Friday, May 30, 2008

Terror On A Stormy Night

Last night's monster super tornadic cells that swept through Nebraska, Kansas, and points east were so massive, fast moving, and destructive, that I felt compelled to write about them in their aftermath, as per usual, the MSM doesn't even begin to scratch the surface and got several things wrong.

I'll begin by admitting to you, that along with residents of my apartment building here in Lincoln, Nebraska, I was terrified almost to the point of paralysis as the building shook and swayed under the force of hurricane like winds and the loudest, most reverberating thunder one can imagine. It wasn't just a rumble here and there, but was more like a barrage of artillery fire in constant cadence to the flashing of huge bolts of lightning streaking across the entire sky like some sort of sick symphony of destruction.

Watching from just inside the upper floor balcony, tree limbs whipped by myself and several other residents as we awaited yet another power outage, as this was the third wind driven storm to come through this week. But we were lucky this time, and although 5,000 other Linconites are still without electricity this morning, Lincoln itself was spared the more damaging tornadoes that seemed to be dropping from the sky like so many raindrops in the areas all around us.

The extent of the damage was such that Nebraska Governor Heineman has declared a state of emergency. Kearney, which is about 130 miles due west of Lincoln, and Aurora, 60 miles closer, bore the major brunt of one super cell, with widespread damage along Interstate 80 leading all the way back across the state.

One mile east of the town of Odessa, 90 cars of a freight train were derailed by one powerful twister, while moments before the residents of Elm Creek ran for their lives as another touched down four miles outside of town. Elwood and Arapahoe got blasted by 3 inch diameter hail, as well as strong straight winds, some gusting to almost 90 miles per hour.

Meanwhile a tornado appeared two miles west of Kearney, meandering along and taking out the entire western side of the exhibition building at the fairgrounds, as well as apartment building roofs, and Good Samaritan hospital had their doors blown in and part of their roof torn off. The World 2 theater is flooded with three inch deep water, and trees and power lines were down everywhere.

As the storm headed east, mother nature wasn't quite done with the residents of the area, as another twister dropped down 3 miles north of Kearney and another 5 miles southwest. Nearby Overton was walloped by yet another tornado at the same time that Wood River was slapped with 2 inch diameter hail and Aurora residents ran for cover from two more tornadoes that came in from from both the west and the south, damaging several gas stations and houses.

At the same time Grand Island was hit with a twister, York was pelted with rock sized hail and high velocity straight winds, and storm chasers coming back to Lincoln saw at least six tractor trailers overturned along I-80. As the storm moved closer to Lincoln, there were torn up high voltage power lines lying across the interstate, as well as another confirmed tornado just east of Beaver Crossing. Debris was everywhere, and no one was sure just how much damage was done.

Watching the radar screens from several different weather sites, it seemed that Lincoln was about to be torn asunder. The winds were howling so loudly that they sounded more like screaming ghosts, and we battened down the hatches awaiting the dreaded sirens to start blaring, telling us all to tuck our heads between our legs and kiss our asses goodbye. But lo and behold, just as the first wave of super cells hit the edge of town, it seemed as though the hand of God himself reached down and split the storm in two. One half of the storm broke away and headed northeast, while the bottom half ducked due south. Yet although spared the full fury of this particular whopper of a storm, one that reached 10 miles into the atmosphere, Lincoln was still blasted by the nastiest thunder and lightning seen in quite a while, as well as straight line winds that shook the city to it's core.

Luckily this was the worst part of the line of cells that hit us here last night, but it wasn't the only one. Every time we thought it was over, whoosh! Along came another storm, ones that seemed to be forming out of nowhere. They weren't on radar one second, then poof, uh oh, run for your lives!

This morning shows the politicos dashing around to assess the damage, but it's very easy to see that parts of eastern Nebraska are under 4 inches of water, central parts of the state dealing with 7 inches, the damage is widespread, but so far there have been no reports of fatalities or injuries.

They say being prepared for these types of events will save lives and that's clearly the case here. Because although Mother Nature tried her best last night to murder the good citizens of this state, we all survived it seems, although the loss of life could have been severe. Still, I think I've seen enough of these monster storms for one week, and hope the weekend will bring some sunshine to a battle weary populace in tornado alley. Because despite the excitement and the adrenalin rush, I don't think my poor heart could stand yet another assault from the skies.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Soylent Green Is.........Spam?

With food shortages ongoing globally, and with some areas of the planet in such dire straights that actual food riots have taken place, it seems almost comical in a sense to see the reports in the U.S. media of families having to resort to feeding their families Spam several times a month.

Ah Spam! The gelatinous gooey mass of some form of pork that we were all forced to eat as children. Our parents told us that it was good for us, and we spit it out when they weren't looking. As we grew older, we came to realize that our parents were in the unenviable position of having to figure out how to put meat on the family table, and Spam offered a cheap alternative to more traditional forms of food. We vowed that we would never eat the stuff ever again for as long as we both (the Spam and us) lived.

Made of mostly pork shoulder (One shudders to think of what the other part of mostly means), sugar, salt, water and potato starch, the much aligned food stuff is actually considered a delicacy in some Asian countries, and even Stalin credited Spam with saving Russia from defeat during World War 2 by enabling him to feed his army.

Coming full circle from the times of our childhoods, where we swore off of the Spam and entered adulthood where we could afford regular ham, the economic disaster that has been thrust upon us by the greediest pig corporations in world history has brought the notion that Spam isn't so bad crashing back into the American kitchen.

No longer able to afford to eat regular food, many American families are turning to alternatives such as Ramen noodles and Spam to stretch the food budgets and not let their children go hungry. When a shopper is in the grocery store and looks at the price of beef hovering at $7.00 per pound, but right there on the shelf is a big fat can of Spam for $2.75, well, the Beef Wellington will just have to wait.

Remembering the 1970's movie starring Charleston Heston entitled Soylent Green, one can be struck at the almost prophetic nature of the film. It deals with a situation wherein the world finds itself in a food shortage crisis, and must resort to feeding people crackers called Soylent Green which is made from the bodies of the dead. While not trying to say that Spam is made from the same organic matter, could one not draw a parallel between the current escalating crisis and the all of a sudden 12.4 per cent spike in Hormel's (Spam's makers) profits?

With the demand for traditional staples such as corn and sugar going through the roof due to demands for ethanol, and with other staples like wheat, rice, bacon, and even peanut butter rising beyond the reach of average working class Americans, alternatives such as Spam are beginning to seem much more palatable than ever before. But at what price?

Despite the claims made by Marcia Mogelonsky, senior research analyst with Mintel International in Chicago that Spam is a good source of protein and has significant nutritional value, all one has to do is read the side of the can to put that whopper to the test. Here's Spam's nutritional content:

Calories Per Serving: 170
Calories Per Serving From Fat: 140
Serving Size: 2 oz.
Servings Per Container: 6 (large) or 3.5 (small)
Total Fat: 16g
Saturated Fat: 6g
Cholesterol: 40mg
Sodium: 750mg
Total Carbohydrates: 0g
Fiber: 0g
Sugars: 0g
Proteins: 7g
Vitamin A: 0%
Vitamin C: 0%
Calcium: 0%
Iron: 2%

Tons of fat and cholesterol, but if one is starving, what else is one to do?

It just seems so sad that in this day and age of untold and unimaginable wealth being consolidated by just a comparatively few people the entire world over, and the multi national corporations taking what's left, that the generation that was supposed to be better off than the one before, and was for a little while, has to now resort to making food stuffs such as Spam a household staple in order to survive. With farm fields going to waste instead of growing food, due to government handouts to farmers not to grow, it would seem that the answer to the current and escalating food crisis is right in front of our faces. But no one in Congress would ever dream of even talking about ending corporate agri-subsidies, or opening up that land to raise more cattle, chickens and pigs to feed our nation properly.

See, here's the little problem with the media hyping Spam as the alternative meat and people falling back to sleep, content that there's something to eat at least. What happens when the supply starts to dwindle, the price of Spam becomes the same as everything else, and even food stuffs like Ramen noodles start to go out of reach for the average consumer? What will the new Soylent Green become then? While you ponder that notion, rip the top off of that can of Spam, pop it onto a plate and use a butter knife to scrape away that slimy stuff covering it. It should be ok after that, but no one really can vouch for what you're actually eating. Enjoy.

