Jun 29, 2005

Bush Offers Fig Leaf Cover to Gullible Elephants

I couldn't get myself to watch president Bush's speech, though I've read the transcript. I don't think he was trying to convince any independent voter nor he was addressing those who have serious doubts about his Iraq policy. He was talking to his own supporters, hard-core Republicans who want to believe and need a fig leaf cover to continue to do so. In this light, there isn't much else I can say about his speech, except that he kept repeating as facts things that are generally disputed by most of the world and the thinking public. For most of the time, his political base has supported his Iraq policy by a 90% margin. Today, it's down to 70%, which, still, is a hell of a crazy number if you ask me. It means that too many Americans are either not interested in the facts, or have no way of finding out--not surprising given the poor journalistic standards of the U.S. mainstream media.

I break from the progressive fold that holds Bush as a stupid man. He is not stupid. He is definitely not a person who leads an examined life, he's not an intellectual, nor he's interested in knowledge outside a narrow framework, but he's politically savvy, and knows the language appropriate to convince & motivate his political base. Of course, he seems to have a different perception of reality, but, again, he didn't try to appeal to us. We know that Iraq had no terrorists threatening the U.S. prior to the war; it does now. We know there were no WMDs; we know the lies around it. We know that the war was sold on falsehoods and outright deception. We know that our country has paid dearly (in blood sweat & tears with no end in sight), and that we are less safe today than before the Iraq invasion.

Bush added nothing new to our understanding of his policies. If we believed him, then he's learned the wrong lessons from 9-11. In the aftermath of that attack, the whole world was behind us. French newspapers, reflecting the general mood of the old continent, proclaimed, "We Are All Americans Now!" The U.S. had a golden opportunity to lead, to bring the world community together and collectively fight terrorism everywhere. Democracy would have had a better chance to advance if America hadn't invaded Iraq--an action that divided our friends and united our enemies. Bush managed to squander the world's good will towards us. And, if someone claims that this doesn't really matter, then I'll point out a gullible Republican to you.

A recent Pew Research Center poll showed that 62% of French, 59% of Germans, and 34% of Britons have a "very" or "somewhat" unfavorable opinion of the United States. In January 2005, a poll published by the BBC showed that 54% of French, 64% of Germans, and 50% of Britons consider the United States a "negative influence!" Within a year or so after 9-11, Bush managed to piss off the world support for us! And, these polls reflect what some our allies think about America!

We are not having a serious dialogue about the important issues facing our country today. The president isn't interested in talking seriously about what's going on, and the press isn't grilling him. The system of check & balances has atrophied since the Republicans rose to such power in D.C. Bills are passed without debate and without even the members of our Congress knowing what they're voting on. Well, almost. There are a few exceptions, like yesterday, when Congress voted to give itself another pay raise. You know, to keep up with inflation. Next year, they'll get $3,100 extra reaching a total of $165, 200. Meanwhile Congress has scoffed at raising the minimum wage, which, working full-time today, gives you a whopping $10,700 a year, and in real money, less than what it got you back in 1968.

Those who watched Bush's speech were 2 to 1 Republicans, and according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, some 46% had a "very positive" reaction to it. Good. Perhaps this group will heed Bush's appeal for further [disproportional]sacrifices. Did you notice his pitch for military service? Recruitment numbers are way down in all branches of the military. I hope the Bush twins listen to their father's call and enlist to fight the war their dad started. Both girls seem very fit for service. Surely they are at least as smart as any high school dropout sought by the military recruiters.

Jun 25, 2005

The Air of Freedom Is What Makes Our Flag Aflutter

Drawing by Ted Rall

The hot summer has arrived here in the northeast. In a few days, Americans will celebrate the 4th of July. Some people will seek the thrills of the summer, some of our lawmakers, though, are seeking cheap thrills! The House passed a "Flag Desecration Amendment" by a vote of 286-130. It now moves on to the Senate where it has to pass by a 2/3 majority, and then submitted to the 50 states before it becomes part of our Constitution. It probably won't come to that, but make sure you contact your senators and tell them that the flag means freedom which includes dissent.

The flag is a symbol of our nation and what we stand for. It should be respected. Yet, despite the attacks on our freedoms, we are still a country that allows dissent and the freedom of speech. Isn't this what we're supposedly trying to promote all over the world? Flag burning, for example, is rare, but it should be allowed as a form or political protest even if it's upsetting to most of us. Everyone should be able to choose his own interpretation of what the flag represents. Being patriotic cannot be enforced by law, and no law can make you a patriot. Respect for the flag should come from within yourself.

