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No One In Charge

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Posted on Nov 24, 2008
White House / Paul Morse (altered)

By Eugene Robinson

    Having two presidents is starting to feel like having no president, and that’s the situation we’ll face until Inauguration Day. Heaven help us.

    President Bush spent the weekend in Lima, Peru, at a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, conferring with Pacific Rim leaders who had no reason to pay attention to anything he said. Bush did, however, cut a dashing figure in a traditional Peruvian poncho. On Monday morning, minus the poncho, he was back home lending his imprimatur to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s latest diving catch to save the global economy from utter ruin—this time, the massive bailout of Citigroup.

    A couple of hours later, the other president, Barack Obama, presented his new high-powered economic team. Obama made a point of saying that the prospective officials—led by Timothy Geithner, his pick to head Treasury—would start working immediately. Obama also made clear that there’s very little they can do except monitor the situation, study possible solutions and develop a plan to be enacted after Jan. 20. We can’t afford another month or more of drift, Obama said. But I’m afraid that’s just what we’re going to get.

    The problem, and it’s becoming serious, is that no one is prepared to orchestrate a comprehensive program to stabilize the financial system, put a floor under housing prices and keep the economy from sinking into a long, punishing recession.

    Bush could and should do it—he is still president, and avoiding economic collapse is part of the job description. But he won’t. It’s ironic that after being so aggressive and proactive in other areas, the Decider is so indecisive and passive about the economy. He has limited his role to signing off on whatever Paulson says is necessary—most recently, $20 billion in cash and $306 billion in guarantees for Citigroup, which Bush apparently approved during his flight home from Peru.

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    In part, Bush’s inaction stems from ideology. If the free market is always right, then it ought to correct itself and get back on course. All the government really needs to do is take care of a few emergencies such as Bear Stearns, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, IndyMac, AIG, Wachovia, Citigroup ... and, of course, whatever comes next. Not the auto companies, however: In Bushworld, the firms that created the toxic mortgage-backed securities that threaten to bring down the global financial system are somehow morally superior to the companies that created the Mustang, the Malibu and the minivan.

    I don’t think ideology explains it all, though. Even if he wanted to make a real run at righting the economy, at this point Bush has neither the energy nor the credibility to make it happen. Frankly, he comes off as less a lame duck than a cooked goose. 

    That leaves the other president, who has plenty of energy and credibility—but no authority. Bush said he called Obama to inform him of the Citigroup bailout, but informing isn’t the same as consulting. Obama said his new economic team will be monitoring the situation and giving him daily reports on where things stand. He could save them the trouble and just watch CNBC or Bloomberg all day.

    Obama said he believes a huge economic stimulus is needed “right away.” But he knows that won’t happen—it’s unlikely that anything big enough could get through the outgoing Congress, and in any event a big stimulus is not something that Bush is willing to support. Obama said that “we cannot hesitate and we cannot delay,” but he knows full well that hesitation and delay are all but inevitable. And he knows full well that by the time he gets the power to shape events, the economic situation might be much worse than it is now.

    James Baker, the former secretary of state and current Republican eminence grise, made an amazing suggestion on “Meet the Press” Sunday—that Bush and Obama develop and announce a joint economic rescue program. It was a stunning acknowledgement of how weak the Bush presidency has become and how dangerous it would be to spend the next two months meandering from crisis to crisis.

    But that’s the road we’re on. When I get frustrated with Paulson’s zigzags and reversals, with his overnight decisions to buy huge companies or write hundred-billion-dollar checks, I remind myself that he doesn’t really have a president to work for. The poor man may stumble here and there, but he’s dancing as fast as he can.
   
    Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)washpost.com.
   
    © 2008, Washington Post Writers Group


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By MauriceH, November 29, 2008 at 9:01 pm Link to this comment

Seriously:
Does anyone remember George W. Bush’s stoutly blustered promise to “sprint to the finish” of his presidency? He is quite the sprinter indeed.

Further, I believe it is time for one and all to express our heartfelt thanks to the US Supreme Court, and the former Secretaries of State of Florida and Ohio for blessing our nation with this individual as the nation’s head of the Executive branch.

