Friday, July 4, 2008

Economic Ticking Bomb: The GOP's December Surprise

Is the GOP cooking the books to avoid recession till after Election Day?

My hunch would be that it is cooking the books until after the inauguration. Then All Hell is Gonna Break Loose, just a we have been prediction for over a year.

James K. Galbraith"
July 01" /> , 2008" />

Is the worst over? Are we on the road to recovery? Will the next president take office against a backdrop of economic improvement, as Bill Clinton did in 1993? Or has something deeper and more intractable gone wrong?

Early this year, the optimists, including Citigroup chairman Bob Rubin and Treasury secretary Hank Paulson, argued that the slowdown was short-term and that a "stimulus" package should be "targeted and temporary." This with rare haste the Democratic Congress enacted. As a result, most taxpayers got one-time $600 checks in May, prefigured by bubbly messages touting "Good News!" if you filed your taxes electronically.

The rebate isn't the only little Dutch boy thrown headlong at the dike this election year. Government spending, especially for defense, will be up: Military spending as a share of gdp is expected to grow by $75 billion in fiscal 2008, enough to neutralize a 0.3 percent decline in gdp. Dick Cheney was secretary of defense for Bush 41; just before the 1992 election he engineered a big run-up in outlays, as the military restocked following the first Gulf War. (It was exposed in the first Clinton "Economic Report.") Is the Pentagon up to that trick again? I'd be astonished if it were not.

Under intense pressure from panicky bankers, Ben Bernanke cut interest rates relentlessly from August 2007 through the spring of 2008. I don't accuse Bernanke of playing politics. But it's worth noting that this is what usually happens. In presidential election years when Republicans are in office, the Fed regularly and predictably pursues a more expansionary policy than when Democrats rule—after controlling for differences in the rates of inflation and unemployment. (I made these calculations myself; see the chart.) Maybe they just can't help themselves.

But much of the ordinary effect of interest cuts on new lending—like a rebound in construction and automobile sales—didn't happen this time. That's because the fall in home prices (and therefore the value of collateral) overwhelmed the benefit of cheaper money to the banks. And the banks barely cut mortgage rates, so consumers saw no benefits at all. Lower interest rates did cut the value of the dollar, however, and that promotes exports and foreign investment. (These days New York Times real estate listings come with a currency converter.) It also boosts the stock market, since multinational firms can report their (unchanged) foreign income as higher dollar earnings.

Possibly all this stimulus will ward off the two-quarter decline that has historically defined a recession. Don't be surprised: Republicans haven't had an election-year slump since 1960. On the other hand, the National Bureau of Economic Research, which has the official call, may describe the early spring as a recession anyway. Republicans will welcome that, too, so long as they can plausibly call the summer a "recovery." Even if they can't stop a recession, they may be able to make it short and shallow enough, this year, to put John McCain in the White House. But all this brings up an important question—what of next year?

You get what you pay for

How Fed's election-year rates varied from non-election years when the incumbent was:

1984-2004. Source: Galbraith et al report, page 20.

No matter how effective the stimulus, two enormous clouds remain for whoever becomes president: the housing slump and the banking crisis. Both are far from being finished yet.

The problem with a housing slump is inventory. Unlike factories and Internet startups, shuttered houses don't go away. No one declares them obsolete. They aren't boxed up and sent to China. They remain, a drag on the market, decaying and pulling down property values for years. Here in Texas, housing values slumped with the S&L crisis and the oil bust of 1985 and did not recover until around 1993. That slump clobbered the oil patch but was barely felt anywhere else. This slump is the reverse—it's driving down housing prices just about everywhere except Texas, where the scars of the last bubble helped keep the recent one under control.

Nationally, the subprime debacle is blowing away the homeownership gains of the last few years. Those abusive mortgages were deliberately targeted at vulnerable, even desperate, people who could be steered into financial death traps. Lenders didn't care, because with the help of fraudulent appraisals, the loans could be off-loaded quickly in packages bought by greedy or gullible investors, including your pension fund. Poor people got hit on the front end; 1.5 million homes entered foreclosure last year. Middle-class people got it on the return volley.

And middle-class homeowners are now getting hit a second way: in the declining value of their homes. You don't have to be holding a subprime to find yourself underwater. That means that home-equity loans will dry up. (As of April, California homeowners in default were already a median of eight months behind on those loans.) Many people will be tempted to walk on their houses and mail the keys to the bank. Incidents of the foreclosed expressing themselves to their lenders by yanking the plumbing and the wires on the way out the door are on the rise, as is arson by desperate homeowners, according to the Los Angeles Times. Will students, small businesses, and other borrowers still be able to get credit when this is over? God only knows.

The mechanisms of mortgage finance and home-equity drawdown haven't simply been damaged. That well has been poisoned. Having largely outsourced mortgage originations to companies like Countrywide who didn't care whether the borrowers had good credit, the banking system cannot easily go back to its old method of making loans to creditworthy people and contenting itself with the interest paid back over many years. And who would trust them, anyway, if that's what they claimed they wanted to do?

Then there's another problem: The banks no longer trust each other. Last August, as mortgage-backed securities unraveled, finances froze up worldwide. Why? Because banks knew how much undisclosed junk they had on their own books. Who could say what the next fellow had? Overnight lending between banks—the process that ensures that every bank has funds when it needs them—fell apart. This is a very big deal. If banks will not lend money to each other, why (except for the blessings of federal insurance) should anyone else leave their money to them? Economists like me wait entire careers to study events such as these—which should provide no comfort to anyone else.

Since August, America's big banks have been wards of the Fed, and those in Europe equally so of the Bank of England and the European Central Bank. The system survives because central banks keep the lending windows open, and the result is that—except for one instance in Britain—the public has not pulled out of the banks. Let's be clear. The private financial markets did actually fail. It's only the fact that the public trusts government that keeps the system from dissolving in panic. But even if the Fed and its counterparts can hold the line, the problem of mistrust among the big bankers won't go away soon. And that means we're at the end of the age of credit expansions, for now.

As for next year, good luck. No matter who becomes president, there probably won't be another tax cut. Instead, cries for "fiscal responsibility" will be heard. States and localities, hit in 2008 on their property taxes, will cut their spending. Consumers, hit hard on their home equity, will cut back on new borrowing (which they probably couldn't get anyway) and pinch pennies however they can. Businesses won't even think about new investments.

In this situation, more cuts to interest rates—the only applicable tool the Fed has—don't work well. And they weaken the dollar, which raises inflation. What is gained by cheaper money will be lost in higher gas and food prices. But if the Fed reverses field and defends the dollar, exports will slump and the housing crisis will get worse. There's no easy way out.

Thus far the dollar has fallen, but it hasn't collapsed. Will it? There are two big threats. The first is the financial crisis itself, which is a problem of trust not only in the ordinary borrower, and not only in the banks, but in the American dollar. Why is the rest of the world nervous? Because the fundamental trust that they have always had—that the United States was a safe place to put your money—has come into question.

The second threat, not often mentioned, is our reckless foreign policy, including the invasion of Iraq, bellicosity toward Iran, and the ongoing subtext of hostility toward China. Since the Middle East has the oil and China holds our debts, all this is spitting in the soup, big time. It may not by itself wreck the financial system. But it doesn't exactly build up the reserve of good will that we may need when the financial going gets tough.

For half a century much of the world believed that we provided security under which they too could prosper; many no longer think so. Today, our country, like our banks, has a problem of global trust. Unlike the banks, we have no higher power to keep things going if we screw up.

James K. Galbraith is a contributing writer for Mother Jones. His new book, The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too, comes out in August.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. I.U. has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is I.U endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.