Another problem with the desecration amendment is the practical application of the law. Who's to decide when a desecration of the flag takes place? It's much like pornography--in the eye of the beholder. As the 4th of July nears, I see the flag everywhere: on paper napkins that will wipe snouts & dirty hands and then promptly thrown into the garbage; on clothing that covers breasts, buttocks, and other sweaty private parts; on shoes, on chairs, and on funny hats at the Jersey shore. At the end of next week's celebrations, our streets, parks, and beaches will be strewn with plastic flags, and other disposable items decorated with our flag that will be trampled by millions of American feet!

By the way, I want to remind those of you who are shopping for a car that this coming extended holiday weekend, the car dealerships--the most patriotic of all Americans since they fly the biggest flags--will be running sales aided by our past presidents in caricature! Do you think this is a degrading of our national symbols? Maybe, someone should remind those Senators who are ardent supporters of unbridled capitalism that this proposed amendment may have adverse effects on rampant commercialism! That would seal the fate of this amendment in the Republican-controlled Congress, don't you think? We'd be big hypocrites if we allowed our flag to be used & abused for any other reason except for political protest!

Unfortunately, the flag has been used often by those who trade on the emotional side, suppressing reason and free speech. The flag has been used as a distraction by those who ask us to sacrifice while they do no sacrificing themselves. It seems to me that respecting the flag requires a bit more that flying it, pinning it on the lapel, and talking big. America the beautiful, land of the free and home of the brave, should remain an open society, tolerant of dissent and a promoter of free speech--even if this speech is disliked by the majority. In the end, we will win more converts to freedom and our way of life than by imitating those regimes that forcefully dictate how their people behave politically. The flag's powerful image and symbolism derive from what it represents. You choose the meaning and act your conscience.

Jun 20, 2005

Those Who Stick Their Heads in the Sand Need a Kick in The Ass

It's becoming more evident that the Bush administration is pursuing policies that are extreme and ill-thought out. I don't know if it's because the lunatic fringe is not marginal any more; it has a strong voice in the current administration. I mean, if they believe that Armageddon is just around the corner, then why bother with the environment for example. Of course, you have those who mostly care about money and power, and not much else. Fortunately for both groups, president Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress are more than happy to oblige: screw the environment, the end of times is near, and, if this fails or delays, at least the elites will have enough money to bide time in opulent luxury.
The far right and the neo-cons seem almost single-minded about their goals. The
Downing Street Memo showed the conspiracy to get our country into a messy & costly war regardless of the evidence. Bush and his clique still refuse to give us a straight answer. Not only they lied, but they continue to disrespect the public's right to know, as if the facts don't matter. And, if the facts get in the way, or don't agree with doctrine, then the facts are pushed aside. It would be funny, if the situation weren't so serious, to observe the puppetry and frequent renditions of Rain Man by the likes of Bush, Rummie, Condi, and the other far right talking heads.

There is considerable scientific evidence so show that there is a connection between burning fossil fuels and climate change. Guess who opposes these findings? And, guess who's changing the reports to hide the evidence? Earlier this month a White House official,
Philip Cooney, altered government documents to downplay the damage to the environment. He's the same person who, while working for the oil industry, led the fight against limits on air pollutants. So, you make big money from the oil companies, you buy access to the US government, better yet, you join the government for a while to pass laws and set the agenda, and then you go back to a bigger paycheck. True to form, Mr. Cooney was just hired by Exxon for a job well done.

Now, the US government is secretly working to undermine the British and the rest of the world's efforts to help the environment. The Observer published an article showing that the Bush administration doesn't like the science of climate change and opposes the UN commitment to stabilize greenhouse emissions. The documents obtained by The Observer show that Washington officials:
* Removed all reference to the fact that climate change is a 'serious threat to human health and to ecosystems';
* Deleted any suggestion that global warming has already started;
* Expunged any suggestion that human activity was to blame for climate change. Among the sentences removed was the following: "Unless urgent action is taken, there will be a growing risk of adverse effects on economic development, human health and the natural environment, and of irreversible long-term changes to our climate and oceans."

There is no doubt that America under the current leadership has embarked on a course back to the Dark Ages, where superstition is preferred to the scientific method, where plutocracy triumphs over the public good, and where social Darwinism prevails. But, by sticking one's head into the sand also exposes one's behind. I hope the inevitable kick in the rear comes sooner than later, and that it's the boot of the American public that lands on the collective asses of those in power today. If we delay, I'm afraid, we're all going to feel the pain of our inaction and poor choices in government. And, the pain will remain with our children and many generations to come.