Genocide Diplomacy

The capitol of Sudan, Khartoum, recently had rebel forces advance to the outskirts of the city in a bid to overthrow one of the world's most vicious and brutal dictators, President al-Bashir. Although unsuccessful in their attempt, the rebel forces did manage to breach the city until forced to retreat by Sudanese army regulars.

The attempted overthrow of al-Bashir has had the ripple effect of arbitrary round ups and torturing of educators, politicians not deemed loyal enough to al-Bashir, former rebel group leaders that are a part of the coalition government, and those of Darfurian origin, whose only crime was being in the capitol city. Al-Bashir's thoughts on torture most certainly don't reflect the thinking of western countries, as many a victim have hands cut off, faces and chests sliced deep to leave scars, women are routinely gang raped, all in an attempt to terrorize the population of Sudan into submission.

Diplomacy has been ongoing for more than five years now. With the United States entering into full scale diplomatic efforts only after much pressure from aid groups, citizens, and the governments of the European Union, it seems as though it is a case of much too little, way too late. Freezing the assets of a few Sudanese companies that had been trading in stolen money for dollars through U.S. banks was such a feeble response to the murder of what aid workers and European media say is at least a half a million people.

The African Union's attempts at diplomacy with al-Bashir were successful to a point. al-Bashir allowed African Union peacekeeping forces into the Darfur region, but with the express conditions that those forces would not intervene in actions going on outside of the many refugee camps. With that diplomatic condition set, and with only 7,000 initial A.U. troops allowed into Darfur, the killings, maiming, mass rapes, and burning of villages continued unabated. Some villages in sight of A.U. forces were burned to the ground with the people still inside. People who thought that they were safe due to the A.U. forces presence, but not knowing that all the A.U. soldiers could do was stand by helplessly.

Outraged by al-Bashir's broken promises to the A.U., African countries began calling on the international community for help. Slow to respond, just as in the massacre in Rwanda, the western countries started their own round of diplomatic efforts with al-Bashir. Promises were extracted of not carpet bombing villages, or sending in Janjaweed militias to execute entire populations of towns. The politicos would all head home thinking of the good they had done and how many lives they might have just saved, only to land on the tarmacs of their respective countries to the news that the 'devils on horseback' and the Sudanese air force had destroyed yet another village, and killed another thousand people.

When outraged western governments complained to the Sudanese government that they were breaking the very agreements they had just signed, Sudanese Foreign Minister Al-Sammani Al-Wasila Al-Sammani declared that these were internal Sudanese matters and that the claims were greatly exaggerated. The lies of the government of Sudan became even more evident as more and more video and photographs taken by aid workers was smuggled out of the country and western media outlets were treated to the sights of genocide on a mass scale. Burned, naked bodies of women, children hacked to death with machetes to save on ammunition, villages torched or being bombarded from the air, video of a village's entire male population being lined up and mowed down, were among just some of the atrocities that were proven to be true of the al-Bashir regime.

More rounds of negotiations ensued, with all involved ever mindful of the looming presence of representatives of the Chinese government lurking in the background, their only interest their nation's investments in Sudan's oil industry. Pleas were made to the government of China to force al-Bashir to stop the killings, but China could care less what the Sudanese government was doing so long as the oil kept flowing.

Years of promises extracted, then last second mind changing by al-Bashir became the norm for the people of Darfur, who now huddled in makeshift camps, suffered malnutrition, diseases, and death. Aid workers cried out to the world for help, but only Chad allowed Darfurian refugees into their country. But even that dried up fairly quickly when the Chadian government realized just how many refugees there were. Millions upon millions tried to get across the border, but had to be turned away. And so the killing continued.

The United Nations finally got a force in place in Darfur by threatening to basically cut Sudan off from the rest of the world with an economic blockade. But once again, al-Bashir had aces up his sleeve. He knew that China would veto any such resolution, but in the interests of placating the world wide outrage, he allowed the U.N. to send in a force of 27,000 peace keepers. Once on the ground, al-Bashir once again reneged on his promises and demanded that the U.N. soldiers be under the command of and integrated into, the African Union forces. And that they also be under the same conditions as the A.U. soldiers. Under intense pressure, the U.N. acquiesced, and the killing continues as though no one ever negotiated with Sudan's government to begin with. The neutered U.N. forces once again have to sit idly by as innocents are slaughtered, just as they had to do in Rwanda years before.

Sudan's People's Liberation Movement, a former rebel group from Southern Sudan, but now part of the Sudanese government, has declared in no uncertain terms after the latest crack down that this arbitrary arresting of innocent people, and the killing in Darfur must end, or they may go back and start fighting again. Says Yasir Arman of the SPLM: "We are saying the security forces should stop the arbitrary arrest of Darfuris. It is a violation of the constitution and it is damaging and harming the social fabric of our society. We also condemn in the strongest terms the torture of detainees, which is a grave violation of the constitution."

With the backing of the Chadian government, rebel groups in Sudan's south may be gearing up for all out warfare. The Zaghawa tribe, the main rebel faction in the south, is already grumbling and staging preparatory raids into the north. But as bad as this may seem, at least the rebels in the south have weapons to defend themselves with, and should another Sudanese civil war ensue, it will not be for lack of diplomatic efforts on the part of the world community. The U.S. still sends envoys to speak to this satanic monster in Sudan's capitol to this day. The same monster who at one time harbored Osama Bin Laden. The same monster who ordered the slaughter of innocents and the torturing of children.

Diplomacy has been tried with al-Bashir time and time again, and proven to be ineffective to the point of wasting the time of all involved. If there was ever a case for the enforcement by the U.N. of a no fly zone, Sudan and it's government have given the world every reason they need. The breaking of every treaty he has ever signed, and the unwillingness of their country of patronage, China, to force an end to the genocide, may force an even wider conflict in the form of another civil war that spills over into neighboring countries. The only diplomatic effort al-Bashir understands is in the form of a cruise missile heading directly for his headquarters.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Empty Seat At The BBQ

Hot dogs and chicken wings. Pork ribs, shish kabobs, burgers and roasted corn. The endless array of delectable dishes whipped up today by Americans grateful to have an extra day off of work, will be cooked over the traditional coals of many a backyard or public park BBQ pit.

Oh, the joy in the eyes of the children as they scamper about underfoot, spilled soda pop running down laughing chins. Grandma and Grandpa doting on the little ones, and the aunts and the uncles helping to set the places at the big wooden picnic table. Older brother helping out with the cooking, as men tend to think they are better at outdoor cooking for some odd reason, when they would never dream of setting foot in the kitchen inside.

Beer flows freely, possibly a baseball game on the television, or a game of cards with some background music thumping. Food becomes ready, and all gather to the table, but yet, there seems something amiss. There's one empty place at this family's gathering, and someone must awkwardly tell the children why a place has been set for someone not there.

Yes, the children must be told of a loved one who gave up his or her life in defense of their country, or of one still alive but in a far away land. Told in such a way as to not cause tears, the bravery stressed, the sacrifices made in order for Americans to have an extra day off every year. The empty seat at the BBQ the family's way of remembering the fallen, or those still in harm's way.

Further out from the gathering, with millions of families committed to the same ritual, we listen to the President speak at Arlington National Cemetery. The words that come forth ring hollow as he says ""It is a solemn reminder of the cost of freedom that the number of headstones in a place like this grows with every Memorial Day." Words meant to console while he forces more and more of our youth back into the fray for the third, fourth, or even fifth time. The photo op over, he goes back to his own family BBQ at the People's House on Pennsylvania Avenue, justifying to an angry nation the denial of educational benefits for our troops, our warriors, our loved ones.

Ever quick to demand more and more money for the bottomless pit of the quagmires he started, this so called 'leader' consistently balks at any help for those at home. It doesn't help any corporate bottom line to fund GI Bills you see, so his remembrances on Memorial Day are as phony and as false as were his two stolen 'elections.' Many of the empty seats at today's BBQ's are the end product of this false president's follies, and history will condemn him for creating a new generation of fallen heroes. Ones who answered the call thinking us all to be in danger, but coming to realize that the liars in charge had money in mind when it came to the use of military force.

