Friday, December 29, 2006

Feelin Good, Like I Knew I Would!

Within the past hour Saddam Hussein was reported hung (hanged?) along with a half brother and former judge. Boy do I feel better now. All that blood and money spent to get that bad guy out of power--such a cleansing. I'm sure the widows, mothers, and fathers of the several thousand soldiers killed in Iraq are breathing a sigh of relief tonight. The tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, of Iraqi civilians whose lives are shattered and lost due to the American incursion into Iraq, to obtain and hang Hussein, are feeling good right now.

Then again, I could be wrong. Without a TV broadcast of the actual hanging, how good can you feel? I can feel the closure--just like the passing of Jerry Ford, who pardoned his close friend Nixon for any crimes he may have committed as US pres. I read the accolades and praise, and I remember the guy, Ford, who let another criminal, Nixon, off the hook, and said it was for my sake.

I don't wish anything bad on these bad guys--I think Saddam should be teaching classes at some university on dictatorship--first hand eval, rather than geeky historian afterthought. Nixon should have had to stand trial so we'd know all the strings that could be pulled and maybe avoid the advent of George W, another hairbrained criminal in action.

You got it by now--I'm not a fan of capitol punishment. I am a fan of justice, in the hands of an enlightened and meaningful society. As soon as we get one on this planet I'll be th first one to serve jury duty.

Monday, December 25, 2006

911 Conspiracy Conspiracies

I have a lot of problem with conspiracy theories, not the least of which is that some people are unwilling to give any of them a sliver of credence. When an event such as an auto accident takes place, within moments two witnesses can give completely different descriptions of what they actually saw. Imagine what hundreds or thousands of eyewitnesses would describe in the case of a presidential assassination, or planes hitting the World Trade Center in person and on TV.

History proves conspiracy theories are never neat, for instance in the case of the attempt to kill several members of Lincoln's cabinet along with Lincoln himself, we may never know the complete details of all those involved, yet we know there was a conspiracy beyond one man, John Wilkes Booth.

Another problem with conspiracy theories is that despite known inconsistencies with some official version of what happened, the conclusions sometimes drawn are outlandish and tend to negate the plausibility of the original theory. There are many instances of evidence, scrutinized by experts and even an official committee of congress, through the years, which point to more than one gunman from one direction having shot President Kennedy. The conclusion that it was a government plot by the CIA carries a simple caveat: when more than one person is involved in a covert action, someone is bound to spill the beans. If many people all know a secret, chances are that secret will be leaked at some point.

The lack of information leakage does not rule out a conspiracy; it only means we shouldn't jump to certain finite conclusions about the perpetrators. In the case of the events of 911, there are inconsistencies all over the place, many of which have been communicated through the marvel of the Internet, including on this blog, and many of which are overstated or false. One such mistake is that the passport of Muhammad Atta, the purported ringleader of the 911 hijackers, was found intact on the street below WTC after the collapse of the buildings. This comes from a hodge-podge of confusing misinformation, but conspiracy lovers latch onto it as fact.

Then there is my first hand information from a flight attendant who knew of box cutters found hidden on several planes other than the ones used in the hijacking subsequent to September 11, 2001. I will fore go the jump to an ultimate conclusion, other than to point out that if one ponders who planted the items without being caught, it had to be employees of, or contractors working for, the airlines.

A lead story in today's Los Angeles Times, "Alarming 9/11 claim is found baseless," claims that a number of items from military and congressional analysts that indicate prior knowledge of Atta's involvement in 911 plotting is not factual. This story caught my eye because it has a troublesome aspect--for conspiracy believers it smacks of a cover up by the government. For an objective observer, at least it carries the wonder of why it's so important to quash further investigation into inconsistencies rather than to keep the files open.

In particular, Weldon and other officials have repeatedly claimed that the military analysts' effort, known as Able Danger, produced a chart that included a picture of Atta and identified him as being tied to an Al Qaeda cell in Brooklyn, N.Y. Weldon has also said that the chart was shared with White House officials, including Stephen J. Hadley, then deputy national security advisor.But after a 16-month investigation, the Intelligence Committee has concluded that those assertions are unfounded.

"Able Danger did not identify Mohammed Atta or any other 9/11 hijacker at any time prior to Sept. 11, 2001," the committee determined, according to an eight-page letter sent last week to panel members by the top Republican and Democrat on the committee.

Do the powers that be, as usual, consider us little average citizens too paranoid-prone to be able to deal with the possibility that the intelligence services in charge of protection against further domestic terrorist mayhem are incompetent? Isn't that what Able Danger really signifies, short of any full-blown conspiracy within the CIA or FBI to actually perpetrate the events of 911, isn't the real problem one of basic lack of capability to perform one's job?

That is the real danger of over weaning conspiracy theories--they lose focus on the truth underlying all the dangling unexplained facts of an event--that through human error, terrible things could happen again if changes aren't made. And the attempts by Bush, Cheney and others surrounding them, to impede and stall the report of the 911 commission, most assuredly comes from that inside knowledge of how much they really knew, and could have done--and didn't-- to prevent disaster, which they don't want us to know.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Dodd & Dodd

Senator Chris Dodd (D) CT

Senator Tom Dodd (D) CT

What a wonderful Christmas story: 42 years ago I met Senator Tom Dodd of Connecticut in his office in Washington, D.C. when I was 14. My grandparents knew the senator and contributed to his campaigns for office--my grandfather used to tell me about Dodd prosecuting the Nazi War criminals at the Nuremberg trials in 1946. Senator Dodd was happy to greet my parents and me--supportive constituents. I remember him as a kindly person, with graying hair and a firm but gentle manner.

I was very sorry just a few years later, when the Vietnam War was wreaking havoc on the body politic, with huge numbers of young Americans sent to a far off place in Asia to fight for some governmental folly, similar to today in Iraq, that the nice old democratic senator somehow thought this was a good idea, even though it became a Nixon and republican debacle. And I was sorrier still, that my family's friend was someone whom I now loathed and was embarrassed to have as my senator representative.

Worse yet, Dodd was caught using campaign funds for personal expenses, which was against the law, although compared to what goes on these days with our elected representatives, not a very big deal. I remember my grandmother saying, "we gave money to Tom Dodd. I don't care how he used it." At the time, I thought she made a good point. Still, I also was hoping Senator Dodd would get out of the senate as soon a possible in order to avoid one more vote in favor of staying in Vietnam.

Old Tom Dodd was censured by the Senate, the hypocritical peer group who all do the same stuff and stand aghast for the media when one of their own is stupid enough to get caught doing the same stuff. Dodd later lost the 1970 democratic primary to Joe Duffy, a one-issue anti-Vietnam war candidate. Dodd ran as an independent, similar to Lieberman except Dodd had a worthy opponent from the republicans back then--Lowell Weicker. Weicker went on to notoriety as a renegade anti-establishment Republican who helped the Senate Watergate hearings move Nixon to the brink of his ouster as President.

The good news is, Tom Dodd's son, Christopher Dodd, present Senator from Connecticut, is cut more in the Kennedy cloth and follows the liberal line with a clear-cut menu, and seems to be consistent in his values. These values include an insistent voice against the criminal misdeeds of the Bush administration invading and occupying Iraq. The big news today, Christmas eve 2006, is that Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, having been to Iraq and given thoughtful insight into what is happening, states openly that the US needs to get out now. This may not seem like a big deal for a democrat about to enter a reconvened congress of the newly elected democratic majority. But then--I don't hear much else about getting out of Iraq these days with Bush hogging the megaphone and the Joint Chiefs hinting they want one more big troops-injected push. Dodd wrote today in the Des Moines Register:

The time has come for the United States to begin the process of getting our troops out of Iraq.

In Baghdad last week, I joined in a conversation with a West Point graduate who is serving in Iraq. He said, "Senator, it is nuts over here. Soldiers are being asked to do work we're not trained to do. I'm doing work that State Department people are far more prepared to do in fostering democracy, but they're not allowed to come off the bases because it's too dangerous here. It doesn't make any sense."