Jun 16, 2005

The Totally Worthless Currency of The American Taliban

It's a dangerous thing to be making medical diagnoses by looking at an edited video, by reading a holy text and determining that a person has no right to exit in a manner of his/her choosing. It's also a crime to lie and accuse someone of physically abusing and eventually killing his former wife. And, I guess, it's utter stupidity and a disservice to the American people and the truth when the mainstream media gives a forum to charlatans to claim that a dead-brain patient can fully recover, and/or she can communicate with us via a ..seance!

Would those people, who are exposed today as frauds, liars, agitators, entertainers of the lowest denominator, peddlers of the supernatural & the superstitious, feel any shame or the need to apologize? No, not at all. The Terri Schiavo autopsy revealed more than what her doctors, the 20 judges, and her husband had been saying about her being brain dead. It revealed that her case was more about a religious debate raised by the fundamentalists and exploited by the far right and charlatans of all stripes, some of which, like majority leader Frist, unfortunately, hold leadership positions in our government.

The Schiavo issue wasn't about a "culture of life" but whether a person has the right to choose his medical treatment at the end of his life. The Republicans had circulated a secret memo in the Senate saying that this case would be "a great political issue." President Bush got on the bandwagon too. He conveniently forgot that, as the Texas governor, he had signed a law giving the spouse & the patient's doctors the final say in matters of life and death. Bush also had signed a law that the state could turn off life-support when a patient like Terri Schiavo didn't have insurance to pay for such extended care! And, it had happened with babies in Texas!

Science told us that Schiavo's brain had atrophied by 50%, much of it replaced by spinal fluid--an irreversible condition, known as PVS (persistent vegetative state). She was also blind and not responsive to external stimuli. No thoughts, no self-awareness. No PVS patient has ever recovered. This is different than a coma. It's insane that we spent so much time, energy and money preventing a person from exercising her oft-stated wishes in a terminal situation, while those who supposedly propose a culture of life also oppose universal health care available to every single American! We lost some 3,000 people on 9-11-01. That was tragic indeed. Since, we've spent thousands of lives and several hundred billion dollars with more to come in Iraq. Yet, every month, thousands of Americans die because they don't have health insurance and no access to healthcare! Aren't these Americans "innocent?" Our indifference can be deadlier than a few fanatics blowing up a building.

I'm in favor of the culture of life, because life should be protected, enhanced with quality and individual choice! All this when it clearly matters, which includes the period from birth and throughout our existence in this physical world! Liberals believe in freedom of choice, especially when it involves our own self. But, having the freedom without any real choices it's pointless. And, more and more choices are being taken away, not by our foreign enemies, but by our own government. I'm not just talking about civil rights, important as they are, but about limiting our ability to move up the socio-economic pyramid. Even if I'm free to vote & speak up, if I can't feed and shelter myself, or if the quality of my life diminishes because of lack of health care, then obviously there is something wrong here.

As the Schiavo case proved, the American Taliban and the neo-cons are not interested in the truth--which is discarded if it's unpleasant or doesn't fit within their own narrow & distorted world. If it weren't so, then I'd expect anyone who "made a mistake" in the Schiavo case to come out and apologize today. After all, the autopsy totally confirmed what the doctors had been telling us in the last 15 years. But, don't hold your breath. No one, not a single person from the irrational side, will come out and admit his error. Reason is not their currency; superstition and fear are!

Jun 14, 2005

Axing Big Bird, the Mercedes Gap & the Internets Connection

When the rules of the game are increasingly being fixed in favor of the elites, and while it is getting harder to move up the socio-economic scale in the US, there is another phenomenon that's creating another gap, that is, between those who have access to information and technology, and those who don't. What was a luxury maybe ten years ago, it's a necessity today in the cyberspace age. Information is empowering. Access to services and the use of all available tools of the internet is a must-have especially for those who don't have a panoply of means.
I don't know when, in the face of such technological marvels at our disposal, there had been such an effort for dumbing down of our society. When other advanced countries have settled on modernity and for a greater distribution of their national wealth, we are still arguing whether to teach science in our schools! We are not producing enough engineers, scientists, and we don't want to fund programs in the creative arts and sciences. International talent, once drawn to our shores, is looking for more hospitable venues elsewhere today.

