Wednesday, May 6, 2009

No One Has To Obey Any Laws According To The Justice Department

In their desperate attempt to make the entire issue of the torture of prisoners held by our country go away, the Department of Justice under Attorney General Holder is already preparing their final report that will no doubt recommend no criminal charges be levied against the lawyers who wrote the guidelines that gave the Bush Administration all the justification they needed to give the green light to the most heinous of war crimes.

While many of us are content to sit back and applaud the decision to not prosecute the lawyers for their criminal rewriting of our nation's laws, there are also many of us who can see down the road, and how this insane sweeping under the rug of this issue not only will basically end any chance of ever bringing the top echelon culprits to justice, but it will now set the dangerous precedent for the next Bush that comes along to go even further. Like say, torturing American citizens?

Also forgotten and intentionally not spoken about by the media any more are not only the vast torture programs our government had going, but the renditions of individuals from even friendly countries such as Canada, wherein they would be shipped off to places where even more diabolical torture techniques are common place, and from which the Bush Administration first derived their false case for war with Iraq.

Such as the case of Al-Libi, an admitted al-Queda operative captured soon after the 9/11 attacks. No trial was nor ever has been held for this person and although not a figure to gain much sympathy in our part of the world, Al-Libi was probably the test case from which the entire torture/rendition program sprang forth from. CIA interrogators stuffed Al-Libi into a 2ft. by 2 ft. box and kept him there for 17 hours, effectively burying him alive while demanding that he provide a link between al-Queda and Saddam Hussein. When that didn't work, the beatings began. Forget this hooey about water boarding. That wasn't the worst that was done. Prisoners like Al-Libi would be set upon by up to 5 men at a time, fists and feet flying for up to 15 minutes, hitting in all the right places to inflict maximum pain with minimal damage.

The country was treated to pictures of prisoners strung up with electrical wiring and we were told no electrocutions ever happened. But by the CIA's own admission, people that were renditioned and sent to other countries such as Egypt, were tortured with electricity, tortured by having spikes shoved under their fingernails, tortured to the point that some would swear to anything the Americans wanted them to say, then sent back to Bagram Air Base to be tortured some more by our own people.

It was due to this torturing of Al-Libi to get him to say what the Bush Administration wanted that then Secretary of State Colin Powell told the U.N. "I can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these weapons to al Qaeda," Powell said. "Fortunately, this operative is now detained, and he has told his story."

Suddenly we find ourselves, after being horrified at the stories of torture by our people towards prisoners, faced with the notion that those who ordered the torture program to begin, those who rewrote the laws to make it appear that torture was legal as long as the President sanctioned it, and even those who implemented the torture under orders from the White House (Don't even start. we all know who ordered the torture programs), will walk away with literally no consequences other than a possible bar association sanction. The Nazis and the Japanese we imprisoned and executed for the very same war crimes must be spinning in their graves.

Because somehow, the entire issue has devolved into the subject of water boarding. As if that's ALL that was done to prisoners under our control. That's not the only thing we did to these people, these human beings, we did far worse. And anyone who argues that water boarding is not torture should go ahead and have it done to them, but not in a controlled environment. Let the Syrians do it. The Egyptians. The Israelis. The Algerians. That's where we sent some of our prisoners and they came back missing pieces from their struggles to breath as the water was pouring into their airways.

No one really wants to dredge the entire affair through hearings and courtrooms. No one has the stomach for parading Bush, Cheney or any of their disgusting cronies through the public's consciousness for however long trials would take. But we have no choice if we are a nation of laws. To let these people walk away from their culpability or the consequences that must be imposed if they are found guilty would be to tell not only us here at home, but the entire world, that anarchy is the day word here in this country, and torturers, as long as they are American, can do whatever they please and get away with it. That the law means nothing to us, and as such, no citizen should be forced to observe any other laws.

There can not be two sets of laws in the United States. We are rushing headlong down the path to a complete breakdown of social order when we begin to allow corporate fat cats to get away with ripping off billions of dollars in taxpayer money while we arrest, prosecute, and jail the poor person who stole food to feed his or her family. While Presidents and other Administration officials can get away with war crimes by claiming some non-existent immunity, but we prosecute and imprison the average Joe who gets into a bar fight and breaks the other guy's jaw.

How long does one suppose the majority of the public will sit still after watching time and time again, those people who think themselves the 'movers and shakers' slipping and sliding themselves out of culpability for their crimes while everyone else is expected to obey every law to the letter or face prison? The answer is not much longer. With the advent of instant information, and almost universal access to it, the public is more aware, and as such, moved to anger that much quicker than in times past.

No. Those responsible for the stain that is on the flag of our nation MUST be brought to justice. Our honor as a people demands it. The stability and faith in our legal system demands it. How we are viewed by ally and foe alike demands it. The safety of our troops who may end up captured demands it. The restoration of the rule of law demands it. For if these war criminals are allowed to walk away from their evil without so much as a bye your leave, then the Department of Justice and the White House may as well go on national television and declare that no one is required to obey any law in this country if they can come up with a reason as to why the law does not apply to them. Prosecute the war criminals period.....................

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Loud Applause As The President Gets Two Right

For far too long Corporate America has gotten away with not fulfilling their duty to our country. Since the days of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the beginning of the far right's ascension to places of power and influence, corporations have shirked their responsibility by shipping profits earned in America to offshore banking accounts. Using shell companies that are nothing more than post office boxes in places such as Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, household names including Halliburton, KBR, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and even Kellog's, (who in 2007 boasted of sales in excess of $11 billion), have spent lavishly on upper management bonuses while shifting the burden of paying taxes onto the workers of America.