After spending six days in the Middle East last week - which included visits with the top leaders in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel - it's hard not to come to the same conclusion: Our strategy in Iraq makes no sense. It never really did. It is as bad in person as it appears on television. There are literally dozens of sects, militias, gangs, warlords, foreign terrorists and others killing one another for dozens of reasons in Iraq today, and American troops are caught in the crossfire.

Our brave men and women have done everything asked of them with great courage and honor, but searching for military solutions in Iraq today is a fool's errand. True peace and security in Iraq will not come at the end of an American gun. It will only happen to the degree that Iraq's leaders are willing to take responsibility for governing their own country and securing their own future. America's position should be clear: Iraqis must show they want a country now, or American troops should begin to withdraw.

Thanks for coming to bat Chris, I feel like it's a nice Christmas present--your dad would have been proud.

Friday, December 22, 2006

One Pill That's Good for You--The Truth

Every time Walter Pidgeon’s character, Dr. Morbius, felt threatened by jealousy or fear in the movie, “Forbidden Planet,” he unconsciously sent out “monsters from the Id” to attack and kill innocent members of the crew sent from earth to save him. Just like Morbius, big pharma is sending out it’s monsters of the Id—shills, in other words—to lubricate the electorate against the big bad democratic congress coming in next month threatening to protect its constituency—us—from high drug costs and unsafe new drugs. The protective measures bandied about include government controls on runaway prescription drug costs for seniors, and bringing new patents to market with enough testing to make them safer than, say, vioxx, zyprexa, and other potentially dangerous, and hugely-profitable, concoctions.

It may be overstating the case to label every pro-pharmaceutical company advocate a “shill.” But the arguments against the policies of megalithic drug firms generally try to show a way to make drugs cheaper and safer. The proponents of these policies make specious claims regarding the lack of monetary incentives driving down the numbers of great new drugs coming to market. In any statistics I’ve ever read, the latter is a joke, mostly perpetrated on the consumer to get him or her to pony up the exorbitant price of what could actually save or prolong their lives.

The latest nonsense written about the poor beaten down drug companies is an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times today, by Richard Epstein, described as “Richard A. Epstein, RICHARD A. EPSTEIN is a professor of law at the University of Chicago and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution who has often consulted for the pharmaceutical industry.”

THE PHARMACEUTICAL industry is getting bad press. Recent books by Marcia Angell, the former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Jerome Kassirer, another former editor of the journal, have harshly condemned the industry for recklessness, insensitivity and all-consuming greed. They gain sales by spicing up their titles with inflammatory phrases about "deception," "complicity" and how drug companies "endanger your health."

I take a different approach. I don't defend every business decision made by the great pharmaceutical research houses. To the contrary, much recent commentary suggests that many such companies have committed themselves to a blockbuster-drug model — in which a company's success or failure depends on a few vital, high-selling drugs — that may prove unsustainable over the long haul. If so, I believe that those firms should suffer the financial consequences of their mistaken business choices. Government bailouts are no more appropriate for Merck and Pfizer than they are for Chrysler or Ford.

Here’s the letter I wrote to the Times regarding Epstein’s editorial. I’ll let you know if it gets printed:

Re: The myth of the big bad drug companies

In his ridiculous op-ed piece, Richard Epstein quickly glosses over “Ever-tougher conflict-of-interest rules in the National Institutes of Health and such academic medical centers as the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford and Yale…” Is he implying it’s better to have physicians get paid by the same big pharma companies for whom they act as spokesmen and consultants on new drugs?

“More stringent requirements for clinical drug trials — including rules that demand larger test populations and more extensive documentation — have reduced the flow of new drugs to market.” How’s this a bad idea again? Would it be better to have more disasters like Vioxx and Zyprexa on the market in lieu of more stringent testing?

Epstein bemoans the high price of new patent drugs: “It costs, on average, more than a billion dollars to get the first pill to market.” Statistics prove that at least half that cost comes directly from the US government. Wouldn’t the auto-companies be thrilled to get that kind of R & D aid?

The bio blurb says that Epstein “has often consulted for the pharmaceutical industry.” Ya think?

Here’s what Marcia Angell (Senior Lecturer in Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School. A physician, she is a former Editor in Chief of The New England Journal of Medicine. Her latest book is The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What to Do About It.) wrote about the same subject:

…research and development (R&D) is a relatively small part of the budgets of the big drug companies—dwarfed by their vast expenditures on marketing and administration, and smaller even than profits. In fact, year after year, for over two decades, this industry has been far and away the most profitable in the United States. (In 2003, for the first time, the industry lost its first-place position, coming in third, behind "mining, crude oil production," and "commercial banks.") The prices drug companies charge have little relationship to the costs of making the drugs and could be cut dramatically without coming anywhere close to threatening R&D.

Second, the pharmaceutical industry is not especially innovative. As hard as it is to believe, only a handful of truly important drugs have been brought to market in recent years, and they were mostly based on taxpayer-funded research at academic institutions, small biotechnology companies, or the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The great majority of "new" drugs are not new at all but merely variations of older drugs already on the market. These are called "me-too" drugs. The idea is to grab a share of an established, lucrative market by producing something very similar to a top-selling drug. For instance, we now have six statins (Mevacor, Lipitor, Zocor, Pravachol, Lescol, and the newest, Crestor) on the market to lower cholesterol, all variants of the first.

…Third, the industry is hardly a model of American free enterprise. To be sure, it is free to decide which drugs to develop (me-too drugs instead of innovative ones, for instance), and it is free to price them as high as the traffic will bear, but it is utterly dependent on government-granted monopolies—in the form of patents and Food and Drug Administration (FDA)–approved exclusive marketing rights. If it is not particularly innovative in discovering new drugs, it is highly innovative— and aggressive—in dreaming up ways to extend its monopoly rights.

And there is nothing peculiarly American about this industry. It is the very essence of a global enterprise. Roughly half of the largest drug companies are based in Europe. (The exact count shifts because of mergers.) In 2002, the top ten were the American companies Pfizer, Merck, Johnson & Johnson, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Wyeth formerly American Home Products); the British companies GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca; the Swiss companies Novartis and Roche; and the French company Aventis (which in 2004 merged with another French company, Sanafi Synthelabo, putting it in third place)... All are much alike in their operations. All price their drugs much higher here than in other markets.

Since the United States is the major profit center, it is simply good public relations for drug companies to pass themselves off as American, whether they are or not.

Over the past two decades the pharmaceutical industry has moved very far from its original high purpose of discovering and producing useful new drugs. Now primarily a marketing machine to sell drugs of dubious benefit, this industry uses its wealth and power to co-opt every institution that might stand in its way, including the US Congress, the FDA, academic medical centers, and the medical profession itself. (Most of its marketing efforts are focused on influencing doctors, since they must write the prescriptions.)

Ouch—that’s the truth hurting!!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Novel Idea

Just finished watching the DVD of “Miracle on 34th Street” with my wife and 9 year old daughter. She kept asking if Kris Kringle really was Santa in the movie, and I kept telling her to watch because I didn’t want to give away the ending. I assume the point of the movie is that Edmund Gwen played the part of the real Santa Claus, and the cane leaning against the fireplace proved he really came down the chimney of the house that little Natalie Wood wanted. Natalie Wood drowned in 1981, at age 43—she would be 68 now.

A distant cousin I haven’t seen in years died last week at age 68. She was a mother and grandmother, and I don’t know how good Santa treated her every Christmas, but she was remembered by her loving family as a good mother and grandmother, and wife. Since we’re all going to be dead someday, it’s nice that some of us will be well-remembered. Not all of course—some are on Santa’s naughty list. Although Craig Fergeson admitted on his TV show, while composing a letter to Santa, that while he was naughty, it was worth it.

I love the movie “Miracle on 34th Street” because it shows the cynical bastards all getting shown up by the kindness of strangers. Good payoffs are the glory of old Hollywood. Now the good payoffs seem corny and out of place. One of the great classic films of the last 40 years is “All the Presidents’ Men,” in which the big scene at the end shows the two guys typing about the fraud of Nixon’s cronies, and the last thing you see is that Nixon resigned within two years of being elected in the biggest landslide of all time. Not exactly an upbeat Hollywood ending, but a nice payoff—for the two guys.