The U.S.A.'s Chronic, Fatal Illenss: The Bush Virus

If one goes back far enough, one will see that we have been cursed with this "virus" since the 60's

Mark Morford

Ah, so this is how it's gonna be.

Like recurring cancer. No, more like a rogue rash, an STD, flaring up at unexpected times and in unexpected places and when it fades, you gently let yourself forget all about it until it suddenly erupts and hits hard and ruins your day, and then you can only sit back and moan softly, slather on ointment, shudder.

Wait, one more: Maybe it's most like a nasty intestinal worm, a wicked parasite like those you suck down in India or deep Mexico or the jungles of Indonesia, the kind that burrow deep and attach to all manner of essential organs and induce a wicked bout of dysentery or all-over body convulsion, until you finally crawl out of the hospital and drown in antibiotics and slowly work your way back to semi-health — but only semi, because of course you are never quite the same.

This is where we are. This is the state of the nation after having swallowed the malicious worm of Bush. We have, by all accounts, suffered — and somehow survived — the very worst of the illness, the cancer, the oozing spirit. But now, as America's worst president prepares to amble off the stage he never deserved to be on in the first place, it is time to prepare for any number of convulsions, aftershock, excruciating reminders.

Here is your Bush-loaded Supreme Court, for one regrettable example, addressing the much-misinterpreted Second Amendment for the first time in eons. Here is the majority of the court basically arguing that, in case you forgot, much of America still blindly loves its guns, and of course handguns are a nice addition to any God-fearing family's arsenal of ridiculous self-defense weaponry and therefore banning a device designed to do nothing but kill other humans is just plain wrong.

It is, by all accounts, a severe, dark cloud of a decision, loaded with sadness and a feeling of despair, the cruel notion that America is still defined by its love of violence, or even the utterly phony idea, put forth by Justice Antonin Scalia himself, that only violence prevents violence, or that the answer to the gun problem is, quite simply, more guns, because surely that's what the founding fathers intended, more paranoid NASCAR dads stocking Glocks in the rec room to protect the rug rats from those icky drug-dealing rapists who never come.

Is it worth mentioning how handguns kept in the home are much more likely to be used for suicides and homicides, not to mention fondled by those same curious rug rats who find daddy's little Elvis in the sock drawer and decide to aim it at their sisters? Worth pointing out that the self-defense argument is not only pathetically illogical, part of a silly pseudo-cowboy mythology, it's also statistically untrue, a perpetual, insidious lie that's undermined the American identity for generations?

Nah. Let us not stare down that particular barrel of gloom just now. Instead, let us prepare. Let us steel ourselves. As we head into the Obama era and as the GOP juggernaut mercifully sputters and lurches back to the cave of 1950, let us be reminded that escaping the Bush aftermath isn't going to be all wine and roses and new energy policies.

See, we've been enjoying a small reprieve. These past six months or so, it's been sort of delightful to finally turn our attention toward the imminent Democratic sea change and away from the ravages of the Bush disease, to finally look toward the new, as we get to focus on all those things we might be able to do once we get out of this damn hospital and get the weak-kneed Democratic Party out of second gear.

But oh, not so fast.

Let us be reminded, the Bush virus will be with us for years, generations. Aside from the shambles of Iraq and the Middle East, aside from handguns and the decided mixed blessing of the Supreme Court's recent spate of decisions, there are maneuvers and decisions we don't even know about, nefarious arrangements, a corruption so deep that normally staid historians are behaving more like alarmed climate-change scientists: We know it's going to be bad, but we just don't know how bad.

There are destroyed nations, mauled infrastructures, horribly compromised federal agencies from FEMA to the EPA, the CIA to the FCC. There is a rogue outsourced military, citizens who can no longer sue gun manufacturers, six straight years of increased poverty, untold numbers of homophobic, misogynistic judicial appointees, devastating environmental policies the consequences of which could take generations to comprehend, much less repair.

Let's not forget the FBI, now, and the DOJ.

Where do you dare to look? Women's rights? Science? Foreign policy? Currency devaluation? Big Oil? Halliburton's billions in war profit? Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and the Dick Cheney agenda of torture and pre-emptive aggression? What about unchecked corporate cronyism, the shunning of the United Nations and of international law, Homeland Security, the Patriot Act, wiretapping and surveillance and "evildoers" galore?

And finally, what of all those families, the thousands of dead U.S. soldiers, the tens of thousands of brain-damaged, disabled, permanently wounded? Bush's legacy isn't just one of staggering social ineptitude combined with shocking success at serving his corporate masters. It's foremost a legacy soaked to the bone in blood.

Truly, I firmly believe the record will reveal that no president in modern history has done more to unravel the American identity, to dumb down the populace and cater to the basest instincts of man than the one about to mispronounce his way into the history books. Even Nixon didn't leave office with Bush's incredible range of ignominy.

No but he sure paved the way for it.

Ironically, this is why many in the GOP are chuckling in secret, rubbing their hands together, plotting their revenge. They know the colossal pile of issues and problems Barack Obama will inherit is so overwhelming, so unsolvable, it doesn't matter how smart and aggressive he might be. It doesn't matter that he'll have a Democratic Congress. He's just plain doomed. Combine this with America's infamous short attention span, and within a few years, just watch as the GOP emerges from the murky depths, the champion of a "new" solution.

That was the plan. How did John McCain get this far when he was failing so miserably in the primaries? He is a Bush goat. He is meant to lose. Bush has been, by his own admission to friends visiting from Texas, setting up "the Democrats" to have no choice but to continue his failed policies and for the whole rotten mess to fall on the next president's shoulders.

Would the Bush Crime Family really care upon whom it landed? I doubt it. The Bushies don't hate Obama any worse than they have contempt for McCain.

I know, it can seem bleak. Insurmountable, even. But here's the lesson of any major injury, of surviving a serious illness and getting on with your life. Often, it's not merely about letting time heal all wounds. It's not always about ignoring the scar, or looking away from our permanent deformity and pretend we don't now walk with a savage limp.

It's far more about learning to live with the violence that's been wreaked upon the national body, letting the scale of the wound fuel us, shock us back to life. Question is, do we have enough optimistic ointment to cover it all?

It can also mean hitting the vector, itself, with death. Mosquitoes are disease vectors, so they get blasted with insecticide.

...and, no, we don't have enough ointment; not without action against that which caused the disease.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. I.U. has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is I.U endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.

Paulson Admits Regulatory Errors. (Errors?)

Wow what an admission! (snark)

Actually, nothing has failed that would hurt anyone who isn't a freakin' millionaire several times over.

The impact of the global credit crunch could have been minimised by better regulation of US banks, US Treasury Secretary has admitted.

Henry Paulson denied the regulatory system had "failed" but acknowledged that it could have "performed better".

He told the BBC his main focus was limiting the "spillover" from the banking crisis to the US economy.

In the same interview, Chancellor Alistair Darling said that rising oil prices were a "real problem".

With oil prices now above $145 a barrel, Mr Darling said G8 leaders meeting next week urgently needed to address the requirement for increased crude supplies.

Oil woes

Mr Paulson held talks with Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Wednesday, and staged a joint news conference with Mr Darling after meeting top UK bankers.

In his remarks, Mr Paulson warned that there was no easy, short-term solution to high oil prices, and said that the cost of oil was likely to prolong the US slowdown, possibly into 2009.

He said the current level of oil prices was "unacceptable to the American people" and that all his efforts were focused on dealing with the matter.

But he admitted that the basic problem was that there was not enough oil to meet the growing demand - and it was not clear whether producers such as Saudi Arabia actually had the capacity to increase output further.