We can now honestly say we know what it’s like to have a high-functioning moron run the most powerful nation in the world. We no longer have a need for conjecture.

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By Maani, November 28, 2008 at 10:08 am Link to this comment

ITW:

I do stand corrected, but only partially.

Actually, the origina of the term “lame duck” is twofold.  On the one hand, once a president’s successor has been elected, the president is less likely to remain aggressively politically active (though, as you point out, they can certainly do so in the adverse!).  On the other hand, since it is actually rare for a single party to hold the White House AND both houses of Congress, a president often CAN’T do anything in the last year of his term because Congress usually blocks any last-minute actions the president may suggest, particular if those suggestions are “big.”

Bush would thus be “lame duck” in both senses here.

Peace.

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By Inherit The Wind, November 28, 2008 at 7:15 am Link to this comment

Maani, November 27 at 10:02 pm #

O Dar:

Uh…has it occurred to you that the person who is solely responsible for disproving or “negating” the epithet “lame duck” is…the president?  That is, if the president actually DID something, he would not be called a lame duck in the first place.
********************************************

Um, that’s not correct…as you said later ANY President who is outgoing is a lame duck.  In fact, as soon as they win a 2nd term they are technically a lame duck, but, more precisely after the Presidential election prior to their exit.

HOWEVER Bush is doing lots and lots and lots of stuff—all really bad, and to help a) the usual corporate friends he wants to help b) the religious right’s agenda c) the neo-con’s anti-environment, anti-bill of rights agenda.

Hence Rachel Madow’s “Quackatude” from his lame-duck quackery.

What a miserable excuse for a President and a leader! The ONLY good I can imagine coming out of his 8 years is if, somehow, the wisdom of the American People in opting for Obama, is not short-term, but long-term.  That “Who would you rather drink a beer with?” becomes the CURSE of a candidate, rather than to his benefit.  That Bush is the lesson of what happens to us when we neglect our responsibility to know what is going on and to know who is running.  The disintegration of the GOP into a circular firing squad will hopefully (but I doubt it) result in a new TRUE Conservative party, not radical reactionaries pretending to be Conservative.

Usually, “Conservative” means don’t change things, but intellectual Conservatism means don’t change WHAT IS WORKING!  It also means fiscal responsibility.  By any valid definition of “Conservative” Bush and the last 8 years of GOP rule do not qualify.  The first thing Bush did when he came into office was change the budget surplus into a deficit—violating the 2 principles fundamental to Conservatives: Don’t change what works, and have a balanced budget.

It is very important for the Conservatives, if they want to offer a true, valid “reality check” on Liberals, to redefine Conservatism.  It cannot be neo-“Conservatism” (imperialism). It cannot be “values voters” (ie, anti-abortion, anti-gay). It cannot be the tool of the radical religious fundamentalists. And it cannot be radical reactionarism (Bush & co).

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By Maani, November 27, 2008 at 11:02 pm Link to this comment

O Dar:

Uh…has it occurred to you that the person who is solely responsible for disproving or “negating” the epithet “lame duck” is…the president?  That is, if the president actually DID something, he would not be called a lame duck in the first place.

Bush has done NOTHING for quite some time - long before a “lame duck” label would normally attach to an outgoing president.  Thus, we do not EXPECT him to do something NOW - nor, in fact, would most of us want him to, because it would likely be the WRONG thing.

Peace.

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By 123456, November 27, 2008 at 4:28 pm Link to this comment

I’d like to defend Bush here.

First of all, the true blame lies not with him but with this ridiculous “lame duck” tradition that is perpetuated through the media and even many politicians, whereby a sitting President is ignored and rendered impotent during his last 6-9 months in office.

You can’t keep refering and putting down and ignoring a President as a “lame duck”, then when a crises breaks out whine and complain about why isn’t he doing anything.

The same people who were refering to Bush as a “lame duck” just a couple of months ago are now asking him to do something.


Secondly, everything Bush does he’s attacked on. He’s called a “disaster” and the “worst President in history”, yet now everyone wants him to do something?

