May 27, 2006

Memorial Day Is About Heroic & Purposeful Death Not War-Mongering

Taking a Moment to Reflect and Appreciate
Be a sunflower today, turn your head towards the sun. Close your eyes and take a moment to reflect on your life. Let a sense of well-being come from within. Feel alive. Appreciate you being. And, make the world a little better by doing something nice for those around you, even if some of them are far away. Let's not forget that we're standing on the shoulders of others, who stood on the shoulders of others and so forth. Many of those who came before us and many who came after us but left us too early made the ultimate sacrifice.

The extended Memorial Day weekend is here along with the unofficial start of the summer. This holiday should remind us of those Americans (many of them immigrants and non-citizens) who gave their lives to keep us safe and free. But, this holiday should also be about life, because sacrifices should have some altruistic purpose, a greater contribution, a way to make life better for those left behind. That's why we, as a nation, must be very careful when we commit our blood, sweat and tears to a cause. And, we better make sure that our leaders understand this.

I don't like big proclamations, overused superlatives and fake patriotism. Actually I'm offended by persons who show little respect and appreciation for the many & great sacrifices ordinary people made to build this beautiful country of ours. The presence and/or the size of the flag doesn't necessarily reveal a person's commitment to this country. As a matter of fact, those who wear the American flag on their lapels and fly huge flags are often people who either want to sell us ..used cars or a scheme whereas all the sacrifices are made by us, not them! Kinda like, the business arrangement between the hen and the pig, whereas one provides the eggs and the other one the ham!

Any national holiday should serve as an opportunity for us to reflect on the things that unite us and why we choose to stick together in this commonwealth. What means to be an American and what responsibilities it carries is something we ought to ask ourselves; and we ought to ask our leaders the same question more often. We have plenty of examples in our own history when the leaders failed the people. We have the power to change things for the better, but only if we're informed and engaged in the affairs of our nation. I think this is the greatest honor and a respectful memorial to those who gave their lives for us. This is the patriotic way; to protect this United States of America and enhance the lives of its people.

And speaking of life, don't forget to create memories every day! Give it a try, you'll see life becoming more interesting this way! Have a great summer (and more) ahead!

May 25, 2006

Enron-like Scandals: Ponzi Scheme & Three Card Monte

Is it just a slight of hand, or do Americans need to pay more attention?
Forty-five and 185 years for Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling respectively would be too long of a sentence for the top executives of Enron, therefore, I’d like to see something more reasonable, say, 25 and 45 years respectively. I’m taking into account their age, so by age 90 or so, they could apply for probation. However, these two scam artists should not only be sent to jail immediately [sentencing will take place Sept. 11th] but to cells with power outages, with no guarantee of a meal every day. Wouldn’t this be a proper fitting, to suffer the effects of their actions? Millions of people were left in the dark, others paid billions in inflated energy bills, and many others lost their pensions and investments because of the actions of these two. Enron along with WorldCom will go down as two huge bankruptcies that adversely affected millions of Americans.

There is a greater point here, that is, the market forces are not infallible! Capitalism has indeed contributed to the economic betterment of people. Even Carl Marx in this Communist Manifesto lauds capitalism. However, there’s no pure capitalism today; hasn't been since the early stages of the industrial revolution in the 1700s. So, the question is, how much regulation and overseeing is necessary to achieve a balance between cost & benefit. I assume that we generally accept that the laws of the market forces not only aren't enough but may be harmful to the common good. My company can greately benefit if I discharge my factory's toxic pollutants into the adjacent lake so I don't have to pay for proper disposal. My fleet of fishing boats can take the last fish out of the water, and my timber company can cut down the last tree, etc.

We also have to take into account that the Enrons, the Exxons, the Haliburtons, the Bechtels, the whatever company receive tremendous benefits from the law, the tax code, the overall strength of the U.S., and the general business environment they operate in. They do not operate in the vacuum of space and they didn't not create the world and their workers & customers from scratch. In other words, they're taking advantage of the existing conditions that were created by a myriad of factors and actors over a long period of time.

I still can't fathom the greed by persons who have so much to begin with. We may look down upon people who broke the law by emigrating illegally in order to make a living, to better their lot, by working hard and being contributing members to our society. Yet, we tend to pick on those more visible and most probably lesser trespasses than to carefuly examine what's going on behind closed doors where billions of dollars in transactions take place. The energy bill was agreed in this manner by the Vice President and the oil/electricity/coal top executives.

