Thursday, March 20, 2008

* The Iraq debate ~ voices unheard ~ my letter to the Phila. Inquirer - The editorial “The Iraq debate – Five Years Later” offered many voices and facets of the dilemma then and now. However, I believe that some voices were not heard when the statement was made, “With Saddam gone, we will not leave Iraq worse than we found it...” I refer to the voices of the almost 90,000 Iraqis killed and their survivors, the more than 4 million Iraqis displaced, the untold injured and maimed, the orphans, the current population living with inadequate electricity, tainted water and disease and so much of the population not knowing if today will be the day that they or family member or friend will be blown up into unrecognizable pieces. The claim that Iraq is or will be better off is reminiscent of the arrogance of our President, the imperialism of our Vice-President and the amorality of the neoconservative philosophy that fueled this misadventure.

* Situational law ~ socializing the financial industry - The Mortgage Bankers Association is calling for the U.S. to commit $31 million over the next 5 years in new funding for the FBI and Justice Dept. to investigate and prosecute consumer fraud when obtaining mortgages. It would seem to me that those lending the money should be more responsible for investigating the veracity of potential borrowers. Not surprisingly, this austere group did not mention the need to investigate fraud committed by the lending side of the equation that contributed to the subprime mortgage disaster. It is these same bankers that spend untold sums lobbying congress to avoid oversight and regulation - until their own greed and stupidity create situations where they now want government assistance and bailouts. AND they are getting it. The Federal Reserve Board of NY just pumped $200 million into Wall Street, in part to bail out investment banking firm Bear Sterns. Where is the “free market system” that Bush and the Republicans so proudly wear on their lapels next to their waving American flag? If you cannot pay your credit card bill you are charged an interest rate on unpaid balances up to 28%. I was not able to find what the Fed is charging these bankers. The wave for help from the average Joe Consumer goes unanswered although our leader did comment: “President Bush conceded on Friday (3/14) that the country "obviously is going through a tough time". Obviously.

* The U.S. car accident – Following a car crash the survivors stumble from their vehicle glassy-eyed and mumbling “what happened”. The American economy finds itself in a similar situation. My short story take on this giant failure is that we used inexpensive foreign funds to import more than we exported while undermining our ability to actually produce goods; we abandoned the middle and poorer classes as a smaller and smaller contingent of our population accumulated more and more of the wealth; we removed oversight of the corporate and financial community; and we developed amnesia from the lessons learned from the Great Depression and the Savings and Loan crash two decades ago. It is a failure of leadership, ethics and responsibility. This is my non-economist opinion. For an excellent analysis of “what happened” to the U.S. economy and some solutions for recovery I recommend a piece by Jerome a Paris at

* A witness to the accident – About 18 months ago I wrote a letter to Wachovia after reading an article describing Wachovia’s decision to outsource clerical work overseas (India?). I suggested that the decision was short-sighted. The jobs they were eliminating in the U.S. represented people who earned an income from Wachovia and then purchased food, clothes and services from businesses that used Wachovia banking and stock brokerage services. I did not bother to make the “ludicrous” argument that these lost jobs also represented lost tax revenue that impacted schools and services and communities. I had already concluded that responsible involvement with one’s community, one’s country by the financial/corporate world was a romantic myth of yore. The essence of Wachovia’s response to me was that they had to remain competitive. A “noble” goal but devoid of merit if at the same time they were undermining their base business – individuals and businesses that save, borrow and invest through Wachovia. As the oil rich and wealth-bloated Arab countries continue to purchase ownership in U.S. business and financial institutions perhaps they will outsource some jobs to America.

*Well, here is a macho challenge to gun toting American cowboys – The state of Madhya Pradesh in India, in an attempt to reduce population growth, is trying to persuade men to undergo sterilization by offering to fast-track their gun license applications. If such a rule were mandated in the U.S. one wonders which weapon would be relinquished.

* The economics of unfettered capitalism - Jane Smiley at The Huffington Post penned an article that I strongly recommend. She reviews the role of economists since the 1970s who preached unregulated capitalism that led to our economic crisis. In previous posts I have characterized this phenomenon as “capitalism on steroids”.

* Supporting intelligent government ~ it does not have to be an oxymoron – The senate is considering a bill, Foreclosure Prevention Act (S. 2636) that will allow victims of abusive lending who are facing foreclosures to stay in their homes while they work through the bankruptcy courts to repay the debt. The website Care2 provides a petition supporting this legislation that will be forwarded to your Senator.

* Mind-numbing statistic of the week – One in 25 people living in New Orleans are homeless (12,000).

* Genius at work – Hillary Clinton’s chief strategist Mark Penn says that Obama cannot win the general election. This from the man heading the Clinton campaign that in early 2007 led every poll by wide margins, had more money than it knew what to do with and was certain that she was “guaranteed” the Democratic nomination. The national media continue to treat Penn’s every word as if it comes from the lips of the inventor of political campaigns. Clinton hitched her campaign to many of the same strategists that have failed the Democratic Party over the last decade. It may be her failing.

* Epiphany on the campaign trail – John McCain told reporters that “he is doing the Lord’s work”. For twenty years he has represented the citizens of Arizona. Now that he is running for president of the U.S. McCain has concluded that he needs the Bush base of the religious right to win and he has upgraded his constituency to the highest power. As he changes his position to pro-torture, welcomes the lobbyists he claims he abhorred, embraces the religious right that he once criticized and dances around campaign finance law remember that he now works for a higher order. In another remarkable other-worldly occurrence McCain can be seen miraculously channeling Bush at every campaign stop. At any moment McBush is likely to call Dick Cheney to the pulpit to serve as his Vice-Presidential nominee. Hallelujah!

