*Make no mistake – On November 2, 2007 four former JAG officials (Admirals and Generals) wrote a letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy stating their views about waterboarding. You can read the letter in its entirety. Excerpts: “We write because this issue above all demands clarity: Waterboarding is inhumane, it is torture, and it is illegal... Abu Ghraib and other notorious examples of detainee abuse has been the product, at least in part, of a self-serving and destructive disregard for the well-established legal principles applicable to this issue. This must end...Waterboarding detainees amounts to illegal torture in all circumstances. To suggest otherwise - or even to give credence to such a suggestion - represents both an affront to the law and to the core values of our nation.” Many of us in America have waited a long time to see respected individuals address the obfuscations and fabrications committed by our country’s highest leadership. My question for these former JAGs is similar to the one I have for Colin Powell: “Where have you been”? Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and the use of torture approved by Bush/Cheney/Gonzales did not begin last month. Where have you been?
* Verschärfte Vernehmung – This German phrase translates as “enhanced interrogation”. In an article by Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic he says,” It's a phrase that appears to have been concocted in 1937, to describe a form of torture that would leave no marks, and hence save the embarrassment pre-war Nazi officials were experiencing as their wounded torture victims ended up in court. The methods ... are indistinguishable from those described as "enhanced interrogation techniques" by the president (Bush).” Achtung! This article is a must read for an understanding of the despicable road this administration has chosen to travel. It affects the moral structure of America, the actions of other countries and the safety of the men and women who serve in our military.
*Imported toys ~ Not child’s play - With the amount of toxic lead recently found in Barbie Doll accessories it seems safe to say that Ken will be keeping his pants on. In a related matter, Ken denies that he gave Aqua Dots to Barbie for her birthday. Aqua Dots is a children’s toy just recalled for containing a chemical similar to GHB, also known as the date rape drug. When ingested, it metabolizes into GHB. At least 6 children in the U.S. and 3 in Australia have been hospitalized. The dangerous chemical was used to coat the beads because it is one-quarter the price of the chemical normally used for such purposes. One wonders what role U.S. importers have in these dangerous products due to price pressures they impose on Chinese producers. Do you yearn for the simple days when toys were made in America and companies responsibly inspected their products BEFORE they were put into distribution?
*Democracy & War on Terror debacles ~ Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan - The NY Times observes in an article “Straying Partner Leaves White House in a Lurch” that Pakistan could become a disaster for Bush and the Middle East.” For more than five months the United States has been trying to orchestrate a political transition in Pakistan that would manage to somehow keep Gen. Pervez Musharraf in power without making a mockery of President Bush’s promotion of democracy in the Muslim world... General Musharraf’s move to seize emergency powers and abandon the Constitution (on Nov. 2nd) left Bush administration officials close to their nightmare: an American-backed military dictator who is risking civil instability in a country with nuclear weapons and an increasingly alienated public.” A further complication is the fact that remote parts of Pakistan have been a safe haven for al Qaeda, the Taliban and probably Osama bin Laden. America and the Middle East region approach a new level of danger. The Middle East is an amalgam of diverse and conflicting ideologies irritated by centuries of hatred, distrust and religious extremism, and festered by decades of questionable American foreign policy, often fueled by “oil”. Almost seven years ago Bush and Cheney entered the fray and at almost every turn they exasperate the volatile situation. Their Iraq and Afghanistan policy has actually increased terrorism and done nothing to advance democracy. The situation in Pakistan may present even greater dangers. In a statement taken from the George W. Bush playbook, Musharraf said that he imposed the state of emergency to help fight Islamic militancy. Some would call it playing the boogeyman card.
