Wednesday, September 27, 2006

An eye for an eye for an eye for an eye for an eye for...

News and comments swirl around another “intelligence report.” According to the media, this report represents the consensus view of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies. I had forgot that there are 16 agencies gathering intelligence. And I was amazed, at first, that 16 agencies could reach consensus on anything. That may show how obvious are their conclusions.

The document is called a “high-level” intelligence report, and was classified. But portions were leaked, and Bush has now declassified four pages of the 30-page document, “so that everyone can draw their own conclusions about what the report says.”

On one hand, I am not sure four of thirty pages are adequate for that. On the other, I am amazed that four pages of a 30 page consensus report by the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies is thought necessary to tell the world what nearly everyone already knows.

I do wonder, however, what surprises may be in the other 26 pages. Nonetheless, following is a short summary of the released pages. See if there is even one surprise in them.

* The Iraqi war is described as a “major catalyst for Islamic radicalism around the world.”

* One of the main conclusions reads: “We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives.”

* The report also says that al-Qaida is now exploiting the war to attract donors and recruits. Further, it states that fighters with experience in Iraq are likely to function as leaders in a new generation of jihadists.

* The Iraq conflict is described as a recruiting tool for Islamic militants, a training ground for Muslim jihadists, and a laboratory for new terrorist methods now increasingly being exported to other countries.

* According to the media report, the veteran analysts concluded, “Despite serious damage to the leadership of al-Qaida, the threat from Islamic extremists has spread both in number and in geographic reach since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003.”

See what I mean? Nearly everyone knew all that before those portions of the document were released. Perhaps that is why the four pages of the 30 were declassified. But, as I said, what is in the other 26 pages? And why do they remain “classified”?

Anyway, the comparative few who will refuse to believe the released information may be either the radically religious, who see the Mid-east conflict as some kind of crusade, or those Republicans who would support any leader they voted into office simply because they are incapable of believing that they may have voted for the wrong leader.

There is another group who may neither believe the report nor care what it says. Some of them are both thoughtful and articulate. I think they are also wrong. They seem to believe it does not matter what devastation the war has caused, how many innocent civilian deaths, how many military casualties, how many parents and widows and orphans now grieve, how much money is spent, how much corruption exists among war profiteers, how many lives are disrupted, how many marriages ended, how many laws broken, how many lies told, and how much the rest of the world objects. In their minds, past terrorist actions against this country justify everything the administration has done and will do both to our own laws and citizens and to terrorists and innocent civilians in other countries.

Not only do they dismiss any criticism as unpatriotic, but they also seem to see no other option than what the leaders they voted into office pursue, and they repeat the administration talking points robotically. “Better to fight them there than here,” for example. Better for whom is not a consideration.

Won’t pursuing “an eye for an eye” long enough leave everyone blind?

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Saturday, September 23, 2006

Going all the way...

You know how statistics from “studies” often do not tell the entire story. Like those studies that show how many men versus women have illicit, heterosexual affairs. The percentage of men is always higher in any study than the percentage of women.

No one seems to ask who the men are having heterosexual relations with. Do the women who have illicit sex have it with more partners than men who do? Or are some men lying about having the illicit sex, saying they do when they don’t, thus making the male percentage higher than women’s? Or do women lie and say they do not, when they do, making their percentage lower than that of males?

Or? I don’t know. It just always makes me wonder when I read yet one more study saying that, for example, seventy percent of men and forty percent of women have had a heterosexual affair.

Anyway, I recently read a study saying that pre-teens who choose raucous rap and heavy metal performances (I can’t in good conscience call it “music”) are more likely to have early sex than those kids who choose less raucous sounds such as ballads, or even country-western or classical music.

What the newspaper report did not say was what the researchers believe is cause and effect. The report implies that listening to raucous music may cause pre-teens to seek sex earlier than those listening to melodies.

Perhaps there was more to the study, and the newspaper chose only that part to report. But one needs to ask about the kids studied. Could it not be that pre-teens who seek sex earlier than others want the wilder music because of their raging hormones, and not that the music causes their hormones to rage? Then the kids who wait longer for sex are those types who seek quieter music, perhaps? It may not be that the music soothes their savage breasts.

