Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Red Till I'm Dead

Everyone knows about Senator Arlen Specter’s dramatic switch from the Republican Party to join the Democrats and its implications towards the magic 60. What I will underscore is the GOP insanity that led to the development. Specter switched for the simple reason that he wants to stay in office. The GOP decided to gun for Spector in light of his vote for the stimulus package, OK, fine, you can have your primary. Ever play chess, confidently working your strategy, and then in one move your opponent exposes a new and deeply humiliating reality that clearly exposes you as the most clueless creature that ever lived?

The GOP just lost a veteran Senator, and the losses have only begun with GOP Lord Limbaugh suggesting Specter take McCain with him, including his daughter Meghan, who quickly twittered back:

"Red till I’m dead, baby!"

Meghan makes a strong assertion and lacks Specter's set of distinctions. Clearly her trajectory diverges from that of Lord Limbaugh, Sadist Cheney, and Darth Rove. The jury is out regarding which trajectory has a GOP in it. From the open endorsement of torture to asserting that the swine flu is a tactic to get the confirmation of Kathleen Sebelius as HHS Secretary, the GOP has ceased its dance with a snake. It is the snake.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Nuclear Taliban?

What distinguishes Pakistan from Iraq and Afghanistan are its nuclear weapons program (70,000 employees and a well stocked arsenal) and its population. At 170+ M, Pakistan is the sixth most populated country on Earth, and the Taliban have a significant stronghold on its western half, especially to the north, raising concerns about terrorists gaining access to nuclear weapons. The red is Taliban controlled, the yellow, Taliban influenced, the tan, contested. The areas controlled by the Pakistan government are green. Before overreacting, the map to the left does not show all of Pakistan, just the northwest portions most subject to Taliban control. I don't watch Fox News, but I heard they ran a story showing this map in a way that left viewers thinking it represented the entire country. Also, know that Pakistan has never been a tightly centralized nation, instead a loosely coupled set of "sub-nations" in the more developed east (Pop - 130 M) and less developed west (Pop - 40 M).

The Taliban controlled regions consist of the NWFP (North West Frontier Province)(20 M) and Waziristan (6 M). Directly from the NWFP Web site: The warlike Pukhtoons, who live in NWFP and the adjoining areas of Afghanistan, making them a race apart, a chosen people, and no one has ever managed to subdue them. The Mughals, Afghans, Sikhs, British and Russians have suffered defeat at their hands. The Pukhtoons are divided into numerous sub-tribes and clans, each defending its territory and honor. The Taliban thrive in the NWFP. Waziristan (Federally Administered Tribal Areas - FATA) is the terrorist capital of the world and probably the current home of Osama Bin Laden. It's Jihadi and Kalishkinov culture is a legacy of the region’s intense involvement against Soviet troops in Afghanistan. The fiercely independent tribes here make it a perfect place for terrorist training camps and fanatical extremism.

Beneath these lies Balochistan (10 M). Like the Basque straddling the border between France and Spain, the Baloch (mostly Hanafi Sunnies) have their own cultural identity (and desire for autonomy) and straddle Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran. The place is teaming with insurgency and violence amidst a population that resents the Pakistani army.

In the east are Punjab (86 M) and Sindh (50 M). Punjab, the most economically developed region, is ethnically and politically aligned with the government. Consisting of Muslim refugees from India, Sindh remains relatively free of Taliban sentiment as well (so far).

(All of Pakistan - Balochistan is 1, and NWFP and Waziristan are 2 and 6. Punjab and Sindh are 3 and 4). In many respects, the country is a bifurcated nation with the fault line easily seen between 1, 2, and 6 in the rogue west and subject to massive insurgency, and the far more populated (and prosperous) 3 and 4 to the east. Geography plays a huge role in this split. The land to the west is brutal, harsh terrain that prohibits population density.

