually, the government would fall immediately probably into the hands of the Taliban.

Since our intelligence teams suspect only 100 or less Al-Qaeda operating in country now, we are fighting only the Taliban which in itself is fragmented on its goals, depending upon the local enclave.

So what if the Taliban retakes control. It would impose no worse conditions on women, using just one example, as the Karzai government has rendered.

Here is how Ariana Huffington on her website Oct. 19, 2009 described concerns expressed by Sen. Diane Feinstein:

"I particularly worry about women in Afghanistan," Feinstein said, "acid in the face of children, girl children who go to school, women who can't work when they're widowed, huddled on the streets, begging, women beaten and shot in stadiums, you know, Sharia law with all of its violence."
This is indeed very tragic, and I share her concern. But missing from the discussion was the fact that "Sharia law with all of its violence" has just been made the law of the land by President Karzai -- you know, our man in Kabul. The Sharia Personal Status Law, signed by Karzai, became operational in July. Among its provisions: custody rights are granted to fathers and grandfathers, women can work only with the permission of their husbands, and husbands can withhold food from wives who don't want to have sex with them. On the plus side, if a man rapes a mentally ill woman or child, he must pay a fine.
Of course, even with America standing guard, only 4% of girls in Afghanistan make it to the 10th grade, and up to 80 percent of Afghani women are subjected to domestic violence. As one of the Afghan women interviewed in Rethink Afghanistan sums up the current situation: "The cases of violence against women are more now than in the Taliban time."
So can we please put to rest the nonsensical rationalization that we're there for women's rights?

 It was Joe Biden who preferred a strategy on fewer troops, using covert special ops and CIA teams to eliminate militant leaders and call in drones to carry out the kill. He lost and as a good soldier in the Obama camp has kept his mouth shut -- a minor miracle in itself.

But, Biden to World: That is the exact policy the U.S. is using in Pakistan with some additional success by convincing the Pakistan government fighting Al-Qaeda in their country is to their benefit.

Although Adrianna Huffington wanted Biden to resign at that time in October 2009, she did link to a Newsweek cover story at the time about a Sept. 13 national security meeting at the White House.
"Can I just clarify a factual point? How much will we spend this year on Afghanistan?" Someone provided the figure: $65 billion. "And how much will we spend on Pakistan?" Another figure was supplied: $2.25 billion. "Well, by my calculations that's a 30-to-1 ratio in favor of Afghanistan. So I have a question. Al Qaeda is almost all in Pakistan, and Pakistan has nuclear weapons. And yet for every dollar we're spending in Pakistan, we're spending $30 in Afghanistan. Does that make strategic sense?" The White House Situation Room fell silent.
Well, said, Mr. Vice President.

My favorite conservative, because he's a sports nut as I am, is George Will, the brains behind that ideology. He stirred the Afghan policy pot with this assessment in late August 2009:

[F]orces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, air strikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.

Haas of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote shortly after Obama revised his Afghan/Pakistan policy:

"If Afghanistan were a war of necessity, it would justify any level of effort," writes Haas. "It is not and does not. It is not certain that doing more will achieve more. And no one should forget that doing more in Afghanistan lessens our ability to act elsewhere."

As of Wednesday, he saw nothing to change his mind.

The United States has embarked on a policy of state-building in a country with little tradition of a strong state. Making matters worse is that the Afghan government is riddled with corruption and the Taliban has the benefit of a sanctuary in Pakistan, which remains as much of a problem as it is a partner. Such a policy offers little likelihood of enduring results that would come close to justifying the enormous costs -- all at a time the United States faces a looming fiscal crisis and mounting strategic challenges in Iran and North Korea.
The president was wise to act swiftly to replace his theater commander; he should act no less decisively in reviewing the policy. The focus should be on scaling back U.S. military presence, on what more can be done to induce some Taliban leaders and troops to reject working with al-Qaeda and join the Afghan political process -- and on what is to be done to those who refuse.

And that national security thing Obama proclaims is so essential to nation-build Afghanistan?

Consider this 2009 assessment by Robert Baer, a former CIA field operative but by no means an expert in foreign policy. It was quoted in the Huffington Post column I referred to earlier:

"The notion that we're in Afghanistan to make our country safer is just complete bullshit... what it's doing is causing us greater danger, no question about it. Because the more we fight in Afghanistan, the more the conflict is pushed across the border into Pakistan, the more we destabilize Pakistan, the more likely it is that a fundamentalist government will take over the army -- and we'll have Al-Qaeda like groups with nuclear weapons."

The only tangible evidence I see in the Obama Afghan/Pakistan counterinsurgency policy that military experts assured us would happen is the kill rate of our NATO coalition troops would increase.

Right they were. June is the bloodiest month in nine years in Afghanistan. With a week remaining, the death toll is 76 total forces, including 46 Americans.