President Obama is changing all of that according to what he said yesterday. No longer will companies reap windfall profits by shipping American jobs overseas, and the cash made by causing misery across the country sent to offshore bank accounts. Tax loopholes will be closed, and companies will once again be forced to (GASP!) pay some of their fair share of the taxes that go towards the services they all enjoy. Now we need to go after the fat cats themselves who ship their multi million dollar salaries to those same overseas banks in order to avoid paying income tax. That could potentially rival the amount expected to be realized by closing the corporate loopholes.

The President, in keeping with his campaign promise to bolster consumer protection that had been allowed to virtually disappear under the far right's decimation of America, announced the nomination of Inez Tenenbaum to the post of Chairperson of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, as well as a request for an additional $107 million dollars per year to fund the agency properly. Corporate fat cats are probably apoplectic over these two moves by the President, as they can no longer get away with selling unsuspecting Americans garbage wrapped up in blue ribbons.

Reaction seems to be muted save for the far right lunatic fringers, who claim the world is ending and the Apocalypse is at hand because of these moves. But some who have a modicum of maturity and actual knowledge of the way things are supposed to work, (ie; corporations paying all the taxes, ordinary citizens paying none), are clapping their hands in loud applause at these first baby steps towards restoring a balance between the super filthy rich and the rest of us.

The next move by the Obama Administration must now be to undo what Senator Arlen Spector pulled back in 2006 while he was leaving his post as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. As the Democrats welcome the 'defector' into their fold, they must have forgotten that it was Spector who pushed through new rules, along with then Attorney General Gonzales, that weakened the government's ability to prosecute or even investigate corporate wrongdoing.

Another step in the right direction would be ending the practice of deferred sentencing for corporate executives who get caught with their hands deep in the cookie jar. Every day citizens who get caught stealing a loaf of bread to feed their families during these hard economic times caused BY the corporations end up sitting in a cell. But corporate fat cats who rip off millions and even billions, receive 'deferred sentences', which means they never see the inside of a jail. What that teaches the rest of the population is that there are two sets of laws. One for the rich, one for everyone else. Or it could teach us that if you're going to steal, make sure you grab at least a million bucks in order to avoid jail time.

But back to the matter at hand. Although no one is going to be happy with the word of the hiring of an additional 800 I.R.S. agents, if those agents are going to be concentrating solely on corporate malfeasance, we should all be able to live with that. The only ones who are really balking at the additional agents are the super rich any way. Oh, and the far right radio goons, who claim they're really going to be going after regular folks. 800 agents vs. 300 million people. Should be an impressive feat to watch them audit everyone.

Yes, the President did the right thing. For decades, every President has sworn to tackle the issue of Big Business getting away with murder, but not one had the actual guts to take on the corporations face to face. No political contributions would flow in you see. But since Obama's main source of campaign funding comes directly from the American people themselves, Obama probably doesn't give two hoots what the corporations think. And that friends, is one of the biggest leaps forward this nation has taken in many a year towards restoring this country to it's rightful owners. We the People.

This isn't even a partisan issue. Republican, Democrat, Independent, whatever your political leaning, all of us who work in the trenches for a living should back this move by the President as strongly as we can. It isn't very often that anyone has the guts to stand up to the corporations who have hijacked the country and say "No more." When someone does, all of us should rally behind that person and push for even more changes. Like breaking up the huge conglomerates, much like they broke up Ma Bell. Three cheers President Obama! Go get them sons of guns. We'll back you all the way on this one.....................

Monday, May 4, 2009

Jeb Bush's Florida A Perfect Example Of Why Medicaid 'Reform' Is A Scam

For all of the Republican Party's desperate attempts to distance themselves from their recent past, it seems that the only people they keep trotting out to tell us how much they have changed since November are the very same people who drove us straight into our current economic crisis. The very same people who made the word torture a household name. And the very same people who took the Medicaid program, ripped it out of the hands of the government, and handed it to the insurance industry, who promptly began ripping off untold billions of dollars of taxpayer money while ensuring people could not go to their doctors.

Now we hear of the cross country tour being staged by none other than Jeb Bush, former Florida Governor, and brother to our former President. Once considered a natural successor to Georgie, he now feels the need to try to reinvent the Republican brand via a whirlwind nationwide town meeting stunt. But it can not and should not work. No one should listen to yet another failed Governor with White House aspirations, especially one who would like to angle his way towards keeping the half century Bush dynasty going. Ask Florida legislators, who, despite the claims of Jeb Bush's overwhelming popularity, are cursing his name due to the fiscal mess he has left them to sort out.

Such as the Florida Medicaid program. Governor Jeb jumped aboard the over the cliff express that called itself Medicaid reform. The public was sold the usual line about how Medicaid was bankrupting the system, blah blah blah, but the reality was then and is now that Medicaid 'reform' was little more than the largest theft in American history. That is, until the recent rape of the entire economy by the Bushies on their way out the door.

Although the State of Florida has been loath to actually implement the 'reforms' that the Republican controlled government shoved down the throat of the country, time is running out for the state and more importantly, hospitals that serve the poor and disabled. What that means is should the state not force patients into 'managed care', ie; hand the Medicaid program over to the private insurance industry, the state stands to lose over $300 million in Federal funding.

