George Bush — And The Truth About Flight 93

With the hurricane aside and the power on, I finally settled down to watch the National Geographic Channel’s exclusive interview with George W. Bush on the TiVo. This program actually aired last weekend. I am just catching up on it now.

In it, George Bush reflects on his memories of the first moments following the 9-11 attacks — in particular, the trauma of finding out what had happened while reading “The Pet Goat” to a group of schoolchildren; his anxiousness to get back to Washington despite the obvious dangers; his struggle to put together a speech in the wake of the attacks that struck the right note between empathy and fury.

He spoke about wanting, above all, to remain calm, lest his handlers panic in the face of virtually no information about what kind of attack America was under, how pervasive it was, who was behind it and how long it might last.

According to his interviewer, journalist and documentarian Peter Schnall, Bush sat down for four hours over the course of two days and, during their sessions, did not bring notes or take breaks. He also didn’t receive his questions in advance. Schnall said it took several months to persuade Bush to agree to the interview, aired in time to mark the tenth anniversary of September 11th.

I am sure many people had different reasons for wanting to listen to what Bush had to say. My reason was United flight 93. Continue reading George Bush — And The Truth About Flight 93

‘Unfortunately’ Hurricane Irene Does Not Elicit The Rapture

Madison Avenue minutes before Irene hit

In the end, it was all a little too anticlimactic. Despite the impressive turnout of Anderson Cooper at CNN, Shepard Smith at Fox News Channel, Brian Williams at NBC, Diane Sawyer at ABC and Scott Pelley at CBS, Hurricane Irene did not stick, stubbornly turning into a tropical storm before lashing New York City.

Those at the Weather Channel, who jumped on the story at the first sign of trouble in the tropics, could not hide their disappointment when the hurricane fell apart just before slamming into Manhattan — the disaster scenario they’d been hyping all week. “We’re not trying to scare you,” the Weather Channel’s Crystal Egger told viewers Friday. “We just want you to be prepared.”

As might be imagined, the doomsday forecasts riveted the city. In the days leading up to the storm, New Yorkers crammed every last bus, flight and train out of town — no buses or trains were left to any destination by midday Friday and a one-way flight to London from Newark on Friday night cost travelers as much as $10,000 a seat. (It will be interesting to see airlines’ quarterly earnings after so obviously gouging their passengers.)

Those who could not get out in time  — I was one of them — holed up and hoped for the best. At the Gansevoort Park Avenue hotel in midtown, where I hunkered down with a friend, the staff rationed out one glowstick per room and assured us the building had back-up generators. A swarm of wealthy refugees from the downtown “red zone” flooded its quarters — comically, with dogs, cats and birds in tow. Continue reading ‘Unfortunately’ Hurricane Irene Does Not Elicit The Rapture

Warren Buffett Has Some Choice Words For ‘Billionaire-Friendly Congress’

Warren Buffett, the world’s third-richest man, hasn’t raked in his $50 billion-plus by  nursing a bleeding heart for the middle class.

In fact, those closest to him (I am talking about his kids and grandkids here) have personally told me the Seer of Omaha is as hard-nosed as they come. To him, playing the market is a game — and he wants to be the best on the planet. “Dad always says, ‘Bury me with a Ouija board, because when I die, I want to keep on playing,'” one of his sons told me in 2008.

Bottom line: this is not a man looking to be parted with his bucks.

And yet…when confronted with the Hieronymus Bosch painting of political and financial horrors of the past few years, he has felt the need to speak up about the wounds he feels are needlessly being inflicted on ordinary Americans.

In the following New York Times editorial, which should be read by one and all, he offers a brief economic education for those who seek to propagate the untruths ginned up by the deep thinkers in Washington to protect the wealthy from their worst horror of all — tax hikes.

Stop Coddling The Super-Rich

OUR leaders have asked for “shared sacrifice.” But when they did the asking, they spared me.

I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched. Continue reading Warren Buffett Has Some Choice Words For ‘Billionaire-Friendly Congress’

Super Committee: Try And Say It With A Straight Face

'S' also stands for Sandbagged

Neither super, nor a committee. But it’s our un-super non-committee.