Again, I don’t know. My dad was angry with me in the 1950s for listening to Frank Sinatra croon, “All The Way.” He thought it suggestive and even "dirty": “When somebody loves you, it’s no good unless he loves you, all the way.” Etc.

I wasn’t successful in finding it, but sex was something I sought back then. Suppose that was Frankie’s fault?

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

Painting by numbers...

I grouched about this a few months ago, but the subject has come up again. The Department of Homeland Security is “cracking down” on U.S. citizens who order prescription drugs from Canada. Prescription drugs. Brand names, ordered from reputable Canadian pharmacies. It is against some law or other, but has not been widely enforced until comparatively recently.

A clear and present danger?

Let’s play a little game of “connect the dots” and see what picture you get. Pencils ready? Begin.

Dot #1. The public record shows that pharmaceutical companies were among the biggest contributors to the election campaign of George Bush and other Republicans running for office in 2004.

Dot #2. Records also show that the number of lobbyists registered as working for pharmaceutical companies is now huge, far larger than in 2000.

Dot #3. President Bush went on the air in 2004 to warn U.S. citizens about the potential dangers of buying prescription drugs from “foreign countries.” He cited Canada as one example of a foreign country whose prescription drugs may be suspect. He did not say how he knew, nor what he suspected.

Dot #4. In late fall two years ago it became public that there was a shortage of anti-flu vaccine in the United States. Bush, when questioned, explained that the problem was with this country’s supplier. The company had experienced manufacturing problems resulting in an inability to fill the order. It was a British country that supplied U.S. flu vaccine. British. Foreign.

Dot #5. After screams from all sides about whose fault the shortage was, Bush was back explaining that efforts to solve the vaccine problem were working, that the shortage would be short lived, and that we would soon be getting all the flu vaccine we needed, shipped from companies in…ready?...Canada! (See again, Dot #3.)

Dot #6. Last fall, according to an article by Susan Q. Stranahan in the current AARP BULLETIN, “Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection quietly stepped up its confiscation of prescription drugs from Canada.”

Dot #7. Again according to Stranahan, officials claim that the new policy is to protect consumers. People paying $115 for a three-month’s supply of Fosamax, for example, are now forced, instead, to pay $75 for a one-month supply of the same brand from their local pharmacies. Buying from Canada is illegal, and “it is not safe,” repeat officials.

Dot #8. A 2004 Government Accountability Office study concluded that prescription drugs from Canada are comparable to those bought in the U.S. Florida Senator Bill Nelson added, “And the fact is, most drugs sold in Canada come from the same companies and same assembly lines as drugs sold in America.”

Dot #9. There is pending legislation to support “legal and safe” importation of prescription drugs from other countries. The bill currently languishes in committee.

Dot #10. Ken Johnson, vice president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, has said that the proposed legislation “undermines the government’s ability to assure the American public” that drugs are safe.

Dot #11. Americans questioning the confiscation of their prescription drugs are regularly led to believe that it is just big government’s way of protecting them.

Dot #12. As drug prices have risen dramatically in recent years, some two million people have looked to Canada for medicines. Illinois led a number of states in directing their citizens to Canadian markets. But not until a governor-ordered study concluded that Canada’s pricing and distribution system was less likely than this country’s to foster counterfeiting of drugs and low-quality products.

Dot #13. Americans in recent years have spent between $500 million and $1 billion annually in Canada where brand-name drugs, including those made by U.S. companies, are often “significantly cheaper.”

Dot #14. This one is an “opinion dot." Conservative Republicans in Goldwater’s day might have suggested that any administration claiming to be that protective was either lying about whom they were trying to protect or sticking their liberal, big-government noses into the public’s affairs in areas of personal freedom where government has no place. Perhaps especially a government that has turned a blind eye to the outsourcing of jobs by so many (campaign contributing) American companies in recent years.

Take a moment to finish drawing your conclusions. ... O.K., Stop. Put your pencils down.

The situation has inspired a silly idea I am here passing along to any one of the writers of Saturday Night Live. Or, perhaps, it fits better those who write and stage the skits at the Washington Press Corps’ annual Gridiron Club dinner and “roast” of all things political.