This would force hospitals to stop servicing the poor, the elderly, the infirm, or anyone else who can not afford health insurance. But good news may be on the way for Florida's poor, who already receive one of the lowest TANF amounts in the nation. The State Legislator is seeking a way to pass a bill asking for more time from the Federal Government with an eye towards the new White House and President Obama possibly issuing a waiver for the state, or abolishing the scam 'reforms' altogether. The head of Florida's State Health Care Budget Office has stated what many of us have been screaming for years. He told Florida media outlets ''We've done the experiment. It has failed. The reports are unsettling. People couldn't get to specialists, couldn't get adequate care. And they couldn't do it cheaply.''

Standing in the way of reform of the 'reform' of Medicaid are, uh huh, the insurance companies and Florida's private hospitals. The hospitals stand to gain a large chunk in the short term of Florida's Medicaid surplus, money that has been saved on the sickness of the poor. The insurance companies, desperate to keep their gravy train rolling, are attempting to force the state into compliance with the federal law.

He was speaking of the poor in the two Florida counties that have implemented the so called Medicaid 'reform' which forces patients to choose between one of two hand picked insurance companies. (Who picks these companies? What is the process that determines their choice? No one knows.) The companies then give patients a one month grace period during which they may go to the doctor of their choice without having to pay. After that month, they must choose a doctor approved by the insurance company, and are hit with the news that they are now in a co-pay system. In most cases, this has proven to be such a burden that people are having to choose between paying bills, buying food, or going to the doctor. In a further effort to dissuade patients from seeking proper care, the companies impose even higher co-pays on those who have the audacity of needing a specialist.

Co-pays for office visits. Co-pays for specialists. Co-pays for medication. Charge after charge placed upon the poorest of the poor in an effort to keep them from going to seek out health care in the first place. For keeping the poor out of the doctor's office, the insurance companies then rake in major taxpayer money that the public thinks is going to pay for the care of their neighbors, but in reality it's going into the pockets of rich fat cats in the form of bonuses handed out by the Federal government for those companies saving the government money. A very nice arrangement for the insurance industry, but not so nice for the ones who need care, but can not afford to get it.

Every single time a story is written telling of how badly Medicaid 'reform' is going, there are many many people who respond with horror stories of their own. Stories of sickness gone untreated. Stories of loved ones who ultimately died due to care coming too late to save them. And if the scamming of the system doesn't move you, nor the stories of people getting sick with no care, then think of this. The recent Swine Flu scare. Do you want your neighbor walking around with some disease that may or may not be contagious? All to give money to the insurance industry? No? Then get on the bandwagon and let's demand a return to the government running the program. It will cost less, people will be able to get the care they need, and everyone can sleep easier knowing that people with communicable diseases aren't getting on the bus or train with us. All it takes is contacting your Senator or House Representative and telling them to change the Medicaid laws back to the way they were before George Bush and his criminal regime allowed their fat cat friends to decimate it and bank all the money offshore. Tell them the casino is closed, the slot machines are broken, and we will not gamble with people's lives any more. You want an economic recovery? Get private companies out of our government.

When Jeb Bush pulls into your town and starts spewing the garbage of how reformed the Republican party is suddenly, all the while presenting to you the exact same people who threw America down the toilet for a buck, ask him why he jumped on the 'Destroy Medicaid For A Buck' program. Ask him why Florida is scrambling to undo the mess he left behind. Ask him how many poor people in his former state could not get care, remained sick, or even how many died due to his little experiment. He won't have an answer for you, and that should be enough of an answer for any thinking American to reject out of hand anything Jeb 'The Huckster' Bush has to say.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Path To A New American Serfdom

Even as the Congress and the White House pat themselves on the back for a job well done in their passage of the recent 'economic stimulus package', and even as our led by the nose media kisses the backside of all things that stem from the Obama Administration, the one thing no one wants to talk about and keeps shoving under the rug is the dramatic rise in the numbers of homeless, near homeless and poverty stricken households across the entire country.

Americans, desperate for any sign of good news, are lapping up the government's claims of creating 150,000 new jobs with the bill. But as was pointed out, we also lost 650,000 jobs during the period in which these new jobs were created. That's not progress. That's more like one step forward and two steps back.

But even more insidious was the stabbing in the back of regular folks who, through no fault of their own, were displaced by the Bush policies, left to fend for themselves throughout the Republican controlled era, and now find that our new government has decided to forsake them also for political expediency.

We already know about the Democratic capitulation to the meaningless Republicans on the 'stimulus package', you know, the one that gave the rich more of your money. A simple small rise to food stamp allotments so American children might have enough to eat was allowed to be stripped from the bill because Republicans, including Arlen Spector, balked and threatened to filibuster the entire deal. Give help to the poor after they had worked so diligently to decimate every program that was set up to help alleviate poverty? Not on your life! Billions of dollars for bankers and clauses in the $15,000 tax break for home buyers that allow rich people to buy new homes and receive the same consideration as first time homeowners? You betcha!

And so, as we all await the next massive giveaway to big business in the form of Health Care Reform, which will be nothing more than a trillion dollar payback to the insurance industry ala Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton, maybe someone needs to remind our glorious leaders of what's happening on the streets of some American cities. Since they don't seem to notice the tents and cardboard boxes as their limos cruise the streets taking them to their swank and plush offices.