A few facts about this unholy union:

* There will be 12 members. Mostly picked for political reasons (read: not for their ability to actually fix what ails us).

* The 12 members have until November 23 to come up with $1.2-$1.5 trillion of budget cuts. Let’s just quietly move on and say no more about this joke deadline, shall we?

* The committee’s Republican members still don’t want to raise taxes; the Democrats still don’t want to slash entitlements. Funny how that works.

* Newt Gingrich thinks it’s a ‘dumb idea.’ And he knows a little bit about that.

* Everyone else thinks it’s a dumb idea. Not that our elected officials give a —-.

The most disturbing revelation about the birth of the Super Comittee: it confirms our worst fears about Congress — its own utter lack of awareness about how neither Americans, nor the rest of the world are buying into this false comfort — and what it truly believes about the simplicity of duping the national electorate.

When you ask yourself, ‘Why is America being run so poorly?’ consider it might be because our elected officials seem to think poorly of America.

We wouldn’t want members of Congress, who clearly think so highly of themselves, to have to run a poor operation.

Surely, they can move on to bigger and better things.

We should help them.

The Ascent Of Decline

The decline of ascent.

The shot across the bow in the Great American Decline came at the usual time: just before the weekend after the market closed on a Friday.

This time-honored tradition of announcing horrid things just as one tucks into Friday night was invented by flaks who believed — rightly — that nobody notices anything going on between 4:30 pm on a Friday and 9 a.m. on a Monday.

This hat trick does not always work. When Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S. credit rating from ‘AAA,’ the highest rating possible, to ‘AA+’ this past Friday I was traveling through New York and working in offices on Park Avenue. In the streets, it was absolute bedlam.

Later, having dinner on Wall Street with friends it was the same.

This effectively strips the U.S. of its golden credit for the first time in history.

We have lost our standing in the world.

Debt Deal ‘Achieved’…By Leaving Tough Decisions To A Yet-To-Be-Convened Special Committee

Turns out it is not at all hard to find a picture of a sweaty wad of cash on the Internet.

The good news: in a deal yet-to-be-passed by either house, Obama and Boehner’s Raucous Caucus have finally agreed to raise the debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion in two stages, in exchange for an equal amount of spending cuts — with $917 billion of the cuts to span the next 10 years.

How will the rest of the cuts be administered? By special committee. (That’s the bad news.) Why rush these cuts when we were all starting to have so much fun?

Part of keeping the fun going is that Americans will continue to live in the shadow of the sword. Due to a small proviso cleverly tucked into this legislation, if the special committee doesn’t come up with at least $1.2 trillion in additional cuts (the goal here, is actually more like $1.5 trillion in cuts) or Congress doesn’t agree to green-light them, something akin to martial law will kick in.

What will this look like? Think of a nail-bomb set in advance, designed to spray cuts to the military and Medicare if anyone makes one ill-advised move.

Basically, this part of the deal ensures that even you, the taxpayer, will be begging members of Congress to ratify every last spending cut, lest you dial 911 one day and find that nobody answers.

Hey, what’s a bill without a little blackmail?

Still, it is a sad state of affairs that the only way to get things done these days is to hold ourselves at gunpoint.

The bill is expected to be voted on today. Obama, for all his speeches, has been brutally cowed, again. Spending cuts reign supreme, while Bush-era tax cuts remain unchallenged. It is official: our president buckles like a belt.

Americans Quaver As U.S. Prepares To Go Titanic

Lifeboats for senators and bankers only.

Fidelity, which never sends emails, except to market its herd-investing strategies, has suddenly sputtered to life.

This weekend’s missive: “Debt ceiling: what you should know.”

Really. It’s a little late to be sending this now. But what have you got?

It turns out Fidelity is able to direct me to its Web site to get the most clicking, ahem, “best thinking” of its market specialists, who have penned such helpful tidbits as “Inside the U.S. debt drama” and “Fear is not a strategy.”

Fidelity, we know you don’t want us pulling all our money out of our shrinking retirement accounts and stuffing it under our mattresses because that is not good for you. But “Fear is not a strategy”? Come on. That’s pitiful.