Sheer numbers suggest a Taliban take over of the country is not imminent, and even if it were to topple the government, the Pakistan army would immediately take control as it has in the past. In other words, the Taliban are not going to be controlling Pakistan’s nuclear weapons any time soon. While a danger of Taliban infiltration of the east into trusted government positions exists, I think the inevitable terrorist detonation of a nuclear warhead will result from a greedy soulless executive who figures out a way to secure a device and sell it to the highest bidder. In what would simultaneously make him a fortune and look right about Obama, it’s a perfect pet project for Cheney to pursue while he’s not appearing on talk shows.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Torture II

President Obama’s recent moves in relation to the torture memos are perhaps the first slips he may have made in his presidency, which otherwise has been extraordinary. No one’s perfect. The man is a human being. That said, whether this fiasco spirals into a Nuremberg-ish set of trials and people being shot by firing squad (less likely) or into some legal wrangling that ultimately punishes no one (more likely), the situation has become problematic for the president, and the one sure result is that no matter what he does, he is going to be criticized. There is no WIN here.

Addressing the moral obligation to get the bottom of this and whether it would be a distraction, Paul Krugman correctly notes that the investigation, however organized, requires no time from Obama’s economic team, health care team, a lot of his cabinet, or the president himself.

In the stillness of the eye of the hurricane, one fundamental question sparks the whole set of dominoes and determines their direction.

DOES IT WORK? Even more pertinent is the context of the question: Does it work to do what? The illuminating distinction is that between the desire to obtain intelligence and the desire to coerce a predetermined confession, true or false.

Literature exists regarding interrogation techniques that work. They involve a lot of psychology, take time, and include a blend of various ways to both befriend and at the same time disorient, confuse, and perhaps frighten an individual into being authentic, providing information that is accurate. Note that a messed up individual may provide lousy information even when trying to be truthful. Not surprisingly, doing it right involves time, effort, and expertise regarding game theory and notions like the the prisoner's dilemma.

Anyone familiar with communist China (or the Soviet Union, or Nazi Germany) knows that sometimes truth has little to do with an interrogation. Consider the plight of captured POW’s "interrogated" into "confessions" denouncing their missions. The methods in the memos are those used to extract false confessions. Truth is not relevant, and the hand fits the glove too well to ignore. Occam’s Razor. Desperate to justify its treasonous invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration needed the confessions it wanted to hear. The FBI has the legitimate methods down, but the operative word is "legitimate" so the White House commanded the Cheney infested CIA to adopt the methods understood by the US military, not because the military commits these acts, but because its training includes preparation for such torture in case of capture.

In a grotesque display of unbridled arrogance, the Bush administration thought it could pull all of this off without a hitch. Incompetent to the core, even when it descended to torture to force false testimony, it couldn’t get the lies it wanted.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Conniving Cloth

Tucson, Arizona. While the fall of the ax on the cloth cash trough known as Rio Nuevo is inevitable, what is anything but determined is the precise fashion in which it does. I’m speculating on sense of smell, not hard facts, but speaking thematically at 40,000 feet, I am convinced the Clothmeisters are finagling angles to preserve their ability to gorge their appetites for taxpayer funds. They maneuver as we speak to inherit what rises from Rio Nuevo, probably suggesting it be renamed and relabeled to a better sounding headline that goes ka-ching! Candidates likely to be positioning themselves include TREO, DTP, TCC, DDC, MTCVB, and you can bet that Lord Hecker has his hands in the mix. If he isn’t already on the board of whatever acronym inherits the TIF spigot, he will be.

Since the organization handed tens of millions of dollars a year to dispense to friends and family for consulting services might also have to build something, I don’t think the prevailing acronym will be TREO. I also dismiss the MTCVB or the DDC taking over Rio Nuevo. TCC? Probably not. What’s left? Smell it?

Another possibility is that a new acronym (although probably not RNMFD) will assume control of the project, probably headed by a six figure cloth gig awarded to one of Nina’s fans. I don’t know what exactly is happening, but when it does, the cloth won’t be hard to distinguish. Look at those in the top slots and on the board. Someone is salivating over that TIF nipple.