In Buffalo, N.Y., a city with the 3rd highest poverty rate in the country, the mayor, Byron Brown, after 15 months of study and hand wringing over what to do to lower the poverty rate came up with a blueprint for................well, for nothing actually. Called the “Buffalo Poverty Reduction Blueprint” , it outlines the need for , you guessed it, more study of the problem.

In Nebraska, in violation of every federal law pertaining to the use of Medicaid funding from the Federal government, new rules were implemented that do not allow men to go to the doctor for a physical. Women may go, but not men. Men must have a specific complaint to see a doctor, and then there are limits as to what doctors may look for. For instance, if a doctor examining a man suspects there may be cause to check for testicular or colon cancer, they are not allowed to even discuss the possibility of the presence of said diseases with the patient, much less check to see if their suspicions are correct.

Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts vowed to end homelessness in his state when he took office. Bold new ideas were needed, but the reality of the economy came crashing down on his head as he realized the staggering rise in the numbers of homeless families over the space of just one year. So many that state shelters were turning families away in droves, the state has had to house people in motels for months at a time in order to keep the children off of the streets. Single adults were not so lucky though. Full shelters with waiting lists forced many to brave the bitter cold New England winter outdoors, and there are no numbers for how many got sick, or how many have died.

Massive jumps in homeless rates were reported in New York City, where the numbers rose 40 per cent between July 2007 and July of 2008. Los Angeles County reported a 15 per cent rise and Minnesota counties saw a leap of 20 per cent for the same time period. Tent cities are becoming a common sight under overpasses and bridges, just out of sight of the general public. If you can't see them, they don't exist.

No less than The Center On Budget And Policy Priorities issued a report declaring that an immediate need existed for 200,000 new housing vouchers in order to stave off disaster for many Americans, but guess what? That's right. The party of no blocked that move also.

$87 billion was allocated to the states to help with the rising costs of their Medicaid programs. That may sound like a good start until one looks at the way the Republicans ripped apart that program and handed it to the insurance industry to manage. Just as happened on Wall Street when unchecked and unregulated money grubbers are allowed to do whatever they please, the Medicaid program is in dire straights solely because of the insurance companies and not because of any massive cost increases as is claimed. The insurance companies act as a middleman between the recipient and the doctor, many times over ruling the doctors on medical decisions to the detriment of the patient. The system is set up to force patients on Medicaid to choose between paying bills and food or going to their doctor due to the co-pay system. Oh? You didn't know? That's right. The poorest of the poor don't even go to their doctor most of the time because they have to pay co-pays on a program that's supposed to provide for their health needs. The insurance companies are raking in major money on the cost 'savings' in the form of bonuses for keeping costs down. And you thought Wall Street was bad. Now they want to take this model and force all Americans onto the rolls.

In California, many area food banks are lamenting the fact that there is not enough to go around due to what used to be called middle class families having to resort to using the food banks in order to stave off not paying bills or even rent. Some Central Texas food banks have actually run out of food and have been forced to turn people away. Seattle, Detroit, Kansas City, you name the place, and they do not have enough to handle the need.

But yet, even as homeless numbers swell, even as Americans can not get enough food, and even as sick Americans are being prevented from seeing a doctor, all we hear is how great things are starting to look. How we seem to have turned the corner. Yep, the banks are looking good again and those million dollar political payoffs, er, 'bonuses' are beginning to be handed out to the very same people who helped the Republicans rape the economy, but yet, even after all the hue and cry from the political hacks, no one has been prevented from receiving these payoffs. Auto workers? Ha! Suckers. You guys don't have millions to donate to political campaigns.

And that's what it all boils down to really if anyone actually sits down and studies the situation. There is NO difference between the Republicans and the Democrats. Neither one is 'Socialist' or "Nazis'. It's really all one big party, all beholden to Big Business, and all are going to do the bidding of the ones who shelled out the dough for their campaigns. Arlen Spector's recent 'defection' is all the proof you need.

So what are we going to do about all of this? Simple. The last thing politicians want are angry constituents badgering them about issues. If you want to see the issue of America becoming a serfdom become a front page story, we all have to make noise. A lot of it. Call someone, write someone, talk to someone, and demand an end to the redistribution of wealth to the top 1 per cent of the country. No more bank bailouts while you let Detroit fall. No more caving in to the minority party for expediency. No more screwing every day Americans in order to curry favor with a cigar chomping fat cat sitting in a $50,000 chair in some high rise office building. Do something, or you may just find that the next family on the food bank line or homeless shelter waiting list is yours........................

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Dear President Obama: "ENOUGH!"

One hundred days. That's all it took for the honeymoon to be over between our new President and those of us who believed his eloquent speeches and his roaring calls for change we could all believe in. Things would be different he swore, the Bush years would be shoved back into a dark corner of history and we'd all walk hand in hand down the yellow brick road to prosperity.

Only this is not what has been happening since January's inauguration. Little by little, piece by piece, President Obama is backing away from promises he made during the campaign, and in some cases, just ignoring the glaring discrepancies between his rhetoric and the actions he has undertaken.

The straw that should break the proverbial camel's back and cause a push back by sane Americans the nation over is the recent revelation by the media that our dear President is quietly going about the business of reinstating the Military Commissions at Gitmo.