Today is a day of sadness, not a cause for celebration. A day of reflection and pondering, and if the alcohol dulls the reality of our war dead, then put the bottle down, and say a prayer instead. A prayer that all of the wars in the history of our country, fought on foreign shores or even here in our own bloody civil war, had a purpose other than the rise of tyranny in our nation, of small minded would be dictators who send others to fight when they themselves only know how to shoot their friends in the face. Remember those still alive, veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korea, World War Two, and beyond.

For Memorial Day is also a time to thank those still among us, whose shattered lives will never be the same. The broken and missing limbs, the brains damaged, and souls destroyed. They served with honor, and deserve nothing less than the full support of every person in this land. Because despite what the thief in chief has to say, there is no expense too great for us to bear to see that those who come back from a war zone, any war zone, or even those who just stand guard at the walls have the tools such as educational training and medical aid, to try to salvage and improve on their lives, and possibly be able to provide for themselves and their loved ones.

Take your hats off. Kneel and pray. Put down that shish kabob for a moment of silence to all of America's heroes, the greatest warriors the world has ever known, and ask that this be the last time we must send our young off to fight. That the world come to a realization that we are warring over what amounts to nothing, and that those empty seats at all of those BBQ's comes at too great a cost, with too many a mother shedding too many a tear. And then tell our politicians that we do not request that they take care of our veterans in the manner that they deserve. Tell them we are no longer willing to sit by and wring our hands, wishing there was something we could do. Tell them this is a demand that will be remembered and remembered well come election day, and that those who voted against helping our veterans or those who couldn't be bothered to show up to vote, had better start looking for other employment come November.

Make today a true Memorial Day. Reflect. Pray. Then make the decision that tomorrow, you'll take action to do what you can for the veterans in our midst, be it a donation to a veteran's organization, or a letter to your local, state, and federal politicians demanding change. They went and served for us, now we must in turn do what we can for them, and try our best to ensure there will be no more empty seats at next year's BBQ's.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The War On America's Poor

As the far right gasps it's death rattle in what has been the nation's nightmare these past long seven and one half years, a desperate attempt to extinguish the existence of the poor in this country seems to be at the forefront of every agenda being shoved desperately forward by the neo-cons and those who have been led down the aisle of death and destruction with them.

There are still those in America who believe that because one is poor, and receives any sort of public assistance from a government program, they have less rights than other Americans, and must subject themselves to the degradation of being presumed guilty of drug use by being forced to submit to random drug testing.

All sorts of excuses for yet another attack on the most helpless segment of our society are put forth by heartless charlatans, who would be screaming bloody murder were someone to suggest they themselves have their civil rights taken away. The cries of taxpayer dollars going to feed drug habits, the comparisons to employer based drug testing, the crocodile tears that stores are turning food stamps into cash for drug addicts at a rate of fifty cents on the dollar, and the good old lump everyone into the same 'let 'em get a job' category, are enough to make the vomit rise in one's throat.

These so called fellow Americans, the ones who have already capitulated to the tyranny of Big Brother government, are already lost and hope for them and their sense of freedom from oppression is probably beyond salvage. But that doesn't mean the rest of us have to follow them over the cliff at a time in our history when we have been the victims of a tyrannical government run amok, and are just now awakening from the dark haze that was cast over us all in the false name of freedom.

The naysayers who call out about their tax dollars going to feed drug habits have no idea of what they're talking about. During Clinton's grand destruction of the social safety net programs, a program calling for mandatory drug testing was put in place, with the states being left to administer their programs as they saw fit. Initially enacted in several states, the efforts were quickly abandoned as being cost ineffective, and the results showed no difference in drug use amongst recipients and the general population. Indeed, a study done by the University of Michigan in January 2001 showed that only 4% of program recipients were drug dependant, and that the costs of the testing programs far exceeded any benefits.

When the talk of employer based random drug testing comes about, all one has to do is look at Michigan's attempt at random drug testing and it's eventual court battle that resulted in a judge tossing out the new Michigan law as Unconstitutional. The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling. See, we still have some semblance of a Fourth Amendment in the United States, an unalienable right guaranteed to us by a document known as the 'Constitution'. This weird Fourth Amendment declares that ALL persons shall not be subject to unreasonable search and seizure and the courts recognized these laws as dangerous precedents to the government being allowed to run roughshod over our rights, and that these drug tests that singled out one segment of society for suspicionless search of their bodily functions were not needed to further public safety. Hence, no public good was being served and therefore out goes the law.

The argument that stores are turning food stamps into cash at the rate of fifty cents on the dollar are based on erroneous information or intentional misleading. Yes. There used to be a problem with SOME unscrupulous stores doing this, but the instances were not some sort of vast conspiracy by recipients to rip off the government. It was but a handful of cases at best, and a moot point in this day and age of EBT cards any way.

As far as letting them get jobs, well ok, fine. What jobs? With outsourcing all of our manufacturing jobs to China, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, etc., there are no more living wage jobs left in the U.S. The much ballyhooed information sector jobs went overseas as well. So where would these cold hearted people demand that the poorest of our citizens find employment? Oh. That's right. Here it comes. The old "Well, you know, my brother's sister's cousin's friend was down and out and took a job at McDonald's to feed her three kids, and she didn't take no government help". To that I call anyone spewing that line a liar. No minced words. People who espouse the notion that a single person, let alone a family could hope to survive at a minimum wage job with absolutely no benefits, or benefits that are so unaffordable they may as well not be offered, are either delusional or liars.

With discretionary domestic spending frozen at 376 billion dollars for all programs combined, one must wonder at the true motive of those who would deny a child food when their glorious leaders in both Congress and the White House are blowing almost one TRILLION dollars on military spending for fiscal 2008. Could the motive be to divert attention away from the real issues of the day by declaring a new war on America's poor?

Would we not be better served by demanding that our pinhead in chief take a drug test? Or members of Congress for that matter? Anyone who can allow Americans to go to their deaths on false pretenses would have to be snorting something don't you think? Or is it just the poor who must be singled out time and time again as scapegoats for some imagined or blown completely out of proportion situation? A situation that in this case does not exist, would be Unconstitutional, cost more than it's worth, serve no purpose other than to humiliate, and to those who cry that they want their tax dollars spent on this, the simple matter is, you don't get to say where tax money gets spent.

Here's a novel idea. How about if all of those who are screaming about the poor getting a free drug ridden ride on the taxpayer dime trade places with them for a month? Lock, stock and barrel change places. You become homeless, or as close to it as one can be, broke all the time, not being able to feed or clothe your children properly, and living in some hovel that dogs shouldn't be allowed to live in. (Don't start screaming about housing vouchers. Due to Bush's cuts, the waiting lists are at least two or more years.) The poor can then have your house, your car, your job, and your life. Maybe then your perspective may change. Because here's the true danger of all of these fanatical proposals. Remember what happened in France? Well, why do you think these programs were put in place? To keep a poor and destitute population from starving to death, or overthrowing a tyrannical government. Keep that in mind as you press forward with your war on the poor.
No, the case for random drug testing of aid recipients has been tried and found wanting, and should therefore be discarded out of hand, just as the country is beginning to discard this mean spirited mind set that has been thrust upon us these past decade.

Friday, May 23, 2008

A Company With No Soul

China's recent 7.9 magnitude earthquake devastated entire villages, towns and cities. With the ultimate death toll still unclear, with rescuers pawing through the rubble that has taken the lives of more than 50,000 so far, one would have thought that the multi-national conglomerates that benefit the most from Chinese slave wage labor, would have been the first ones to step up to the plate when it came time to pony up donations to the Chinese people in their desperate time of need.

Not so with Wal-Mart, a corporation that enjoys a 12 billion dollar a year plus profit margin due mainly to their manufacturing plants in China, as well as their ever expanding retail presence in that country. At a time when total corporate donations from around the world have reached more than 3 billion dollars to aid in the recovery efforts, Wal-Mart has donated $430,000. Less than half a million dollars to help the victims, some of whom were their own employees. Yet, less than six months ago, Wal-Mart saw fit to donate $500,000 to Bill Clinton.
Back in the United States, the litany of Wal-Mart wrong doing is so vast and so long, that it would take one days to read through them all. But let's take a look at some of their worst offenses.