In the longer term, he argued that a wide range of measures, including energy conservation, the development of more oil fields, and switching to cleaner technology, could bring about a reduction in the oil price.

And he announced that the UK and the US would be bringing forward plans for a large clean energy loan facility at the G8 meeting next week.

Tighter control

Mr Paulson praised his counterpart's handling of the Northern Rock crisis and the current economic turbulence, saying he was "on his toes".

No-one wants to see high compensation for failure

"There is a lot of co-operation going on right now between the UK and US in developing the right policy responses," Mr Paulson said.

Both admitted there should have been earlier warning of the turmoil that hit global credit markets last year and that policymakers needed to raise their game.

"There is no doubt that that there were mistakes made by banks, regulators and investors," Mr Paulson said, adding that he was "encouraged" by banks' efforts to acknowledge the size of their losses and repair their balance sheets.

Mr Darling said the US and UK had "led the way" in addressing shortcomings in how the global banking system was policed.

"Whether it is the government, the Bank of England or the Financial Services Authority, we need to tighten up what we are doing," he said.

'Market discipline'

Mr Paulson has said the US must devise a tougher regulatory system that can allow financial institutions to fail without causing wider economic turbulence.

The Federal Reserve stepped in to support investment bank Bear Stearns in March after confidence in the firm's financial position evaporated.

Minutes of meetings held by the Fed at the time of the crisis showed that officials were worried about the prospect of "contagion" from the possible collapse of Bear Stearns with broader disruption to financial markets.

However, he said it was not the government's job to dictate how much bank bosses who have lost their jobs as a result of the credit crunch should be paid in compensation.

"No-one wants to see high compensation for failure," he said.

But he added: "I believe in market discipline. I think we are going to see markets react."

'Tough period'

In an interview with BBC Newsnight to be broadcast later on Thursday, Mr Paulson will say the current economic downturn "has further to go".

He admits the US economy is going through a "tough period" because of the combination of the spike in oil prices, the credit crunch and housing slump.

But he is more upbeat about prospects for the rest of the year, saying he believes growth will improve at the end of 2008.

He adds that on his travels around the world he had found that inflation had been the issue that was the top focus for governments, rather than the credit crunch.

But he declines to be drawn on whether that meant that the Federal Reserve's aggressive cutting of interest rates had been a mistake.

The full interview with Mr Paulson will be broadcast on Newsnight on BBC2 at 2230 BST on Thursday.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/07/03 11:02:52 GMT


(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. I.U. has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is I.U endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.

Campaign Finance Laws, McCain and loopholes

Here it comes folks, the dirty tricks squad from the Bush campaigns.

We already know about McCain's relationship with Pat Day of Swiftboat fame. Then, there is the shake-up of the McCain campaign, round two, bringing in old Bush campaign tricksters and now this.

Does anyone really have any doubt that this is a shot a Bush III?

WSJ: Allies of Sen. John McCain have found new loopholes in the campaign-finance law he helped write -- and they're using them to reel in huge contributions to help him compete with Sen. Barack Obama.

The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Best and Worst of McCain's and Obama's Campaign Contributions

BuzzFlash Data Analysis:

by Meg White

Ah, if only we could survive on Ben & Jerry's ice cream alone. Alas, it's nearly impossible to avoid corn products from Archer Daniels Midland (or paying their corporate welfare with our tax money). But one website,, can make it easier to parse the good companies from the bad. And when BuzzFlash decided to pair up their rankings with 2008 presidential campaign finance data, we got a glimpse of where employees of the best and worst companies in the world are dropping donations.

The site compiles 20 years of research and ranks global companies on performance in five key criteria: the environment, human rights, animal protection, community involvement and social justice. Companies are grouped into dozens of product rankings from airlines to bottled water. Also, the site created a ten best and ten worst list overall.

The web site (and a corresponding handbook, The Better World Shopping Guide) was created by Dr. Ellis Jones, a sociology professor at the University of California, Davis. He envisions shopping as a political statement.

"We don't vote for the CEOs or their policies (unless we are rich enough to be significant shareholders, informed enough to know what's going on, and compassionate enough to care about more than just personal profit), yet our destinies are increasingly in their hands," he writes on the site.

"As citizens, on average, we might vote once every 4 years, if at all. As consumers, we vote every single day with the purest form of The average American family spends around $18,000 each year on goods and services. Think of it as casting 18,000 votes every year for the kind of world you want to live in. Use this site to take back your power."

BuzzFlash decided to take Jones up on his offer. We analyzed campaign receipts from Jan. 1, 2006 to present for the two main candidates for president, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), searching for donations from employees of the ten best and ten worst companies in the world. Let's start with the good guys:

The ten best companies are, unsurprisingly, smaller than, say, Wal-Mart. Since they have fewer employees than the huge corporations that grace the ten worst list, their impact on financing presidential candidates is obviously less. Still, in crunching the numbers, an interesting, consistent pattern emerged. While Obama received little more than $17,000 over the reporting period, McCain got less from progressive companies. In fact, he got nothing at all.

Interesting patterns revealed themselves more subtly in analyzing receipts from the ten worst companies. Obama took in a total of $190,290 and McCain only got $117,478. However, one must take into consideration the sheer amount of money Obama was able to raise over the time period: almost twice as much as McCain. So while 0.11 percent of McCain's finances received between 2006 and now were from employees of the ten worst companies in the world, that figure was only 0.09 percent for Obama.

Macro observations played themselves out in individual comparisons. Obama's campaign consistently touts its grassroots support among small donors. In analyzing the data from one of the ten worst companies, Chevron-Texaco, this assertion proved accurate. McCain received $15,500 from employees of the oil company. Almost a third of that came from lobbyist and Chevron's Vice President of Governmental Affairs, Lisa Barry. Obama's receipts from Chevron employees, while over twice the amount of McCain's, came in smaller chunks, mostly from the likes of engineers and accountants.

Obviously, this is only a small piece of the campaign finance puzzle. And just because an engineer at a global corporation donates to a particular candidate does not mean that candidate is in a corporation's pockets. But employer data is required on Federal Elections Commission reports for a reason, and ranked global companies for an equally important reason. In these days of shady 527s and political action committees, voters should take all the campaign finance data they can get.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. I.U. has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is I.U endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.

Bush Ties To Corrupt Hunt Oil Contract in Iraq

Panel Questions State Dept. Role in Iraq Oil Deal

Bush administration officials knew that a Texas oil company with close ties to President Bush was planning to sign an oil deal with the regional Kurdistan government that ran counter to American policy and undercut Iraq’s central government, a Congressional committee has concluded.

The conclusions were based on e-mail messages and other documents that the committee released Wednesday.

United States policy is to warn companies that they incur risks in signing contracts until Iraq passes an oil law and to strengthen Iraq’s central government. The Kurdistan deal, by ceding responsibility for writing contracts directly to a regional government, infuriated Iraqi officials. But State Department officials did nothing to discourage the deal and in some cases appeared to welcome it, the documents show.

The company, Hunt Oil of Dallas, signed the deal with Kurdistan’s semiautonomous government last September. Its chief executive, Ray L. Hunt, a close political ally of President Bush, briefed an advisory board to Mr. Bush on his contacts with Kurdish officials before the deal was signed.

In an e-mail message released by the Congressional committee, a State Department official in Washington, briefed by a colleague about the impending deal with the Kurdistan Regional Government, wrote: “Many thanks for the heads up; getting an American company to sign a deal with the K.R.G. will make big news back here. Please keep us posted.”

The release of the documents comes as the administration is defending help that United States officials provided in drawing up a separate set of no-bid contracts, still pending, between Iraq’s Oil Ministry in Baghdad and five major Western oil companies to provide services at other Iraqi oil fields.