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By samosamo, November 26, 2008 at 6:34 pm Link to this comment

By BlueEagle, November 26 at 4:56 pm

Hopefully obama is enough of his own man that if things appear to stay the same with his newly rehired fearless crew, obama will show some meddle and replace them. But enough hoping, I and you can only wait to see what happens, I just hope we survive the wait.

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By BlueEagle, November 26, 2008 at 5:56 pm Link to this comment

Pleese. The same people are in charge of the US as have been since 1913. The talking heads like Bush or Obama are merely symbolic. They do not lead. They merely follow orders.

Robert Rubin, Timothy Geithner, Paul Volker, Larry Summers are no different from Paulson and his gang.

Bernanke will still be printing money and Robert Gates will still be bombing Iraq, Afganistan, Georgia and Pakistan and might even add Iran to the mix.

The chairs on the Titanic are just being shuffled around and in some cases they remain still.

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By Maani, November 25, 2008 at 10:25 pm Link to this comment

samosamo:

Hear, hear.  Believe me, I don’t like or trust Rupert Morlock any more than you do.  He is and has been among the most despicable media moguls in history.

Peace.

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By samosamo, November 25, 2008 at 10:11 pm Link to this comment

By Maani, November 25 at 8:29 pm

Thanks for the heads up, I did think he was british but figured his american ownerships and in china are taking things a bit far, and I hope also his ideas go nowhere. It’s a bit much to have corporatists dictating military deployment for expanding empires and I will never give murdoch a pass when or while he is a huge part of the information control problem, here and eleswhere.

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By Maani, November 25, 2008 at 9:29 pm Link to this comment

samosamo:

Methinks you may be overreacting.  LOL.  Murdoch is a native Australian, and a prominent one.  As such, he is entitled to express his opinion about Australian affairs (and obviously more able to do so than the average Australian!).

But I don’t see this as anything more than that.  Ultimately, he is right in some ways and wrong in others.  He is right that by engaging in Asia-based wars (e.g., Afghanistan), NATO “betrays” its “geographical” borders (it was founded, as Murdoch notes, to prevent war in EUROPE).  However, he is using that “mistake” to suggest that NATO become an organization based on “common principles” - similar in idea, ironically, to McCain’s League of Democracies.  In this I think Murdoch is wrong, and his ideas are likely to fall on deaf ears.

Peace.

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By samosamo, November 25, 2008 at 7:46 pm Link to this comment

I was going to comment this to another post but this one is better suited I think.

Want to see something funny? It will make you think hard about who is calling the shots and why he would want to be calling this one.
Here’s the link:

http://fora.tv/2008/11/02/Rupert_Murdoch_Advises_NATO_to_Include_Australia

This jackass has NO business directing any military power anywhere for any reason. It is an attempt to create a world military for corporate sakes and stakes.
So, how is obama going to handle this hard core conservative that not only wants to control the media and the information, he wants first hand say in a military force. Probably for his own hegemonic reasons.

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By cyrena, November 25, 2008 at 6:25 pm Link to this comment

By blueshift, November 25 at 1:25 pm #
“Is government the problem? I think it’s related to another story I read - outsource contractors are costing the US far more money than the government has (purposefully) led us to believe. Check with Blackwater and KBR. Wait, KBR ‘moved’ their main office to Dubai… get the picture? It’s all part of Cheney’s raid on the US treasury. “
~~

Yep. The last line says it all.

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By coloradokarl, November 25, 2008 at 4:53 pm Link to this comment

when Obama said today he was going after farm subsidies for millionaires My 1st thought was 737 drone. The neo-cons are dangerous!!!

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By Allan Krueger, November 25, 2008 at 4:21 pm Link to this comment

BUSH ought to be kicked to the curb, today! It appears he has escaped impeachment, but, if ever there was a pResident that deserved to be kicked out, put on trial and imprisoned it is the dunce, BUSH! Thanks, Nancy, for giving the jackass your vote of confidence - helped him do even more damage!

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By troublesum, November 25, 2008 at 4:14 pm Link to this comment

Bush is waiting for the next shoe to drop, just hoping he make it through the next 7 weeks.  I don’t think we need to worry about martial law, Jobart.  If it were possible for Obama to take over before Jan 20th, Bush would go for it.