Many Americans who vote against their economic interests by voting primarily for the Republicans aren't paying much attention to the details. Admitedly, it's easier to see the local bum who may be abusing the welfare system, spending food stamps on ..marshmellows, etc. Everyone knows of someone who cheated on taxes or somewhere along the way. However, the biggest cheats aren't well known. Who got the biggest tax cuts and a big transfer of wealth [guess which way] while the country is at war? Isn't a scandal that the first thing the Republicans wanted to do after coming back from vacation following the Katrina disaster was to repeal the estate tax, you know, to benefit the Paris Hiltons, affecting less than 1% of Americans! And, most Americans are for it eventhough they'd never, ever, be affected by such a law! Lottery tickets anyone?

So, what is the role of the government? Who do we elect to represent us? What price do those who betray the public's trust & interest pay? Are politics independent of the people or to what extend do they reflect the collective psyche?

One thing for sure, Americans often don't vote reality but their dreams! And, then they complain for getting a Bush that they asked for in the first place!

May 18, 2006

Where Bush is Still Popular

I have mixed feelings about this; I'm happy to see that most Americans have seen the light, or, more accurately, the dark side of President Bush. But, I can't feel good about the sad state of our union. I hope those who disapprove of the current regime start cleaning house in this year's elections.
Spending His Political Capital
This map above shows the states where Dubya has a positive approval rating! [and you laugh when I say that some Americans live in a alternative-reality universe!] Despite what some media are reporting that Bush is on the rebound (from 29% to 33% or so), even conservatives (especially the fiscal conservatives) are beginning to accept that this Bush is the worst President ever. Billmon's site has more numbers.

I'm happy, though, to see that--according to SurveyUSA--my home state of New York is at the ..bottom of the list, giving Bush the lowest approval rating of 23%! OK, Rhode Island can be equally proud!

May 17, 2006

The Twelve Steps of the Al Gore Recovery. It May Help the US Too!

A Dose of Al Gore Will Be Good. Are You Ready for 2008?

Winner of the majority of the presidential votes in 2000, Al Gore went on Saturday Night Live [SNL video] last week to tell us that during the last 6 years of his ..Presidency we have a huge budget surplus (instead of the $9 trillion deficit), mainly because no war in Iraq and no tax breaks to the 1% of the ultra rich, fuel prices are a lot cheaper, and the only negative impact is the reverse of global warming so much that the "glaciers once melting are now on the attack"!

Wouldn't that be nice? I'd add that we wouldn't have Alito and Roberts on the Supreme Court, and our civil liberties would've been much safer! Maybe our national priorities would be different too. Instead of destroying the most effective federal agency, FEMA, our government could have averted much of the Katrina disaster--a hurricane detected & tracked several days before in struck the Gulf Coast--and when Congress would come back from its summer recess, its first action would have been to alleviate the suffering in New Orleans and elsewhere, and instead of the majority's first act to repeal the estate tax [what I call The Paris Hilton Benefit], the President would have pushed for a universal health care system.

Al Gore is running these days to promote his film, An Inconvenient Truth, which opens in select theaters on May 24th. Of course the bigger question is whether Al Gore is getting ready to run for the big office in 2008. This is a very interesting possibility that would change the status of the so-called frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, and change the dynamics in the Democratic party first, and the national campaign later. I, along with many progressive bloggers, would welcome Gore's candidacy. His pro-environment stance is a passion he lacked in 2000. He's grown not only in weight but in political development, though I still think he needs to relax further as he hasn't shed all of his stiffness when a news camera turns on.

Before he does anything, he needs to swear that he won't hire any of his former consultants, and the new ones he hires [hi Al, I'm available] shouldn't be allowed to over-handle him. He should be a lot more relaxed now; he's very rich, he's respected as an individual and as a leader, he's got a message, and he's proven that he can win on a national level. All I'm saying is that a new attempt at the presidency won't make or break Al Gore! "I'm a recovering politician on about Step 9," Gore told The Associated Press. "But I'm on a different kind of campaign now--to persuade people to take action to solve the climate crisis, and it's always easier when you're focused on one thing."

