Sunday, March 2, 2008

* Afghanistan ~ No Way to Treat A Lady – In 2002 the Americans and the British invaded Afghanistan to rid the country of the Taliban - enablers of al Qaeda training and infamous for repressive treatment of its citizens, especially women. A report by the Independent (UK) newspaper details how life for women in Afghanistan is worse than ever: “Grinding poverty and the escalating war is driving an increasing number of Afghan families to sell their daughters into forced marriages; Girls as young as six are being married into a life of slavery and rape; Violent attacks against females, usually domestic, are at epidemic proportions with 87 per cent of females complaining of such abuse – half of it sexual; The illiteracy rate among women is 88 per cent with just 5 per cent of girls attending secondary school; Maternal mortality rates – one in nine women dies in childbirth – are the highest in the world alongside Sierra Leone; Afghanistan is the only country in the world with a higher suicide rate among women than men.” There certainly is no easy solution to a problem steeped in history, culture, radical religion and abject poverty. At a minimum, when the Bush administration says that “we” are making progress in Afghanistan we can ask, “What the hell are you talking about?” I do wonder if current conditions would be as pathetic had Bush not prematurely pulled military resources out of Afghanistan to invade Iraq thereby allowing the Taliban to re-establish itself along with criminal and other radical elements in that society.

* Underwater – is your home drowning, are you drowning? – “Underwater” is a term used to describe a house that is worth less than the amount of money owed on it. Moody’s reports that 8.8 million homeowners (10.3% of the total) are in this situation, double the percentage from last year and the worst since the Depression. There certainly is enough blame to go around – intentionally lax federal oversight, inattentive members of Congress reliant on campaign donations from the financial industry, greed and lack of ethics exhibited by national banks and mortgage companies, and too many home buyers making naive and uninformed purchasing decisions. A number of fixes are being proposed and I would guess that whatever the “fix” (bailout for borrower or lender) it will tap into the taxpayers’ pockets. Glub!

* Emotional isolationism ~ mental well-being – On Saturday morning I opened my Yahoo home page and saw the following headlines: Israel Kills 31 Palestinians in Gaza Raid; Suicide Bomber kills 38 at Pakistan Funeral; Guatemala Bus Plunges off Cliff, 37 Killed. On most mornings I would treat these headlines as if they were sports scores, possibly making a brief mental note and moving on to the weather report. Like the news about genocide in Darfur and factional assassinations in Iraq, after a while they are statistics that cease to resonate in one’s emotional world. The over 100 deaths the day before involved no one that I knew and there is nothing that I could have done about it. But this morning was different as I recalled having lived in Guatemala and driven the narrow, winding roads that snake through the mountains. I recall having the frightful thought when traveling in this beautiful and culturally fascinating country that going off the road meant a drop of 1000 feet or more with little chance of survival. I stopped to read this article and then moved on to the weather report.

* Mitt Romney wins ~ by the skin of his teeth – At the 143rd annual Midwinter Meeting the Chicago Dental Society selected Romney as having the best smile of all the presidential candidates. The former governor of Massachusetts is also expected to be the choice of the Illinois Republican Hair Stylists Association when all three of them meet at a Starbucks next month.

* Modern health care ~ antiquated health insurance – The marvel of DNA testing allows a person to learn if an elevated risk of an inherited disease exists. Such knowledge would allow individuals to make more informed healthcare decisions. However, fear of genetic predispositions on health insurance costs or total loss of coverage lead many to avoid such testing. This is the state of health insurance today where employers or health insurers can discriminate against an individual because of the costs that individual may generate. A conservative perspective might be that if a person has an illness that could lead to substantial or catastrophic costs they alone should be responsible. I strongly disagree with such a mentality and argue that this is not the path that America has chosen. As a society we pool the cost of our national defense, our protection from crime and fire, basic education, and a long list of other services and protections essential to our well-being. Healthcare should be no different. A plan for health insurance that protects all Americans in an equitable manner should replace the current health insurance system where profit-driven objectives do not serve the common good.

* Derriere Orifice of the Week ~ the Environmental Protection Agency - What would you call a person who knowingly uses a broken condom? Answer: a fool. What would you call a government agency mandated to protect the environment and the citizens it serves that continually facilitates policies harmful to both? Answer: the EPA. “Under pressure from agriculture industry lobbyists and lawmakers from agricultural states, the Environmental Protection Agency wants to drop requirements that factory farms report their emissions of toxic gases, despite findings by the agency's scientists that the gases pose a health threat... The EPA acknowledges that the emissions can pose a threat to people living and working nearby, but it says local emergency responders don't use the reports, making them unnecessary.” We have repeatedly seen such asinine decisions supported by asinine justifications that only serve the economic interest of private industry. Almost always these decisions go against the judgment and advice of the EPA’s own and independent scientists. Sometimes the courts reverse these dangerous decisions but the process is costly, time consuming and allows dangerous activity to continue until EPA rulings are nullified. America currently lacks a balance between private and public interest. This is not an issue of less government. It is an issue of irresponsible government.