In the no-bid contracts, the administration said it had provided what it called purely technical help writing the contracts. The United States played no role in choosing the companies, the administration has said.

Disclosure of those contracts has provided substantial fuel to critics of the Iraq war, both in the United States and abroad, who contend that the enormous Iraqi oil reserves were a motivation for the American-led invasion — an assertion the administration has repeatedly denied.

Iraq’s oil minister, Hussain al-Shahristani, has condemned the Kurdistan deal as illegal because it was not approved by Iraq’s central government and was struck without an oil law, which has still not been passed.

After the deal was signed last year, a senior State Department official in Baghdad criticized it, saying, “We believe these contracts have needlessly elevated tensions between the K.R.G. and the national government of Iraq.”

The State Department said Wednesday that it had discouraged the deal. Hunt officials declined to comment, and Kurdish government officials said there was no impropriety.

In a letter to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, whose chairman is Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, a State Department official wrote that the department had strongly discouraged Hunt from signing the deal until an oil law had been passed.

The State Department told Hunt that “we continue to advise all companies that they incur significant political and legal risk by signing contracts” before then, wrote Jeffrey T. Bergner, an assistant secretary for legislative affairs at the department, in one of the documents made public on Wednesday.

But in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Mr. Waxman wrote that the documents his committee had collected “tell a different story about the role of administration officials.” In letters obtained by the committee, Mr. Hunt informed the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, of which he was a member, last July and August that he was pursuing serious business interests in Kurdistan.

“We were approached a month ago by representatives of a private group in Kurdistan as to the possibility of our becoming interested in that region,” Mr. Hunt wrote to the board last July 12.:

“We had one team of geoscientists travel to Kurdistan several weeks ago and we were encouraged by what we saw.”

In August 2007, Mr. Hunt informed State Department officials directly of his intentions in Kurdistan, and on Sept. 5, three days before the deal was signed, a flurry of e-mail messages among Hunt and State Department officials make clear that the department was aware of what was in the works.

In a message to a colleague with the subject line “Hunt Oil to Sign Contract With K.R.G.,” one State Department official gives a highly detailed summary of the agreement. Mr. Hunt, the official wrote, “is expecting to sign an exploration contract with the K.R.G. for a field located in the Shakkan district, an area under K.R.G. control (inside the Green Line) but technically in Nineveh Governorate.”

“Hunt would be the first U.S. company to sign such a deal,” the official wrote, suggesting that the news should be rushed onto the State Department’s internal distribution network as quickly as possible.

Despite those exchanges, a State Department official said Wednesday that the company had in fact been discouraged from completing its deal.

“All companies, including Hunt Oil, which have spoken with the United States government about investing in Iraq’s oil sector, have and will continue to be given the same advice,” John Fleming, an Iraq press officer in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, wrote Wednesday in an e-mailed response to questions. “We advise companies that they incur significant political and legal risk by signing any contracts with any party before a national law is passed by the Iraqi Parliament.”

Another State Department official, who asked to remain anonymous, expressed frustration, saying that a local State Department official in Erbil, the Kurdish provincial capital, who was the head of a so-called Regional Reconstruction Team, tried to dissuade Hunt officials from making the deal.

But no notes were taken at that meeting, the official said, and Hunt representatives later gave a conflicting account of what had been said.

“I have talked to the R.R.T. team leader personally, and he sticks by his story and they stick by theirs,” the State Department official said.

Jeanne L. Phillips, a senior vice president for corporate affairs and international relations at Hunt Oil whose correspondence appears at certain points in the documents released Wednesday, said that because Mr. Waxman’s letter was not addressed directly to the company, she could not comment on it.

“As a matter of company policy, Hunt Oil Company does not comment on correspondence between third parties,” Ms. Phillips wrote in an e-mail message.

An official in the Kurdistan Regional Government reached late Wednesday who asked not to be named said that the government had written some 22 contracts to date.

“Anyone can have a contract with the K.R.G., but it must be accepted and suitable according to assessment by our experts,” the official said. “Hunt is a good company and never had its contracts with us illegally or improperly.”

The documents released by Mr. Waxman also lay bare what has become a serious dispute between the company and the State Department over what was said between them before the deal last year.

For example, a senior Hunt official said he was told by State Department officials during a meeting on June 15, 2007, that the United States government did not object to deals with the Kurdish regional government.

“I specifically asked if the U.S.G. had a policy toward companies entering contracts with the K.R.G.,” the Hunt official, David McDonald, wrote in an e-mail message to a colleague last Sept. 28. The State Department officials, Mr. McDonald wrote, replied that there was no policy, neither for nor against.

His message concluded: “There was no communication to me or in my presence made by the nine State Department officials with whom I met prior to 8 September that Hunt should not pursue our course of action leading to a contract. In fact, there was ample opportunity to do so, but it did not happen.”

The encouragement by State Department officials did not end with the signing of the contract on Sept. 8, the documents suggest. Five days later, a State Department official in the southern city of Basra wrote to Ms. Phillips, “I read and heard about with interest your deal with the regional Kurdish government.”

“I don’t know if you are aware of another opportunity,” the official wrote, mentioning an enormous port project and a natural gas project in the south. After a few more lines, the official concluded, “This seems like it would be a good opportunity for Hunt.”

James Glanz reported from New York, and Richard A. Oppel Jr. from Baghdad. Andrew E. Kramer contributed reporting from Moscow, Mudhafer al-Husaini from Baghdad and an Iraqi employee of The New York Times from Kurdistan.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. I.U. has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is I.U endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Bush Wrecked The Dollar.......

....and a whole lot more, but that is for a different post.


The dollar's 41 percent drop against the euro during Bush's term writes the economic epitaph of an administration that set out to restore American preeminence. Instead, Bush heads to Japan next week for his final international summit with diminished leverage as Russian and Chinese influence grows." The ultimate disgrace for a Republican: Bush wrecked the dollar. 7/4

The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.

We have Definitely Slipped Into "The Looking Glass"

If I tell you that the sky is green three times, you must accept it as true. So saith the Bush administration.

In the first case to review the government’s secret evidence for holding a detainee at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a federal appeals court found that accusations against a Muslim from western China held for more than six years were based on bare and unverifiable claims. The unclassified parts of the decision were released on Monday.

With some derision for the Bush administration’s arguments, a three-judge panel said the government contended that its accusations against the detainee should be accepted as true because they had been repeated in at least three secret documents.

The court compared that to the absurd declaration of a character in the Lewis Carroll poem “The Hunting of the Snark”: “I have said it thrice: What I tell you three times is true.”

“This comes perilously close to suggesting that whatever the government says must be treated as true,” said the panel of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The unanimous panel overturned as invalid a Pentagon determination that the detainee, Huzaifa Parhat, a member of the ethnic Uighur Muslim minority in western China, was properly held as an enemy combatant.

The panel included one of the court’s most conservative members, the chief judge, David B. Sentelle.

And this from an administration who have behaved in such a manner than anything they say once, twice, thrice or a gazillion times must be suspect until proven by reasonable people to be true.

In a short, not even Bushes own Judge Sentelle can't swallow this one

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. I.U. has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is I.U endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

WARNING! Staying Focused In The Age Of Distraction

When we pander to our machines rather than look each other fully in the eye, when doctors interrupt, on average, after 18 seconds of listening to the patient, when two-thirds of the children 18 and under grow up in homes where the TV is on most of the time, which is an environment linked to attention difficulties -- when we can't think -- when, in a knowledge economy, we can't find the time to think deeply, to wrestle with an idea or a problem -- well, we're really facing a dark age on many scores.

