*Social Security ~ how insecure? – Listening to George Bush, John McCain, Republicans and the New York Times one would conclude that Social Security benefits for millions of Americans are in near-term crisis. James Kvaal, Domestic Policy Advisor at the Center for American Progress Action Fund offers a different conclusion. “The latest projection is that Social Security will pay full benefits for more than 30 years. After 2041, it will pay only 78 percent of promised benefits... The report is an important reminder that the program is not in a crisis. While we need reforms to extend the life of Social Security, we do not need to panic and adopt massive benefit cuts. And the last thing we need is the radical step of privatization”. Recall President Bush traveling the country several years ago lobbying for a privatization plan for Social Security. The plan would have been a boon for America’s private financial institutions as they got their sticky hands on billions of dollars. YES, that same greedy, needy, seedy group seeking from Congress billions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer money to BAIL them out of loans that should never have been made and surrounded by mismanagement and malfeasance – while executives took tens of millions of dollars in salaries, bonuses and retirement packages. For my money I say keep Social Security out of “private” hands and develop a plan to further fund the current system.
* Happy Birthday ~ the Peace sign – On April 4th the Peace sign celebrated its 50th birthday. The symbol was originally the official sign for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in England and in the 1960s the hippies were the first to use it as a symbol of peace. Since then it has been appropriated by scores of protest movements. A more detailed history and numerous artist depictions of the Peace symbol are available at: happybirthdaypeace.com. For those of us who were hangin’ out in the 1960s the Peace symbol did not prove to be as powerful as we had hoped.
* What’s the big deal? – I have seen a number of articles advocating for greater religious influence in government/public forums. In most cases the intent may be positive but the implications are missed. A case in point is POPLINE (POPulation information onLINE), the world's largest database on reproductive health, containing citations with abstracts to scientific articles, reports, books, and unpublished reports in the field of population, family planning, and related health issues. POPLINE is maintained by the INFO Project at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health/Center for Communication Programs and is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. “A medical librarian who ran a typical search on POPLINE found something very disturbing. The term “abortion” had been pretty much blocked from its database for normal searches.” The Bush administration has spent over 7 years insinuating the agenda of the religious right throughout federal agencies and programs. AND, that is a big deal. You may not care about abortion but you may care about the next subject or be a member of a group that could be targeted - Black, Asian, Jew, gay, liberal, conservative, Muslim, elderly, autistic, immigrant...
* Family values guys – At least that is the most popular reason Bush administrators give when resigning in disgrace and/or under criminal investigation. The most recent “resigning to spend more quality time with the family” is Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alphonso Jackson. Given the housing-mortgage crisis it seems an odd time to be quitting. Unstated reasons for Jackson resigning would include “allegations of cronyism and favoritism involving HUD contractors for the past two years. The FBI has been examining the ties between Jackson and a friend who was paid $392,000 by Jackson's department as a construction manager in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.” Also unmentioned in Jackson’s resignation speech: holding back funds for public housing in Philadelphia in retaliation for the city not turning over land for re-development to his friend; giving a friend a contract to run the housing authority in the Virgin Islands who had no housing experience. Jackson faces ongoing probes "by a federal grand jury, the Justice Department, the FBI and the HUD inspector general. The Bush guys are one happy family who share the principle of drool of law.
* Looking over your shoulder ~ or under the bed – I find it somewhat amusing that the U.S. State Department has issued a warning to Americans traveling to China for the Olympics this summer. "All hotel rooms and offices are considered to be subject to onsite or remote technical monitoring at all times...Hotel rooms, residences and offices may be accessed at any time without the occupant's consent or knowledge." I imagine that China is issuing a similar warning to its citizens who travel to the U.S. It reminds one of the good old days of the Cold War.
* Speaking of China –There is much to criticize about China’s business methods and government. A major area of concern is that many of the country’s major cities are an environmental disaster and as unsafe health-wise as some of the products they produce. However, they have joined other countries in establishing automobile mileage standards that make U.S. standards substandard. Whereas the U.S. has just set a goal of 35 MPG by the year 2020, the Chinese are there now and Europe and Japan were at these levels six years ago. Also of note is that by 2010 China will be the world leader in wind turbine manufacturing and solar photovoltaics manufacturing. I have no idea what “photovoltaics” is but I do know that the business and government leadership of America has abandoned the American workforce and the American people. It was not too long ago that this country was leading the world in technology and production. As factories stand idle and many workers seek quality paying jobs the only good news can be found in fortune cookies and the prospect of new leadership.
* Speaking of the Economy – Last week Barack Obama gave a speech “Renewing the American Economy” (the link offers a video and print copy). Once again we hear from an adult speaking to adults. “Under Republican and Democratic Administrations, we failed to guard against practices that all too often rewarded financial manipulation instead of productivity and sound business practices... We let the special interests put their thumbs on the economic scales. The result has been a distorted market that creates bubbles instead of steady, sustainable growth; a market that favors Wall Street over Main Street, but ends up hurting both.” “The great task before our Founders... was putting into practice the ideal that government could simultaneously serve liberty and advance the common good.” These two excerpts are examples of what this speech offered. I believe the entire speech is worth hearing. It is a short lesson in American economic history, a review of how our economy got in trouble and a road map for moving forward.