* Military violence ~ there is a difference – Military violence against an enemy is understandable and unavoidable. Military violence against one’s own troops is reprehensible. A Pentagon report says that one-third of women in the military are sexually harassed AND in the years 2006 and 2007 there were a reported 5635 sexual assaults. Ironically, “Officials said that overall, the survey showed both men and women polled (in the military) think the climate on sexual relations is better in the military than it is in the nation as a whole. And the survey found that a majority of those surveyed believe the military's training on sexual harassment is effective.” I guess that my understanding of “effective” is defective.

* Questions of the week - John “the surge is working” McCain visited Iraq last weekend under total secrecy due to security concerns. Last year he was telling us how safe it was when he visited a Baghdad market, while protected by military personnel and helicopters. On this current trip it is too unsafe for an American to visit the same market as it is controlled by Sadr. Recall that the purpose of the surge was to give the Iraqi government the time needed to reconcile the country’s differences and begin governing. How is that going? “Iraqi leaders have failed to take advantage of a reduction in violence to make adequate progress toward resolving their political differences, said Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.” Which leads to my next question, “What the hell are we doing there”?

* Justice from the Twilight Zone – An email from Amnesty International provided the following dismaying saga: “Troy Davis came within 24 hours of execution in July, 2007 before receiving a temporary stay of execution. Two weeks later the Georgia Supreme Court agreed to hear his extraordinary motion for a new trial. On Monday, March 17, 2008 the court denied Mr. Davis’ appeal. Troy Davis was sentenced to death for the murder of Police Officer Mark MacPhail in Georgia. The case against him consisted entirely of witness testimony which contained inconsistencies even during the trial. Since then, all but two of the state's nine non-police witnesses from the trial have recanted or contradicted their testimony. Many of these witnesses have stated in sworn affidavits that they were pressured or coerced by police into testifying or signing statements against Troy Davis. Amnesty International is providing a petition you can sign requesting justice from the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Parole.

* Toxic conflict of interest – “The House Energy and Commerce Committee cited the case of eight scientists who were consultants or members of EPA science advisory panels assessing the human health effects of toxic chemicals while getting research support from the chemical industry on the same chemicals they were examining.” Two of these “scientists” were employed by companies being investigated. Ironic and infuriating but not surprising, “The American Chemistry Council, the industry trade group, had called for the removal of Deborah Rice, a toxicologist from Maine, as chairman of an independent EPA panel assessing the health risks from "deca", a flame retardant in electronic equipment, after she urged the Maine state legislature to ban the chemical.” Apparently Ms. Rice “naively” attempted to do her job as advocate for the safety of the American public. I do not consider myself naive and yet I am stunned at the overwhelming number of educated people with responsible positions and decent incomes who lack any sense of moral, ethical or responsible behavior in the service of their government and their country which has provided the environment for them to succeed.

* Remember when America was the world leader? – For most of my life I have had a sense of pride that whatever the situation America embodied the highest standard for human rights, law, democracy, helping the needy, being a moral compass, achievements in science, education and health – being the best that we could be. Observing the demise of U.S. world leadership has not been pleasant. And yet, seeing other countries filling the void we are creating still surprises and stings. A case in point was the announcement by the European Union (EU) that unless U.S. airlines go green on carbon emissions they will lose flights to EU countries. It is a natural law that vacuums will be filled, even if Bush and his appointees to the EPA, NASSA and the CDC do not believe in science.

*No stone left unturned – A naive person would think that there is little left for George W. Bush to damage in our country.. As the country staggers to January 20, 2009 the sapping of its strength continues. Last month a program created by President Gerald Ford 32 years ago was essentially jettisoned by Bush. The Intelligence Oversight Board was made up of six private citizens with top security clearance to ensure that our spy agencies operated within the law. "I believe [the IOB] will eliminate abuses and questionable activities on the part of the foreign intelligence agencies while at the same time permitting them to get on with their vital work of gathering and assessing information," Ford told Congress. Why has President Bush tried to function under more secrecy and avoidance of oversight than any previous president? The historical autopsy of the Bush administration will demonstrate that George W. Bush and the people surrounding him were inflicted with the engulfing FEAR of being exposed for an incompetence and criminality unseen in the annals of American experience.

* Leadership ~ the exclusion of fear – Barack Obama presented America with a landmark speech this week that focused on racial concerns in America. He addressed the issues more openly and courageously than anyone I have heard in a public forum since Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Obama shed light on the thoughts and fears and resentments that Americans of all races harbor but rarely verbalize. He appeared to be the rare individual who can see and understand and communicate the myriad elements and nuances of the race issues nagging at our society. As he spoke at the U.S. Constitution Center, located within earshot from where this country was founded, a leader of potential historical significance emerged. A video of Obama’s speech is available at: Barack Obama : : Change We Can Believe In His Own Words

* “To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”
Theodore Roosevelt (1858 – 1919), 26th President of the United States of America, a leader of the Republican Party and the Progressive Movement


Ruth said...

Excellent, Stephen! I signed 2 petitions for a more just world. Justice would also be for Wachovia to keep their clerical staff in the good ole USA. Their pitiful excuse for not doing so - keeping up with competition - is interesting in light of the following economic facts. In 1970, CEOs made 40 times as much as their workers. Today, they make over 410 TIMES. The only competition is between which CEO can be more greedy! - Ruth & Scott

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