After the much ballyhooed declaration of the closing of the infamous prison in Cuba, and the collective sighs of relief by a country who has been besieged by guilt and shame over the previous Administration's criminal refusal to act according to the rule of law by prosecuting detainees in American courts, the Obama White House, deciding they could not win all the cases pending against Gitmo's prisoners, is going back to the Bush way of doing things. In other words, Military Commissions, where secret evidence, statements obtained under duress, hearsay evidence, and whatever insidious railroading techniques can be employed will be used to get those convictions. No matter what.

Where, during these past 100 days, while our crony media outlets practice their love of everything Obama, has been the outcry over the continuing domestic spying programs? Does everyone think they just, POOF, disappeared the day Obama took office? What happened to the promises to end illegal spying programs? Or were those words as hollow as the promises to reform the way Wall Street does business?

What happened to the promises of a restoration of the rule of law, as in prosecuting the war criminals of the previous Administration? Since taking office, all Obama has done is send mixed signals, and anyone who believes the Justice Department has magically become unpoliticized is a bigger fool than we were for trusting a slick talking con man in the first place. As a professor of Constitutional law, Obama knows he has an obligation to go after those who broke the law. But why do that when the breaking of the law allows for much more power than obeying it? Read between the lines on that one.

Over 45 billion dollars was sucked up by oil giant Exxon/Mobil in the most recent profiteering grab fest. During the campaign, Obama swore this was going to change. The big oil companies who raked in the big dough on the backs of hard working Americans were going to be taxed on those exorbitant profits, the proceeds of that tax to fund a rebate for all Americans. Tax day has come and gone and yet no profits have been taxed and the promised rebate has been turned into some obscure money you should start seeing on your paychecks soon. Uh huh.

We were promised no more Wall Street influence in the White House, but yet the choice of Geitner for Treasury Secretary was akin to allowing the wolves to guard the hen house. The banks, after robbing us blind at the end of the Bush term with the collusion of the Federal Reserve, stuck their hands out for more taxpayer dough, and were promptly rewarded for their extortion of the nation with untold billions. The banks can not be allowed to fail we are told by the very same people who have been inside the banking system all of their lives. No conflict of interest there. Let the banks fall, let them fail, and watch as new banks pop up the very next day. This mumbo jumbo the Obama people are handing us are the voodoo economics of the past 30 years.

No lobbyists would ever set foot in an Obama White House was the promise. The reality is that there are nothing but Wall Street, Big Oil, Big Agri-Business, and Defense Contractor lobbyists surrounding our new crusader for justice. Wonder why nothing is getting accomplished? Ask the lobbyists who are wining and dining your elected officials and getting bills pushed through even though we were promised five days to read each one before Obama signed any of them. 9,000 earmarks were on the one back in March, one that he signed the day after it was passed by Congress.

All of this pandering to the far right has many in the country shaking their heads in wonderment. After being trounced soundly in the election, the far right could have skulked off into their lair and faded off into obscurity. True Republicans across the country would have eventually formed a new, more moderate Party, much like happened after the decimation of the Whigs. But for some God only knows why reasons, Obama is allowing progress to be held up, bills to be amended, and appeasement to be the operative word whenever the whack jobs from the Extremist Party raise so much as a whisper of protest. To hell with the Republican Party. let them rant and rave and talk of secession. Better yet, let them secede and form their own outlaw nation. (Just take their nukes first.) But this caving in to the minority party has got to stop or we are in for 4 years of failure, followed by the Extremist Party's "See? I told you so" rants come 2012. Shove these morons to the side and get things going now.

Just because a new Administration has risen to power does not make all of the international hot spots go away. Nice of Obama to say we are leaving Iraq, but we don't know when and our soldiers are still dying there. And trading Iraq for a larger war in Afghanistan is hardly ending anything. Those Defense lobbyists are pretty slick though, you've got to admit. But yet, despite the promises to do something about the criminal regime of al-Bashir in Sudan, who continues to slaughter innocent men, women and children in Darfur, there is dead silence once more from our elected officials, the same men and women who proclaim freedom and peace for all. President Obama, stop the genocide NOW!

In the meantime, unemployment continues to rise despite the mainstream media's attempts to mislead the public with stories of 'Jobless claims lower than expected" All that means is that a couple of thousand less people filed NEW claims than they thought would. It does not mean any sign of recovery. It means we are still heading downhill, just a little slower. Some economists are predicting a 12 per cent unemployment rate by December. The Bush Hoovervilles are now Obama's, but he doesn't seem to be in any hurry to help the plight of the poor any time soon.

Speaking of the poor, Obama, who during the campaign promised to do everything he could to help those who have lost their jobs and their homes during the Republican raping of our economy, has done virtually nothing to alleviate suffering across the land. A proposed hike to the food stamp allotments was stripped out of the so called 'stimulus bill' otherwise known as the corporate giveaway bill, at the insistence of the meaningless Republican Senators. Desperate to pay back the very same corporate cronies who financed them, the Democrats capitulated, the President signed the bill, and American children still go to bed hungry every night.