We may have chuckled when Bush spoke of "the internets" but I guess it's been a joke in the conservative circles about the "Mercedes gap"--as the Bush-appointed chairman of the FCC described the technological divide. Michael Powell (son of former US Secretary of State Colin Powell) allowed the media consolidation to take place despite a public outcry. He and his neo-cons peddled the public airwaves to fat corporations. It's no wonder that the mainstream media is full of fat-asses, non-journalists, and celebrity-driven entertainment. By the way, I wonder what happened to that person who decided to air the British parliament debates on C-SPAN when his bosses weren't looking. You know, in Britain they have actual debates, and the chieftains have to face tough if not savage questioning, unlike here in the US where legislation is passed by proxy, in secret and with no debate. Never mind that our leader can't be subjected to serious questioning. He avoids press conferences, pays for infotainment disguising it as objective news, talks to carefully screened conservatives at "town-hall meetings," while the national press has abdicated its duty to seeking the truth and to the nation.

Last year the US Supreme Court ruled that the states can bar cities from offering high-speed internet services, so the oligopolies have been pouring money into the politicians' pockets to pass such laws. In Pennsylvania they passed such a law, with Philadelphia as the only exception (it had invested heavily in giving broadband internet service to its residents). A former Southwestern Bell employee, now a congressman, Pete Sessions (R-TX) wants to pass a federal law to prohibit every city in the country from opening up the internet to the people! For more
info on the issue and to take action click on the links.

A few days ago, the Republicans in the House grabbed an axe and went chasing
Big Bird. Their intent is to chop $200 million from funding public broadcasting, including $24 million from "Read to Learn"--a children's educational program. As they want to do with public education, the Repubs want to eliminate all funding for PBS and National Public Radio. It's no wonder, they want dumb citizens, not an educated public with access to information. I've written about the conservative attacks on public broadcasting on an earlier post, so I want to close by quoting Bill Moyers who recently said, "The more compelling our journalism, the angrier the radical right of the Republican Party gets... that's because the one thing they loathe more than liberals is the truth. And the quickest way to be damned by them as liberal is to tell the truth."

The quality of our life, the quality of our education, our ability to gather and access information, and the quality of our democracy are all closely related. If we collectively remain passive and allow the dumbing down of our society to continue, then we would deserve to be called stupid. Com'on, at least let's give our children a good fighting chance to be smart and have a great life. They deserve all the chances we didn't have. Now, let's get to work and make our voices heard!

Jun 6, 2005

Why Secret Government Costs Us More Than Our Rights

Our Congress is discussing certain provisions of the Patriot Act [Big Brother] due to expire at the end of the year. These talks are being held in secret, much of what the Republicans wanted to do with the Watergate hearings but failed because they were in the minority then. Why is secret government bad? Because, it leads to unchecked power and is unworthy of a free people. The Repubs often say they want a smaller government [this isn't true in practice as the federal government has grown under Reagan, and the Bushes], but what they increasingly do is to operate in secret while they enhance the state's powers of snooping on its people. It's not an accident that the whistleblowers who want a clean and accountable government are being attacked by the conservatives.

If most Americans realized the extend to which the rules of the game are being fixed, there would be a social revolution. We hear that there has been an incredible economic growth, the stock market has climbed, and other positive indicators. What we haven't heard is that most Americans have, in reality, taken a pay cut! The average real income of the bottom 90 % [yes, you are in it] has fallen by 7% in the period 1973-2000! In 2004 and early 2005, wages failed to keep up with inflation since 1990, while, at the same time they tell us, the economy grew by 4%! So, who's getting what, and who pays for the excesses of big government and Big Brother? Read this article about the mobility myth.

"As the gap between rich and poor has widened since 1970, the odds that a child born in poverty will climb to wealth - or that a rich child will fall into middle class - remain stuck....Despite the widespread belief that the U.S. remains a more mobile society than Europe, economists and sociologists say that in recent decades the typical child starting out in poverty in continental Europe (or in Canada) has had a better chance at prosperity." This from an article that appeared in a bastion of capitalism, The Wall Street Journal (p. 1, May 13, 2005).

Another defender of unbridled capitalism, The Economist, on the eve of president Bush's second inauguration, produced a sobering analysis of what is happening to the old notion that any American can get to the top. "With income inequality not seen since the first Gilded Age...an education system increasingly stratified with fewer resources than those of their richer contemporaries" and great universities "increasingly reinforcing rather than reducing these educational inequalities.." So, the odds of an American rising to the top by his own hard work are getting longer and longer.