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By samosamo, November 25, 2008 at 3:03 pm Link to this comment

By Robert, November 25 at 12:28 pm

Ever since the secret manhattan project to build the atom bomb, the military NOR the cia, created about the same time, are NOT obligated to do as the constiution provides and that is to make a full accounting of public money to the people.
How else can these terrortists to our economy piddle around with more and more ‘high tech’ weaponry that doesn’t work on 3rd world countries but is very useful to use on the american citizen.

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By coloradokarl, November 25, 2008 at 2:58 pm Link to this comment

Yeah, this is the biggest financial con job in history. tax cuts for the wealthy>911>cruise missile into the pentagon budget office>Big Pharma>Haliburton>$1 Trillion to financial services>150,000 contractors in Iraqistan=One Big Sucking sound. The Sound of money being sucked out of our wallets.

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By jobart, November 25, 2008 at 2:50 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Not wishing to throw the proverbial monkey-wrench into the machinery of the comments so far, but…...Everyone should still keep their “eyes on the ball”. Namely, the date of the transfer of power.
I still don’t trust these neo-con bastards as far as I could throw them. Why? The onus of a scenario where they don’t go away still concerns me. Call me paranoid, if it suits you. I feel that, although there seems to be a “forward-looking” assumption re: what’s currently happening, the potential for the “incident” and “Martial Law” being declared (legally, ugh!) is still in effect.
People, we must count the days when this evil is legally and, therefore, becomes the past before we set our efforts on Obama and what he brings to the table.
I,like you,am starting to have my “reservations quotient” piqued.
I,like you,see a potential for the same-old-same-old in the offing. But I still hold onto a “hope” that, once in without concern of the “incident-created Martial Law” scenario, the man will do(what Italians refer to as a “bu fa”)to the business as usual model and start to govern our country, as he “promised” he would. Because, unlike the imbecile that currently occupies that office, this guy is smart and “seems” to actually care. I just hope that, if I’m right and he does what is desperately needed to change direction back to where it belongs, he remains safe from those that(these changes)would adversely affect.
Other great Americans (JFK/RFK) have been eliminated for the same attempts of change. And that pain, in my own psyche, can never be forgotten.
I say, make the hard decisions Mr.Obama, and totally revamp your security situation (including all assigned personnel) choosing your secret service people. This includes a deep vetting process and then the choice(which is the President’s right)of any security assigned to him and his family. BTW, unfortunately, JFK never used this right/abilty.(which was probably was part and party to his own to his own demise) We must learn from history or we are “doomed” to repeat it. WE need a leader/leadership that can provide the path of change that we all KNOW is both needed and required to save America.

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By blueshift, November 25, 2008 at 2:25 pm Link to this comment

Is government the problem? I think it’s related to another story I read - outsource contractors are costing the US far more money than the government has (purposefully) led us to believe. Check with Blackwater and KBR. Wait, KBR ‘moved’ their main office to Dubai… get the picture? It’s all part of Cheney’s raid on the US treasury.

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Robert's avatar

By Robert, November 25, 2008 at 1:28 pm Link to this comment

$$ 2.3 Trillion $$ of Taxpayers Money Missing from the Pentagon - Yes…$$ 2.3 Trillion $$ !

Why has there been no mention of the massive amount of the taxpayers money gone missing?

I don’t know about the other citizens of the United States but I would like to know where 2.3 TRILLION dollars has gone. I believe when we as taxpayers give our hard earnings to the government is it not their responsibility to explain where the money is being spent? Was this case forgotten? If so, WHY? I would like to know where this money has gone. Wouldn’t you? Where did $$ 2.3 trillion dollars disappear to in one year alone? Who was responsible?