Here it is: The curtain goes up. Karl Rove is talking with the head of the OBGYN doctor’s organization, as well as the head of the American Dental Association and the head of the U.S. optometrists. Karl is explaining that if those organizations want to stop celebrities like Angelina or Anna Nicole from going to Africa or the Bahamas to give birth to American babies and promoting that alternative to American hospitals, there may be a way. And if they also want to stop citizens from traveling to Mexico, for example, for eye exams and glasses, or for dental work, then, perhaps they should all help fund the reelection of lawmakers who could become sympathetic to their views of protecting Americans from foreign hospitals, optometrists, and dentists.

The heads of the organizations repeat that Americans seeking medical treatment outside the country should be protected from potentially endangering their health. Karl nods, agrees again, and once more suggests supporting a President and legislators who may have the power to help. --Curtain--

Get the picture?

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Toppling "reasons" for invading Iraq

Bush and Cheney have both finally admitted publicly that they were wrong in saying that Saddam Hussein had ties either to 9/11 or to Ossama bin Laden. They have also admitted that they were wrong about Iraq having stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (wmd).

Those were among the reasons we were given daily during the run-up to the first-ever American pre-emptive war -- against Iraq, more than three years ago. Bush and Cheney now hide behind the statement by adding that "everyone" believed it. Everyone did not. But many did, because, back then, many believed the President! I won't argue about their "errors" being lies. History may do that.

Let's address one of the other reasons for that invasion still being used. Both Cheney and Bush have recently repeated their charge that Saddam once had wmd and "even used them against his own people."

Bush slid that statement into his recent interview with TODAY show's Brian Williams, and it went unchallenged, again. Williams should have asked the following: "Mr. President, when did that horrible killing of thousands of Iraqi Kurds take place?"

The Bush statement has imbedded itself in the consciousness of Americans who probably imagine nuclear weapons used by Saddam against any who disagreed with him right up to our invasion of the country and deposing of the regime. But not so.

The Saddam war against his own people, horrible as it was, took place in 1988. That is fifteen years before our invasion of the country. That was two presidential administrations ago. It took place when Bush's father was President, and was before the first Gulf War, the first Bush's "desert storm" war to free Kuwait from the invading Iraqis.

Don't misunderstand. I am all for holding leaders accountable, no matter how long it takes. But I think using Saddam's actions against the Kurds in 1988 as a reason for invading Iraq in 2003 is a bogus reason.

The trial of Saddam now going on is hearing testimony about that 1988 massacre. So our actions have brought the tyrant to court. That is good. But is that reason enough to invade, destroy Iraqi infrastructure, kill thousands of Iraqi military and civilians, and fight a war that is killing our own military personal daily and costing American taxpayers billions of dollars?

If Bush can continually make that statement, without anyone questioning it, then how far back may our country go in punishing leaders for transgressions against their populations? Is it too late to invade Cuba and depose Castro for his mistreatment of his opponents right after his succesful revolutionary coup?

How about China? May we invade and topple the government there for the horrible slaughter of intellectuals and political opponents, begun decades ago, and still going on?

How about North Korea? Iran? Ethnic cleansing is going on today in African countries. How long after it ends shall we wait before invading because of it? Tibetan leaders have a record of killing members of their population, as well. Years ago.

I know. I am being ridiculous. But it is also ridiculous for us to let Bush and Cheney continue to repeat, unchallenged, the notion that our invasion of Iraq three years ago was in part because Saddam once had wmd "and even used them against his own people," back in 1988.

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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Explaining the Bush speaking style

I recently listened to the first dunce go on about why we stay in Iraq and the threat of N. Korea. It occurred to me that he "sounds" almost like his handlers must sound as they teach him what his rationale is while coaching him to speak publicly.

That would explain his own condescending, simplistic "explanations." He is subconsciously imitating those who have been teaching him what to say.