I have an expression for Senators Barbara Leff and Jim Waring: Fool me once.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Meghan Moving Up

John McCain’s 24 year-old daughter Meghan is generating consternation for the old guard of the Republican machine. Having her own healthy dose of maverick tendencies, she has her own blog at which she posts rather regularly. She twitters to 20,000 and has warned the GOP that it faces a civil war amongst itself if it doesn’t enter the 21st century regarding race, gender, and sexual orientation. She signed a six-figure book deal to write about the future of the Republican party.

Her assertions are entirely consistent with the view that the GOP needs to divorce social conservatism, the factions McCain distinguishes as the "old" part of the party. The tea party crowd, which is about a lot more than taxes, should leave the Republican party and form its own, perhaps the Constitution Party. The CP can break out the Confederate flag and foam at the mouth over Obama’s treating other world leaders with respect, his refusal to advocate torture, and the gay community’s plan to destroy the country, the immigrant community’s plan to destroy the country, the liberal community’s plan to destroy the country, and the leftist professor crowd’s plan to destroy the country.

What unifies those in the Constitution Party is rather easy to distinguish. What remains in the GOP after the split will be interesting to see, but if it chooses Meghan McCain to be one of its faces and voices, it could do a lot worse.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Reader

Based on a novel by Bernard Schlink, Stephen Daldry’s extraordinarily compelling film, The Reader, features one of the most outstanding performances in the history of cinema. Kate Winslet more than deserved (and won) the Academy Award for Best Actress in 2008. The film masterfully explores moral ambiguity with rarely seen maturity, just nailing the terror of the situation:

"What would you have done?"

I can think of few films that explore such a wide spectrum of human emotions, from shame to guilt to rage to affection to confusion to compassion to doubt to pain to sheer terror. They are all there and not superficially. A father myself, I find the Ralph Fiennes scenes with his daughter particularly touching, especially in the graveyard at the end. The Reader is first rate, top notch cinema that should not be missed.

The experience of watching the film provided an insight regarding the Academy Award program. Without having seen the performances and films being recognized, one can’t understand the context of the awards. I think I saw Winslet win the award. If I had seen her performance before hand, there would be no doubt. Few experiences are more moving than watching the truly gifted perform their mastery.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Torture Taxonomy

The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) has a Web page featuring links to four released documents regarding torture. The reader can go there or use the links below. The 1 minute 40 second video of ACLU Director Jameel Jafar briefly discusses the importance of these memos and why the public has the right to see them. Before we get started, the context is United States Code Title 18 Section 2340A which makes it a criminal offense for a person outside of the United States to commit or attempt to commit torture, which is defined in Section 2340(1) as:

Torture - An act committed by a person under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody of physical control.

The August 1, 2002 Jay Bybee Memo to Deputy Attorney General John Rizzo (PDF) applies to all prisoners, but it is mostly in the context of high ranking Al Queda prisoner Abu Zubaydah. The report details the techniques:

The Attention Grasp – basically grabbing the prisoner on both sides below the neck and yanking him forward for an intense face to face.
The Facial Hold – grabbing his head with one hand on the face to hold him immobile
The Facial Slap – exactly what you think, front of the hand, fingers slightly spread
The Abdominal Slap - striking the abdomen with the back of the hand
Walling – throwing a guy hard against a special wall designed to be "flexible" yet producing a louder sound to enhance the drama of the event
Stress Positions – forcing them to hold positions that fatigue/ache the muscles
Wall Standing – one version of stress positions
Cramped Confinement – what you think
Sleep Deprivation – what you think
Waterboarding – amply published everywhere

Apparently Zubaydah has a phobia about insects, so there is considerable discussion about placing a "stinging insect" with him in a confined space, or threatening to do this and actually putting a different insect (one that doesn’t sting) into the cell. They conclude that this does not inflict severe pain or suffering provided that the prisoner is told the sting will not be fatal. Who are they kidding? You lock me in a confined space, and the suffering part is handled before you mention the wasp. Tell me about the wasp, and fatal or not, my arse, I’ll tell you I’m Charles Manson.