* McCain and minority issues – a 25 year history – In 1983 Senator John McCain voted against having a national day to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. There are many issues on which McCain has flip-flopped but support for minority issues is not one of them. For example, he voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1990 that included laws to end discrimination in hiring and on at least 8 occasions he voted against raising the minimum wage. The organization Color of Change offers a history of McCain’s legislative record on issues affecting people of color.
*A voice from the past – In the early 1950s Dwight D. Eisenhower cautioned America about the military-industrial complex. Many would say that this was not a lesson learned as billions are spent on unnecessary or outmoded weapons systems and equipment. An interesting third element in this relationship is members of congress. A recent study by the Center for Responsive Politics found that, “Members of Congress have as much as $196 million collectively invested in companies doing business with the Defense Department, earning millions since the onset of the Iraq war.” One would hope that elected representatives would not consider putting military personnel in harm’s way or approving military budgets for personal gain. For those skeptics/realists among us perhaps members of congress should be prohibited from investing in companies that profit from government contracts - just a thought.
* Till we’re Jet Blue in the face – About a year ago several conditions converged on the NY city airports and Jet Blue passengers were stuck on planes on the ground for 8 to 10 hours. Passengers were without food, water, fresh air and with overflowing toilets. The state of New York subsequently passed a Passenger Bill of Rights that would fine airlines up to $1000 per passenger for such conditions. The trade association for the airlines took the law to court where it was upheld at the federal level but was just overturned by a federal appellate court. The reason for the reversal was that the NY law pre-empted federal law and interfered with the FAA ability to maintain uniform standards for air travel. I can understand this logic and join other air travelers in the hope that Congress enacts legislation such as NY’s law protecting airline passenger on a national level. Unfortunately, by the time that the cathartic Congress gets around to passing anything but gas, planes will be obsolete and we will be beaming ourselves to other locations utilizing technology found on old Star Trek movie sets.
*Why I will never, ever wear nipple rings – A woman was forced to remove two nipple rings detected by TSA security before they would allow her to board her flight. She was provided with a pair of pliers for the removal. The passenger filed a complaint since she had volunteered to display her pierced breasts in private to a female agent. The TSA said that officers followed procedures but the procedures must change. I sense that more than TSA procedures will change once caution replaces fear as our mantra.
* Statistic of the Week – 81% of Americans feel the nation is on the wrong track. This is the worst perception recorded since the NY Times/CBS poll began asking the question in the early 1990s. Only 14% feel that America is okay which means that half of the diehard Bush supporters have left the fold. Welcome to the real world.
* The irony of intentions – It seems that every time Republicans bleat their horn for smaller government and increased privatization to save taxpayers money, their plans wind up costing the taxpayers an INCREASE of billions of dollars. Republican economic policy has directly contributed to this less-than-proud moment – vanishing jobs and rising prices will result in 28 million people needing food stamps by the end of 2008. Which is deeper, Republican policy incompetence or pockets that are being stuffed with special interest money?
* The irony of perspective – On March 27th President Bush said in a speech that the surge is working and that normalcy is returning to Iraq. From a March 28th article "The State Department has instructed all personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad not to leave reinforced structures due to incoming insurgent rocket fire that has killed two American government workers this week... all personnel are advised to remain under hard cover at all times... Personnel should only move outside of hard cover for essential reasons... Essential outdoor movements should be sharply limited in duration... We strongly recommend personnel do not sleep in their trailers.” One of the above quotes was made from the safety of Dayton, Ohio (while surrounded by a contingent of Secret Service agents) and peering Through the Looking-Glass where opposite meanings and running backwards abound.
* The irony of aversion - Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal writes about Hillary Clinton’s disingenuous or disremembering claim that she dodged sniper fire during a visit to Bosnia in 1996. Video tape shows Hillary on a peaceful tarmac being greeted by a young girl offering flowers. Noonan says, “But I think it's fair to say of the establishment media at this point that it is well populated by people who feel such a lack of faith in Mrs. Clinton's words and ways that it amounts to an aversion. They are offended by how she and her staff operate.” I would like to add my name to people who are offended and have aversions. To some degree my aversion is with the Clintons, but establishment media are near the top of my list. Most of their oversight involves the feeding frenzy when a national figure is exposed for sexual indiscretions. In terms of holding this administration and members of congress accountable we have witnessed a failure of significant magnitude. Establishment media, for the most part, have been (take your pick) intimidated, somnambulant, hypnotized, incompetent.
* "If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will loose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will loose that too."
William Somerset Maugham (1874 – 1965), English short-story writer, novelist and playwright