The trouble with “Miracle on 34th Street” is its premise—there is a positive spirit in humanity and the idea of Santa Clause is its personification. Since Santa is only for children, then the positive human spirit must be a childish thing, which is divested in maturity in order to take on the world in all of its horrendous reality. That’s why we know at the end that these neat things only happen in the movies.

Last night Deepak Chopra was a guest on the Colbert Report and I watched to see how Deepak would enlighten the Steven Colbert comically conservative and earthly-grounded Bill O’Reilly knock off character, especially since the average political guest is generally taken to the cleaners by the over-the-top and hold-no-prisoners Colbert. Chopra didn’t get much of a chance to “enlighten,” but he did keep his position about physical reality vs. spiritual truth, and I was not disappointed in the performance. Chopra was selling his book about the afterlife, and when Colbert asked who would want to read it, Chopra simply said “anyone who’s going to die.”

My dad and I are still chewing over whether Roosevelt let the Pearl Harbor attack happen, in order to get the US into the war against Hitler, who had an actual chance of occupying Europe without a major opposing force, and who was a threat to life as we came to know it in these United States. Roosevelt said only fear was to be feared. I’m afraid he was right. Death is inevitable, and the struggle between birth and death is a mere interruption between eternal unconsciousness on both ends. So what’s top be afraid of, unless being uncomfortable, in pain, or missing loved ones like the families whose relatives are in the military in Iraq or anywhere else on earth this holiday season, is scaring you. These issues are, after all, ephemeral and shed along with the mortal coil etc…

Gore Vidal was asked by Tavis Smiley on his interview show two weeks ago about the “big exit” looming for the great writer and octogenarian. Vidal simply explained he didn’t mind not being born, and he didn’t think being dead would be any different, so it was no problem for him.

The other issue with “Miracle on 34th Street” is that it is a typical Hollywood fairy tale, in that it is easier to believe that Kris Kringle is Santa than it is to believe that John Payne would have quit his job at the law firm over principles, or that Mr. Macy (was there really a “Mr. Macy?”) would have said he believed Kringle was Santa and on and on. Besides, everyone knows, as I was informed at age 8 by my friend down the street—the parents buy the presents.

You think I’m going to end this on the note that our parents are really Santa Clause and how thankful we should all be—after all it’s one of the commandments in Torah—Honor Your Father and Mother. Doesn’t say love and obey them—just “honor,” whatever that distinction means.

The old story goes that some 4000 years ago in what is now Iraq, a young man lived with his tribe and he came to a novel conclusion. He decided that the idols his parents and friends worshipped could not be his creator, and he thought about a single invisible god who created everything and everyone. The legend goes that he conversed with this unseen entity, and was informed that if he led a proper life, and continued to only worship this invisible god, this god would reward him with territory and food and shelter not only for his lifetime, but for all of his lineage to come.

Along with this man, known in the Torah as Abraham, part of his family tree brought forth an influential prophet, Muhammad, 2600 years later, whose line became hundreds of times more numbered than the original descendants of Abraham, who were Jews. And of course one of the Jewish descendants of Abraham, Jesus, around 2000 years after Abraham, was thought to have enlightened teachings and his followers also grew in numbers and became a divergent culture from Abraham’s and Muhammad’s. Today, there is plenty of strife between these groups, yet they all claim to worship the same invisible god, and they don’t worship idols. Why they fight between each other proves that humanity is really more fearful than anything, even though we know there is nothing to fear.

The question that came to me after the movie tonight, “Miracle on 34th Street,” is not whether Santa Clause is real, but whether every person on this planet will ever understand that he and she are one with every other person on the same small planet, just as they all worship one god. Forget who’s naughty or nice—as Craig Fergeson said on his show last week, let the judgmental old fat bastard keep his toys. As for me—I’ll rest my faith with the eternal spirit of humanity: Abraham came up with a clever idea, thinking out of the box, so to speak. Why can’t we all just get along?

Friday, December 15, 2006

Clooney Hero for the 21st Century

I wrote last April about father and son Nick and George Clooney going to Darfur with camera crew to see the devastation caused by internal genocide. I called them heroes because they put their lives on the line literally, in order to try to make a difference in the lives of millions of Africans they never met, but whom they considered their brothers and sisters.

In a political season highly fraught with the rambling rationalizations of so many non-heroes who have access to public mouthpieces because they have been put in positions of power by the American electorate, it is a breath of integrity and meaning to see Clooney shine once again as a true champion of courage.

George Clooney lives the good life even beyond the imagination of the average person. Not only is he rich, attractive, charming, and young; he is a creative talent whose ideas and performances in front of and behind the camera pay of successfully both critically and financially. Inspired by his father, Nick, a former TV anchorman and humanitarian, George has followed a calling to use his tremendous celebrity punch to bring awareness to one of the biggest human disasters on the planet—the displacement of 2.5 million people from their homes in Darfur, Sudan, because of militia combat in an ethnic war which has already killed at least 200,000 innocent civilians.

This time Clooney took a group and traveled to China and Egypt, the former because they have a major tie with the Sudan government, and the latter because it is the northern neighbor. Today, Clooney meets with Un Secretary-General Kofi Annan to brief him on the team’s efforts. The most that anyone could do as a non-government private citizen, George Clooney has done.

One need not pass judgment on anyone who doesn’t follow Clooney’s example to note his positive huge selfless acts and influence for the better. It does give one pause to think of all the things this man could be doing with his time and money—leisure things that we would all enjoy doing—but instead he has chosen to take big risks to help his fellow humans. Of all the inspirational heroes I’ve ever heard of, and many people who don’t deserve the epithet who are called it anyway, Clooney is one of the most striking.

Yes there are unsung heroes in our midst who go unrecognized and certainly without fanfare who bring aid and comfort all the time to their fellow man. The reason Clooney stands out for me is because of the example he sets, as well as the enormous numbers of people whose actual lives may be saved by his work. For the unknown heroes among us, and for the giant footprint of George Clooney—thank you for the hope and faith you renew in all of us for the spirit of humanity.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Chutzpah, Arrogance, and the Tragedy of McCain

What the hell happened here? I thought the democrats won all those seats FROM the republicans in the House and Senate because the voters were fed up with Bush’s ridiculous and dangerous campaign in Iraq. I thought the electorate voted to get the US out of Iraq, one way or another, sooner than later.

That’s the story in the media—even Laura Bush got her hackles up this morning when Norah O’Donnell of NBC asked her what she thought of the latest poll showing that 2 of 10 Americans approved of her husband’s policies. Ms. Laura said she “understood” why that was because the media only paints the picture of disasters in Iraq, and they don’t report any of the “good things” that are happening. Nora says “like what,” and Laura says, “Oh you know—where there’s no violence…”

Now McCain is in Iraq talking about sending 30,000 more troops, and getting backing from fellow senators like Lieberman and Lindsey Graham. The democrats went home for Christmas, something the US military stationed around the world, not just in Iraq, won’t be doing. And Henry Reid is asking the “constituency” to rubber-stamp condolence messages for South Dakota Senator Johnson, who’s brain is bleeding at a most inopportune moment, because the fragile balance of senatorial power could shift back to the republicans if he doesn’t get well, or stay alive and keep his job. Get well cards are a nice gesture. Panic in the back-rooms is more the likelihood if Johnson has to quit: all the committee positions and Reid’s majority leadership reverts back to the…guys that were voted out of office. Reid’s a nice fellow, after all he spent the better part of the last two days in the hospital with Johnson. But lives are at stake literally, and not just the sick senator’s, or the jobs of some democrats in DC.

I’ll repeat here—what the hell happened? Talk about chutzpah—12% of Americans want to see additional troops sent to Iraq. 75% want them to come home. So McCain says let’s send 30,000 more over there. Arrogance—Bush doesn’t want to make any decisions about what to do about Iraq until after the holidays and his vacation. I’ll let Leno and Letterman have at that. And tragedy? That’s the remnant of this poorly-told story of misbegotten hubris and ambition beyond reality. The future of the world after Bush’s sloppy drive to intervene in the Middle East without an idea, concept, or plan—only motivated by greed, power and megalomania.