We are going down this road no matter what we do now. We’ve heard for a long time something’s gotta’ give. It is just too bad so many people are going to get a lot worse than they deserve.

Just a few letters from the Interblogging universe, written by concerned Americans who now believe their worries will be given more consideration online than by their own congressmen and women… Continue reading Americans Quaver As U.S. Prepares To Go Titanic

The Chickens Must Eventually Roost

Too many Foghorn Leghorns?

The thing about playing chicken is that fatally high stakes are a prerequisite of the game.

And someone — not excluding, say, an entire country — is going lose.

If you believe market pundits like Jim Rogers (an American trader of some fame who chooses to teach his daughter Mandarin and now lives in Singapore) the U.S. has already lost its triple-A credit rating in all but fact.

“Everyone already knows that the U.S. has lost its ‘AAA’ status,” Rogers said (while alternately lambasting the press for taking seriously what he called the ongoing Washington “charade”).

“Anyone who knows what is going on, already knows that the U.S. is now the
biggest debtor nation in the history of the world. It’s only S&P and Moody’s [the ratings agencies] that haven’t figured out what is going on. The investment world knows that the U.S. is not ‘AAA.’”

The truth is, the ratings agencies have figured out the U.S. is not triple-A. But those entrusted with grading the U.S. debt at the ratings agencies have been on the phone frequently with Washington, which means their allegiances are subject to crushing political pressure. Continue reading The Chickens Must Eventually Roost

The Carnival Is Still In Town

“Concentrated power has always been the enemy of liberty.”  

— Ronald Reagan

Wall Street blames Washington for all the financial crises. And Washington blames Wall Street back. It would be amusing, if it wasn’t so pathetic.

Now we know the truth — that both are taking turns bringing us to the brink, with only their own self-preservation in mind.

As we emerged, rather confused, from the 2008 financial crisis, a posting appeared in the comments section of The Wall Street Journal. It was as prescient as it was disturbing. It appears in my book, but I am re-posting it below.

Whether you are a Democrat, Republican or Independent, it is worth a read. It is also worth considering that while Wall Street bewails any hint of a redistribution of wealth to the unwashed masses, the largest-ever redistribution of wealth occurred right under taxpayers’ noses to the banks by the billion-load   — Wall Street’s greatest coup ever, rubber-stamped by our own elected officials.

“All this goes to show we are now entering the second phase of the world financial crisis. Despite the fact that the anti-social nature of banks has been found out, the corruption of the Fed and the finance committees in the Senate and House are now public, and the solutions to the problems are well known, we still do not possess the political will to carry them out.

“It is clear that a larger problem now looms — the crooks are firmly in power and intend to stay there . . . Americans are again ruled by a plutocracy that has no interest in them other than the money that can be made off them, the same as in 1776 . . . If we cannot kick these people out of power, we are no longer America. And most people sense that. We have become the pleading chickens our founding fathers would have despised.”

U.S. Debt Kerfuffle: It’s Not That We Can’t Pay…We Just Don’t Feel Like It

One of their better moments...

Somewhere in the United States, right now, a billionaire is paying his taxes. This makes some people — not naming any names — very unhappy. In our nation, it is imperative that hedge fund managers, for example, pay roughly 15% on earnings via a handy loophole, whereas someone like, say a writer-girl, coughs up over 30%. That strikes some folks as just about right. Call it pursuit of happiness.

Other people’s happiness.

So we have some disagreement there. Elsewhere, others feel that taxing the daylights out of Americans who can’t afford to pay for gas to get to work sounds about right. And that, at one of the worst moments in financial history, forcing Americans to buy health insurance they don’t necessarily want or need so that the healthy insured can subsidize the less-healthy insured is a great idea.

Not saying that insuring everybody as a solid, pie-in-the-sky ideal is not commendable but, Obama, did you ever hear of bad timing? This is why everyone in the opposition thinks you’re batshit-crazy. Why don’t we entertain nirvana after mastering the merely tolerable? Continue reading U.S. Debt Kerfuffle: It’s Not That We Can’t Pay…We Just Don’t Feel Like It

Author, Historian and Investigative Journalist