The waterboard, which inflicts no pain or actual harm whatsoever, does not in our view inflict "severe pain or suffering" (page 11 paragraph 2), yet later in the report We find that the use of the waterboard constitutes a threat of imminent death (page 15 paragraph 2). In other words, a threat of imminent death does not inflict suffering. What I find most disturbing is near the end: To violate the statute, an individual must have the specific intent to inflict severe pain or suffering. Because specific intent is an element of the offense, the absence of specific intent negates the charge of torture (page 16 paragraph 3). Unbelievable. This is not fiction.

The May 10, 2005 Steven Bradbury Memo to John Rizzo (PDF) more thoroughly notes 18 U.S.C. S 2340A and the four "predicate" acts that constitute torture (page 2 paragraph 3) 1) intentional infliction or threaten to inflict severe physical pain or injury, 2) the administration or threatened administration of mind altering substances, 3) the threat of imminent death, and 4) the threat of any of the above to another person.

I’m running out of real estate, so I won’t go into it, but this document provides a highly detailed, bone chilling account of the whole process, including the details associated with the use of nudity, temperature, water dousing, and dietary control. The other two documents released are:

May 10, 2005 Steven Bradbury to Rizzo (PDF)
May 30, 2005 Steven Bradbury to Rizzo (PDF)

At the same time that we learn these details, we learn that no one will be held to account for what occurred.

San Diego, Casey, and Diana

San Diego, CA. I had free time today to walk around the heart of San Diego, and I chose the Gas Lamp Quarter situated directly above the city's awesome convention center. I toured the delightful area for quite some time, noting its extraordinary collection of restaurants of all ethnicities. With some difficulty, I chose sushi over an award winning Indian buffet.

Some may recall comments here by regular reader Casey DeLorme, who lives in San Diego. Casey saw the post that I was in town and contacted me. We connected this afternoon for some refreshments and conversation.

Casey's blog is Social Media Gestalt (link to the right), and he's a high tech public relations guru that makes me look old fashioned. Casey went to school with Congresswoman Giffords, knows Tucson politics well, and is no stranger to the cigar shop. We met while I was still running SAIAT. While we were catching up today, I mentioned the recent articles about Tucson jobs being within ten miles of downtown. He made the expected facial expression and noted, "Tucson is within ten miles of downtown."

I really enjoyed seeing Casey again and wish him the best. He left Tucson for San Diego for a reason, and his horizon looks bright.

On another note, as occasionally happens in the blogosphere, it's become appropriate to expel an inappropriate guest. Diana may use a different name in the future, but her signature is easy to spot. Don't bother, Diana, and don't let the door hit you on your way out. For everyone's sake, don't visit again. We have nothing to say to each other. Move on and stay gone.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Toxic Distraction

I posted Toxic Talk (3/01/09) and Dancing with a Snake (1/29/09) to refer to the inflammatory rhetoric coming from so called conservative or extreme right wing elements of the Republican party. The Department of Homeland Security has issued a report noting the rise of right wing extremist groups and extremist group recruiting (Actual Report PDF) as a result of the economic difficulties and the election of an African American as President. I’ll let others discuss the details of the report, which is already provoking strong reactions. This post instead reflects on the right wing "humor" available for purchase on T-shirts, in this case, at Thoseshirts.com. The image shows six shirts literally for sale at the Web site right now.

I’m not laughing.

The McCain campaign discovered to its detriment that fanning these kinds of flames kindles nastiness we don’t want kindled. The kooks that consider Timothy McVeigh a hero start to emerge from the woodwork and fantasize about the contribution they might make to society. I’m not that concerned (yet) about a repeat of Oklahoma City, but I do fear for Obama himself. I won’t even try to describe the aftermath of something happening to him, but it includes cities on fire and catastrophic loss of political and economic functionality, not to mention life. It would dwarf anything in American history save the Civil War and the birth of the nation itself. The good news is that The White House understands this and the Secret Service is on a mission from God.