Putting aside the fact that Wal-Mart destroys any sense of competition in smaller communities, many times putting out of business smaller established mom and pop businesses, let's see just how honest and good Wal-Mart is for our nation as a whole.

In a letter to Missouri state legislators in 2005, Wal-Mart asserted that they had never encouraged employees to seek out public assistance to supplement their meager wages. They claimed in the letter that they did in fact discourage employees from doing just that. But then a letter surfaced from internal Wal-Mart documents instructing managers on how to get employees to sign up for public assistance benefits. Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott admitted that it was cheaper for employees to obtain Food Stamps, than for his corporation to provide workers benefits.

An organization called Good Jobs First has written an in depth comprehensive expose' on how Wal-Mart gives American schools the shaft, and causes communities to have to cut back on other public services due to their challenging of tax assessments in about 40 per cent of the towns across the country where one of their 'super centers' are located.

Wal-Mart uses a profiling system when it comes to store security, and has been sued countless times for stopping people and demanding they submit to searches of their person by security personnel. Not because they set off an alarm, or someone witnessed them stealing anything, but simply because they fit the 'profile' of a thief. Their criteria? All black people are immediate suspects, as are Latinos. People wearing leather jackets or cut off tee shirts are also to be watched extra closely.

While Wal-Mart claims that it comes into small communities and helps to develop the land and bring more business traffic to their towns, the truth is that when Wal-Mart sees an opportunity to develop a larger store in the next town over, they will simply walk away from contracts that are made with the original community, building a super center a few miles down the road, and leaving behind a useless, un-rentable piece of property. When the towns threaten to sue for breach of contract, Wal-Mart tells them to 'go ahead'. In fact, right now, in 15 separate states, there are 10 or more abandoned Wal-Mart stores, 31 states total have the same problem, with a total of 335 abandoned shells decaying into the countrysides of small town America.

In the political arena, Wal-Mart loves to cozy up to the ultra hard right. Millions upon millions of lobbying dollars have gotten so far up the political food chain, that in 2005, President Bush signed a federal highway bill that included 35 million dollars to widen the highway in front of Wal-Mart's Bentonville Arkansas headquarters. Even though the Federal Highway Administration said the work did not need to be done, Rep. John Boozman, an ultra right extremist, lobbied for the money and got it.

San Diego found out what it means to help bring a Wal-Mart to town when the corporation demanded almost 10 million dollars in subsidies, but then found out that they would only be receiving about $800,000 in annual sales tax revenue, a tax that Wal-Mart has fought tooth and nail after signing agreements to pay it.

A 2006 Penn State report shows that when Wal-Mart appears in a community, the poverty rates shoot sky high. Outlining the low wages, no benefits, or benefits that employees can not afford, Penn State also showed how the cost to the communities where Wal-Mart sets up shop far outweighs any benefits. In fact, in every case they looked at, they determined that Wal-Mart was detrimental to the communities well being.

Until caught in 2005, Wal-Mart allowed children to work in unsafe areas of their stores and warehouses, such as loading bays, operating fork lifts and scrap paper balers. Since they can no longer use American child labor, they now use Chinese, Malaysian, Indonesian, Mexican, and other of the world's children where they have no laws to protect the interests of minors.

Fined so many times for violating the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, Wal-Mart just computes the slaps on the wrist into their costs of doing business. And even though successfully sued for 50 million dollars due to their practice of making workers clock out, but then continue working, there are reports that the practice is still continuing today. In another audit of 128 Wal-Mart stores, the Dept. of labor found that Wal-Mart was not in compliance with federally mandated break times in 127 of the stores visited.

One of the most disturbing reports in recent years was the revelation that Wal-Mart maintains 460 terabytes of information about it's customers. Making headlines for about one day, the story disappeared almost as quickly as it came up. To picture 460 terabytes, all one has to do is log online to the Internet. The entire net is comprised of about 230 terabytes, or half of the information that Wal-Mart is storing about you. Not just your purchases, but your mortgage amounts, court dates, marital status, sexual orientation, your driving record, how good your credit is, the list goes on and on. Why they need that information is any one's guess, but the fact that they are gathering it in such vast amounts should disturb everyone.

To say that Wal-Mart, a multi-national conglomerate that turned from one man's dream of a better shopping experience into a corporation that has no soul would be putting it mildly. Arguments are forever made by Wal-Mart supporters trying to make it seem as though the company is merely trying to compete in a global economy. But the argument falls apart when one does just the minimal amount of research into the outright criminal activity, the skirting of other laws, the repression of it's employees, their environmental footprint, their use of slave labor, the company's undue political influence, and on and on and on. Wal-Mart is the Ma Bell of days of old, an out of control, hulking giant, stomping it's way across not only our country, but the world, leaving a trail of destruction and heartbreak wherever they land.

Yes, Wal-Mart is every bit as bad as their opponents say it is, and more. And just like Ma Bell, perhaps the only solution to this menace is to break this corporation up into smaller companies that do not have so much political, financial, or informational power.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Blame Everything On The Poor

Once more in the heat of an election year, one that may determine if we survive as a nation, the right wingers and those full of hatred for everyone that do not think as they do, once again attempt to turn the poor into an issue. Once more screaming about massive waste and abuses by the people who are on either Medicaid, TANF, Food Stamps, or any of the other alphabet soup of programs designed to help those less fortunate.

So called 'think tank' publications exhort the wisdom of massive cutbacks to all entitlement programs, without also imparting just what will become of those hurt by the cuts they propose. Think tanks such as The American Enterprise Institute, who released what they called a comprehensive report on the state of the Medicaid system in January, 2007. The report was little more than both the Bush administration's and the private insurance industry's talking points. Calling for the saving of the Medicaid program by further privatizing it, in effect, adding a middleman (the insurance industry) between the government workers and the recipient.

People like to use the poor as their scapegoats by thrusting entitlement program issues into the faces of the American people whenever election time rolls around. What those who use this tactic don't want you to know is that Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary started much of this expenditure mess with their now infamous 'welfare reform' during Clinton's term. The insurance industry who helped elect him demanded their cut of the Medicaid pie, and it was bestowed on them in the form of 'managed care'. Furthered by Bush to the point that one can no longer recognize where the insurance industry ends and Medicaid begins, this fraud upon America has cost taxpayers untold billions.

Operating just like any HMO, Medicaid now forces recipients to choose a managed care program such as Kaiser or Magellan. The HMO's then decree which doctors one may see and what medications may be prescribed by the doctor. Rewarded by the government for cutting costs, the fraud occurs when the HMO denies procedures and medications to Medicaid recipients, and then receives the savings in the form of reward. So instead of the recipient getting the care they need, the HMO gets the cash. Going even further in their attempts to discourage the poor from using their Medicaid benefits, the HMO's in many states have instituted a fee to the services that Medicaid recipients get. Fees such as co-payments for each doctors visit, extra fees for each prescription, and even more co-payments for specialists and tests ordered by the doctors.

So, if a recipient is sick, to go to their doctor will cost $25.00. The doctor in turn wishes the person to see a specialist. Another $35.00. And prescribing 5 medications to alleviate the symptoms will cost between 10 and 20 more dollars. Say this person must see their doctor, the specialist and obtain these prescriptions for a period of one year in order to get back to health. How in the world does anyone expect the recipient to pay almost $100.00 per month for their Medicaid imposed costs, when their total monthly income, if on S.S.I. would be $663.00? Or the family on TANF, who in a generous state such as New Hampshire might receive the same amount for a family of four? What does one do if two children become ill?

Therein lies the fraud in the Medicaid program. Insurance companies getting paid to ensure the people don't use the benefits that they are entitled to, and the politicians who give taxpayer money to an industry as political payback.

For more information on the amounts of money spent by each state and the instances of fraud and their minuscule amounts, read the bi-annual Health and Human Services National Summary of State Managed Care Programs. There you'll find out the true fraud being committed in the form of payments to the insurance industry and the taking away of actual health benefits for the People in order to pay for it.