With all the talking heads on television and radio insisting that we give the President time to adjust, time to get things done, and time to...........whatever he needs time for, and trumpeting all of these wonderful accomplishments in his first 100 days, one could get the impression that all is well once more in the greatest nation on earth. But your impression would be wrong, because the pinheads we voted out of office have been replaced by their counterparts, the other pinheads, who are all having one great big party while American children starve, American children sleep on the streets and American children can not read or write. They have accomplished only two things in the past 100 days in office. First, they gave away more money than you can even count to, oh yeah, the corporations that Bush and his cronies were raping the Treasury to give our money to. And second, to break many of the President's promises at the expense of our well being.
ENOUGH! That rallying cry that stirred a nation to believe again must now be turned back upon the person who so forcefully shouted it out at that now famous acceptance speech in Denver. ENOUGH Mr. President. We need real change, not a Bush-lite leader who pays lip service to promises then discards them once the doors to the Oval Office close. Reverse course now while your Administration is still young, lest you find yourself in the unenviable position that Jimmy Carter did. One term and out.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

World Of Warcraft - Cyber Criminal Paradise -Pt. 1

(In order to not bore the reader, I have broken this report into 3 parts. Pt. 1 tries to give a small over view of the game, while parts 2 and 3 will delve in depth into the many many scams that run unchecked and unstopped in the WoW universe.)

Snow swirling through the howling winds enveloped the lone figure standing in the shadows of one of the many balconies jutting out from Ice Crown Citadel. His massive form enough to intimidate the most seasoned MMORPG player, the prized Ashbringer sword hung with great weight by his side. Most sought after but as yet unattainable, the Lich King seemed to smirk as he moved back inside the castle, leaving his Scourge armies to lay waste to the world of Azeroth and beyond.

Entering the game called World of Warcraft can be an unsettling experience for the uninitiated, henceforth called 'noobs', the name given to new players by those who have been playing the online game for years. After configuring your character, or 'toon', a mini movie begins, taking the player into the matrix like world while a voice tells of the dire need for fighters to protect whichever kingdom and faction you have chosen to represent.

Visually stunning and breath-taking in scope, WoW takes the illusion of game play to another level altogether. Detailed terrain reveals monsters and enemies galore. Roads lead one into the various small towns and hamlets, eventually leading into the fortress capital cities. These cities are humongous in their own right, allowing one to immerse into the social aspect of the game, meeting places if you will. Filled with shops of every type, from weapons and armor to food, to unusual items and mounts, the cities also boast portals into battlegrounds where you can fight against players from either of the two opposite sides, the Alliance or the Horde. Banks for storage of precious materials and resources gathered, guild banks for those inclined to delve further into social bantering, and an auction house for the buying and selling of everything one could ever think of ingame.

Although Blizzard Entertainment has not updated their player estimates for some time, it is believed that there are upwards of 20 million subscribers worldwide, 12 million in the United States alone. Almost all of the remaining players come from Asia, specifically China, and as we travel along into this story, you, dear reader, will see how an innocent game became the playground for every type of scam, ripoff, identity theft, hacked accounts, and a billion dollar a year business selling 'gold', the lifeblood of the WoW economy. This writing comes after 4 months of investigating the phenomenal rise of WoW to pre-eminence in the gaming industry, and why just like the U.S. economy, it is headed down the road to collapse and ruin.

But, let us return to the beginning of the game, just to give you a feel for how one can easily succumb to the charms and the wit and the majesty that WoW has to offer.

If one chooses to play the Alliance side, you must pick your 'toon'. Choices are human, night elf, dwarf, gnome, and draneii, ( an alien race that crashed landed on Azeroth) Horde players may pick between orcs, trolls, blood elves, undead, and taurens. Intertwining stories of one faction helping another and giving them shelter and protection abound such as the dwarves of Ironforge taking in the gnome survivors from the war that saw their home city of Gnomergan fall to the Scourge.

For purposes of expediency, we'll go ingame as a human warrior. Dropped into the game at the training grounds of Northshire Abbey, you seek out those who have a bold exclamation point above their heads for instructions on how to get started. These are the easy 'quests', of which you'll do thousands in order to gain reputation status with the various factions. With no fear of being attacked by these starter quests, the new player is able to feel his/her way around the killing fields, slashing, burning, mauling, and destroying 'enemies' at will. With the low thresholds to reach a higher level with minimal effort. one is drawn deeper into the maw of Warcraft, thinking to reach lofty levels fairly quickly.

Running the forests of Elwynn, level 7 can be accomplished in a relatively short time, before you are instructed to find someone outside the safety of the training area, down the road in a hamlet named Goldshire. Experience points are awarded for not only quests completed, but also for each new area discovered by the player, which in turn reveals that area on a mini map for future reference purposes. Upon reaching Goldshire, the human player begins to have choices as to which path they will follow. There are several NPC's there that wish you to complete different missions, most of which will get you killed. Not to worry though, death holds but a fleeting embrace in WoW, as your spirit is taken to a graveyard where you may run back to the spot where you died and come back to life. You may also 'rez' at the graveyard itself by allowing the 'spirit healer' there to bring you back to life, but that option will cause a 25 per cent loss to the items you hold and give you 'rez sickness', a 10 minute period in which you are basically easy prey. It costs gold to repair the damaged items, so this is usually an option of last resort.

At this point in the game, player vs. player fighting will not be much on your mind. It's the higher levels that worry about that, in order to gain 'honor points', used to purchase 'epic' gear. And so, the new human player should accept the mission to bring a package up the road to the human capitol city of Stormwind. Upon entering Stormwind, many a newbie will become disoriented and confused, due to it's labyrinth of twisting streets and various districts that cater to the different factions. Every version of every toon runs and rides wildly through the city streets, most intent on getting their wares to the auction house. And it is here that some will encounter the low level scam artists, who want to part you with any gold you may have obtained. From the 'bots' that run up to you begging for 1 piece of silver or gold, to the con men who offer to help you get to the next level for a certain amount only to run off after you pay them, to the 'casino' conmen who get you to deposit gold in order to roll imaginary dice, their sidekick extolling how much he's 'won' from the person. But no one ever wins, because there are no dice, and the 'roll' is whatever the ingame three card monte dealer says it is. Thanks sucker, now move along.