More applicable to the pragmatic politics of the day is the extent to which the GOP allows the extremist language to enter into its discourse, or better said, to what extent the GOP nay saying and its incessant barrage against the Obama administration gets lumped together with the toxic material. I know and respect (locally) several Republicans including elected ones who care about others, authentically want the world to be a better place, and wouldn’t be caught dead wearing shirts like those shown here. That said, if the GOP does get associated with "I’d Rather Be Waterboarding," an association strengthened by Cheney’s television appearances and further reinforced by news that the GOP is suppressing the release of torture memos, the party is in serious trouble.

The GOP faces quite a conundrum. Their base consists of lunatics. How does one keep the lunatics yet present a credible philosophy that can get to 50%? If they tell the lunatics to pound salt and start advocating reasonable positions (drop the homophobia, admit the government should govern, serve all instead of only the ultra-rich, tell Limbaugh he’s what he is with no apology, etc.), their credibility rises dramatically. What are the kooks going to do, vote for a democrat?

The Republican party needs to swallow the short term pain of a divorce and end a bad marriage that painfully binds its intellect. It should allow the monsters to forge their own party, the KTA (Kill Them All). KTA could march in the streets with their "Let God Sort Them Out" and "Thank God for Aids" shirts and perhaps get 6.66 percent of the vote. KTA would die quickly, and the GOP’s best minds would be liberated to pursue the reason it represented before this toxic distraction.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

San Diego

Greetings from the heart of downtown San Diego, and when I say heart, I mean right in the middle on Broadway next to the Hall of Justice. I can see the water from my room. They have lots of boats. The military? BIG boats, seriously big boats.

The place is terrific, featuring interesting looking cafes, pubs, restaurants, breakfast places, delis, fancy white table cloth places, bookstores. One can walk to Ralph's, a full blown 24/7 grocery store including all alcohol and a particularly excellent wine selection. Lots of wine. Pedestrians are really obedient of the walk signals at intersections. The intersection could be completely dead, no cars coming from anywhere, yet people wait patiently for the white go ahead. Hey, when in Rome, so I waited too. Perhaps they know something I don't. If I was going to get hit by a truck, I would have before birthing the behemoth. The maintenance of the city is top of the line, with clean and flawless streets and modern trains and trolley cars. San Diego clearly has the distinctions of competent downtown and economic development.

Always looking to try the path less taken, instead of staying at one of the many $200+ hotels all around me, I opted for 500 West, an interestingly progressive place that took over the now historic downtown YMCA building. The bathrooms are shared (not at the same time) and the rooms are TINY. We're talking teenie weenie with itty bitty bed, laptop sized desk, small wooden micro-closet, and a padded cube thingy for a chair. Add an overhead light and a mirror on the wall, and you now know everything in the room. While my research grant would actually cover the costs at the fancy places, I felt like staying here. The whole week will cost the price of one night at the others.

I think the concept is a great idea, and it ties perfectly to my (3/08/09) Inflection post about downsizing products to serve true and not inflated customer need. Let's be straight, what do I really need? A secure space to sleep in reasonable comfort, and a private room to shower and shave. Note, as this "hotel" does, that while the two should be very close (the same hall), they don't have to be the same.

Now, 500 West does have high speed Internet. My frugality has limits.

I suppose everyone knows Ted Kennedy gave the Obamas a doggie. The Republicans are meeting to discuss what's wrong with it.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Media Morphology

I’ve already written a post about the demise of numerous newspapers and the precarious situation faced by the surviving ones. The future of the newspaper is subject to heated debate in the current discourse, and the reader needs no help from me to access those exchanges. I don’t think the printed page faces extinction, but clearly its scope and function faces profound transformation over the next few decades. For all I know, even legal documents will be digitized with notary public technician monitored retinal scans replacing signatures over the printed names of the signatories.