The tragedy is McCain’s well-intentioned desire to have one last go at it. Save the “cause” (talk to the Iraqi’s who have lost relatives in IED bombings about a “cause”) if possible, or else bail. First of all, that was Johnson’s methodology in Vietnam right around his decision to give up politics and not run for a second full term. Then the US stayed in Vietnam after that “one last push” for almost eight years. Secondly, the plans bandied around DC these days between pro-Bush advisers and Pentagon warriors, to follow McCain’s idea of putting additional troops into Iraq to try one more time for that “stabilization,” include the caveat that this is a huge gamble. In other words, if everything falls into place with the help of several miracles, the US might be able to extricate itself from Iraq in a year or so and leave behind a stable government under democratic rule.

As my kids would say—yeah right! The other side of the gambling coin is the failure of this plan, lives lost, mission UN accomplished, money down the drain, and untold chaos with terrorism at a peak for years to come. The military calls this a “double-down” scenario. Like when you’re playing black jack in Vegas and you get dealt 2 cards that total 11, you double your bet because chances are you’ll pull a picture card or a ten for the winning 21, and win twice your original bet because you “doubled down.” In gambling terms, the odds on this iraq bet are more like doubling down when the dealer shows a picture card and you’ve drawn a 2 and a 3. In other words—NOT GOOD!

So, as for the rest of us voters—thanks a lot. Nice Christmas present. At least we could have gotten what we voted for: a change of policy, a light at the end of the tunnel, a sign or a hope of a plan. We got nothing.

When I was a kid in elementary school the teachers told us that in Russia you could vote, but it didn’t really count, and in America we were lucky because we had a choice. We were terrified of Russia, and the communists, and dictatorship, because it wasn’t a democracy and people had no representation in government.

Today I also remember what my uncle said when he came over for holiday dinner: “So Vat’s new?”

Monday, December 11, 2006

Almost Any Democrat Will Do

I'm not a big fan of politicians. They call themselves public servants, and as euphemisms go, that's one of the greatest. Egotists, opportunists, megalomaniacs, deluded with grandeur visions of themselves, legends in their own minds, fame-mongers and hungry for power--most people get into politics for one of these aspects of character, just like my high-school friend who wanted to be a doctor in order to help people--mostly himself and his bank account.

Will Rogers said that "Once a man holds a public office he is absolutely no good for honest work." He also said, "Everything is changing. People are taking the comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke."

I also heard a saying that our elected officials are no better and no worse than the people who elected them. It is the due diligence of an American to hold his representative accountable. Therefore, I tend to observe either party in power with a critical eye. Having said that, I am hoping that the next president will be a democrat, and any of the following would be better than what we have now: Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama, Dennis Kucinich, Al Gore.

However, I have to look at the possibilities realistically with a nod to the electorate. Kucinich, probably the most thoughtful and dedicated of the choices, is considered too liberal and outside the mainstream to get the nomination. Not by me, of course--he's probably the best choice due to his platform and depth. Obama would be the exotic best flavor, just because he represents the melting pot of our country, along with great intellect and political savvy. Hillary's good just because she has leadership qualities even though she blew it for me by supporting the misguided abortion of the Iraq incursion and occupation.

This leaves Mr. Gore, whom I emailed today on his web site the following message:

Please Vice President Gore, run for president 2008. The country needs your leadership, your direction, your energy, your compassion, and your intellect, as well as your expertise and political experience.

Since you already won in 2000, it's only right that you should take office as soon as possible.

Seems obvious, and even with his qualities as listed, it will take more than two terms of a Gore presidency to set right what the court-jester-in-charge has put amok these past 6 years. Even Will Rogers wouldn't be able to joke about it.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Since Breakfast I have Low Food Security

Although I am not personally acquainted with Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California, I was sufficiently fortunate to register for her updates, and, as a result, I receive regular, if generic, emails from her. However, the one which I received today was focused on a subject which struck a deep and disturbing chord, particularly upsetting during a season of tides of joy and abundance.

Orwell wrote about reducing complex ideas to simple phrases in order to have the least common denominator citizen be able to understand what the state directed was good for him/her. The report from Senator Boxer describes such a simplification, or alteration, in order to be more “precise” and less “obtuse.”

Or so they say:

Dear Friend:

The Department of Agriculture recently announced that it would remove the word “hunger” from reports on the nation’s food supply. Instead, it announced that it would use “low food security” or “very low food security” in its reports. I have written to Secretary of Agriculture Michael Johanns to express my displeasure over this change.

Officials at the Department of Agriculture report that the change in labels was not a plot to try to disguise or mask hunger in America. Instead, they claim that “hunger” is too amorphous a phrase to describe, in their terms, ''a potential consequence of food insecurity that, because of prolonged, involuntary lack of food, results in discomfort, illness, weakness or pain that goes beyond the usual uneasy sensation.''

Boxer’s concern is admirable, and as my representative in the senate, appropriate. And the ensuing statistics are beyond comprehension in the richest country in the world:

Last year, the total number of Americans without regular access to food actually decreased by 3 million, but 35 million still lacked adequate food supplies. Hunger is still a serious problem in our nation, and changing the name will not change this fact.

Good for you, and for all of us, Senator Boxer. Someone has to keep tabs on the BS our gutless government wants to keep heaping onto we, the people.

Georgia Cracker Pisses off Jews

Above title is probably too blunt. That has been the complaint of Jimmy Carter’s latest book title, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Even the respected iconoclast congressman John Conyers wrote Carter imploring him not to use “apartheid” in the title as it would be too inflammatory. If Carter’s description is right, "...the abominable oppression and persecution in the occupied Palestinian territories, with a rigid system of required passes and strict segregation between Palestine's citizens and Jewish settlers in the West Bank..." is certainly inflammatory enough to warrant the book title.

Pass this concept by the average American Jew and the disagreement is palpable. According to Carter in his op-ed piece in today’s Los Angeles Times

Book reviews in the mainstream media have been written mostly by representatives of Jewish organizations who would be unlikely to visit the occupied territories, and their primary criticism is that the book is anti-Israel. Two members of Congress have been publicly critical. Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for instance, issued a statement (before the book was published) saying that "he does not speak for the Democratic Party on Israel." Some reviews posted on call me "anti-Semitic," and others accuse the book of "lies" and "distortions." A former Carter Center fellow has taken issue with it, and Alan Dershowitz called the book's title "indecent."

The key here is that Carter has been to the Palestinian cities, and is reporting on the situation. The critics of his book on the whole do not have this complete point of view.

I found Carter’s reminiscence of his first trip to Israel in the 1970’s fascinating, not only for the picture it paints of a territory whose history goes back over 3,000 years, but because of his reaction to the Jews and Muslims he met. His depiction is quite genuine and unencumbered by pre-judgment. In fact, Carter saw what I’ve come to understand—that people are the same everywhere, and that they have the same aspirations. The difference in Israel is the variety of hard-kept minority opinions based on the tie to the land which is very strong, and these points of view get more attention than the numbers they represent.

I find the book to be exactly as Carter has stated:

The ultimate purpose of my book is to present facts about the Middle East that are largely unknown in America, to precipitate discussion and to help restart peace talks (now absent for six years) that can lead to permanent peace for Israel and its neighbors.

The unnamed blame for the absence of peace talks lies squarely on the shoulders of the present inept chief executive Bush and his deplorably incompetent staff led by the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. To let events go as they may without any diplomatic intervention in the highly volatile Middle East leads to such disasters as the recent ugly conflict between Israel and the Hezbollah in Lebanon. One wonders if the same conflagration would have taken place under Clinton’s watch, or Carter's.

Radical Islamic terrorism, the factions surrounding US Iraq occupation, Middle East stability, American and world safety—all depend on a peaceful status between Israel and the Arab neighbors. Let those who condemn Carter for anti-Jewish bias read his book, and try to be objective, as I have.