Watch Rumsfeld as he tries to explain…


http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=_rRqeJcuK-A&feature=related

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By samosamo, November 25, 2008 at 11:43 am Link to this comment

By Louise, November 25 at 10:05 am

***No, the problem is, like the article title very clearly states ... NO ONE is in charge! That no one being the same guy who has spent the past eight years NOT being in charge***

This I disagree, because it is all too obvious that the corporations are in charge. First it was the financial industry and now it is flowing down into all the ‘good old boys’ big industries such as the auto makers. I can see how they figured out a way to keep an influx of cash by latching on to this bailout since pus face paulson was allowed to make unchallenged decisions as what to do with this money. Go back to pelosi’s speech on the first vote for the bailout. Recall all the politically correct rhetoric about taxpayers not paying for it, how there would be regulation and such, transparency, etc. etc. etc. Her spill was to ‘act’ in concern when she was just setting up the stage for all those closed door meetings with all the big boys chewing on cigars and staking their claim.
So figuratively, there was no ONE person in charge but there definitely is a huge representation of corporate neocons still festering their criminal ideas. And, it also leaves pelosi in charge of a position that time will show her being one of the most dangerous persons to this country and the world still in charge.

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By prole, November 25, 2008 at 11:13 am Link to this comment

“Having two presidents is starting to feel like having no president”? Thank heaven, what a relief! No American president to deceive and lie to us. No American president to bully and repress the downtrodden. No American president to cater to the whims and avarice of predacious elites.. No American president to terrorize the wretched of the earth.  No American president to carry on American hubris near and far. Two months of salutary cessation in the unremitting malevolence hatched up in the Oval Office. Two blessed months of freedom from ‘the leader of the free world’. It’s starting to feel better and better without the onus of an American despot to rule over the powerless and dispossessed. Without an American Caesar with his itchy trigger finger on the largest military arsenal in world history. “ And that’s the situation we’ll” enjoy only until Inauguration Day. After that, it’s back to business as usual, the same old lies, the same old fear-mongering and war-mongering, the same old corporate avarice. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Different faces, same game. Heaven help us! Isn’t it time at last to go beyond the Washington Post world of power politics and conceive of a democratic America, where the proles don’t have to throw themselves helplessly on the mercy of an all-powerful political potentate in abject dependence and servility?

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By Louise, November 25, 2008 at 11:05 am Link to this comment

“The problem, and it’s becoming serious, is that no one is prepared to orchestrate a comprehensive program to stabilize the financial system ...”

No, the problem is, like the article title very clearly states ... NO ONE is in charge! That no one being the same guy who has spent the past eight years NOT being in charge!

Obama has and is doing more than any president elect has done before. He is working as quickly as possible to get a team in place and a plan in place, so he and they can hit the ground running, right after the inauguration!

Plus, his very vocal and visible engagement with the media and the people sends a clear message. Specifically, as quickly as possible, someone WILL BE in charge!

I think Bush understands finally, he has no clue what to do. Taking his cue from the same folks, or folk who have/has guided his decisions up to now, seems to only make things worse! And as dim as he appears to be, none the less Bush can clearly see, any advice he’s been getting seems to not work!

Were Bush to name Obama’s people to take over the Treasury in the interim, even though they are Obama’s team, and even if a quick Senate approval came, the fact that Bush is still president would require they do as he says. Even if what he says makes no sense at all.

Technically Bush could resign, but that would put Cheney in charge! We cant go there, so we just have to buck up, hang on, and hope the country’s faith in new leadership will keep us afloat for a few more weeks!

I personally think Bush has known for a long, long time the bottom was falling out. But as is typical with people who have no empathy, he didn’t care. In fact he probably was hoping the bottom would fall out before anyone noticed, so the new president would inherit a completely failed state!

I also think he didn’t reckon on a president inheriting his mess that actually had the ability to think, act fast and grasp the big picture. Being forced to see that, has probably rattled Bush more than anything else in the past eight years.

Watching a smart, articulate and ambitious man get ready to jump in and clean up the mess he has made, [especially someone that’s not a relative] must be an astonishment to Bush!

The one upside. If anyone doubted Bush’s incompetency before, they can doubt no more!
And if that causes just one empty attic to open the window and let the light in, that’s a plus!

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By xyzaffair, November 25, 2008 at 10:54 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’d like to buy Bush and Cheney one-way tickets to London.  I’ve heard Henry Kissinger won’t travel there because he fears being arrested as a war criminal.