* Yes Virginia, Edward R .Murrow is gone - Watching the Clinton/Obama debate this past week the mediocre state of television news/political interviewers was on display in the form of Tim Russert. Tough questions are fine and even preferred but this observer felt that many of Russert’s questions were framed so that he was focus of this event. Such an approach also left me with questions about his objectivity and yearning for the likes of Jim Lehrer of PBS. Our broadcast fourth estate is far from first rate.

* No merit in consistency – On Monday the National Governors Association met with President Bush. “Bush rebuffed appeals from the nation’s governors to increase spending on roads, bridges and other public works as a way to revive the economy.” He wanted to see the effects of his own stimulus package before supporting new measures (some would call it self-stimulation). The President refused to address the fact that London Bridge is falling down along with much of the country’s infrastructure. Like the war in Iraq, no immigration solutions, devastating deficits, etc., etc., etc. the 43rd president of the U.S. will retire to his planned $200 million G. W. Bush Library at SMU in Texas where he can install a 43 foot high photo of himself in flight gear - “Mission Accomplished”.

* Merit in involvement - If you have a desire to be more knowledgeable and involved in your community, each month Tom Ulrich provides a calendar of all things politically progressive for people living in the Pennsylvania counties of Philadelphia, Bucks and Montgomery. You can join his mailing list by contacting him at

*Obama speaks about Israel – Steve Benen at brought to my attention comments that Barack Obama made this week to about 100 members of the Jewish community in Cleveland. I was particularly interested because for some time I have had a nagging sense that America’s hard-line, ask no questions support of Israel relative to the Palestine question does not especially serve the interest of Israelis, Palestinians or Americans. There are many within Israel and the U.S. who share this perspective. In part Obama said: “I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud (right wing) approach to Israel that you’re anti-Israel and that can’t be the measure of our friendship with Israel. If we cannot have an honest dialogue about how do we achieve these goals, then we’re not going to make progress.”

Some of the most influential people in the so-called “pro-Israel” block in the U.S. are neocons such as William Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle and members of the Bush administration (current and former) who had beaten the drums to invade Iraq. We have clearly seen the results of such myopic war-mongering. Recall when Israel, with full support from Bush and Secretary of State Rice, destroyed so much of the infrastructure of Lebanon. To what end? For decades I have been a supporter of Israel – a country with every right to defend its citizens from suicide attacks and missiles. However, there are valid questions to be asked. Does the expansion of settlements still make sense? Do policies that worsen the condition of Palestinian lives make sense? Is this not one of the reasons that Hamas came to power? It is time for leaders in Israel and America to explore new solutions. Stubborn adherence to unsuccessful policy does not lead to progress.

* Surgeon General of the Army Eric B. Schoomaker and I are red-faced – I am embarrassed because I naively believed it was the function of the Department of Veterans Affairs to be helpful to injured veterans. NPR reports that an Army team from Washington ordered VA officials at Fort Drum (NY) to stop counseling soldiers on their disability paperwork because when they did the soldiers received better benefits and this was a conflict of interest. Schoomaker flatly denied that it was the Army that told the VA to stop this help. Oops. NPR obtained a four-page VA document that proves the denial to be false. There is more than one conflict of interest in this saga – especially conflicted are the interests of brave men and women who served our country and have paid a heavy price. When our military and political leaders speak of honor and fidelity and supporting the troops they should in the same breath mention their own shame, dishonor, malfeasance and disgrace.

* It is not so much what you believe in that matters, as the way in which you believe it and proceed to translate that belief into action. Lin Yutang, Chinese writer and inventor (1895 – 1976)


Ruth said...

food for thought, as always, stephen. the neglect of our veterans is one of Bush's most egregious sins. your readers may enjoy this you tube video of the successful rehabilitation of 2 amputees. it has over 2 million views, none of which, i'm sure belong to bush.

and about his bridge infrastructure neglect, fortunately we have people such as schwartzenegger & our own gov. rendell who are willing to address pressing concern.

Sue Katz said...

Stephen, I'm so glad you included something about Obama's position on the Israel/Palestinian conflict. For me it is the defining issue. Clinton is to the right of the right - revealing not a shred of sympathy with the Palestinians for whom this occupation has caused an unspeakable humanitarian crisis. I've also been impressed by Obama's discussions of anti-Semitism and his hope that we can reinvigorate the historic alliance between African-Americans and Jews. Thanks, again.