The former president and Nobel Peace Prize winner taught the bible in school for 20 years before he entered politics. He’s still teaching with his new book; the leaders involved in shaping Middle East policy really have a lot to learn in order to stave off catastrophes due to ignorance and intransigence towards the region. And the electorate needs to bone up on the facts in order to make informed choices for representation on these matters.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Ferragamo Flunky's "moment of BS"

Showing the usual lack of lucidity of mainstream broadcast network media, Brian Williams, on the NBC Nightly News, asked the nation's number one ass-kisser, Condoleezza Rice, how to define the crisis in Iraq. Minus a written transcript, the gist of the question was "The world's in quite a fix..." (BW starts off on a brilliant tact) "...would you say the situation regarding Iraq is one of 'crisis' or an 'important moment?' "
Not about to let a stupid question go without a reply of the current talking points supporting the most misguided foreign policy of a US presidential administration since Johnson got the troop level up to 500,000 in Vietnam, Rice started off with, "This is a 'moment of challenge,' and a moment of great opportunity."

She went on to describe the exit from Lebanon of the Syrian interference, the removal of Saddam Hussein from Iraq and other White-House jibber-jabber erratic slants on reality. Rice had a nice platform to continue her apple-polishing front for her imbecilic inarticulate boss. The question is, why didn't Brian Williams rebut her points, instead of supplying the unopposed platform. Talk about denigrating the lost lives of American military in the Iraq conflict. No wonder Gore Vidal put down the media in his interview with Tavis Smiley on PBS the other night.

If the media is reflective of the populace it serves--and no doubt they are--then those who leave authority unquestioned deserve what they get: unbridled, unaccountable, tyrannical authority. If we all started paying more attention and asked more and better questions, we'd get a more responsive and ultimately better government of the people. So once again, the "fault... lies not in the stars...but in ourselves."

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Drugs for Oil? We Need a New Slogan

The big pharma/medical insurance-for-profit conglomerate must feel like it’s Christmas in November. Once again mainstream media is obsessed with reporting the big bad news of the Iraq dilemma, in all its labyrinthine details, at the expense of almost totally ignoring the latest news about the debacle of the Bush-touted Medicare Part D inadequacies.

Part D was supposed to be the big bail-out for seniors to reduce the huge and escalating cost of prescription drugs. The “plan” is so full of catch-22’s and small-print problems that it was incomprehensible to many older folks (and regular middle-aged citizens as well) so that they didn’t sign up for it. Of the eligible 40 million seniors who were expected to buy their Part D card and utilize the discounts, 10 million elderly people did nothing. They didn’t understand it--didn’t want to pay for the card; or didn’t like the “doughnut hole” of missing benefits after the initial purchases of needed drugs.

The newly democratic-controlled congress has a better idea, led by Kucinich and Conyers (HR 676--the Conyers/Kucinich bill.), but the republicans are claiming there’s no need to reform the system which is coming in under budget:

"Republicans would have you believe that the drug and insurance companies have sacrificed profits in the name of competition, but nothing could be further from the truth," said Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif. "In fact, the dirty little secret is that costs are lower because of low enrollment and a slowdown in drug spending."

After Congress created the drug benefit in 2003, Medicare officials estimated that 39 million people would enroll or get their coverage through employers who receive a tax credit for providing a benefit. But the actual number turned out to be nearly 10 million less. AP 11/29/06

Kucinich takes a rational turn in an interview on Huffington Post:

There are 75 members of Congress signed on in support of the bill. We recognize that there are 46 million Americans who don't have health insurance, and there are another 50 million Americans who are under-insured; that the cost of healthcare has gone out of the reach of a large number of Americans, and so there's only one real solution, and that is to make healthcare not-for-profit. I mean healthcare should be established as a basic right in a democratic society. Every industrialized democracy has healthcare for its people.

Americans just don’t see the connection to their own situations, and the media has lost the thrust of invigorating the issues that affect Americans—this is the gist of Gore Vidal’s remarks in an interview with Tavis Smiley on PBS last night. Vidal said that Bush was able to attack and occupy Iraq because the electorate let him, and the fourth estate didn’t hassle him about it. I see the point, but I don’t get how millions of seniors, whose lives depend on accessing certain prescription drugs every month, are willing to stand by while the drug and insurance lobbies convince the legislators, who make the rules, to let these high costs remain in place.

Actually, I do get it—I was taught to question authority, and to take nothing for granted, as a way of getting closer to the truth. The generation before me was taught to take everything on its face as a matter of trust and acceptance with a benign protective government which got them out of the depression and saved their way of life, by winning WWII. The generation in charge now, sees the world as dog-eat-dog, get your share before someone else does. Any means to an end is encouraged, and that end is to nurture and protect the immediate family. The larger human family?—that’s not part of the scenario. As Vidal explains, the electorate needs to be educated in order to pose the questions, and demand answers, for its needs. The electorate needs to know more about the society as a whole, not just the travails of the neighborhood association. That education is the missing link. It helps to know what you really need.

There is no ready solution to the quagmire of politics and special interests mixed with life necessities and killing and bloodshed. Just as there is no easy answer to the nightmare our leadership has caused by invading Iraq. Since the voters repudiated the Bush policies in the last election, don’t they want changes, and adjustments, to those policies, with a high priority placed on lower prices for drugs, and medical care, for seniors, and for everyone, along with getting out of Iraq, of course? Isn’t that what we all really need?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thank the Troops

On Thanksgiving it is appropriate to remember the US military men and women who are serving overseas and not with their families.

There are approximately 253,000 troops stationed in 135 countries, roughly 17% of the entire military force, not including Iraq, which has roughly 150,000 US troops in occupation.

Germany has the most US military with 70,000. This is followed by Japan with 35,000, South Korea 33,000 and so on.

Regardless of the unfortunate presence of so many American soldiers in Iraq, the US military deployed worldwide represents a certain security for us at home that can allow us to have Thanksgiving dinners with our families free of fear. So thank you to our troops, and our hopes that they return home for good soon.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

2006 Midterm Election Reflux

We really did gut the country. The might and industry, the best and worst of our manpower, and the greatest technology and power in the world--we invaded Iraq, we occupied the country at a cost of billions of dollars, and several hundred thousand human lives lost. "What you mean 'We,' kimmosabe?" as the old joke goes when the Lone Ranger tells Tonto "We're surrounded by Indians." It wasn't "we." It was Bush, and Rumsfeld, and Rice and Wolfowitz, and the evil Penguin, Cheney.

No--as Pogo said, "We met the enemy, and he is us." Voters, citizens, Americans, neighbors, friends, family--we were AFRAID. We saw the 9/11 atrocities on our TV's and we heard "Fight them over there before they come here to fight us." And "we" was wrong. George W. got the free pass and he went to work with his cronies fulfilling some warped dream of beachhead in the Middle East or revenge for Daddy Bush's mission "un" accomplished or whatever. I always thought it was an oil family's subconscious dream-come-true: overlord of the richest fossil fuel deposits in the world. See grandpa Prescott--we're still rich!

But I underestimated the conglomerate American mind to see through this dictatorial BS and overcome the mounting stonewall of George W "I don't care if only Laura and my dog back me--it's full speed ahead..." down the drainhole of Iraq.

I say underestimate, because tonight, as the results of the midterm election pour in, it is clear that the change of heart from incumbent Republican business-as-usual, to let's give change and the democrats a shot, is a real referendum on the policy of Iraq occupation, as well as foreign policy in general by this thought-bankrupt presidential administration.

How do I know this? Because Americans are very interested, concerned, in fact obsessed, with their well-being, and reports of the economy reflect that well-being. Reports show the economy is in good shape right now--why wouldn't Americans want to maintain the status quo and not shake the boat under these happy circumstances, and why would they want to replace incumbent republican representatives with democrats, when their well-being seems to be in good hands? Evidently, Americans don't like hearing bad news every day--they don't like seeing their tax money going into a wasteful venture; they don't like seeing people dying on the news every day. That's how the Vietnam war ended--Americans had enough.

Today, the voters sent the same message to the politicians--they've had enough. They didn't vote out of fear, but out of frustration. It's a very clear message. Bush may not get it, nor may any of his cadre. It would be good if he did see a little of the light--any work toward a common goal with a common purpose will attain greater results than trying to blindly run a course alone.

I had the opportunity to speak with Steve Young tonight at his campaign celebration in Irvine. As noted here, he is the democratic candidate for congress in the heavily-republican 48th distract of California where I reside. I congratulated him on his positive message of non-partisan constructive work toward common goals. That's the element missing in politics about which the voters are sending the message around the country.