-- Maggie Jackson, Journalist and Author, Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age

* * *

What happens if we just pay a little attention to too much information? What if everything comes at us at once and we don't distinguish between the wheat and the chaff? Boston Globe columnist Maggie Jackson thinks it's cause for concern. In her latest book, Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age, Jackson warns that an inability to focus is a social problem that requires addressing. She culls through social science research and presents a compelling argument that takes into account everything from neuroscientific breakthroughs to Medieval history. She says it's time we paid attention to each other and to our inner voices -- it's time we relearn to think deeply by filtering out distractions. It could make us better people and a better society. Can we give it a try?

* * *

BuzzFlash: Your book, Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age, is absolutely fascinating. Personally I can relate to this cultural disorder. Am I correct that you are arguing that many of us, in large part due to technology and the emergence of the entertainment industry, have become stricken with adult attention deficit disorder.

Maggie Jackson: Yes -- I'm talking about a kind of cultural form of attention deficit disorder. But I'm really arguing that because of all sorts of different trends, both related to technology and other ways which we experience time and space now, we are not really going deeply. My book really is about how we are losing the ability to think deeply and to connect deeply. That's the real cost of this overloaded, hurried, split-focus world we live in.

BuzzFlash: What does technology have to do with this?

Maggie Jackson: That's a good question. I hear again and again: "Blame the Blackberry." But one very important point is that this way of life didn't come in, really, with the Blackberry, or with the i-Pod. The high-tech inventions from the 19th Century -- the telegraph, the railroad, the jet -- collapsed distance, and gave people alternative virtual realities, also. There's an 1890 novel called Wild Love, about love between telegraph operators. So we've been building towards this level of cultural distraction for a very long time.

It's not just the technologies that have caused us to operate this way -- the gadgets of today. All sorts of inventions and changes in the way we live have also ushered in a world of hyper-mobility. For instance, look at the portable food culture that we live in. I think that is a wonderful illustration of how detached we are from our physical selves and from the earth. It is yet another one of the trends all around us that creates this culture of distraction. Distraction isn't just about watching TV too much or, fooling around on the Internet and just clicking, clicking, clicking and not getting done what you want done. There are a lot of trends here that create a culture of split focus and overload.

BuzzFlash: Many people, and I include myself, find it difficult to block out what I would call hyper-stimulation -- involving speed, portability, and new technologies. We can get in a plane and be in a completely different environment in a fairly limited amount of time. Television gives us an exponential number of realities, as do video games, the Internet and so forth. In contrast, a couple hundred years ago, the only way you had to communicate with another person basically was talking with them directly, or perhaps writing a letter. Those were your two options. Now we have an infinite number of ways to communicate with each other. We have portability in terms of the cell phone, so you can call someone from anywhere. It seems that people are raised, nowadays, almost into a culture where you sort of don't know how to live without all that stimulation.

Maggie Jackson: Right. It's true. It really is a big change in how the human being lives. For hundreds if not millions of years, a message could be given to someone else only if someone physically delivered it. Of course, instantaneous, simultaneous communication happens globally now, as we all know. And all of these changes are wonderful. They give us connectivity.

One sociologist, whose research I wrote about in the book, talks about the five-year archive of a guy named Mike -- just a regular guy named Mike. She looked at his five years of e-mails and discovered he was connected to 11.7 million people in the globe. And that's highly plausible. We just are hyper-connected.

Then we also have incredible freedom and mobility to move wherever. The cost, or underside, to this is diffusion and fragmentation. We're living in this boundary-less climate. We become very diffused socially, and that's really being brought home in some of the research. For one thing, 25% of Americans have no close confidante, they say, and that's up significantly from just twenty years ago.

When I talk about a culture of isolation, despite this supreme connectivity, people really nod their heads -- agreeing with the idea that we don't know our neighbors. There are studies that show that the more ties you have, even in your core network, the less contact you have in all forms -- visits, telephone calls, of course, letters. No one writes anymore. Contacts with your close ties -- families and friends -- go down except for e-mail, which is wonderful but it's faceless and a very thin form of communication.

So I'm arguing the same thing is true of the way we work. I see danger signs for our critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

One example is OCPD measurements of fifteen-year-olds -- obsessive compulsive personality disorder. We rank 24th out of 29 developed countries on analytical reasoning skills -- U.S. fifteen-year-olds do -- and that's really alarming. These are precisely the skills we need in the 21st century if we are to go forward. The same is true for knowledge workers. A third of workers today say they are so interrupted and so busy that they don't have time to think.

But in a different way, this is a culture that we value. We can't imagine sitting still. We think of being local as being weak and unsuccessful. We value movement so tremendously that it seems as if you're kind of a loser if you're sitting still and thinking, whether in the office or on the train. I really think we need to recapture some of these ways in which we can focus better. You can't focus as well when life is a blur.

I could not agree more!

BuzzFlash: You mentioned motion. A lot of our economy is built on motion. Consumption is built on motion -- the latest fashion, the latest invention, the latest toy, the latest piece of electronic equipment. In other words, as a society, there's a motion about consumption. We aren't satisfied with what we have. We always want what's new. What feeds our economy is getting the latest thing out. In general, as a country, what's made our economics such a surging one worldwide is, in large part, due to our insatiable consumption. That's because we're always looking for the next thing to stimulate us or satisfy us. So does that fit into this pattern?

Maggie Jackson: Yes. I didn't really look into the consumption society as much. I was looking at how our attention is affected. But, you know, there's a cultural geographer, Yi-Fu Tuan, who's at the University of Wisconsin, whose work I really admire. He calls place a "realm of pause," and also "a field of care," whereas space is a canvas for movement. And truly we're using space, the boundary-less-ness. And I think that does feed the idea that you can always get a better thing, that you need to be perpetually on the move or, again, you're not successful.

For instance there's something that I call optionality -- that virtual worlds bring us the sense of optionality -- that we can click and something better will come our way. And that's affecting executive recruiting, where people can't really find a candidate because there's always someone else out there. It's affecting Internet dating. You see this sort of optionality making people very unhappy because they can never really stop. They can never really find what they think they want. So you're right -- it really does feed into all I'm talking about.

I do want to talk a little bit about what attention is.

BuzzFlash: You have a sort of guru that you end with -- Michael Posner. Maybe that's a place to start in terms of his theories about attention.

Maggie Jackson: Yes. What's interesting is that attention is something that most of us don't think about. It's right under our noses. It's enormously overlooked, and yet we're all joking uneasily that we live in an ADD (attention deficit disorder) society. When I discovered that attention was really an important factor in our experiences of time and space, I began to research it. And it's just fascinating. There have been many discoveries in just the last ten to twenty years about the nature and workings of attention, and none of this really has been written about outside of the medical literature.

Attention is really a human's key to living in your environment. You need to both focus on what's new in your environment all the time -- the human needs to stay tuned to the changes in the environment to survive. Yet, at the same time, you need to pursue your goals. So we're always in this kind of balancing act, regarding our ability to pay attention. Thanks to Michael Posner's research out of the University of Oregon, and others, attention is now considered by many neuroscientists as akin to an organ system. Your circulation and your digestive system and parts of the brain work in alignment in responding to a particular fear. Well, the same with attention.

One part of attention is focus, which is again orienting to something new or focusing on another's awareness, which is also called alerting. If you're in a coma, you're not very aware. If you're caffeinated, you're hyper-aware.

There's also executive attention, which is decision-making and planning. These skills couldn't be more important, especially in today's world. I think we spend too much time reacting to our environment, to the beats and the pings, allowing our externalities, in many ways, to push us along in life and we're not as much focusing on our goals.