I can just see Rove, Cheney, or Condi leaning in before his press conference and explaining to him with a tinge of exasperation: "...So, now listen, we have a number of nations involved with talks about North Korea. Six nations at this time. And that is what we want, got that? A number of nations with a single purpose, one mind. A coalition. And we will talk with those nations. All of them. That is our purpose, remember, to talk with all six of the nations who are concerned about the problem in North Korea. That is what a coalition does. It talks things out and gives support. And it is right that we talk to them all. We are not a nation that wants to go it alone in these matters. We need to emphasize that. We want to cooperate with the world community, O.K.? And so it is…, that is…, remember, we will keep the lines of communication open to all the nations concerned with the North Korean threat. That is just the way it is. We will stand firm on this."

And Bush nods at their prompting and then goes before the cameras to recite. Only not quite so well. A little like Tim the Tool Man Taylor interpreting to his wife what his face-hidden neighbor, Wilson, has told him about some weighty issue on the old sit. com. "Home Improvement."

Stop me before I foam.

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Friday, September 08, 2006

more about autism from another source...

Someone pointed out that there is an article in the current SLATE about autism. I had written a theory of mine in this blog some time ago, suggesting television as a contributor. (6/12/06) Readers may want to be amazed at a few similar ideas in the SLATE article. "In Search of the Cause of Autism: How about television? By Gregg Easterbrook" We may be on to something!

Check it out: http://www.slate.com/id/2149002/?GT1=8506

Sunday, September 03, 2006

No news is good news, perhaps, for Republicans

Last July I drove from Phoenix to Las Vegas and then on to visit friends at Lake Tahoe. I just returned from three weeks of August vacation in the other direction. I drove across Arizona, New Mexico, the Texas Pan Handle, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and Western Iowa. A side trip with friends from my hometown of Sioux City took us across South Dakota, then north and west, out to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the Badlands of North Dakota. The area may well be the best-kept secret in the park system. But that is another post.

The trip covered just over 5,700 miles. Add that to the approximately 1600 miles in July to Incline Village, Nevada, and I have traveled well over 7,300 miles this summer, all in the American “Heartland.” Never mind the photos. They are all great. And the friends and family. Even greater.

What I began to notice, slowly at first, was the lack of print information available in local newspapers to readers across America from Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, to Iowa and South and North Dakotas. Eleven states.

You know how it is when you travel. You watch little television and read few papers, grateful to have a vacation from the news of the day. We had laughed with friends in Nevada about the small town nature of news in the Reno paper. I thought little more about it, then. But on the later trip, I noticed slowly that there also was little world or national news in any of the other papers that I did take time to read along the way. And that discovery was made more apparent when I read my hometown Sioux City JOURNAL for August 23, 2006. The paper seems to have become a small town rag, boosting the area, but reporting little national or world news.

The paper contains not a word about Afghanistan. (I kept it as proof.) Almost no news from Iraq, none about the fighting. A tiny mention of Iran. No word of Lebanon, Israel, Syria, North Korea, trouble spots in Africa, nor even news from Cuba. No mention of Iraqi civilian deaths, American military casualties, or destruction in the Middle East.

Here is another finding, or lack of one, I found most amazing: There was no mention in the paper of George Bush, Dick Cheney, what is happening in Washington or with any of the Bush League politicians. The 100,000 residents of the metropolitan area served by the daily publication have to be calmed by the lack of troubling news! I thought for one happy moment that peace had broken out everywhere!

The front page has a feature on what makes small towns click. Small towns whose populations also subscribe to the JOURNAL. Another story tells of a neighboring community seeking input before building hiking/biking trails. Nearly half the page is given to a feature about a couple who make friends with wedding balloons. Could I make that up?

There is a four column wide photo of the couple and a two column one of a bride and groom exiting the church under a barrage of balloons. I haven’t read the story.

Inside are stories of a milk man who retired after 70 years delivering milk, a report of a grant given to a job training agency, and a feature about a couple who wed after a twenty-five year relationship. I haven’t read that one, either. There is a report that the county wants the state to pick up care costs. Three candidates are profiled briefly for the fifth district congressional race. A reporter has a column telling about finding an article written in 1958 which incorrectly predicted a number of things that were to come about by the year 2000, but didn’t.