The subject of this post extends far deeper than the plight of our newspapers. I am talking about the whole enchilada of media as we know it, and let’s move to the major television networks of NBC, CBS, ABC, and more recently FOX. When I was young, we had three channels. Such days are over, and cable and satellite television has exponentially blossomed to where traditional television reception is all but obsolete. The implications are profound as the television "triopoly" now competes with literally hundreds of alternative options including AMC, TNT, TLC, HIST, DISC, CNN, Spike, HBO, Showtime, the list goes on. Half of the people I know don’t even watch the current equivalent of the big three networks that once comprised all that existed of television.

Just to scratch the surface, HBO started a trend with top quality and immensely popular series like The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, and Sex and the City, with Showtime following suit with The L Word and Dexter, and AMC now producing Mad Men. Every show just listed is intelligent, well produced, and of quality at least equal to and more likely exceeding any show produced by the not so big four.

In fact, I’m not even to the punch line, for the cable and satellite television technology is really only an intermediary step to what the reader can already foresee. We’re going online, and the Internet is where all of this is headed. Network television already offers streaming video of many of their programs at their Web sites. I exaggerate not. Miss the season finale of Fox’s Sarah Conner Chronicles Friday? No problem. Go to the Terminator Web site and you can see it online for free. Just click in the box to the right. The distance from your PC monitor to your 42 inch HDTV is evaporating as we speak. All too soon Channel 13 and youtube are a click from each other on the same screen over the same connection.

While all of the content and entertainment aspects are interesting, the critical consideration involves the financial infrastructure that effectively solicits the revenue necessary to fund the production and delivery of this content. Who pays for it in the new reality? In case the reader isn’t following, in the old paradigm, advertising funded the edifice. This program brought to you by... and we watched a 30 second piece on Charmin’s, another for Ragu, and maybe one more for Alka Seltzer. Rates for such spots were based on ratings, and there’s the glitch. As the ratings metric shifts to hits, and going further, visit durations, how this pans out is anything but straightforward. ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX will soon be scratching their heads as those at the New York Times, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, and Tucson Citizen are scratching theirs today.

By the way, and I love cinema, but when 40+ inch HDTV’s and affordable Bose home theater sound systems are commonplace, which is only a matter of time, and movies are instantly available for download viewing, who goes to the Park Mall to see a flick? How does the Hollywood of 2020 fund $250M+ pictures without a box office?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Star Wars

Tucson, Arizona. Comedian and satirist Stephen Colbert, a fellow alumnus of my alma mater Northwestern University, has developed a successful show featuring oblique slams of the right with mocking imitation. I prefer Jon Stewart, but Colbert can be quite entertaining and ridiculous in a way that sticks in the psyche, such as his request to comb Congressman Grijalva's mustache on television. Grijalva's response, "That would make me really uncomfortable."

Oh god.

Not sure how, but Colbert has won a contest to have a node of the space station bear his name. One must recognize that feigned arrogance is part of Colbert's act, so his aggressive pursuit of this recognition fits with his show. Well, Congresswoman Giffords, wife of astronaut Mark Kelly, chose to assert that NASA should decide how to name said node, accurately predicting Colbert would most enthusiastically pounce upon any acknowledgment of his existence from a member of Congress. Anticipated and offered with gratitude or not, Colbert threw Giffords a most tasty no risk bone to chew by insulting the city of Tucson, giving her the sweet opportunity to rise to the defense of her hometown and constituents. Win/Win.

Somehow I don't think Giffords will appear on Colbert's show so he can make an irreverent request akin to stroking a mustache, perhaps asking her to sing "Hava Naguila" or remark on the notion of accompanying her husband into space. If you think this is beyond Colbert, you haven't seen his show.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Clothmeister Cut

Tucson, Arizona. The Citizen has a short piece announcing the termination of Rio Nuevo director Greg Shelko, known for his recent stellar performance before the Arizona Senate Finance Committee in Phoenix. Hein had eliminated Shelko's position from the 2010 city budget (begins July 1) prior to his own demise. I imagine Shelko gets to swill his $126,000 salary through June 30.