*Engaging candidates – The blog crooksandliars.com recently identified two most interesting people involved in politics who embrace progressive ideas:
~Dennis Shulman is running for representative in northern New Jersey. He is a progressive Democrat. He is also a rabbi, a clinical psychologist, an author, a drummer and a blind man. His campaign motto is, “We can do better.” His opponent Scott Garrett is the personification of Bush politics and philosophy. The campaign will be a provocative match-up highlighting contrasts in today’s American political ideology. Howie Klein at firedoglake.com does an excellent write-up of Shulman that is worth reading.
~Doris Haddock recently ran for the Senate in New Hampshire. She is 94. Three years ago she walked from California to NH to highlight the need for campaign finance reform. In a serendipitous turn of events she became a candidate with few resources and much courage running against a two-term incumbent with significant campaign dollars. HBO will be airing a documentary about this amazing woman titled “Run Granny Run” – a true life story about how everyday people can do extraordinary things. You can learn more about Ms. Haddock and details about the air times at this HBO site.
*Coffee break takes on new meaning – Over 2% of the Ethiopian population is infected with HIV Aids and over 7% in the capitol, Addis Ababa. In a new initiative to fight the spread of this disease, coffee scented and colored condoms are being marketed around the country. Ethiopians have a coffee mania and it is hoped that this approach will increase the use of condoms, a proven method to reduce the spread of Aids. The promotion of abstinence in preventing unwanted pregnancies and communicable diseases in America and around the world has been a dismal failure. We should applaud innovation that impacts these serious problems.
*Best of the less bad – Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) (and 4 other Democrats) voted for Michael Mukasey for Attorney General because “it is the best nomination they could expect from President Bush”. This mentality does not serve our country. Instead of seeking the best leadership available our representatives settle for better than worse. It is one of the many reasons why this country has almost no respect for Congress. Its approval ratings are lower than the president. An interesting side note is that the 53 senators voting for Mukasey were the fewest ‘yeas” for an attorney general since 1952.
*Environmentally we are one world – Coal is inexpensive and abundant and it has fueled the economic growth of China and India. Unfortunately, the burning of coal has a tremendous down side. “It takes five to 10 days for the pollution from China's coal-fired plants to make its way to the United States, like a slow-moving storm. It shows up as mercury in the bass and trout caught in Oregon's Willamette River. It increases cloud cover and raises ozone levels. And along the way, it contributes to acid rain in Japan and South Korea and health problems everywhere from Taiyuan to the United States.” Under Bush the official U.S. policy on domestic and international environmental problems has been to pretend they do not exist. I doubt that I will ever understand this administration’s avoidance of the fact that they have children and grandchildren who will have to live with the consequences of the world’s rapidly deteriorating environment? In a new report the American Academy of Pediatrics said, “Global warming is likely to disproportionately harm the health of children, and politicians should launch "aggressive policies" to curb climate change”. Unfortunately, the few myopic fools who don’t get it are the ones setting policy.
The “in” crowd – Hedge funds are the relatively new way for wealthy entrepreneurs to invest in companies. They have been extremely profitable. However, through a loophole in the tax structure, the managers of these funds pay about a 15% capital gains tax instead of an income tax rate that should be in the 35% range. Billionaire Warren Buffet recently observed how ridiculous it is that he pays only 18% on his taxable income. When discussions have arisen to repair the tax laws, these new titans of industry have mustered their financial resources and inundated legislators with lobbyists and campaign contributions. Senator Chuck Schumer is the recipient of much of this attention. He has now decided he will oppose higher tax rates for hedge funds and private-equity firms. This is another example where the wealthy dominate the influence on legislators to the detriment of most Americans. Our elected leaders frequently respond like Pavlov’s dogs when they sniff the odor of money. Long-term senators and representatives too often become part of the problem rather than the solution because they have totally sold their independence to campaign contributors. The elections of 2006 brought some fresh integrity to congress in the likes of Webb and Tester and McCaskill but there is still much change needed if our country is to move forward in a responsible manner. I have often noted the need for public financing of elections. Perhaps it is also time for the U.S. to examine the merits of term limits for congressmen.