Next we come to the howls of outrage by those who would deny the poor programs such as Food Stamps. The claims of fraud, waste and abuse sound ever so convincing. But with just a little bit of research, one can find that the only fraud being committed on a massive scale here is by the liars who quote figures that don't exist, or make things up as they go along.

A government report from the Library of Congress entitled Re engineering Through Technology clearly shows and declares that with the advent of the EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) cards, instances of fraud were reduced a full 75%. In most states, the EBT card is used for all benefits, including cash, food stamp, and Medicaid. Used like a credit card, one swipes the card through the machine at the counter. In order to obtain an EBT card, one must go to the local H.H.S. office. Most states have very strict standards when it comes to identification, proof of residency, proof of citizenship, etc. The argument that massive amounts of illegal aliens are receiving benefits is a lie at best and a co-ordinated effort to deceive Americans at worst. Yes, in many cases, illegals may initially receive benefits due to claiming they have no I.D. But the fact is that the recipient is given a set amount of time, usually 30 days, to produce the required documents or they are cut off of whatever benefits they began receiving.

And do you truly believe that a family that is in the position of having to depend on the pittance the government gives them in order to survive is having the time of their lives at your expense? The next time you're sipping your $5.00 latte mocha that the poor wouldn't dream of buying, or filling up your $50.00 gas tank in the car that the poor can not drive, think about the sick child in the family among the ranks of America's poor who is receiving no care because the family can not afford to pay the co-payments instituted by the HMO's. Ask yourself who is committing the true fraud here, and what you're prepared to do to stop the real abuse of the entitlement program system, and not just sit and nod your head in agreement with the hucksters who blame it all on the poor. We do not need middlemen between the government and those the government programs are meant to serve, and we certainly don't need politicians who use taxpayer dollars to reward industries that donate to political campaigns. Oh, and maybe we could use that trillion dollars to help Americans instead of killing Iraqis.
Do your part and tell Congress to stop the cuts to the Medicaid and Food Stamp programs, because America's children have suffered enough for the oil baron wars.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Thy Brother's Keeper

Americans tend to think of the here and now when it comes to what should and should not be legalized. Ask the average person, and many will agree that 'crimes' such as smoking pot, prostitution, gambling, and even polygamy are not activities that warrant the intervention of the government. The laws outlawing these practices are legitimate targets for review and reversal, but if we really want to reform the justice system, we'd better get a team together that will review some of the stupidest laws on the books that you can be imprisoned for even today.

Taking into account that a full 1 in 100 Americans are in prison right at this moment, and that that figure doesn't include people who are languishing in county and local jails, the following 'crimes' should be stricken from the list of things you can be arrested for.

1. New Mexico law states that no woman may appear in public being unshaven.

2. You can be arrested in Indiana for bathing during the winter.

3. It is illegal to mispronounce the name of the state of Arkansas.

4. In the land of George Bush, the great state of Texas, a chicken may have sex with you, but if you reciprocate, it's off to the big house.

5. Candy makers in the state of Washington may be sent to prison for manufacturing and distributing lollipops.

6. Hunting camels in Arizona is strictly prohibited. Take note Mr. McCain.

7. Drunken driving laws in Kentucky are themselves illegal due to the fact that according to another state law, one is not considered to be drunk until one can no longer hold onto the ground. Until then, one is considered sober.

8. California, known for it's great production of produce, forbids the peeling of an orange in any motel room.

9. Women may not get their hair cut in Michigan without their husband's permission, because according to state law, a woman's hair is owned by her husband, period.

10. In Wisconsin, a man may have his wife arrested if he can show she has committed adultery. This law was actually used by a man just 10 years ago. He caught his wife having an affair, went to the sheriff, and had her arrested. Prosecutors had no choice but to press forward with the case.

11. Alabama drivers must remove their blindfolds before operating a motor vehicle.

12. Illinois will and has arrested animals suspected of criminal activity.

13. Kisses are sweet, but in Iowa, they had better not last more than 5 minutes, or the kiss will turn bittersweet as the police haul you away.

14. Pennies are valuable in Hawaii. Hence a state law that makes it a crime to place them in your ears.

15. Cleaning is more than a chore for women in Pennsylvania. Sweeping dirt under a rug can lead to jail time. It's ok if a man does it though, if he's pressed for time.

These few examples, laughable as they are, illustrate just how far our sense of being our brother's and sister's keepers extends. The American sense of justice for activities that should not even be crimes would be as laughable as these idiotic laws still on the books, were it not for the fact that our government's war on another noun, mainly drugs, has caused the incarceration of so many of our own people, that it's calculated that over the course of a lifetime, you have a one in six chance of going to jail.

Outlawing polygamy is a case of the imposition of one religion over another and strictly Unconstitutional.

Newspapers printing the names of those who visit prostitutes are once again shoving the puritanical religious beliefs of one segment of society over another.

What it all boils down to is that at any time, and for reasons you may not even be aware of, in the United States of America, the world's largest Prison Nation, you stand a better chance of being arrested and jailed than you do anywhere else on the planet. We are our brother's keepers to the extreme when it comes to monitoring their behavior. But the problem is the differences in application of the laws between the rich and the poor. White collar crimes get a slap on the wrist, while a poor man selling pot gets 20 years. The only way to reverse this trend is to legalize many of the activities that will be engaged in, law or no law. Maybe then we can start to open our prisons and set our people free.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The 2008 Gay Marriage, Abortion Rights, and Terror Campaign

Within the space of 24 hours, Americans have had the focus of the entire Presidential campaign cunningly shifted from right under their noses. The issues have always been consistent during most of this very long nominating process. Issues such as the economy, the war of adventure in Iraq, NAFTA, and America's foreign policies.

No longer. In one of the swiftest shifts ever seen in the mainstream media, either intentionally or unintentionally, three stories have been inserted into the political landscape that will once again consume the bulk of an entire campaign season.

Yesterday's ruling by the California Supreme Court overturning that state's ban on gay marriage was just the shot of adrenalin that the far right wing nuts have been desperately searching for to energize their base. Even though the ruling amounts to a hill of beans due to California's already very liberal laws concerning gay rights and civil unions, the right has already seized upon the opportunity handed to it, and is screaming bloody murder.

Adding fuel to the fire was the endorsement of Barak Obama by NARAL Pro-Choice America, a major national abortion rights group. The timing of the endorsement, besides giving Hillary Clinton something else to gripe about, has started a flurry of headline stories and the vowed fight from the right. Finger pointing has already begun by some right wing talking heads accusing Obama of being the pro abortion, pro gay marriage candidate, when he has consistently said no such thing.

Third but not least, is the resurrection of the dead boogeyman from the far off caves in the form of a new audio tape. 'Osama Bin Laden' or Timothy Olson as he's known to his CIA handlers, reportedly issued new threats against the West, Israel, Atlantis, alien invaders, and everyone else he could think of. Pakistan's ISI, the Israeli Mossad, several European governments, as well as the Russians have said that Bin Laden is dead, but yet, once again, just when he's needed to try to scare the American people during an election season, poof, he comes rising from the ashes.

Put all three of these issues together, along with the just announced about to start trials of some of the terrorists alleged to have taken part in the 9/11 attacks, and we have the far rights's wet dream perfect storm for an election year. It only took 6 1/2 years to get these guys to trial, just in time for a media dog and pony show during the home stretch of the campaigns.

Coincidence? Right. And the tooth fairy delivers quarters to children as they sleep. Only it's not the tooth fairy delivering money to sleeping children this time. Once again, we have a massive effort by a desperate right wing to try to distract and deflect from issues of importance to all Americans by trying to inflame the passions and prejudices of the people as they have since the impeachment show trial of Bill Clinton.

Taking apart each of these three 'issues', one has to wonder at how in the world the Republicans manage to sucker the People time and time again. Gay marriage for instance. Do you really care if two people that love each other get married, have a civil union, or live in your neighborhood? Of course you don't. But the religious fanatics would have you believe that you do by invoking a book written by men over a millennium ago, a book they too cherry picked to suit the political atmosphere of the time. Like the politicians of today, they picked and chose what to include in the Bible, and suckered the entire world into believing this was the only and official word of God, and they were the only ones capable of understanding what God wanted from us. For century after century to this day, the story has never changed. The pulpit pointers rile the people up in the name of God, getting them to vote against their own self interests, just so long as them dang gay people don't do that sodomite stuff!