After dropping off the package at the store you were supposed to, you'll be given new orders for a new quest. Go see this or that person, receive new instructions, go kill what you're told and collect this or that item, and bring it back to the quest giver. You'll generally receive either an item you may be able to use, gold, silver, or a combination of both. It is also at this point that you should consider which profession in the game you'd like to do. From mining and blacksmithing to engineering, leatherworking, enchanting items to give them more power, tailoring, inscription, and on and on, there is something that should be of interest to anyone. These professions are supposed to allow you to make items that others would like to buy, but in the end, the Asian gold farmers who have websites galore selling Wow gold, have taken over that aspect of the game, and so, many players find they can max out their skill level at a profession only to find there are no buyers for their wares.

It would seem that the best route for new players to take in this game would be to become strictly gatherers of materials, which, although hard because of the gold farmers, can still be made somewhat profitable. Such as mining/skinning, because one gives materials to blacksmiths, jewelers, and engineers, while the other provides leatherworkers with fur.
Going into the Dwarven District of Stormwind, a level 7 or 8 player can now begin going through 'instances', a gateway of sorts to reaching another place. In the Dwarven District is one such instance, leading to a subway called the Deeprun Tram. This train will take the player to Ironforge free of charge, the capitol city of the Dwarven race. When disembarking the train on the Ironforge side, there is a quest on the platform where you must gather up rats like the pied piper, bring them back to the quest giver, who then kills them, boxes them up, and exhorts you to bring them to his brother back at the Stormwind side. Back and forth you go, delivering dead rats, and receiving in turn 'rat kabobs', which you eat to regain health after a battle.

Back at Ironforge, a new player must beware the quests they accept right away, as some quest givers will attempt to sucker you into taking quests that are impossible for you to complete at your low level strength, getting you killed 100 times before you give up and seek out easier things to do. Ironforge is also home to yet another set of scam artists, beggars, and 3 card monte dealers, so proceed cautiously. Best to just leave Ironforge via the front gates, and proceed down the road to Steelgrill Depot, where they will give you low level quests to complete, as well as the town of Kharanos, just around the corner from Steelgrill. One can swiftly move up to level 10 or 12 doing these quests, at which time you can either go back to Stormwind and do the level 12 quests there, or follow the dwarven instructions, trudging through snow covered plains to reach the smaller encampments dotting the countryside and completing their low level quests. By now, the player will be at around level 15, ready to take on more challenging quests, and at this point, should start working on their secondary skills such as fishing, cooking, and first aid. After every 2 levels acquired, the player should also seek out trainers for their class, (warrior, hunter, paladin, priest, mage, warlock, druild) in order to pay for training for more powerful actions to be used.

This small glimpse into the World of Warcraft will hopefully give some idea of the majesty and the incredible complexity of a game that has all of the ingredients for an epic gaming experience, but has somehow degenerated into a criminal paradise where untrained Game Masters allow the con men to run roughshod over the uninitiated, where customer service is almost non-existent, with some waiting 2 or more days to even chat with anyone. No phone calls here. Strictly in game communication with someone who can not resolve your issue, and an overwhelmed escalation team who do not have time to check the facts on disputes, therefore making decisions based on their gut, more often than not allowing scam artists to run off with someone else's hard earned gold or property. Bots farming the same metal veins over and over, frustrating actual players efforts to rise above, and a spinnoff gold selling business that charge hundreds of dollars for gold to purchase ingame items due to their cornering of the materials market ingame, all spell an upcoming economic collapse for the WoW economy.

Tomorrow, we'll look at the many many scams, how they work, who perpetrates them, and how you can avoid being ripped off not only on World of Warcraft, but in many of the other MMORPG games played by countless millions, many of them little children.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A No Panic Guide To Hosting Thanksgiving Dinner

So you volunteered to host Thanksgiving this year, cook the dinner, prepare the hor d'ourves, decorate the table, make sure snacks, drinks and dessert are all in order, plus provide the entertainment to keep the celebration from becoming stale. Right about now, as you gaze longingly at the buffet restaurant you're driving by, wishing you had suggested that instead, don't worry yourself one bit. Just follow the directions here and your guests will gobble up everything in sight with gusto, complimenting you on your absolute brilliant party.

Before you even think about cooking or preparing food, you must decide upon the type of atmosphere you intend to surround your guests in while they dine. Buying a few holiday cut outs and pinning them strategically around your home will lend that warm and fuzzy feel to any room. If you're the informal type, a simple tablecloth with a small pumpkin set in the middle of the table will do just fine. The plates and cups that sit in your cupboard can be safely used, no special place settings need adhere.

If, however, you'd like to impress those (such as your mother in law) who are coming over with your knowledge of culinary flair, a more relaxed formality is probably the key to your success. You can still go with a plain white tablecloth, but in order to set the tone for the meal, a centerpiece of flowers in a vase is ok, but why no put some ooomph into your fall theme by taking some of the fall leaves from around your home, washing them of dirt, and spreading them in a single line down the middle of your tablecloth? In the center of the table and on top of the leaves, place a small pumpkin or a fall squash. On either side of the pumpkin/squash a candle in a plain clear holder adds a classy touch to the setting.