*Elect to improve the electoral process - The non-partisan group Common Cause has a petition to congress that you can sign demanding an immediate overhaul of our campaign finance system.
*Bush Galloping to history – “Bush reached an unwelcome record. By 64%-31%, Americans disapprove of the job he is doing. For the first time in the history of the Gallup Poll, over 50% say they "strongly disapprove" of the president. Richard Nixon had reached the previous high, 48%, just before an impeachment inquiry was launched in 1974.” I suspect the perception of Bush will continue to decline as the American people learn more about what he and his administration has perpetrated on this country.
*Addict in denial – The House of Representatives and the Senate voted to override a Bush veto of a water projects measure that included spending programs for health and labor. The President said he vetoed the bill because of the cost. I am reminded of a formers radio sports talk host. Mixed in with his sports commentary were barbs aimed at illegal drug users. The drug commentaries and his job ended when he was arrested for buying heroin in a neighborhood infamous for street sales of drugs. Bush has had no problem spending the surplus he inherited from Clinton. He ignores the consequences of the huge deficit he has created as he continues to ask congress for billions of dollars more for Iraq. As long as Bush gets his “Iraq” crack fix, spending is not an issue for him. Just don’t mention health and welfare for his citizens and repairing the infrastructure for his country.
*”Integrity” is a four-letter word - Last week I noted that the head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) took frequent expensive trips that were funded by the groups she was responsible for overseeing. In her self-defense she claimed that the travel was approved by an ethics official. The Washington Post is reporting, “In several cases, the agency made travel bookings before the trips were approved. For another industry-financed trip detailed in internal agency documents, written legal approval came after the trip.” The article points out that on at least one of these trips the “ethics official” was a member of the travel party. “R. David Pittle, who was appointed by President Richard M. Nixon to help found the agency in 1973 and served as a commissioner until 1982, said: "The CPSC is the only thing standing between a consumer and a potentially dangerous product. . . . For me, it doesn't matter if these trips and gratuities pass some legal test -- it's highly inappropriate public policy." It will be a refreshing change when public interest becomes a significant part of public policy.
*Hooray for the FCC (this is not a typo) – It appears that we are about to see a government action that will be to our benefit. The Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) “is preparing to impose significant new regulations to open the cable television market to independent programmers and rival video services after determining that cable companies have become too dominant in the industry.” For quite some time cable companies have been successful in lobbying the government to limit competition. Of course, we pay the price. I have seen articles that in France, where there is greater competition in the cable market, the average cost for telephone, cable TV and internet access combined is $44 per month. That is less than half of what I pay Comcast and I do not have the phone service. A consumer-friendly federal agency seems odd but it is certainly welcome.
*Boos for the FCC – The FCC has an ambitious plan to relax the decades-old media ownership rules, including repealing a rule that forbids a company to own both a newspaper and a television or radio station in the same city. I recently noted that a vibrant democracy requires the free exchange of diverse ideas. Many feel that the current level of media consolidation has not been a healthy development in this regard. Allowing further consolidation of media ownership would be a grievous error.
*A Family Affair – President Bush’s education initiative “No Child Left Behind” has had questionable success but it ensured that his brother Neil moved forward financially. “The inspector general of the Department of Education has said he will examine whether federal money was inappropriately used by three states to buy educational products from a company, Ignite Learning of Austin, TX, owned by Neil Bush... critics in Texas contend that school districts are buying Ignite’s signature product, the Curriculum on Wheels, because of political considerations... The product, they said, does not meet standards for financing under the No Child Left Behind Act”. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington stated that the products do not meet “scientifically proven methods”. Investors in Ignite Learning include the President’s parents. If memory serves me, when mother Barbara Bush donated money to Katrina victims the funds were earmarked for educational software produced by son Neil’s company. One could say of the Bush family that they left America behind.
* “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”
George Orwell (pen name of Eric Arthur Blair), 1903-1950, novelist, political and cultural commentator