Make no mistake about it--either way, whether Bush decides to compromise and cooperate, or continue the intraction and stonewalling--the people have spoken through the sacred ballot, non-violently, and with a true voice. The angels can hear it--maybe they will send the word to the White House.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Defective Children Get SIDS or, If My Grandmother Had Wings She Could Fly!

An abnormality in part of the brain that controls breathing, arousal and other reflexes may be what causes Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, a finding that could lead to a preventive treatment, a study said on Tuesday.

A decade and a half ago, while researching medical extracts (no internet “way back” then), my wife concluded that the same problem of “hydro encephalopathy,” or "water swelling" of cells, seen in rubella infection in fetuses, was what was causing the brain damage from toxins in the rubella vaccine. Even though an MRI didn’t show this “swelling,” Cindy doggedly determined it was happening on a “microscopic” level, because the result was so obvious to her.

In the ensuing years of medical studies, arguments, and counter-arguments, the most sophisticated research by Dr. Andrew Wakefield and others has shown a connection between a lack of absorption of nutrients and the poor development of the myelin sheath, and the onset of all sorts of auto-immune dysfunctions in the developing child from ADHD and dyslexia to asthma and autism. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, is now falling under this brain-development scenario, but the researchers are not making the ultimate connection to vaccines as the culprit.

Why is there this unwillingness to look at the obvious? In Japan, where vaccines are not routinely given to children under age 2, there is virtually no SIDS. In the US, where mega doses of vaccines are starting to be jabbed into infants from the moment of birth, SIDS is a scary threat in young lives.
Meantime, back at the reality of mainstream America medicine, with insurance conglomerates and big pharma reigning over public health, the SIDS study concludes that indeed, some children are born defective, which seems to go against nature, evolution, and logic:

"These findings provide evidence that SIDS is not a mystery but a disorder that we can investigate with scientific methods, and some day, may be able to identify and treat," said Dr. Hannah Kinney of the Boston hospital, an author of the paper. --MSNBC

Another recent study which has gotten little publicity, despite its publication in the British Journal of Medicine, is also annoying in its conclusion of the inordinately evident—that the flu vaccine doesn’t work at all:

WASHINGTON, Oct. 31 /PRNewswire/ -- An independent analysis by the internationally renowned Cochrane Collaboration of worldwide influenza vaccine studies, published in the British Medical Journal on Oct. 28, concluded there is little scientific proof that inactivated influenza vaccine is safe and effective for children and adults. Citing the Cochrane Collaboration finding as well as methodological flaws in a child influenza vaccine study published Oct. 25 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the National Vaccine Information Center is calling on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to stop recommending annual flu shots for all infants and children until methodologically sound studies are conducted.

"There is a big gap between policies promoting annual influenza vaccinations for most children and adults and supporting scientific evidence," said epidemiologist Tom Jefferson, Cochrane Vaccines Field, Rome, Italy, who coordinated the comprehensive analysis for the prestigious Cochrane Collaboration. "Given the significant resources involved in annual mass influenza campaigns, there is urgent need for re- evaluation of these strategies."

I couldn’t get to my Prego Italian Pasta sauce at Costco yesterday because the line for flu shots was so long it was blocking the area. I look forward to a day when my fellow citizens will take a moment to reflect on just what ingredients go into any vaccine—the toxin that causes the disease. The illogic of this 200-plus year old system really working without wreaking havoc on the human blood and immune system is apparent to me, and probably more physicians than would like to publicly admit. I hope you get the drift as well.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Steve Young: Democratic Fresh Air

"Get Out the Vote" Rally Irvine, CA 10/30/06

Ed & Cindy Asner, Steve & Solange Young

A breath of clean fresh air has blown into the rancid politics of the 48th congressional district of California, and it has a name: Steve Young, democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives. Unlikely to win in the overwhelmingly republican stronghold of ultra-rich Orange County, also the location of squalid indigent immigrant and homeless poor zones, overlooked by the majority, 50-ish successful attorney Young and his wife, Solange, told us at a voter gathering in Irvine yesterday that they are “in it for the long haul.”

This is good news, because the message from Steve Young is positive, uplifting, and unifying. In the primary election there were several names on the ballot, including Jim Gilchrist, the racist anti-immigration advocate and co-founder of the vigilante border raiders called “minutemen,” who are not in the final running for this congressional seat. Gilchrist and his ilk spout nothing but negativity, as I have noted in this blog before, as well as Young’s positive outlook.

Beyond the details of Steve Young’s platform and goals, which are thoughtful and articulate, is his overall philosophy of inclusive government. Yesterday his message was simple. He saw several sign-holders with verbiage such as “How many more soldiers will you dishonor, Cindy?” (Referring to Cindy Sheehan, anti-Iraq War mother of a soldier killed in Iraq) and “Friends don’t let friends vote democratic.” And he started his speech by telling the crowd to thank these republicans for bringing their message as well, since what makes America a great country is the acceptability of diverging opinions. Young went on to say that the vitriol in Washington politics approaching next week’s election was polarizing the country completely, and that his major effort would be to bring back a sense of unity for Americans, no matter what differences they had.

This was the gist of his positive approach. Young did explain that there is no agenda, no plan, for the country under the current leadership, and this was a change that was needed. But he was not as critical as he was observational, and the tone was congenial, not rabble-rousing.

It is interesting to note that the incumbent representative, Steve Campbell, has been pretty much absent in any campaign effort. He was elected in the special election of December, 2005, after the last incumbent republican, Christopher Cox, vacated the office in order to head the SEC. Campbell is so certain of re-election that it doesn’t pay for him to spend money on letting the voters know what he wants to do for this district or what his goals are as a member of congress. Even the republicans in the 48th district deserve to know what representation they have.

However, the republicans are no longer holding a majority of the registered voters here—Steve Young announced yesterday their numbers have dropped just below 50% of the total. Conceivably, with enough republican voters disaffected by their republican leadership, and with enough registered independents voting democratic, Steve Young could become the first democratic congressman in many years from Orange County. His constituency in that case couldn’t deserve any better! Talk about getting rid of the stink, indeed.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

I remember Iran-Contra

Posted by PicasaA former neighbor called the other day to try to sell me a car. I ran into him a year ago at a local dealership after many years and he had me in his rolodex for sales calls. Business aside, he asked after so many years what I was up to, and I mentioned this blog. Since Orange County is the notorious quintessential right-wing political district of the entire nation, if not proto-racist as well, based on comments, to which I am unhappily privy, of the parents of my children's friends at numerous communal birthday bashes we attend--when a remark is made that might ordinarily be offensive, the assumption is that it's OK to say whatever because the audience will be in agreement.

So when told my former neighbor that this blog tended to stress tolerance and leftist politics, he came on with an extended tirade including such Ann Coulter retreads as "the left only tells lies," "Bush is the only one standing up in our defense," among others. He then mentioned that he voted once for a Democratic presidential candidate--Carter, to which I tried to reply in a friendly way that I once voted for a Republican--Reagan--out of my juvenile fear of Carter's inability to handle a foreign crisis.

This led to his gushing about the greatest president of all time, Ronald Reagan, and my growing wonder as to why I had become engaged in one of the two conversational no-no's, politics, the other of course being religion. I was about to say that Reagan was a criminal based on Iran-Contra, but instead I told him I'd call back when the lease was up on my car.

That conversation bothered me for a while afterwards, because I thought about this seemingly nice fellow who was spouting party-line propaganda and Orwellian phrases that caused more knee-jerk agreement than real thinking. "Fight them over there or we'll be fighting them here," kind of stuff, which is really a meaningless fear-mongering rant. I thought about so many people who would sit in abject agreement over everything this guy said, especially about the practical deification of the "Great Communicator, " Reagan.