The ouster of Shelko, a certified clothmeister, represents the most significant blow to the cloth since I started this blog over 2 1/2 years ago. Are we approaching a tipping point of substantive action demanding genuine commitment to the community (and results) instead of self-serving non-performers? Employees of TREO, DTP, and MTCVB might want to dust off those resumes.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Dr. x4mr

Note the gold tassel. This is not about a bachelor's degree. I am delighted to report that your humble blogger has just defended his dissertation before a committee I am honored to call peers, an extraordinary conversation filled with rich and deep distinctions and insights. The ceremony is a month off, but today was the day (or rather, today was the end of months of cerebral gymnastics). I do this once.

I look forward to the decompression, although I imagine I will have periods of time where I literally have no idea what to do. I haven't seen my backyard since July. It probably needs work.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Council Cuts Cloth

Tucson, Arizona. As already posted profusely on the local blogs, the Tucson city council fired City Manager Mike Hein today, an event many of those in the know (including Hein himself) have foreseen. No one paying attention was surprised. Almost exactly a year ago, I speculated about Tucson’s approaching a Tipping Point regarding its power structure. It stirred some conversation and led to further remarks in The Tippers, Policon Points, and Tipping Point - A Systemic Perspective. Some might recall that Hein was almost fired last year, but acknowledged clothmeister Trasoff salvaged his job.

Trasoff did not prevail this week. We have cause to consider the possibility that Tucson is indeed approaching a tipping point. The $80 million budget shortfall is a transformational agent applying serious pressure on the fraud, corruption, and incompetence of the Cloth (TREO, Downtown Tucson Partnership, Downtown Development Corporation, Rio Nuevo, and to a lesser but significant extent the MTCVB, TCC, and other cloth infested boondoggles). There’s a lot of blood under the bridge. TREO’s Joe Snell stole over a quarter million dollars from other non-profit agencies (including a Goodwill program for crippled youth), stashed the cash and boasted that the booty was due to "improved financial performance." DTP’s Glenn Lyons fired an excellent director so he could give the job to one of Trasoff’s friends. That’s only one of the throats he cut. The Cloth consider the adept a threat to be destroyed.

Hein’s departure is a blow to the Cloth. His name is strongly attached to Rio Nuevo (ironically as a reason to support it) and without him, yet another nail slams into Rio Nuevo’s coffin. Primarily focused on Rio Nuevo, I smelled Iron in the Air in mid-February, but something I’ve learned over the years is that even when the smell is so strong you taste blood in your mouth, it is not always clear whose it is. In the summer of 2004, it was so thick I couldn’t eat (lost 35 pounds) and figured the blood had to be mine. No, and worse, I learned I was holding the knife.

Back to today, the scent remains and I think Hein’s departure is more likely the beginning of something, not the end. The Cloth have cause for concern. In the comments following the Star’s article on the termination, calls for additional ousters specifically mentioned Jaret Barr (perhaps a done deal), Greg Shelko, Joe Snell, and Rich Singer. Apparently some don’t like the do nothings collecting six figure sums for the ability to wear shoes and use a rest room without making a mess. Waste, incompetence, fraud, and the Cloth have friend and foe in both parties. Like the vote to remove Hein, the circus of naked emperors does not break along party lines. Those willing and able to discern the true dynamics of this bifurcation will see that the clash is more aptly addressed as that between the increasingly obsolete “established overpaid suits” and the emerging cries for competence, integrity, and commitment to the best interests of the community.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Going Galt

While a teenager I devoured Ayn Rand’s fiction and relished the ideas of her philosophy of objectivism. I discovered her work at a party the spring of my junior year in high school. Always liking to examine bookshelves, I saw For the New Intellectual and out of curiosity opened it almost exactly in the middle and found Francisco d’Anconia’s exquisite The Meaning of Money. The teenage x4mr candy had me trembling with excitement. In the summer of 78, after working 10-15 hours each day bussing tables at The Montgomery Inn, I would read Atlas Shrugged. My friends also read the 1000+ page epic, which we would discuss for hours. Oh, Donna.