When setting the table, you should always place forks to the left of the plate with a napkin on that side also. Salad forks go to the outside, dinner forks inside. Place the knife on the right side of the plate with the blade facing toward the plate. Then put your spoons to the right of the knife. Your soup spoon goes on the outside, the tea spoon closest to the knife. Wine and cider glasses should be placed to the right of each plate, about three inches from the top corner to avoid spillages. An extra nice touch to avoid the confusion of who sits where would be to write the names of each guest on a holiday themed card and place them on each plate. Now your table is properly set.

If you intend to have more than just a few people over, then it is usually a good idea to go with the buffet table idea if you ever intend to get a plate of food for yourself. That being the case, and for all intents and purposes of this article we'll assume that position, go ahead and set up your buffet table the same way as your dining table or tables. ( Depending upon your flexibility, you may need a couple of television trays for the die hard football fans).

As your guests arrive hours before dinner, snacks are going to be needed, but of course, you don't wish to fill everyone up before the main meal. Strategically placed bowls of mixed nuts, mints and hard candy, chocolates, and potato chips and dip should be plenty for guests to munch on while they breathe in the aroma of roasting turkey. Always make sure you have enough wine, beer, soda, cider, milk and juice on hand, both before, during, and after the meal.

It is very important that you have enough serving forks, spoons and ladles for each dish to be presented, especially if you're going with a serve yourself buffet style. (Parents should always make the plates for the kids or you're going to have mashed potatoes all over everything else. A platter for the turkey, serving bowls, a gravy boat, salad tongs, and pie slice servers are all necessary and should be set near each separate dish.

Here's a few tips to remember as you prepare your perfect feast. A salad before the meal in addition to the various snacks, will help to keep your guests' stomachs happy as you busily hop around in the kitchen. On a side table, set some salad plates out along with extra salad forks. Place bowls of shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes, sliced cucumber, sliced onion, shredded cheese, sliced boiled eggs, chopped ham, chopped walnuts, potato salad, macaroni salad, or whatever else you usually place in your favorite salad. Make sure you have at least three different salad dressings available for variety's sake. A safe bet here would be to go with Ranch, French, and Italian.

Here's a few tips to remember while preparing your meal.

Dark roasting pans cook faster than bright shiny ones.
Stuffed birds take longer to cook.
Perfect cooking temperature is 350 degrees.
Make sure turkey is completely thawed. (If need be, set the turkey in a sink full of cold water overnight)
Place bird breast side up in a shallow baking pan about 2-3 inches deep.
Add about one cup of water to pan. Do not salt the turkey before cooking. ( But you may rub sage, onion powder, garlic powder, and a little Italian seasoning all over the outside of the turkey)
Even if you buy a turkey with a pop up to tell you when it's done, poke it deeply and make sure the juices are clear.
After cooking, it's always a good idea to let the turkey stand for 15 minutes before carving.
A good guide to cooking a turkey is to remember the 20 minute per pound rule. So a 20 lb. bird will take 4 1/2 to 5 hours at 350 degrees.

Side dishes:
Mashed potato ideas:
Use sour cream instead of milk for creamy heavenly potatoes.
Mix some parsley flakes into the potatoes to give them that gourmet look and taste.

Things to add to your stuffing that will make your guests swoon are chopped celery, cooked ground Italian sausage, chopped onion, a pinch of sage and black pepper, a can of chunky cranberry sauce, or anything else you think might be tasty.

Sweet potatoes:
Use canned!
Place potatoes in baking dish, shake in enough brown sugar to cover, top with marshmallows, then bake it for 15 minutes alongside the stuffing while the turkey is setting.

More side dishes:
Oh, the possibilities. Be smart though and save yourself some trouble. Your guests are there for the turkey. Side dishes, while nice, are mostly irrelevant. But, of course, you have to serve something, so go with frozen vegetables. Not canned, due to the tinny flavor.

Frozen corn is always a must as are frozen green beans. You can add some sauteed red pepper to the corn if you like, and sliced almonds to the green beans. There's no right or wrong to the vegetables you pick, and there's also no limit as to how many sides you can put out. They even have frozen squash that's easy to heat these days.

Pies: Buy them from your grocer's bakery section. Unless you really, really, really want to bake as well as roast, buy them. A good selection would be a couple of pumpkin pies, an apple, a cherry, and even a carrot cake. Make sure you have whipped cream on hand, and dessert is all taken care of.

What wine do you serve to those with different tastes? Wine that will go nicely with turkey and satisfy everyone? Follow these guidelines and all will be well.

For those who prefer red wines, serve a Pinot Noir.

Dry white wine lovers will enjoy a Chardonnay.

For those whose palates like the tang of a sweet white wine, pick a White Zinfandel.

(Buy plenty of apple cider for the kids. Sparking cider makes the little ones feel all grown up.)

If you need to figure out how to make something, don't panic. Use your keyboard and Google it! The odds are very good indeed that any recipe you need is on the web. Most of all, just relax and enjoy the day, your family and friends, and of course, all day football! keep in mind that hosting Thanksgiving dinner is supposed to be fun, and it's your moment to shine, so use your imagination, tweak things around to your liking, and most of all, have fun while you do it.

Hopefully this little guide will help jump start your thinking process. happy Thanksgiving to one and all, and may the Good Lord watch over us, one and all................................