I think our attentional skills are being undermined by how we live -- and the way we live breeds detachment and split focus and lack of executive planning. We're also not pursuing our goals. We're just allowing whatever comes along to steer us. That's what distraction, in many ways, is all about.

BuzzFlash: In Buddhism, there's the concept of mindfulness, which deals with being free of distractions, engaging in the moment. It contrasts with the type of distraction of politicians who work a rope line, which you describe, and they're shaking one person's hand while looking at the next person.

Maggie Jackson: Yes.

BuzzFlash: That's kind of how we live our lives. It's almost always for the next moment.

Maggie Jackson: Yes.

BuzzFlash: I know that you said the Blackberry is not responsible. But I think we've all been in situations where we've been with people where a person is on a Blackberry. Maybe I'm talking to the person. They're responding to an e-mail on Blackberry. They get a cell phone call. They pick up the cell phone. They answer the cell phone call. They get back to me. They get back to the Blackberry. I don't think in a situation like that there's much attention going on.

Maggie Jackson: No, not at all. The idea of continuous partial attention -- that's a term that's being used -- or what I call split focus, really undermine relationships, not only because cognitively you can't really pay attention to two things at once very well. But also because it's just downright rude.

There's an engineer in Intel who's now trying to combat information overload, Nathan Zeldes. He says, when we're all keeping one eye on the Blackberry in meetings, we're losing the opportunity for that creative coming together of the minds, which is what a meeting is supposed to be all about. We're sort of shattering our chance for any creativity.

I talk in the book about "giving the gift of attention." That's a term from a fellow who studies Tibetan Buddhism, and particularly studies techniques of training attention, Alan Wallace. He used those words -- giving the gift of attention -- and I thought that was very powerful. He says that if you jump in and save a baby who's drowning and you drown, well, you're giving your life all at once. If you give someone your attention, you're giving a piece of your life at that moment, because you're deciding that's what you value. That's the priority for those few minutes. And you can't get that piece of your life back. So it's truly a gift.

I think we're simply unwilling to give each other our full attention. Look at all of the lack of understanding in relationships, the loneliness, the social isolation. Our really giving the gift of attention might do something to make us feel truly connected -- and not super, hyper, e-mail instant message connected, but really actually connected in the post-modern world.

BuzzFlash: You talk ominously in the subtitle of your book of the coming "dark age." What do you mean by that? That certainly sounds very foreboding.

Maggie Jackson: People have been talking about the digital age, the information age. I thought at the beginning of writing this book that I would research what constituted a turning point in civilization. That led me to look at different dark ages throughout time.

It's interesting that dark ages are not necessarily all negative. I think that's a kind of illusion. We have the idea that nothing goes well in a dark age. It's a time of horror. But, actually, in the Middle Ages and in other dark ages there were tremendous technological advances. I found that very intriguing.

I think that we are really in the midst or on the cusp of defining our own dark age. When we pander to our machines rather than look each other fully in the eye, when doctors interrupt, on average, after 18 seconds of listening to the patient, when two-thirds of the children 18 and under grow up in homes where the TV is on most of the time, which is an environment linked to attention difficulties -- when we can't think -- when, in a knowledge economy, we can't find the time to think deeply, to wrestle with an idea or a problem -- well, we're really facing a dark age on many scores. So a dark age can be a wonderful time, but the costs are steep.

BuzzFlash: Certainly, what comes out of it could be wonderful, but while you're in the middle of it, it's certainly fraught with anxiety and uncertainty. It could bring one back, to clear and cleanse oneself of these distractions.

Maggie Jackson: Exactly. I agree.

BuzzFlash: I think it's very hard for people, myself included, to begin to come to terms with this. How does one take the first step? I'm, again, a poster child for your book. But I've taken the step of doing something eccentric in this age. I don't have a cell phone. I am a creature of the Internet. It's the nature of editing BuzzFlash and other sites associated with the BuzzFlash network. I'm always on the Internet when there's a computer around. But I don't have a cell phone. And I found that's a tremendous asset, because when I'm on the train riding into work, or I'm in the car driving, I have a chance to think. I'm not responding to someone calling me about something, which almost invariably is not an emergency or has to be dealt with right away. That's not generally the type of calls that people get on cell phones. It used to be there were no message machines. Then with answering machines, you would come home and listen to messages. But if you had left work and you were going home, no one could reach you and you had time to think.

Maggie Jackson: Right. It also made a boundary between work and home that we don't have anymore. One of the two main suggestions I have for people is trying to dial back on this climate of distraction. I can talk in a minute about our internal resources -- like the fact that attention can be trained and strengthened, which is absolutely fascinating, and that's just beginning to be discovered.

At the same time, I don't think we should just lie out in the road and say, hey, this is the way it is. Overload -- that's it. When we really become cognizant of the costs to our society, I don't think we really need to stand for this. I'm going to start an advocacy group called Mothers Against Multi-Tasking, to stand up and say, just because kids can technologically push buttons and find their way around on the Internet does not mean that they know how to create wisdom, or that they are wise. We really need to push back on multi-tasking.

I'd add that, study after study shows that kids are less persistent and less able to evaluate and assess the information that they see on the Web. So we need to be the adults. We need to give guidelines. We need to speak up against the multi-tasking, the hurry. Forty percent of Gen Y text-message while they drive. Twenty percent of Americans in total text-message while they drive. It couldn't be more dangerous. So I think the noisy environments are kind of crazed environments at work and at home. We need to carve out time for focus and quiet.

Some companies are starting something called white space. That could be either a room that's unwired, uninterrupted, or it could be a time on the calendar. IBM has, for instance, "Think Fridays." It started as a grassroots tradition in the software engineering department -- they were tired of not having any time for creative work. So they began to not answer e-mail or answer phone calls or do meetings on Fridays. It's spread globally. It's never a policy. It's just spread globally because people think it's a wonderful idea. That's one way we can kind of tap back the climate of distraction.

We also need to really learn to speak a language of attention. As I was mentioning, give the gift of attention. Learn about the different forms of attention. These are incredible arrows in our cognitive quiver. For instance, this book really changed my life. It was amazing to learn so much about how we're living, what the costs are, and then also the beauty of attention.

Now, when I really need to focus, I will be ruthless and go away or make myself a place and time for that deep thought. I just don't take for granted that I can do something on the run, on the fly, running through an airport with my cell phone.

BuzzFlash: I want to ask you a question which has to do with a pet theory we talk about with different authors on BuzzFlash. With all this overstimulation, there's a sense that not only have we not become analytical, but we've almost become ahistorical. We're bombarded with so much data and information, it's impossible to remember it all. There's a new wash every day. We don't have much of a sense of history. Also, we don't go back very far as a country. And this has come out in surveys -- that people really don't know history very well. They don't remember events from a year or two ago. We constantly seem to be recycling mistakes because we don't remember we made them the last time.

Is this part of all of this over-stimulation? It seems to me if you give something attention, it's more likely to impress itself on you to the point where you remember it. But if you're constantly bombarded with stimulation that is almost all equal, in terms of its impact, it's just stimulation. You really don't have a value scale for historical events or even a memory.

Maggie Jackson: Yes, and that is a great point on many levels. I think this problem of an ahistoric democracy is huge, and it's related partly to the nature of information itself. We live in a world of information bits which seem to be completely interchangeable. You know, Geoffrey Nunberg, a great linguist in California, compares information to sands or succotash. It's all information that's in little snippets, little chunks. There's a sort of flattening of priorities or a flattening of a sense that some information is more valuable and more important than others.