I bonded with steel maker Henry Rearden right out of the gate in The Chain (Chapter 2), squealing aloud when Dagny Taggart took the metal bracelet from Lillian. The electricity between Rearden and Dagny mixed with youthful hormones produced about as compelling a read as a reader ever experienced. Fiction rarely gets better than when Rearden confronts Francisco, pointing at Dagny, "Is this the woman you love?"

A couple years later my friend Barry remarked of the pulse raising author, "I’ll bet sex with Ayn Rand is fantastic!"

The recent economic meltdown has led to a spurt in the sales of the book and stirred conversation about its hero, a genius named John Galt who organizes a strike where the competent withdraw from the world, leaving it to the inept looters and moochers. Not having work experience outside of the favorite town restaurant, I found it logical to surmise that competence climbs the ladder and that those at the top (individuals like Galt, Francisco d’Anconia, Hank Rearden, Dagny Taggart, Ellis Wyatt, and the rest) belong there. Sadly, the orgies now gracing the headlines paint a different picture of the characters leading the nation’s companies. Should any of these clowns wish to "Go Galt" and deprive us of their services, by all means, have a nice trip.

The first warning that something was amiss occurred while employed at a plant that produced air compressors for the military. They charged $90 for 30 cent o-rings. Employees made next to nothing save for five executives who took everything and did little. Scandal finally closed the place. Thinking the compressor company an exception, I joined IBM in 1983. Recall 1988? Five years later I found a terrific company run by geniuses, Magma Copper. BHP bought the Rearden-like operation in 1996, and Australian morons squandered billions as they destroyed the place. In 2003, I got to be a Rearden, turning a $350,000 loss into a $50,000 gain in a single year, training thousands of those in the Tucson workforce. Then TREO’s goon squad infiltrated the board and tried to take the place over. Failing, they gutted its funding. If you want to meet Wesley Mouch and Bertram Scudder in the flesh, visit TREO. Rand's fiction has a lot of reality.

I first voted in the election that put Ronald Reagan in the White House. My Randian world view intact, I cast my vote for Ed Clark, the Libertarian. The distinctions of Rand’s fiction are rich and deep, and it poses an interesting question. If Atlas is not holding up the world, who is? I don’t like the most probable answer.

No one.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

21st Century Finance

Jerry Muller, a history professor at The Catholic University of America and the author of The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Modern European Thought (2002) has perhaps the best short piece I have seen regarding the current financial fiasco,
Our Epistemological Depression. My favorite line from the article: Those whom the gods want to destroy they first teach math.

I would extend it to computer programming, garbage in garbage out, and the semantics of 42. What the article points to that I have not seen expressed as such is the new reality we can no longer deny regarding the political economy. Effective now, trust in corporations is folly. Sooner or later (later, I think) the government bashing Republicans have to recognize that the private sector is no more effective at allocating resources than government. The news is bad. It all sucks, and minus a new paradigm (which is what really needs to happen) the admittedly overhead laden European models will ultimately prevail over systems that fuel greed and stupidity. Who is going to advocate allowing the next AIG debacle, and the one after that, and the one after that? I’m not talking about bonuses. Clearly, the economic molasses of the USSR's linear programming models will not work, but corporate rape is no longer sustainable even in the short term as demonstrated by what is happening in Detroit.

The White House and the Democrats are struggling for solutions to a problem the GOP still doesn’t acknowledge. Milton Friedman is dead, John Maynard Keynes rules, and somehow we have to harness "the Google" to forge new terrain. Let’s lock the geniuses together in a room analogous to the mid-October think fest JFK created at the edge of the abyss, and keep kicking until the eureka moment occurs. Then we run over whoever stands in the way. The GOP, and in particular the state of Arizona, seem to think education is too expensive.

Oh really?