Reagan was indeed a criminal. So were several of his closest aides and advisers, including former President George H.W. Bush. With the upcoming election threatening to install a democratic majority in one if not both of the federal legislative bodies, the ghost of Iran-Contra re-emerges from the coincidence of the twentieth anniversary of another time congress was re-won over by the democrats. This is the main issue of an illuminating op-ed piece in today's Los Angeles Times by Greg Grandin:

It was 20 years ago this Nov. 3 the day after the Democrats regained control of the Senate in 1986 that a Lebanese magazine revealed that the Reagan administration sold missiles to Iran. The sale (brokered by a National Security Council staffer named Oliver North) violated a U.S. arms embargo against Iran and contradicted President Reagan's personal pledge never to deal with governments that sponsored terrorism. Soon after, it was revealed that profits from the missile sale went to the Nicaraguan Contras, breaking yet another law, this one banning military aid to the anti-Sandinista guerrillas.
I read this editorial while watching Clinton give a speech at Georgetown University in which he described the Bush Administration as "ideologues" who were set in their own reality unable to hear anything contrary, and those of us who are in the world reality which includes dialogue and compromise. Listening to Clinton is always a lesson in charisma and communication. He constructs well-thought-out concepts with a clarity and ease of a friend looking you in the eye over lunch. And his topic was about negotiation, not rigid doctrine, so it would be hard to find fault in his premise.

Then I looked down at the op-ed story, and the description was of another rivetting and commanding speaker--Oliver North:

How did Democrats fail to inflict serious damage on an administration that sold sophisticated weaponry to a sworn enemy of the United States? How did they also fail to depict Iran-Contra as a sequel to Watergate--that earlier tutorial on the danger of unchecked executive power? One explanation is that their congressional hearings backfired. For months, they amassed evidence of what many observers believed amounted to treason by administration officials, if not Reagan himself.

But then in marched North: the crisp Marine with his hard-rock jaw and chest full of medals.For six days, North fended off the questions of politicians, and many TV viewers viscerally connected with the loyalty and courage he so artfully displayed. "If the commander in chief tells this lieutenant colonel to go stand in the corner and stand on his head," North said, "I will do so."

Olliemania swept the heartland and Hollywood. Even liberal TV producer Norman Lear admitted he couldn't "take [his] eyes off" the colonel.

No doubt North had his appeal, as does Clinton. The problem with propaganda and aphorisms and Orwell is, you have to compare apples with apples, not with oranges. Oliver North as an iconic image in uniform telling of "courage under fire" in so many words before a national TV audience vis a vis congressional hearing, is a message all by itself. Orwell would have to give way to Mcluhan, for whom the medium is indeed, is the message, regardless of its content.

Then there is the studied, if not media-manicured and honed-professional speaker, former President Bill Clinton. Yet at the moment of his speaking, there is no iconic figure or overall propaganda--that is quite clear in his tone. He quotes current writers, references journalists for accuracy, and states the case: that there is the perception of two realities--one, of the empire created by a joint executive and congressional alliance of right-wing neo-conservative ideology--and the other, of historical immediacy, the reality that affects everyone on the planet.

Clinton points to the latest news of a vote by the US against negotiating the issue of weapons in space. Clinton says that this was not a vote on whether to allow weapons in space or not, just a vote on whether or not to start talking about the question. Clinton rightly says the vote, out of 160 nations, was 159 in favor of negotiation, and the one vote against was by the United States:

President Bush has signed a new National Space Policy that rejects future arms-control agreements that might limit U.S. flexibility in space and asserts a right to deny access to space to anyone "hostile to U.S. interests."

A number of nations have pushed for talks to ban space weapons, and the United States has long been one of a handful of nations opposed to the idea. Although it had abstained in the past when proposals to ban space weapons came up in the United Nations, last October the United States voted for the first time against a call for negotiations -- the only "no" against 160 "yes" votes. -- Washington Post
The use of this late-breaking story in Clinton's argument serves to show that Bush's crusade is a daily ongoing mission, to gain executive power and abrogate reasonable accountability to the US public, and therefore the rest of the world. The end is to enrich the fortunes of the elite few who follow and are coddled by this group--in the wider sense, the right-wing cadre in the US, in the more literal and sinister practical sense, it means the quasi-clique moneyed group whose interests are served by the furthering of war-mongering and fear-mongering--for lack of a better name call it the wider "Bush family."

Meantime Grandin brings us up to the present regarding the Iran-Contra reference:

Just last December, Vice President Dick Cheney pointed to the Republican "minority report" on Iran-Contra written, not coincidentally, by Cheney's current chief of staff, David Addington to justify the White House's insistence on the primacy of the executive branch in matters of national security. At the time, that report, which blamed the scandal on Congress for "legislative hostage-taking," was considered out of the mainstream. Today, it reads like a run-of-the-mill memo from the Justice Department outlining the legal basis for any of the Bush administration's wartime power grabs.

Reagan and Bush should have gone to prison for violating their oath of office and committing treason, and in my neck of the woods this declaration would get at least a laugh, if not a truck off to the funny farm. Bush says he will "stay the course" even if only his wife and his dog stand with him. The stage is set for a two-year hiatus on any new legislation of any meaning getting passed, with a dead-locked congress and a lame-duck president. The empire is only in its early growth stages, there is still time to bring back the republic.

Iran-Contra, then, wasn't just a Watergate-style crime and a coverup. It was, rather, another battle in the neoconservative campaign against Congress and in defense of the imperial presidency. Though Iran-Contra might have been a draw the 11 convicted conspirators won on appeal or were pardoned by George H.W. Bush the backlash has become the establishment.--Grandin
Americans have a voice they haven't begun to muster yet--that voice ended the debacle in Vietnam, it brought reform to government and civil rights. The abuses of power Bush has called for may warp the spirit of the constitution for years to come. And the toll on lost souls through war and other carnage either in the active incursion in Iraq, or in the passive denial of aid to Africa, can never be undone. But history tells us the spirit of the constitution will survive, as it has, and the mistakes of the last six years can be corrected through the power of will, and numbers.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

We Let the Liars Steal America

Posted by Picasa

I vaguely remember reading Kurt Vonnegut many years ago who wrote that cigarette smokers were suicidal. He explained that the real smokers did not smoke filtered cigarettes, because that might get in the way of the effect of the smoke. The “dilettantes,” as he referred to them, smoked Pall Malls.

I thought of this when I read that Foley was in rehab because it seemed like a way to blame pederasty on the booze . In fact, real members of professional alcoholics would blame the kids for driving them to drink, not the other way around. So Foley comes up as a categorical dilettante when it comes to being an alcy wannabe.

Foley’s not even the subject of this post—dilettante as a word, is. Woodward’s Book, State of Denial, is surprisingly fascinating. Why “surprising?” Because we knew all the important factual information from all the prior-to-publication points and all the interviews and recaps. What was not part of this hype, and the best part of the book, is the nuance “fleshing-out” of all the details of big bucks, arrogant power, high-end relationships, and down and out insider dialogue. For instance:

[Surprise party for Barbara Bush’s 75th birthday at Kennebunkport June, 2000] George W. pulled Bandar [Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabian ambassador to the US] aside.

“Bandar, I guess you’re the best asshole who knows about the world.
Explain to me one thing.”

"Governor, what is it?”

“Why should I care about North Korea?”

It goes on but the language and the attitude are clear: arrogance, opportunism, and ambition.

I’ve heard elected representatives in the US referred to as “public servants.” That’s like referring to the rubber-stamp aristocracy who cowered in the shadow of Julius Caesar 2,050 years ago, "representatives of the people of Rome." Caesar's was a dictatorship, and the US is brewing a similar one now: a simmering stew which, while we’re not looking, becomes a comforting home-made meal with all the substance, but none of the nourishment, of the original ingredients.

It is frustrating to see the “Lying Liars” -- as Al Franken titled his book -- say what they want, while innocent lives are squandered and, in fact, Americans at home are constantly put in danger. Chris Matthews told Jay Leno last night that every vote counts. If you don’t like the Iraq occupation and what else the Republicans are doing, vote them out. Yet even the voting method is under question with the possibility of computer voting records to be hacked and altered to the advantage of…whoever is in charge.