If you look also at the way the TV screen is broken up by the crawl, studies have found that when people are listening to TV, where there's a crawl, they remember 10% less of the news. Again, you have this flattening. It could be 9/11, and yet there's this crawl where they're talking about the local community college basketball game. It puts them on a par in our minds. So the nature of information and the boundary-less-ness of information leads itself to this sort of trivialization of our world, and also splits our focus. Multi-tasking may lead -- and I think it's fairly plausible -- to a kind of shallow learning. To really learn something deeply -- attention is the building block for memory. It's a gatekeeper for memory. You can't learn something deeply unless you pay deep attention.

(That damn crawl started with 9/11 and it gives me a freakin' headache. So, I don't read the damn thing. Of course, I do realize that much gets reported on the crawl that isn't even so much as mentioned by the corporate-whore-anchors, who are beside themselves with angst about whether Obama is wearing a flag-lapel pin that day or not, while the crawl has just reported that the underbellies of our planes are still not safe, as well as our ports. I don't think that T.V. news can honestly say the have reported something if it is on that damn crawl. Leave print news to the press, which I do read, and have almost every day since I was in college, forty years ago. I have never considered just one news outlet as being the be-all, end-all of news reporting, especially TV news and I don't today. I wish that everyone has more than one news source.)

One study out of UCLA found that students who multi-task learn the information, but not deeply. They weren't able to take the information they'd learned when multi-tasking and use it in new and creative ways -- in that sort of deep, deep, wonderful transferable learning. That is drop-dead chilling. I have to stress that this is not a generational issue. I think we're all needing to wake up to what we're doing. But when kids multi-task at home, as 60% do, sometimes, at least, maybe they're getting an A on a paper, but they're undermining their education over the long term.

Like being able to connect the dots when there is political criminality in power in this country; even the recent dots, let alone dots from pasts decades. God, have I seen a lot, lately, of people who can't do that. I talk to people all the time who say, how can you remember all that stuff? Well, it was because I was paying attention at the time and I pay attention now. Thankfully, neither senility nor Alzheimer's has set in yet

Kids need to be taught how to gather information and how to think, not what to think. In other words, they need to learn how to think critically and deeply about a subject and how various subjects are connected. They need to be informed and taught how to connect the dots; not only the dots of today, but how those dots can connect the dots from decades ago.

Hint: Same people, just different chairs on the Titanic

BuzzFlash: Perhaps as a culture we can escape the dark ages and the destiny of being a mile wide and an inch deep, which is, I think, the hallmark of a distracted culture.

We highly recommend that our readers pay attention to your book, Distracted, and read it not in spurts but in a concentrated period of time where they can give it their full attention, because it certainly deserves it. It certainly is a warning sign for our culture that more information is not necessarily more knowledge. So thank you, Maggie Jackson, very much.

Maggie Jackson: Thank you very much. I appreciated your interest and great conversation.

BuzzFlash interview conducted by Mark Karlin.

But, we won't take this warning seriously, will we? We never do.

Maybe we are all just suicidal and need to be on a locked ward, for our own good and that of others around the world.

The people who have seen fit to intentionally manipulate us through the above mentioned disorders should be hung on the National Mall.

I wonder if there would be enough room?

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. I.U. has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is I.U endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

John McCain: Not so much character after all.

By Sharon Churcher, The Mail, London

Last updated at 1:45 AM on 08th June 2008

Now that Hillary Clinton has at last formally withdrawn from the race for the White House, the eyes of America and the world will focus on Barack Obama and his Republican rival Senator John McCain.

While Obama will surely press his credentials as the embodiment of the American dream – a handsome, charismatic young black man who was raised on food stamps by a single mother and who represents his country’s future – McCain will present himself as a selfless, principled war hero whose campaign represents not so much a battle for the presidency of the United States, but a crusade to rescue the nation’s tarnished reputation.

Carol McCain

Forgotten woman: But despite all her problems Carol McCain says she still adores he ex-husband

McCain likes to illustrate his moral fibre by referring to his five years as a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam. And to demonstrate his commitment to family values, the 71-year-old former US Navy pilot pays warm tribute to his beautiful blonde wife, Cindy, with whom he has four children.

(Yep, the Hanoi Hilton, where no one really knows what the hell happened except the people who were there. In an article, somewhere, about a week ago, I read where the commander of the prison, where McCain was imprisoned, stated publicly that McCain was not tortured and that his injuries were a result of the plane crash and the beating he took from citizens when pulled ashore. Of course, that isn't enough to question McCain's account of things, especially when Americans are not prone to listen to anyone outside the country when it comes to these matters, but one has to wonder why this man would lie all these years later. He can't be afraid of war crimes trials or anything like that. After all, we are now trading partners with Vietnam. There is also another story that doesn't make sense to me. It is that McCain was offered release by the North Vietnamese after they learned that he had two Admirals in his family. McCain refused, stating that he would rather stay with his men. In the first place, American POWs are bound by military law to do whatever they can to escape. Admittedly, if he was the highest ranking officer in the prison, he was in charge of the Americans imprisoned with him. Nevertheless, he should not have refused release. There is also some mention that McCain's release would have been good P.R. for the North Vietnamese. How? With McCain's story of being tortured and all, it would have been anything but a good P.R. stunt. There is something else I don't understand. If the North Vietnamese wanted to release him, torturers and evil doers that they were, would they have asked him if he wanted to leave? Hell no! They would have gotten in touch with the Americans, probably through the French, and would have set him free. Period, end of story. There is a lot about McCain's story that is beginning to unravel, at least in my mind. )

But there is another Mrs McCain who casts a ghostly shadow over the Senator’s presidential campaign. She is seldom seen and rarely written about, despite being mother to McCain’s three eldest children.

And yet, had events turned out differently, it would be she, rather than Cindy, who would be vying to be First Lady. She is McCain’s first wife, Carol, who was a famous beauty and a successful swimwear model when they married in 1965.

She was the woman McCain dreamed of during his long incarceration and torture in Vietnam’s infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ prison and the woman who faithfully stayed at home looking after the children and waiting anxiously for news.

But when McCain returned to America in 1973 to a fanfare of publicity and a handshake from Richard Nixon, he discovered his wife had been disfigured in a terrible car crash three years earlier. Her car had skidded on icy roads into a telegraph pole on Christmas Eve, 1969. Her pelvis and one arm were shattered by the impact and she suffered massive internal injuries.

When Carol was discharged from hospital after six months of life-saving surgery, the prognosis was bleak. In order to save her legs, surgeons had been forced to cut away huge sections of shattered bone, taking with it her tall, willowy figure. She was confined to a wheelchair and was forced to use a catheter.

Through sheer hard work, Carol learned to walk again. But when John McCain came home from Vietnam, she had gained a lot of weight and bore little resemblance to her old self.

Today, she stands at just 5ft4in and still walks awkwardly, with a pronounced limp. Her body is held together by screws and metal plates and, at 70, her face is worn by wrinkles that speak of decades of silent suffering.

For nearly 30 years, Carol has maintained a dignified silence about the accident, McCain and their divorce. But last week at the bungalow where she now lives at Virginia Beach, a faded seaside resort 200 miles south of Washington, she told The Mail on Sunday how McCain divorced her in 1980 and married Cindy, 18 years his junior and the heir to an Arizona brewing fortune, just one month later.

John and Cindy McCain

Golden couple: John and Cindy McCain at a charity gala in Los Angeles

Carol insists she remains on good terms with her ex-husband, who agreed as part of their divorce settlement to pay her medical costs for life. ‘I have no bitterness,’

She says. ‘My accident is well recorded. I had 23 operations, I am five inches shorter than I used to be and I was in hospital for six months. It was just awful, but it wasn’t the reason for my divorce.