Or abortion. Even though the Supreme Court of our nation has ruled on this issue, it does not stop the right from firing up the People's religious leanings, and pushing the issue to the front of the campaign. Infiltrating every level of federal, state, and local government, the religious extremists turn abortion into a case of life or death for our country, when the truth is that if you ask the average person on the street about the matter, they'll tell you they could care less.

And finally comes the opening salvo of the 2008 terror campaign. Bin Laden! Terror warnings! Red alert, no, yellow alert, no, we mean there's a threat. We just don't know where, how, or by whom. Just be afraid, and vote for a continuation of the fascist years of George Bush and all will be fine. Anyone who can't see through this charade by now deserves whatever government they get.

All of this going on and pushing aside issues of importance. Such as our 'friend and ally' Saudi Arabia announcing today that they're not going to increase the production of oil to lower gasoline prices. This, during a visit by Bush himself, you know, the Saudi's biggest business partner in the world, other than Dick Cheney. So oil prices will continue to rise throughout the summer, and the oil barons that have run roughshod over our land for 7 long years will attain the goal they set for themselves during Cheney's 'Energy Policy Meetings' back in 2001. $200.00 a barrel oil by the time they leave office, translating into $5.00 a gallon for gasoline, and windfall profits for the corporations.

Even more jobs were shipped overseas these past two months. Even as the administration cooks the books to make it appear as though jobless claims fell, they don't report on the people who had the bad fortune of their benefits running out, and are now broke, with no income, and facing homelessness. As foreign policy issues such as what to do about getting aid to the people of Myanmar should be the topic in the political world, they stoke up not aid but AIDS with their anti-gay rhetoric. Or as poverty rises to strike at the heart of the middle class, they issue 'rebate' checks that will hopefully get some groceries into American refrigorators, but do nothing to help the economy.

We must resist the temptation of repeating the patterns of past elections. Going back to whack job Newt Gingrich's 'Contract with America', the far right has hijacked every political discourse with fear mongering, turning one segment of society against another, and somehow convincing the usually savvy American people that more for the rich and less for you is good for the country. We can no longer afford to allow these petty arguments to interfere with the process of choosing a candidate that will best right the ship of state. As we all stand looking down into the abyss, one waiting to swallow us all, and the fear mongers begin their sleight of hand smoke and mirrors show, all Americans must reject their ideology out of hand, and get back to the issues that are threatening to tear the United States apart. They've had their say once again, now look away lest you become hypnotized, and let's get back to work fixing the mess they've left us with.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

In Deepwater

Floating unused in the Coast Guard's Baltimore shipyard are no less than eight cutters that were just delivered a few months ago. Completely useless, the ships are slated to be dismantled instead of patrolling the seas seeking out terrorists, drug smugglers, and illegal aliens.

Designed and destined to become an integral part of the Homeland Security apparatus, these ships, built by a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman corporations called Integrated Coast Guard Systems, or ICGS, were so shoddily built that they could not perform the tasks that were assigned to them.
Known as Project Deepwater, the program was supposed to be the shining beacon for Homeland Security to display, but instead turned swiftly into a cost over run nightmare. Originally designated as a 25 year, 24 billion dollar contract that would give the Coast Guard a farther reach than ever before, experts in the ship building industry are calling this a taxpayer ripoff of the grandest type.

Deemed unfit for the high seas, the eight ships in the Baltimore yard are the result of 100 million taxpayer dollars going to the bottom of the deep blue ocean. Having been in the press for about one day, the entire sordid affair has once again slipped beneath the radar and sonar screens, with no repayment for the obvious foul ups on the part of ICGS. ICGS reasons that since they fulfilled the contract given to them by the government, they don't have to pay anything back. Even though the ships could not perform in high seas, and had cost over runs of millions of dollars, as well as security problems with the communications, this corporate alliance feels they fulfilled their contract to the best of their ability.

Months overdue and 255 million dollars over cost, one of two other 'state of the art' cutters has finally come online. But just like the eight sister cutters slated for demolition, the Bertholf, called the flagship of the new and improved Coast Guard, has problems of it's own. Technical problems that prevent communications from being secure, flight deck deficiencies, computer problems that interfere with the ship being able to self propel, and numerous other glitches still have to be fixed in order for the Bertholf to become operational. The second ship, not named as of yet, is due for October delivery. Total cost of just these two ships? 1.1 billion dollars. The problem with the Bertholf? It was supposed to be able to sail out to sea alongside regular Navy vessels, but design flaws don't allow it to build up enough speed to keep up. So it will be the most expensive patrol boat in the history of man instead. Hopefully ICGS gets the second ship right. It's fast becoming a case of if at first you don't succeed, just use some more taxpayer dollars untill you get it right.

But the real chutzpah of Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman comes in the form of Congressional demands for repayment of the money spent on the eight other ships that don't float properly. Instead of doing the right thing, these corporate behemoths are fighting every step of the way, insisting on negotiations with Congress as to how much, why, and when. And even though they didn't build the Bertholf to specifications, they feel they don't owe anything on that ship because hey, the thing actually floats!

Just imagining how many more cost over runs will be coming up in the 25 year period ahead of us makes one shudder. The brave men and women who will be serving on the ships of Project Deepwater should be the main concern though. Because if ICGS is cutting corners in order to turn a buck, and slapping out ships that could very well sink if used as intended, then we're no longer talking away financial responsibility, we're talking murder. These irresponsible corporations should have had their contracts torn up, their assets frozen until repayment for the cruddy ships was made, and all of the malfunctioning equipment and systems aboard the Bertholf made functional.

There's no room for debate when it comes to the lives of the people who will be out there on the high seas, rescuing those whose boats over turn, protecting our shores, and stopping criminals from entering this country. The old saying of "If you break it, you pay for it" applies here. Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman should pay for the ships that they themselves broke, but expect the taxpayers to foot the bill for, period.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Cancer Within

For years beyond the realm of common good sense the argument has raged as to the root cause of spikes in crime rates in the United States. Right wing extremists will argue that the poor are just too lazy to obtain good paying jobs, conveniently leaving out the fact that the supply of jobs available have been shipped overseas by their very own right wing corporations.

Point after counterpoint are made as to the reasons, but the inescapable conclusion is that when the economy is in the dumpster, the first people in this country to get the proverbial shaft are the poor. Evidenced by the recent rebate check scam pulled off by the Bush administration, the forgotten by the media tidbit that raised howls of outcry from human rights groups and aid workers across the land was the insistence by the right wingers in Congress that the provision for a raise in food stamps to offset high food costs be dropped from the 'stimulus' package. Let them eat cake cried the most fiscally irresponsible conservatives in the history of this country, and so, that's exactly what many a poor family must resort to. But yet, when the Democrats tried to cut the corporate welfare given to industries such as the Big Oil companies, the Republicans cried out in protest, and along with traitor Lieberman, filibustered any and all votes of the kind.

Without even considering the correlation between extreme poverty and higher crime rates, the fiddlers of a burning nation happily danced away into the night while their hungry neighbors seethed with rage inside. No words of compassion came forth from either party after the recent murder filled weekend in Chicago, where 40, that's right, 40 killings happened between Friday and Sunday. Almost all of the crimes were committed by poor people, but the 'experts' will say one has nothing to do with the other.

You'll hear arguments of a lack of parental guidance or just sheer jealousy by the poor of the rich as to the real reasons why crimes are committed by the poor. But the ones who make these arguments are naive at best and right wing shills at worst. Several studies put the entire affair to the test and should leave no doubt as to the true cause of rising crime rates across the country.

The Kirwan Institute did an exhaustive study in their own area to try to comprehend the high crime rates around the Ohio State campus. They found that high concentrated poverty and economic segregation along with urban sprawl and lopsided wealth distribution had created what they termed 'a perfect storm'. They found that in a neighborhood that has a 40% poverty rate, health deteriorates, crime rates shoot sky high, employment opportunities disappear, housing and food become unattainable, and even education suffers.