Woodward’s book may be “tardy journalism,” as Chris Matthews said on Jay Leno. We’ve known the "knowns" of the meat of it for a while. And while Matthews describes Woodward as “unbiased,” let’s not forget the background info we’ve supplied before in this blog: Woodward was a courier for military intel prior to his initial stint at the Washington Post and his muckraking of Watergate’s bowels. That’s where he met and befriended Deep Throat—FBI uber-agent Mark Felt. And don’t forget the number of “disclaimers” over the years that Woodward was in fact a Republican…

Bob Woodward is also a pre-eminent journalist in the ancient tradition of the art. He’s on the inside, with no axe to grind as far as we can tell, and he’s precisely accurate and writes a page-turner as well as any best-selling novelist. So, as a current history of what’s going on in the Bush White House, and from an insider who has the access to, and respect of, the powers-that-be, Woodward’s book definitely tells the tale. He’s no dilettante, but his book is all about one who is president.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Bush Plays Dominos

President Bush spoke from the Oval Office tonight on the fifth anniversary of the attacks of 9/11/01. Here is part of a recap from the New York Times:

If we do not defeat these enemies now,” Mr. Bush said, “we will leave our children to face a Middle East overrun by terrorist states and radical dictators armed with nuclear weapons.”

The address capped a week of speeches in which Mr. Bush tried to lay out his best case for the war in Iraq by defining it as a crucial front in the war on terror, while portraying the broader struggle as a natural successor to World War II and the Cold War in defining the place of the United States in the world.

Even by the standards of his latest round of speeches, Mr. Bush’s language was particularly forceful, even ominous, with warnings of a radical Islamic network that was “determined to bring death and suffering to our homes.”

Bush wants to play dominos, just like one of our first cold-war Presidents, Eisenhower, with just about the same logic—see if you can pick out the inconsistencies, or how history went vs. how our leaders told us how it would go:

First of all, you have the specific value of a locality in its production
of materials that the world needs.

Then you have the possibility that many human beings pass under a dictatorship that is inimical to the free world. Finally, you have broader considerations that might follow what you would call the "falling domino" principle. You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences.

Now, with respect to the first one, two of the items from this particular area that the world uses are tin and tungsten. They are very important. There are others, of course, the rubber plantations and so on.

Then with respect to more people passing under this domination, Asia, after all, has already lost some 450 million of its peoples to the Communist dictatorship, and we simply can't afford greater losses.

But when we come to the possible sequence of events, the loss of Indochina, of Burma, of Thailand, of the Peninsula, and Indonesia following, now you begin to talk about areas that not only multiply the disadvantages that you would suffer through loss of materials, sources of materials, but now you are talking really about millions and millions and millions of people.

Finally, the geographical position achieved thereby does many things. It turns the so-called island defensive chain of Japan, Formosa, of the Philippines and to the southward; it moves in to threaten Australia and New Zealand.

It takes away, in its economic aspects, that region that Japan must have as a trading area or Japan, in turn, will have only one place in the world to go -- that is, toward the Communist areas in order to live.

So, the possible consequences of the loss are just incalculable to the free world. --News Conference of April 7, 1954

So the choice here is, give up tin and tungsten, or kiss Australia goodbye?

After 50 years, in a time of crisis, we the people are being fed the same theory -- dominos falling -- the name of which we had to learn in high school 40 years ago. It was a mistake then, a game of smoke and mirrors to lull the citizens into falling lockstep in line behind the hairbrained leadership for the sake of the powerful interests--whoever tin and tungsten was benefitting at that time.

I truly trust our troops in Iraq are kept safe, until they get to come home, and soon! The oil windfall never panned out anyway, and the manpower could come in handy to overcome the terrorist cells in the US, not to mention in all the other countries the world over. And who plays dominos anymore?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

9/11/01: Five Years Later We’re Worse Off

In the “you learn something new every day” category, I got a week’s worth of lessons in this morning’s newspaper. For one thing, I thought terrorists who kill innocent people are basically nuts looking for attention. The truth is nowhere near that simple. Another assumption was that Bush’s policies have put American lives increasingly in danger, but I was unaware of the possibility of a consensus of experts in agreement about this.

On the terrorists as nuts scenario: Rosa Brooks, Los Angeles Times columnist, reviews three new books on terrorism. One, What Terrorists Want, by Louise Richardson, has a nice explanation of the terrorist mentality and why the knowledge of that mentality is important:

Drawing on interviews and primary source materials from dozens of such movements, Richardson reminds us that despite the awfulness of their acts, most terrorists are neither "insane" nor even unusually cruel. On the contrary, their acts are rationally calculated, and most terrorists believe themselves to be altruistic and noble, Davids fighting Goliaths.

This is a simple insight with profound implications for counter-terrorism policy. The rhetoric of "evil" prevents us from understanding how terrorists think and alienates those who may be torn between sympathy for the political aims of such movements and
disapproval of terrorism as a tactic. And these are precisely the people Richardson says we can least afford to alienate. Although terrorist movements thrive when they are based in what she calls "complicit communities," they fizzle out when they lose community support. Thus, understanding the grievances of those drawn to terrorism is crucial to designing effective policies to halt its spread.

By refusing to consider that terrorists may have any legitimate grievances, the Bush administration has radicalized moderates throughout the Islamic world and has wasted opportunities to deprive terrorists of the community support so critical to their survival. From the war in Iraq to the abuse of detainees, U.S. anti-terror tactics have backfired, driving more and more recruits into the arms of Al Qaeda.

Heinous terrorist acts of any kind are indefensible. With that in mind, it is difficult to reconcile willful ignorance of terorist mindset when some heroes of the most vocal anti-terrorists in the US fit that category--American Revolutionary War heroes who were snipers and indescriminate bombers; Jewish terrorists who bombed the King David Hotel in 1946, an act which paved the way toward UN acceptance of Israeli statehood. The question is a lot more complicated and important than just telling the lowest common denominator--American citizens--we have to protect against those "evil folks."

I knew calling terrorists “evildoers” was bizarre (what isn’t bizarre in the ignorant and muddled chatter of the inarticulate and decidedly arrogant POTUS?) – now I know that the use of simplistic terms is anti-productive.
On the front page of the Times was the glaring day-before-the 9/11 anniversary headline:

Is the U.S. Winning This War?

WASHINGTON — Five years after Sept. 11, is the United States winning the war against Al Qaeda? President Bush says yes, but most experts — including many inside the U.S. government — say no.
The article enumerates reasons for its point:

…The war in Iraq has become a training ground for Islamic extremists from Saudi Arabia and other countries, and some have returned home with expertise in urban warfare and explosives.

…Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon have damaged the image of the U.S. in much of the Muslim world and made it easier for terrorist organizations to win recruits.
Beyond the misguided Bush/Cheney priorities of spreading forces too thin in the wrong places -- the lack of focus on the enormous and growing health care coverage fiasco; not developing an alternative-energy source plan — all of the last six-year’s poor leadership is setting back the potential for which Americans are famous: innovative solutions to problems. And the set-backs create new obstacles, bureaucratic and financial, that make taking the next step forward in progress more like digging out of a muddy hole.

As for the 9/11 five-year anniversary: next time the republicans pat themselves on their backs for keeping the US homeland from suffering a terrorist attack in the last five years, think of the co-chairman of the 9/11 Commission report:

"Why have we not suffered [another] attack?" asked Lee H. Hamilton, co-chairman of the Sept. 11 commission, which exhaustively studied the 2001 attacks. "The honest answer is: We don't know. We simply don't know. Because we don't know the minds of the terrorists."--Los Angeles Times, 9/10/06

It’s time for a fresh group of people to be in charge, with better expertise and more open minds, who are willing to shelve the arrogance of power and roll up their sleeves, to find out what it really takes to improve lives. And that includes the lives of everyone on earth, not just the ones living in America.

The additional attention and money for nation-building and public relations is increasingly seen as a key to winning the war against Al Qaeda."It's not so much a question [of] whether you're able to …capture or kill or otherwise drive off" terrorists, said Cambone, the Pentagon intelligence chief. "That we know we can do. It's whether the confidence of those who stand in opposition [to terrorism] is going up … and that of the terrorists is going down.

"Then you're succeeding," he said. "And then the issue isn't how many successive terrorist cells you've undone. They will disband."—Los Angeles Times, 9/10/06