How is it possible than in a democracy the people allow to be manipulated into giving up not only their rights but also their money to the very rich, and, at the same time, being stuck with the bill of a failed war and huge budget deficits? Is it because delving into statistics and examining the numbers is boring? Why do Americans spend more time and thought in deciding their wardrobe and the color of their car than on how the nation's wealth is being spent? We are not talking about "small change," a billion here and a billion there, but about serious money even by D.C.'s standards!

In 1960, the wealth gap between the bottom 20% and the top 20% was about 30 times. Today, the same upper top makes 75 times more! [read J. Holland's article] The numbers are far greater for the top 5% of Americans as compared to the rest of us. Now, there is something seriously wrong here. I'm not in favor of forced equality, but the US ranks the highest in the index of inequality, while it's dead last in fighting poverty among the 20 most-developed countries!

As for the American dream, it will remain just a dream for many Americans who survive on half the median income! Americans are the most productive workers in the world but this without corresponding rewards is another way of showing greater exploitation. And, it's not like we're getting other benefits like universal healthcare, free education, and a strong social safety net. What's been happening is Robin Hood in reverse!

Jun 1, 2005

Uptight Conservatives Choke on Deep Throat & the Truth

Deep Throat has been identified and the US media is abuzz. I was too young to be interested in the Nixon-Watergate scandal and, back then, Deep Throat was a movie I wasn't old enough to see. Anyway, it turns out that the FBI's number 2 in charge, W. Mark Felt, was disclosing information to the Washington Post about the criminal activities tied to Nixon's White House. This was crucial in exposing the Watergate burglars and the conspiracy behind it, but, most importantly, it led the US Senate to hold hearings and further investigate the matter. Without Felt, the issue would probably have died--no Congressional hearings--and tricky-Dick wouldn't have to resign. America went through a constitutional crisis, with the White House and Congress fighting over the rule of law. The Third Branch, the Supreme Court, decided that Nixon wasn't above the law and had to turn over his secret tapes, which revealed the conspiracy. Obviously this was a very important development in our nation's politics.
Nixon's worst tactical mistake was to fight J. Edgar Hoover's FBI ever since he was elected to office. Later, Nixon wanted the FBI to falsify reports regarding the Watergate burglary, Felt fought for the integrity of the FBI, but he couldn't go to any member of the government to report the illegalities, because everyone in the government was "in" the cover-up. FBI's acting director (Hoover died a month before Watergate), L. Patrick, was shredding documents when he wasn't throwing evidence in the Potomac River!

Today, the right-wing media and its attack dogs, like Pat Buchanan, Rush Limbaugh, and the other co-conspirators came out swinging against Felt, calling him a traitor, a back-stabber, and, their favorite phrase, un-American. Felt did the right thing no question about it! His critics are basically arguing that, once a person is part of the inner circle of the power elite, his allegiance changes from the law of the land to the man in charge; his supreme duty is to protect the president, over the laws of the country! So, if you see laws being broken, repeated criminal activity by cover-up, you should shut up because the leader is to be protected from petty laws applicable only to the ..peons. Nice! This shows what kind of government the arch-conservatives envision for our country. They're even trying to pack the courts with neo-conservative activist judges who will not look favorably at whistle blowers that want a clean government and accountability!

I wish we had more people today to blow the whistle on the wrong-doers in the current administration. The so-called liberal media is devoting more time on a 30-year old scandal than dealing with the
Downing Street Memo--which became public last month and it showed that, in 2002 (a year before the invasion), the US was planning to "fix" the evidence to support its decision to invade Iraq! The same memo also noted Washington's lack of planning on the aftermath of war in Iraq--the horrible failures in Iraq have been quite evident since the invasion in 2003. During his press conference on Tuesday, the media didn't have one question for Bush regarding the Downing Street Memo! Not one! Why?

If the president of the United States intentionally deceives the public on an issue of grave importance such as committing the nation to war, then if this isn't an impeachable offense I don't know what is. Read Greg Palast's
article for more insight. The only traction this issue has gotten is in the progressive blogosphere and the alternative press. These are the voices that wouldn't keep silent regardless the party affiliation of the sitting president. I know I wouldn't, because my country comes before my president, even if I voted for him. But, don't expect the same reaction from the conservatives. They are arguing that Felt was wrong to expose the law-breakers, and restore some faith in our government. Buchanan and the others involved in the Nixon administration, including the ex-cons, have benefited greatly since then. Felt, a 91-year old retiree, hasn't. Isn't there any decent American in the executive branch today to come out of his conservative closet and point out the true evil-doers in our government?

It seems to me that the conservatives in power are embarrassed by anything naked, even if it's the naked truth. Covering up is what they do best!