McClatchy Newspapers released a report in March that showed those in extreme and dire poverty in the U.S. have risen to a 32 year high. Defined as people living at half or below the federal poverty level, the report shows also that more than 60% of all of the prisoners in the United States fall into this category. So poor that they had to weigh the choice between committing a crime in order to survive or just laying down and dying as the extremists would prefer they do, those with the least among us turn to crime in order to feed their families, find a home to live in, and just have the basic necessities to survive.

Heading out west, a 2004 report prepared for the city of Tucson, Arizona by a private firm called the Economic Research Associates and entitled Area Master Plan Market Conditions Report outlined in detail the areas of the city that were well off and the development that could occur there that would be profitable, but in bold lettering, also showed the poorer areas of the city, showing how unprofitable it would be to develop anything in those areas due to the high crime rates. Rich area, low or no crime. Poor areas, don't even think about building or developing there. And that's exactly what happened. Areas in the suburbs were built up with new shopping malls and fancy condos, while the poor areas of the city itself were left to decay and to rot. Guess what? The crime rates are still rising today.

This cancer within our nation will not just go away because some idiot in the White House declares that we need 100,000 more cops on the street. We are already the Prison Nation of the world, with the highest percentage of any of the world's citizens behind bars. In order to reduce crime rates, the problem must first be recognized for what it is. An economic tragedy, wherein the top 10% of the country owns 90 % of all the wealth. If we took just some of the subsidies that we pay the oil and gas companies and used it to create good paying jobs in America, ones with health benefits, the crime rates would ease considerably.

The proof of good paying jobs with future opportunities causing a decrease in crime can be evidenced by a study done in Seattle by the U.S. Department of Justice that showed in areas that the city of Seattle designated as high crime, and turned out good paying jobs for the residents of that area, the crime rates fell dramatically. Targeting the poor for jobs in construction, road building, bridge repairs, and other than menial work gave the people in those areas an incentive to show up for work, and perform their best at their respective positions. The same people who were hanging out behind the convenience stores, drinking beer, and robbing people or breaking into businesses, now became productive members of society. The Justice Department of the United States concludes that poverty causes crime, and that the solution is good paying jobs.

So the next time you hear someone complaining about how the poor are such a burden on America, remind them that if the rich weren't stealing all of the country's wealth, sending it to offshore bank accounts, and shipping all of our jobs overseas, maybe there wouldn't be so much poverty. The next time you feel inclined to spout off about the poor being lazy and not wanting to work, ask yourself if you'd like to work at a minimum wage job with no benefits and no chance for advancement. Ask yourself as you go to spend that rebate check at the grocery store, whether or not the government should have helped the poor with some food stamps instead.

And finally ask yourself who you are going to write to, insisting that this nation place heavy penalties on corporations who claim to be American companies, pay no taxes but collect corporate welfare to the tune of untold billions of taxpayer dollars per year, and ship all of our jobs overseas. We the People need to cut this cancer out from within our nation, because the surgeons we have elected to do just that have shaky hands, and are slicing the country apart.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Welcome Back My Friends To The Show That Never Ends

Ziegfried and Roy. Penn and Teller. David Copperfield and Chris Angel. All masters of illusion and considered to be in the top of their chosen profession. But even these masters of making you believe in something that isn't true have nothing when it comes to the waving wands wielded by the American corporate media.

Once known as the only reliable established media in the entire world, and emulated across the globe, the American mainstream media has become little more than a puppet on a string for the power brokers and business magnates, telling half truths and outright lies if it will cement a convenient truth into the minds of the American people. One only has to look at some recent events that have happened around the world and in the United States to put the distorted coverage into a clearer view.

Take for instance the U.S. media's coverage of the events that happen all the time in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. According to the coverage that Americans see and hear, the 'terrorists' are intent on the destruction of Israel, and this is the reason for all of the violence and bloodshed. What they don't report on are the continued violations of every International Law by the Israelis by their building of Israeli settlements on land that was captured during the 1973 war. Palestinian lands included. They don't speak of the indiscriminate bombing of civilians nor the 'checkpoint' blockades set up that cause untold hardship for the Palestinians. As almost an after thought, we might hear of the Israelis cutting off all fuel and food shipments into the Gaza to force their will on millions of people.

We listen and watch with outrage when the media get around to covering the genocide occurring in Darfur. But mixed in with the reporting, and intended to dull your sense of indignation are phrases such as "Although aid groups claim the death toll has risen to almost a half a million people, U.S. sources could only confirm about 35,000 deaths." 35,000 is nowhere near as bad as a half a million, and that's exactly what they want you to think. That there's some sort of debate going on over how many were actually killed, and so, until that debate is over, we need not worry ourselves. The truth? We are terrified of upsetting the Communist monsters in Beijing, who hold sway over the government of al-Bashir's Sudan.

Poisoned medicines, tainted toys, defective products galore. Yet not ever mentioned in the press is the fact that we are doing business with the world's largest Communist regime. A brutal, repressive, kill your own people type of regime, when just 90 miles off the coast of Florida is another Communist nation called Cuba, whom we have refused to even speak to for almost half a century.

Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy for President more than a year ago, along with Barak Obama, Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, and Bill Richardson. Going back through the past year's American media coverage, one can see the five to one ratio of exposure given to Clinton over the other candidates. We listened as they talked about the Mrs. as though she were already the President, let alone the nominee. During the 'debates', (or shall we call them choreographed talking events), Clinton and then Obama were given such a disproportionate amount of air time one would have thought they were the only ones in the running. Blatantly smacking down the People's right to choose and the People's right to know, the media then astonishingly told us that due to the lack of financial assets, they were discounting some of the candidates, and we would no longer be allowed to hear from them. Why would they do all of this you ask? Simple. Clinton and Obama had mega bucks to spend on advertising, hence only they would be allowed to continue running. And Clinton started out as the media's darling, because she was the only candidate that could be counted on to due the corporation's bidding. When Obama out monied her, he became the presumptive nominee.

Terrorism is a great selling point these days. Told over and over again every single lie that issues forth from Homeland Security and the White House, Americans were suckered into believing that we needed to relinquish any pretense of 'freedom', in favor of a fascist type of government that tramples all over the Constitution, with no coverage save for a few reporters who refuse to go along for fear of being labeled anti-American. All of the lies. All of the half truths and exaggerations spewed out of the madmens' mouths were printed as Gospel truth by the fourth estate, who never once questioned why we had to invade Iraq when we were attacked by Saudi Arabia. Like psychotic parrots, they echo the call to war once again by hyping the 'Iranian Threat'. Or the boogeymen in caves who wait with knife and fork to tear into our juicy American flesh.

Not even peeping more than kitten's mewling over the destruction of the Bill of Rights, the American media has never once issued any serious challenge to this, the worst President in U.S. history. No editorial has called for the impeachment and criminal investigations that are sorely lacking, nor was the President raked over the coals for pardoning his criminal crony, Libby. His lies that led us into war are almost laughed at by the media , while our soldiers and the Iraqi and Afghan people die needlessly.

Vladmir Putin decided he wasn't going to give up power in Russia. Slickly switching from President to Prime Minister, he installed his second in command, Dmitry Medvedev as the new President, essentially instituting a dictatorship in Russia once more. Since that time, Putin, a former KGB head, has done everything in his power to reignite the Cold War with America. But it isn't in corporate America's interest to report on this due to the massive investments made by U.S. corporations after the Soviet Union fell apart. Can you say suckers? And no, they're not going to be giving us any of that oil Halliburton helped them find and extract either.

Around the globe the American media are known as 'the comic relief'. That's because stories of importance, such as the almost arrest of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in France for war crimes went completely unreported by mainstream media, until the blogoshphere howled the story to the world, and then it was only MSNBC that reported it.

Poverty figures put out by the liars in charge are reported in such a way that we are led to believe that there's really no problem at all. As we lose 200,000 jobs per month to outsourcing and the corporations waddle away with pockets so full, they need you to help carry their loot, we're told about Wall Street's belief that the economy is about to take an upswing.