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By knute, November 25, 2008 at 9:33 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’ve long believed that a chimpanzee with one of the magic 8-balls could do a much better job at being president then the current boob. In fact, could probably replace the congress as well for all the good they are doing for the american people. I’m not so sure that having no-one in charge isn’t an improvement over having GW Bush at the helm. Anyone heard from Cheney lately ? If he continues to get indicted , like in Texas recently, he may have to pull a Ken Lay and fake his own death to avoid accountability.

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By Anarcissie, November 25, 2008 at 9:18 am Link to this comment

Doing nothing may be for the best, especially if the doing-somethings proposed are not very good.  Mr. O and company, like Mr. B and company, seem to feel that the way to account for the ills brought about by excess credit expansion is to expand credit excessively.  The banks and financiers who screwed up are to be bailed out, and the ordinary people are to be left hanging in the wind.  Perhaps these two months will be a respite.  I’m reminded of the old Herblock cartoon, never mind the context, where someone is saying to an overly active High Official and Great Leader, “Don’t just do something—stand there!”

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By Paul_GA, November 25, 2008 at 8:40 am Link to this comment

Under the circumstances, I’m rather glad that Bush has more-or-less made Obama his “co-president”, as a McClatchy story put it. Were Bush in a mood to be vindictive, I’m sure by now nuclear mushroom clouds would be in the skies over Iranian cities, the Persian Gulf would be closed to all ship traffic, and the price of gasoline would be soaring again, to new stratospheric heights.

Remember how his supposedly smarter father got this country involved in Somalia during his lame-duck period at the turn of ‘92 - ‘93—I’m convinced Bush the Elder did so because he wanted Clinton to louse it up and wind up a single-term president also. He had a clever, cunning plan, eh?

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By coloradokarl, November 25, 2008 at 7:52 am Link to this comment

The Bush Legacy: RAPE, PILLAGE and PLUNDER…..I Need a SHOWER….....

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By Inherit The Wind, November 25, 2008 at 5:26 am Link to this comment

So, all the way to the end, George W. Bush, Chimpy McFlightsuit, The Chimpster, Dumbya, President Mussolini, Alfred E. Newman, is showing his same, true character.  Incompetent. Irresponsible. Indecisive.  Coward. COWARD! (had to say it twice) Bully (goes with “Coward”). Amoral. Uncaring. Ignorant. Dangerous.

And he lives in fantasyland.  NOTHING he and Paulsen are doing is working, but Bush is pretending it is.

If Bush REALLY wanted to go out with a bang (for the good, not bad) he could ask for Paulsen’s resignation and appoint Obama’s choice, Timothy Geithner.  He could appoint Lawrence Summers to head the Counsel of Economic Advisers. He could install Peter Orszag at OMB.  And he could do it all NOW!

It would be brilliant on his part.  Why?
1) He could establish a new precedent and standard for peaceful transitions between administrations. This ALONE would repair part of his reputation and at least give him SOMETHING positive to be remembered for.
2) It would allow Obama’s team to get working on the problems of the economy TODAY, NOW, not in 2 months.
3) It would move the Senate’s job of vetting candidates up by 2 months, forcing them to actually WORK when times are bad rather than taking a break at the worst possible time.
4) It would make the economy Obama’s problem.  Obama could attack it, but Obama would now “own” it going forward.  It won’t change the fact that 8 years of Bush’s goats-running-the-cabbage-patch policy has now exploded like a stink bomb in all our faces, but it would at least get him off the hook for the next month and a half.  Not that I want Bush off the hook but at least it’s an incentive for him to do the right thing.

But Bush won’t. This president has got to be the craziest and most delusional since Woodrow Wilson had a nervous breakdown following the defeat of ratification of the League of Nations in the Senate.  He will continue on his idiotic and destructive course as even his fellow rats in the corporate world abandon his sinking ship and turn to Obama for salvation.

January 20, 2009 cannot come quick enough for America!

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By samosamo, November 24, 2008 at 10:57 pm Link to this comment

In other words, no body is minding the store. Well, wait a minute, no body has ever been minding the store, the doors have been wide ass open now for many years, even decades. Too bad that there was not an absolute freeze on congress, the treasury and the presidency written into the constitution from the time the election is decided until inauguration day. But there never has been any control in washington anyway.
America, the hypocritical governmental embrassassment of the world. If big business was locked out, it should get better.

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