If Gore is on Step 9, the last 3 won't be hard to complete. I believe after the disastrous eight years of the Bush presidency and six or more years of Republican control of the Congress, America will be ready for an experienced pol with integrity. The progressive, netroots activists in the Democratic party are not thrilled with a possible Hillary candidacy. I think she's alienated many of us, though, as I said earlier, I'd support her against any Republican in a general election. However, I'll do what it takes to prevent her from becoming the nominee, unless it's a choice between her and Lieberman.

Speaking of that DINO (Democrat In Name Only), Gore needed to be smacked over the head for his vice-presidential selection in 2000--one of his many serious mistakes. This won't happen again if he runs in 2008. As a matter of fact, let's make sure that Mr. Lieberhosen loses in the Dem primary in Connecticut on August 8th. If you haven't heard of Ned Lamont, here's his site (and TV ads) and how you can help unseat a big Bush supporter and gain a Democrat in the Senate this November.

Climate change has and will affect everyone, but the most severe effects will be first experienced by the poorer humans, just like pollution has done since the industrial revolution. The big oil companies are launching an attack on Gore's message and much on the consensus in the scientific community that says human activities are contributing to global warming. Public sensitivity is increasing on this issue and that's good. A US president has lots of power, but much of it depends on how he exercises his leadership. He holds the biggest megaphone and can set the national agenda. I think there isn't a debate any longer on weather the BushCo presidency has failed; nor whether he's led our country into a treacherous path.

Every day Bush remains the President, Al Gore looks better and better.

May 11, 2006

The Burlesque Show of Bush & Co: Shredding Our Constitution, Shedding our Secrets, Stripping our Liberties

Leave it to the professionals to protect us. Don't you worry, unless you have something to hide!
Why not give up your freedom if this would keep you safe? Come on, what's more important, some ..liberal & probably mostly theoretical notion of freedom, or, being safe here in our home? In a practical sense, it's easier to leave fighting the terrorists in a war with no fronts & no end to the experts than to worry about it yourself. Besides, as a nation we've already decided that we don't really want many of our freedoms & civil rights. Our actions speak louder than our words. Most Americans don't care about voting and they show it; especially if you don't count those who are single-issue [ie. ban the homosexuals from making our marriage worthless; the Democrats from taking away our Bibles] and very infrequent voters. Just note how many will cast a ballot in November in this critical election. Maybe those who don't vote approve what's going on! I bet you that you haven't thought of it in this light.

Right Chief, I'm on the case. America is safe from KAOS, but next time we talk we should use the Cone Of Silence... I have the feeling someone is eavesdropping in my shoe conversations.

Americans don't care about reality, to the extend that they want to be aware of the truth if truth is uncomfortable. We are a people who like comfort, and bigness, and splurging, and speed. It's rather comforting to have a feeling of being taken care of. Why, even our president feels the truth, doesn't think about it. If it feels good do it. I'm all for feeling good too! I'm a hedonist. I believe life should be about joy not suffering--especially unnecessarily--but some common sense should prevail. I can't, for example, assume I'm a rich person and live the posh life by maxing my credit cards today. The pain later isn't worth it. But, who lives for ever? Better enjoy this day and let others worry about tomorrow. Who knows, I may become rich by then. Why, act like most Americans who don't vote their reality but their dreams!

Those others have been proactive in the massive surveillance of Americans. I'm sure President Bush mis-spoke when he said his government is spying on terrorists only, or on phone calls with overseas connections. At any rate, Big Brother can only be effective if we give in and give up. However, once He gets what he wants it's very difficult to return to the land of the free. Americans in a recent poll said that they are willing to give the President anything he needs to keep us safe. Anything! [some readers were offended when, in another posting, I asked whether babies on ..skewers would be an appropriate measure under the "anything" permit the majority were willing to give the President. Obviously that would be extreme, but we've already crossed the line of legality and, I'd argue, of sanity]

So, when the government is monitoring the phone calls of 200 million Americans, is an appropriate action for safety's sake. The law? Bush said the FISA Court--established in 1979 and Congress amended its rules to make it easier for the government to get permission to eavesdrop, even after the fact--does not reflect the needs of today! He had to break the law in order to protect us. He said that much. Our Attorney General, who supposedly represents the law & order and the citizens of this country, told Congress that he wouldn't "rule out" the domestic spying program. The telcos had a choice to comply or not, but they thought Americans want us to find the terrorists in our midst and it never hurts to make a buck or two. Our government is paying (that's our money) the telcos to spy on us! [click this link for more info & telco contacts]