On and on it continues. Smoke and mirrors, sleight of hand, and a three card monte game. Embedded reporters. Questions better left unasked. Don't report on dead American soldiers, nor the wounded. It becomes hard to believe anything said in the American press when a story appears on one site that says one thing, another site has completely different 'facts', and yet a third will deny any truth to the rumors. But if one looks at the sites from overseas, we see reporting about events in our own country that we knew nothing about. In other words, the truth. Here, if you want to know what the latest celebrity gossip is, check mainstream media. If you want the truth of what's really going on, check with overseas media, or read the blogs. Other than that, it's a crap shoot and a con game designed to make you want to wear the latest fashions, own the newest electronic device, and conform to what the corporate government wants you to be. Compliant, weak minded, and easily manipulated. "Extra! Extra! Read all about it!" scream the media whores. Go ahead and read the newspaper. Watch the news on television. But as you stare at the screen, listening to the anchor person tell the lies he or she is given to tell you, heed the words of those who watched how magicians do their magic trick will tell you: " Watch his other hand son........."

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Eyesore Of The World

Four large wind turbines stand atop John Paul Jones Hill. The highest point in the area, the place named after one of our Revolutionary War heroes looks out over almost the entire affront to decency and freedom called Guantanamo Bay. Once a proud U.S. Naval Base, standing tall in the face of Castro's dictatorship, the site has become synonymous with torture and human rights abuses.

When President Bush announced his war on a noun to the world, he and others within in his administration knew that in order to pretend to be producing results they would have to start taking prisoners, it was decided by the fascists in charge that those prisoners could not be brought back to the American mainland. Many arguments have been made as to the reasons that Guantanamo was chosen, but the main thinking behind the choosing of housing the prisoners at 'Gitmo' was that whatever actions taken there would be beyond the purvey of the U.S. legal system. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In 2002, Brown and Root Services was awarded a multi million dollar no bid contract to build the facilities that would house the prisoners taken in the then only theater of war, Afghanistan. Brown and Root, a subsidiary of KBR, itself no longer a subsidiary of Halliburton (wink wink), originally built the facilities to house only a couple of hundred prisoners. The criteria to be eligible to become a detainee at Gitmo were so vast and far reaching, such as just being a foreign national, that Brown and Root were subsequently awarded even larger no bid contracts to build more and ever expanding facilities.

Going from just one camp that housed about one hundred high value detainees to eleven official camps and one 'unofficial' holding facility, the hell on earth known as Gitmo now boasts the capacity to indefinitely keep without charges, over 10,000 detainees. In the 'unofficial' camp, the one that our government denies even exists, it is alleged by both prisoners and human rights groups that torture occurs here, way beyond what is commonly known as 'waterboarding'.

Once an area of the world that was known for it's quick response to refugees seeking asylum from brutal dictatorships in the Caribbean, such as the Haitian and Cuban escapees, the very word Gitmo has come to be associated with terror and torture, and the place where another brutal dictator allows for the flouting of both U.S. and International law.

On the U.S. mainland, including Alaska and Hawaii, even now, prisoners have certain rights. Such as the right to a speedy trial by a jury of one's peers, the right to an attorney, the right to have contact with the outside world, the right to humane treatment, and the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. But according to the Bush White House, and both the current and former Secretaries of Defense, these rights don't apply to the Gitmo detainees, nor for that matter to those kidnapped by the U.S. and brought to Abu Gharib, due to what they say is the fact that the installations are not based on U.S. soil.

It is interesting to note this argument made by the administration as well as other Americans without any sense of honor or decency due to the fact that International law declares that all embassies, military bases, consulates, or other leased facilities are the sole sovereign territory of the nation that owns or leases the areas from the host country. In other words, Guantanamo Bay is officially U.S. soil, therefore subject to U.S. law.

Knowing this, and for years now muddying up the waters, the Bush administration has been hard at work trying to confuse the issue with the People, fighting every step of the way any oversight, or inspections of it's illegal operations and abuses of prisoners at the Gitmo horror house. The ACLU has fought for five years to have access to records. Judicial Watch has filed Freedom of Information Act after Freedom of Information Act requests for year after year to no avail. If all was above board and is as the Bush people claim, why the urgent secrecy?

Because they know as well as the majority of us know, the entire Gitmo fiasco was a fraud from the beginning and completely Unconstitutional. U.S. soil is U.S. soil, because if you believe the Bushie arguments, then we must say that Cuba has control over the Gitmo base, and allow them to retake their sovereign territory. If we aren't going for that, then we must at long last admit that Gitmo is subject to the laws of the U.S., the Military Commissions Act was illegal and Unconstitutional, and allow the detainees to have their day in an open and public arena, with witnesses and evidence that isn't little more than a hearsay argument.

There isn't even any room for debate on this issue any longer. No less than the Supreme Court of the United States has issued two separate rulings against the Bush administration concerning the status of detainees at Gitmo, but as with everything else done by this above the law devil in the White House, the rulings have been completely ignored. Where is the cowed and bowed media when it comes to the Gitmo issue? Off chasing Britney Spears at her custody hearing. But at least she gets a hearing. That's more than thousands upon thousands of Gitmo detainees will ever receive so long as Bush, Gates, and Rice are in office. The time has come to force the maniacs in charge to close this eyesore of the world and close it now.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Massachusetts Knows Hillary's Health Plan For What It Is

One of the most strident arguments by the Republicans against Hillary Clinton for President, is their contention that Ms. Clinton's health care plan amounts to socialized medicine. The problem with that notion is something neither they nor the media like to talk about. They'll sit and call the Clinton plan Universal Health Care, but as the good people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts knows, calling health care universal does not mean health care for all.

During Mitt Romney's run for President, one of his selling points to the country, (except for the New England states), was his implementation of Universal Health Care for his state while he was Governor.

The problem is that in order to pay back the insurance industry that got him elected, he deregulated the entire state of Massachusetts' insurance industry, leading to a slew of new companies flooding the state, and no price controls were the name of the game.

Next, he shoved through the state legislature his 'Universal Health Care Plan', calling it the most comprehensive plan to ensure medical coverage for all. But it turned out to be a scam of the highest order. Mandating that if you were a resident of the state of Massachusetts, you were required to have health insurance, the Romney plan quickly became an albatross to the state's working people. The penalty for not having insurance was a fine of $1,000, more than the fines for most misdemeanor crimes in the state.

The legislature, in an attempt to make sure none fell through the cracks, instituted a plan to help low income people pay for their health insurance, but Romney promptly cut the program's funding. The result has been the forced relocation of low income workers and the poor to other states. This debacle was little more than a give away to the insurance industry that put Romney in office, and the new Governor and Legislature are hard at work trying to dismantle the entire program.

Turning back to Hillary, her 'Universal Health Care' plan is eerily similar to Romney's. Same mandated coverage, only with fines as high as $5,000 for noncompliance. Once again, all one has to do is take a quick look at the Clinton Campaign's financiers to see the insurance industry backing she receives. This is no new plan of her's. It is even comparable to what she wanted to do during the 1990's. This is strictly Romney's plan packaged up and distributed on a national scale, but without the option of being able to move out of state because you can't afford it.
If you want to mandate that people have to have insurance to drive a car, that's one thing. But mandating that all must pay the insurance industry for the right to live in the United States is going way far and beyond. This is not an opt in plan. There is no choice of whether to pay your premiums on time, because even failure to pay on time can result in the afore mentioned fines. It doesn't even matter whether you can afford it or not, you must buy insurance under the new Hillary plan. Sure, she talks about setting aside funding for low income workers, but does anyone have any illusions to how quickly that will be forgotten as soon as the ink is dry on the legislation?

True universal health care means that everyone has access to the same type of care regardless of race, creed, gender, or social standing and the Hillary plan does nothing more than perpetuate the current system, only this time with an unfunded mandate from the government.
I wonder if Canada is going to be ready for the influx of American refugees who seek political asylum from the debtors prisons that will have to be set up to house all of those who can not afford health insurance, and of course, won't be able to pay the $5,000 fines.

Ask the people of Massachusetts what they think of Hillary's Health Care plan. But be prepared for every invective and swear word being thrown at you that you never thought you'd hear. Ask them if they'd like some relief from the spiraling out of control insurance prices in their state and you'll receive a resounding universal yes.