‘My marriage ended because John McCain didn’t want to be 40, he wanted to be 25. You know that just does.’

Some of McCain’s acquaintances are less forgiving, however. They portray the politician as a self-centered womanizer who effectively abandoned his crippled wife to ‘play the field’. They accuse him of finally settling on Cindy, a former rodeo beauty queen, for financial reasons.

McCain was then earning little more than £25,000 a year as a naval officer, while his new father-in-law, Jim Hensley, was a multi-millionaire who had impeccable political connections.

He first met Carol in the Fifties while he was at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis. He was a privileged, but rebellious scion of one of America’s most distinguished military dynasties – his father and grandfather were both admirals.

But setting out to have a good time, the young McCain hung out with a group of young officers who called themselves the ‘Bad Bunch’.

His primary interest was women and his conquests ranged from a knife-wielding floozy nicknamed ‘Marie, the Flame of Florida’ to a tobacco heiress.

Carol fell into his fast-living world by accident. She escaped a poor upbringing in Philadelphia to become a successful model, married an Annapolis classmate of McCain’s and had two children – Douglas and Andrew – before renewing what one acquaintance calls ‘an old flirtation’ with McCain.

It seems clear she was bowled over by McCain’s attention at a time when he was becoming bored with his playboy lifestyle.

‘He was 28 and ready to settle down and he loved Carol’s children,’ recalled another Annapolis graduate, Robert Timberg, who wrote The Nightingale’s Song, a bestselling biography of McCain and four other graduates of the academy.

The couple married and McCain adopted Carol’s sons. Their daughter, Sidney, was born a year later, but domesticity was clearly beginning to bore McCain – the couple were regarded as ‘fixtures on the party circuit’ before McCain requested combat duty in Vietnam at the end of 1966.

He was assigned as a bomber pilot on an aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin.

What follows is the stuff of the McCain legend. He was shot down over Hanoi in October 1967 on his 23rd mission over North Vietnam and was badly beaten by an angry mob when he was pulled, half-drowned from a lake.

war hero John McCain

War hero: McCain with Carol as he arrives back in the US in 1973 after his five years as a PoW in North Vietnam.

(Get a load of that cocked uniform hat. Hey, sailor, you are out of uniform. Of course this could have happened as the result of a hug or something, and he couldn't straighten it because he can''t raise his arms above his shoulders. Somehow I doubt this, though. He could have asked his wife to straighten it or other members of the service, who were around him, given that he was facing all the cameras. I know I would have. Having been in the Navy, I would not have faced the cameras with a cocked uniform hat but, then, I was never quite so cocky as McCain, even by his own admission.)

Over the next five-and-a-half years in the notorious Hoa Loa Prison he was regularly tortured and mistreated.

It was in 1969 that Carol went to spend the Christmas holiday – her third without McCain – at her parents’ home. After dinner, she left to drop off some presents at a friend’s house.

It wasn’t until some hours later that she was discovered, alone and in terrible pain, next to the wreckage of her car. She had been hurled through the windscreen.

After her first series of life-saving operations, Carol was told she may never walk again, but when doctors said they would try to get word to McCain about her injuries, she refused, insisting: ‘He’s got enough problems, I don’t want to tell him.’

H. Ross Perot, a billionaire Texas businessman, future presidential candidate and advocate of prisoners of war, paid for her medical care.

When McCain – his hair turned prematurely white and his body reduced to little more than a skeleton – was released in March 1973, he told reporters he was overjoyed to see Carol again.

But friends say privately he was ‘appalled’ by the change in her appearance. At first, though, he was kind, assuring her: ‘I don’t look so good myself. It’s fine.’

He bought her a bungalow near the sea in Florida and another former POW helped him to build a railing so she could pull herself over the dunes to the water.

‘I thought, of course, we would live happily ever after,’ says Carol. But as a war hero, McCain was moving in ever-more elevated circles.

Through Ross Perot, he met Ronald Reagan, then Governor of California. A sympathetic Nancy Reagan took Carol under her wing.

But already the McCains’ marriage had begun to fray. ‘John started carousing and running around with women,’ said Robert Timberg.

McCain has acknowledged that he had girlfriends during this time, without going into details. Some friends blame his dissatisfaction with Carol, but others give some credence to her theory of a mid-life crisis.

He was also fiercely ambitious, but it was clear he would never become an admiral like his illustrious father and grandfather and his thoughts were turning to politics.

In 1979 – while still married to Carol – he met Cindy at a cocktail party in Hawaii. Over the next six months he pursued her, flying around the country to see her. Then he began to push to end his marriage.

Carol and her children were devastated. ‘It was a complete surprise,’ says Nancy Reynolds, a former Reagan aide.

‘They never displayed any difficulties between themselves. I know the Reagans were quite shocked because they loved and respected both Carol and John.’

Another friend added: ‘Carol didn’t fight him. She felt her infirmity made her an impediment to him. She justified his actions because of all he had gone through. She used to say, “He just wants to make up for lost time.”’

Indeed, to many in their circle the saddest part of the break-up was Carol’s decision to resign herself to losing a man she says she still adores.

Friends confirm she has remained friends with McCain and backed him in all his campaigns. ‘He was very generous to her in the divorce but of course he could afford to be, since he was marrying Cindy,’ one observed.

McCain transferred the Florida beach house to Carol and gave her the right to live in their jointly-owned townhouse in the Washington suburb of Alexandria. He also agreed to pay her alimony and child support.

A former neighbour says she subsequently sold up in Florida and Washington and moved in 2003 to Virginia Beach. He said: ‘My impression was that she found the new place easier to manage as she still has some difficulties walking.’

Meanwhile McCain moved to Arizona with his new bride immediately after their 1980 marriage. There, his new father-in-law gave him a job and introduced him to local businessmen and political power brokers who would smooth his passage to Washington via the House of Representatives and Senate.

And yet despite his popularity as a politician, there are those who won’t forget his treatment of his first wife.

Ted Sampley, who fought with US Special Forces in Vietnam and is now a leading campaigner for veterans’ rights, said: ‘I have been following John McCain’s career for nearly 20 years. I know him personally. There is something wrong with this guy and let me tell you what it is – deceit.

‘When he came home and saw that Carol was not the beauty he left behind, he started running around on her almost right away. Everybody around him knew it.

‘Eventually he met Cindy and she was young and beautiful and very wealthy. At that point McCain just dumped Carol for something he thought was better.

‘This is a guy who makes such a big deal about his character. He has no character. He is a fake. If there was any character in that first marriage, it all belonged to Carol.’

One old friend of the McCains said: ‘Carol always insists she is not bitter, but I think that’s a defence mechanism. She also feels deeply in his debt because in return for her agreement to a divorce, he promised to pay for her medical care for the rest of her life.’

Carol remained resolutely loyal as McCain’s political star rose. She says she agreed to talk to The Mail on Sunday only because she wanted to publicize her support for the man who abandoned her.

Indeed, the old Mercedes that she uses to run errands displays both a disabled badge and a sticker encouraging people to vote for her ex-husband. ‘He’s a good guy,’ she assured us. ‘We are still good friends. He is the best man for president.’

But Ross Perot, who paid her medical bills all those years ago, now believes that both Carol McCain and the American people have been taken in by a man who is unusually slick and cruel – even by the standards of modern politics.

‘McCain is the classic opportunist. He’s always reaching for attention and glory,’ he said.

‘After he came home, Carol walked with a limp. So he threw her over for a poster girl with big money from Arizona. And the rest is history.’

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The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.