I feel like singing, oh say does that spangled banner yet wave, o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave... Ben Franklin is so out of touch with today's reality when he said that "those who are willing to sacrifice liberty for safety deserve neither." Or, maybe Americans have changed over the years. And, every time we remove a freedom and make Big Brother stronger, our national psyche changes. Authoritarian/totalitarian regimes produce a certain kind of citizen. Wouldn't you act much differently if you knew that your activities were being monitored? Perhaps you wouldn't mind a little ..attitude adjustment if you believed your safety increased. Some day, you could end up in a locked cell, for your protection of course. Or, for the protection of the society at large! Better be safe than sorry! And, you don't have to be friends with Al Queda. Your criticism of the war, our President, or, simply your resistance to comply, is a threat to our national cohesion. You either with us or against us. It's that simple!

Amendment IV, US Constitution:
Τhe right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

ADDENDUM: As I've said many times before, despite all the complaining about the quality of the politics in our country, collectively we get what we deserve. The quality of our democracy isn't independent of the citizens' attitudes and actions. Those of us who are very concerned about the government's domestic spying program should be aware that we are in the minority! Only 35% of us think this illegal NSA program is unacceptable, while 66% say they're not bothered by this, and 63% said it's an "acceptable way to investigate terrorism." Here's the latest poll that scoffs at Ben Franklin's adage.

May 6, 2006

Vote Against this Good-for-Nothing Congress

No Time to Waste
On November 7th, there is a very important election in our country, whereas 435 seats in the House and 33 Senate seats are up. There will be plenty of time to analyze the races, but the time to mobilize is now. We can’t afford to take a long vacation this summer, because by Labor Day it may be too late. There are many Democrats, registered voters, who live abroad and didn’t vote in the last election.

Democrats Abroad seek to change this. Here’s an easy wizard to help those who live abroad or maybe traveling outside the country on election day. Hope you pass the word around. We need to get rid of this Do-Nothing Congress. In these times when our freedoms are more threatened from within, exercising our civic rights is a duty we can't afford to shed. Use it or lose it!

May 2, 2006

A Missed Opportunity to Round Up Millions of Law Breakers

Apparently Only El Presidente can Break the Law!
May Day was different this year, because the people are taking back this day from the...Bolsheviks, and because there were huge rallies across the US in support of the “undocumented immigrants.” The House Republicans passed a bill that would make anyone illegally present in the country a felon! I guess they didn’t have enough buses lined up one behind the other from Florida to Alaska to deport these people, otherwise what better opportunity than those rallies for the INS to round up millions of illegal immigrants! The intended impact on the economy is hard to measure, as one-day boycotts don’t work; people shop a little more before or after that day. Despite the million (or more) people at the rallies, most immigrants worked that day as many couldn’t afford (for a variety of reasons) to take the day off. I wonder how the 12% of Americans who are not native born—the highest percentage since 1920—feel about the current immigration policy.

At any rate, the failed immigration system has to be reformed. A broken law doesn’t reflect reality. I’m not going to rehash a
recent post of mine, but I’m tired of hearing that “people who broke the law should be punished and sent back.” It’s not practical, it’s not fair to take advantage of people when they contribute but turn our backs to them when they ask for basic rights, it’s not good for our economy, and it wouldn’t look good to tell millions of Americans to stay in...Canada and never return! All those people are breaking the law many times over by buying drugs from our neighbor because they can’t get or afford them here. I think they should stay here and try to change the law.

I am worried about the backlash these rallies may have. Several polls indicate that the majority of Americans believe there’s going to be a backlash. Politicians depend on people who vote, especially those ill-informed Americans who often have an emotional reaction to an issue. The President says that he looks into the heart, the eyes, and every other body organ except the brain. He feels the truth, doesn’t necessarily knows the truth. He and his party will undoubtedly seek to take advantage of the immigration issue. Carl Rove had said long time ago that immigration was one to be used as a wedge and a hot-button issue.