There is a story of ten Russian women who will spend time in the area learning about women in leadership roles in America. None of the women leaders are journalists dedicated to reporting the news, I’ll wager.

A one-column wide, four-inch story on page seven tells of the Marine Corps planning to call up troops for active duty because enlistments are down, and more are needed in Iraq. But the story seems to emphasize that the problem is due in large part to recent reductions in troop numbers, always good news.

Following the opinions page, with no political opinions other than two about the recent George Allen faux pas, there is a page of comics. And on page 11, a short article headlines that Iran is ready for serious negotiations on the nuclear dispute. A soothing headline that invites readers to skip the story.

A six-page sports section shows that JOURNAL reporters work at getting local and state games covered. They also include stories on the PGA, Mets vs. Cardinals, and the Little League World Series. Far more news of what is going on in the sports world than in the political one.

Section “C” is labeled “Community.” Two more stories about Russia are there. A plane crashed. And in Spain, a Russian genius solved a 102 year-old problem.

On page five of that section is a five-inch, one column wide story reporting that Iraq has opened its own probe into the alleged rape and murder of a girl, “even though” the soldiers involved will face American military justice. That is the first sentence. Paragraph/sentence two moves to the capture of “more than 100 known or suspected al-Qaida terrorists.” Known or suspected? How many of each? None of them had anything to do with the alleged rape and murder. Why is that sentence in this story? The third, fourth and fifth sentences return to the soldiers' “alleged” crime and the Iraqi procedures for investigation. How many read all five sentences? Especially after the second one?

Remember, this is a daily newspaper serving a metropolitan area of more than 100,000. I know. That is not a huge circulation. But think about it. The readers of the JOURNAL are voters. As are readers of all the other “small town” papers I scanned on the trip through eleven states.

Many of those readers may be lulled into thinking everything is going well, since there is no report to the contrary, nor even a report of how well they think things are going. That’s the scary part.

I called a friend in Sioux City who has worked for the paper. He has contacts there yet. When I began my rant, he agreed quickly, interrupting me to say that he had talked to a reporter about the same thing. He was told the syndicate that owns the paper wants it that way. “They” want local features. Boosterism. Good news about locals, etc.

And that brings me to the question: “Why do ‘they’ want that?” Say it is all economics and that the good folks of Siouxland will buy more papers with stories of local people than they will buy papers that report what is going on in the world. But I doubt that is either true or their reason.

I found little political or world news in local papers anywhere in my travels! In fact there was far more “news” about Teddy Roosevelt in Madora, North Dakota, than of George Bush. I saw but one mention of the President, and that was a framed campaign button from 2000 hanging on the motel wall.

Liberal media? Not those at the head of newspaper syndicates who support the Bush League! I don’t know how many papers Lee Enterprises owns other than the Sioux City JOURNAL. But I assume they all get the same directives from the top management, designed to keep the readers from getting news without going to television or other sources. After all, voters can hardly be critical of the administration’s activities if they know little or nothing about those activities from their hometown papers.

A CNN broadcast at the end of the week reported that it had been one of the bloodiest weeks in Baghdad, ever. Readers of the JOURNAL who missed the broadcast do not know that. I wonder if many care.

And what of other newspaper syndicates? Are they supporters of those who run our puppet president? Or do they support reporting the news? I’d bet there are other media moguls in on what I see as the master plan of our national minister of propaganda, Karl Rove.

I'm a curmudgeon, but I may have stumbled onto a little part of that bigger plan. Admittedly, it was a limited survey, but it seems to me that those who daily stage the Presidency are keeping a sizeable number of the Republican “base” complacent and content by controlling the news that gets printed in local papers. And every vote counts. Except in Florida, 2000, or Ohio, 2004.

So, if a few thousand voters here and there in the Heartland are kept ill informed, there is a better chance they will continue to support those they voted into office, especially when they want so badly to believe their vote was right. And a few thousand voters here and there, as part of the overall plan, may help keep those in power, those who have purchased the President, the ones holding the strings to the puppet.

Did you read this week that the Army will hire a PR person to help news sources with stories painting the war in better tones? Really. It was reported in at least one paper. But perhaps not yours. Anyway, who came up with that idea? Shall we guess?

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