Mucho ruido y pocas nueces
Watch and learn how politics is played when appealed to the lowest common denominator and when the target is the...gut not the mind. Did you hear about the
Nuestro Himno, our national anthem rendition in Spanish? Bush pompously declared that our national anthem should be sung in English only. I guess he forgot that candidate Bush “when visiting cities like Chicago, Milwaukee, or Philadelphia, in pivotal states, he would drop in at Hispanic festivals and parties, sometimes joining in singing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ in Spanish, sometimes partying with a ‘Viva Bush’ mariachi band flown in from Texas.” [From Kevin Phillips’s book, American Dynasty, p. 142]

Lamar Alexander (R-TN) introduced legislation that the national anthem be sung in English. Of course, I understand that Americans feel patriotic and that a common language & national symbols are very important, but making laws to enforce national identity isn’t the smart way to change the hearts and minds of people. But, having failed at everything important, this President and Republican Congress need an emotional issue to try to stay afloat. I wonder if they’ll bring back a special edition for the election the
color-coded threat alert system… Or, the need to beat up several straw men, like the homosexual agenda promoted by the godless hedonists, who also happen to be feminists and liberals… Watch out for God’s wrath, as the Evangelical leaders would tell us.

I am in the minority, and the word “liberal” isn’t very popular these days in America, unless it’s used in situations like, “she used her credit card liberally,” and, “he did drink quite liberally!” I also content that this country is rather conservative, more so than many of us in the so-called Blue States realize. If the Republican party could attract over 10% of the blacks and more than 40% of the Hispanics—both groups tend to be socially conservative—then we would see a massive political re-alignment for several generations. But, the Republican party isn’t interested in representing the masses of socially conservative people but rather the economic interests of the elite. Part of its Southern strategy has been to play the race card. Blacks want hand-outs, their demands & rising political aspirations are a threat to the idyllic way of the civilized way of life in the South… Do these arguments sound familiar? A bigot knows no bigotry, as Strum Thurmond used to say. Immigrants can be the newest scapegoats.

Hispanics are about 6% of the voters and although the undocumented workers can’t vote the Hispanic community is turbo-charged about voter registration right now. Naturalizations are increasing as many green-card holders become citizens. According to the DHS, about 8 million of immigrants qualify but haven’t applied for citizenship, half are from Latin America, one third from Mexico. In the last election Bush got some 40% of Latino votes, but anti-immigrant policies (state and federal) may change how the votes will break in the near future.

It’s a curious phenomenon that in a country built by the immigrants’ blood, sweat and tears, we don’t have a rational immigration policy. Except for those who came to America from England & Ireland, all others didn’t speak English. Most of them proud to be from wherever they came from, adopted this country despite being mistreated, segregated, and discriminated. They struggled to survive and fit in. Their children progressed by leaps & bounds. Today we want the immigrants for their labor but there’s a reaction to giving them rights. Practically, we’ve given amnesty to the businesses and Americans who’ve benefited from this hard-working & underpaid labor pool. Those illegals suppress wages, we hear. But, in the same instance we don’t want to raise the minimum wage so, at the very least, there would be competition for work. Hard to find Americans to work in the 130-degree sun, bent over for 10 hours, picking lettuce for $4/hour. [the going rate in some farms in central/southern New Jersey] At least I would want a living wage—something not available in most places around the country—to do hard manual labor.

The question is, who’s an American?. It’s a rather personal choice. Some of the Founding Fathers, many more who fought on the American side during the Revolutionary War, and others who’ve been fighting & dying in Iraq today, were not born in the US. Obviously a person who makes a commitment to this country is an American, more so than the likes of Tim McVeigh and others who were born here but betrayed our country. Not everyone wants to be an American nor everyone who wants can be one, but those who are already here, have a life here, have been part of the American fabric for many years, should not remain in the legal wilderness.

There are many ways to reduce illegal immigration, but the approach has to be rational and comprehensive. When we raise fences along our borders we should raise the minimum wage to reflect a living standard. When we go after the illegal workers we should go after their employers. When there is indeed a need for foreign labor, then we give the appropriate work visas (not in a stupendous & arduous way like today) and afford legal rights and dignity to these workers.

In which language did he sing America The Beautiful in the White House? [Here's the answer]

The immigrant workers and their friends made an important point during the recent huge rallies, that is, “we’re part of America.” Perhaps there’s a social movement being born, one that will change the politics in the US though increased active participation—something this free country hasn’t taken all that seriously. Sometimes reality bites hard. Are we up to the task of facing it?