Monday, March 31, 2008

Not as Funny as You Think

Read this fascinating history of our favorite pastime on-line. (Click on picture above.)

(Thanks to Matthew for showing me the book.)

Sunday, March 30, 2008

This has me a little worried...

Apparently, in a recent visit to Whiteman AFB, Missouri, Vice President Cheney asked to be given flying lessons in the B-2 Stealth Bomber. According to a confidential source, he told the instructor he wasn't interested in learning how to land the bomber.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

PBS "Frontline": Bush's War. Watch it!

A remarkable retrospective of the events and decisions that took us to war in Iraq, and a portrait of an Executive Branch run amuck.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Success? Winning? Victory?

Who are George Bush, Dick Cheney, David Petraeus and John McCain talking to? What are they selling?

The only success, the only "winning", the only victory comes when all combatants lay down their arms and declare an end to this war. (Admittedly, this must be difficult with an occupying army and foreign agitators in your midst.)

Only when this comes to pass (as combatants always grow weary of the fight), will there truly be a success, a "winning", a victory. And it will be for all: Sunni, Shiite, Kurd, Muslim, Christian, Arab, Iraqi, Iranian, Saudi, Israeli, American, Syrian, Turk, Afghani, etc.

This is not a game. Not a contest. Yet our leaders frame the conflict as if they're addressing a group of adolescents.

It's an insult to the intelligence of Americans, to the intelligence of Iraqis and to the intelligence of the world community.

It is clear to me that our current leaders do not understand the meaning of success. And they certainly have no strategy for achieving a durable peace. (A durable presence, yes, and many suspect that is the ulterior motive here.)

Many Americans have resigned themselves to simply await the results of the upcoming election, hoping that "regime change at home" will bring an end to the "national nightmare" that is Iraq and Afghanistan.

With 300 days until the inauguration of a new President, 300 more guaranteed days of war, we can anticipate another 3,000 to 15,000 people shall violently lose their lives in Iraq alone. We Americans grieve at the loss of 4,000 of our own over the past five years.

We don't even have the decency to talk about Iraqi losses. They remain nameless, faceless statistics, not even worthy of the energy it might require to count them. We don't even know within an order of magnitude how great are their losses. 60,000? 85,000? 650,000? Over a million? All these numbers have been suggested. By any reckoning, they have taken far more casualties than America took in the Vietnam War. The truth is, most Americans simply don't care. We're too distracted by the game.

The Iraqi people, whose freedom we are so devoted to, and for whom we sacrifice our "blood and treasure", our young soldiers, many still teenagers. Ask yourself. Do you ever think of them?

In the political campaigns here at home, we have the audacity to debate whether racism exists in America. While we argue about what some preacher said from his pulpit, we wage a blatantly racist war in the Middle East.

Any American who fails to oppose this war, who remains silent in the face of our own racist campaign abroad, shares far more guilt than Reverend Wright.

(Published in the April 9th "North Bay Bohemian".)

Monday, March 24, 2008

In Case You Missed It....

This little clip reveals Dick Cheney's contempt for the will of the Americans people.

Friday, March 21, 2008

"We Need a President, Not Just a Commander in Chief" by Joe Brewer and George Lakoff

t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Thursday 20 March 2008
In this primary season, the question of what makes a good presidential candidate has taken many forms. Is it how to negotiate with leaders of other nations? What kind of experience qualifies one to be a leader? Yet, the question that should make progressives ripple with discomfort is "Will the president be a strong commander in chief?"

Emphasis on "commander in chief" activates a right-wing frame and progressives should be very circumspect in referring to the presidency in this manner.

Though the words themselves are neutral, they have been used within a right-wing frame that is not obvious. The frame includes the following:
  • The overriding challenge facing our country is military in nature.
  • The military role of the president is, therefore, far more important than all of the other jobs he or she performs.
  • Military experience, or direct experience with military affairs (e.g., the Armed Services Committee), is the single most important experience needed for the presidency.
  • The country should be governed on a military basis. The state should first and foremost be a security state.
  • The temperament needed for a president is martial; the president should be a fighter and should be engaged in fighting.
  • The governing style for a president should be giving orders and making sure they are carried out. Others in public service should be obedient to the president's orders.
That is what it means to make the "commander-in-chief" question the main issue in a campaign. The commander-in-chief frame shifts the role of the president away from governing our nation and into the more limited scope of managing military affairs. It takes us away from domestic questions, including other questions of protection and leadership.

That frame is not what America is about. It does not embody fundamental American values. Nor does it portray what the role of the government is in our democracy. The dual roles of government are protection and empowerment, as we have written elsewhere. Protection is not just military or police protection, but a wide range: consumer protection, worker protection, environmental protection, social security, protection from natural disasters and disease and protection from economic devastation.

That is the major protective mission of the government. The protective job of the president is leadership, primarily in these areas, and also in military matters when our country is in serious danger of attack by a military force. Leadership in all of these areas places different requirements on a president:
  • The ability to articulate those needs for protection so that the nation will comprehend them as overriding needs.
  • The ability to get the country united behind plans for protecting Americans in all of those ways.
  • The ability to inspire a generation of Americans to devote their lives and careers to these tasks.
Protection and leadership are vital issues in a presidential campaign. But the commander-in-chief frame hides them, and replaces them with a right-wing model of government and of the presidency. Conservatives have a long history of dominating the landscape of ideas by trumpeting security issues. So long as the public generally thinks about military affairs as overwhelming, they will be susceptible to conservative frames. Associations between the presidency and commander in chief will tend to promote a conservative view of the world where use of force is not merely encouraged but made mandatory.

This unfortunate distortion of constitutional law, as well as the real problems of Americans, has a major strategic impact in today's political climate. Throughout recent years, the theory of the "unitary executive" has taken hold in the practices of the Bush administration. This theory places the president in the role of decider at the helm of government, thus denigrating the roles of Congress (the real decider in matters of both foreign and domestic policy) as well as the courts.

The imposition of the commander-in-chief frame imposes the top-down hierarchy of commands within the military on the decision-making authority of the president - reinforcing the "unitary executive" mindset. It conceals the fact the president is only granted power to direct military activities during times of war. There can only be a commander if there is an army fighting another army. The term only makes sense within the military frame - typically enmeshed in the more general war frame.

The kind of military chain of command and absolute authority in wartime does not apply to most functions of the president. The president is not supposed to be commander in chief of Congress, nor commander in chief of the FBI or the Justice Department, nor commander in chief of the American people. Right now, he isn't even commander in chief of Blackwater, a private army.

As we have just seen, the commander-in-chief role does not extend to most protections that a president should be concerned with - natural disaster (FEMA), health (FDA, health care agencies), environmental protection (EPA) etc. A president must address these domestic issues through leadership skills outside the realm of military action.

As we've noted before at Rockridge, such issues of framing are central to our democracy:

"Congress may argue against the president's Iraq policy, but when they do so using his words, and thus his fundamental moral frame, they put themselves at a distinct disadvantage. It is nearly impossible to persuasively present a progressive policy using conservative language and frames."

Framing the role of the president in conservative terms suppresses progressive leadership frames. The conservative view of the world as a dangerous place where military threats always lurk nearby is not conducive to the tasks that make our world safer: communicating effectively with leaders of other nations, building trust and forging lasting alliances across the globe, promoting peace through diplomacy and engaging in efforts to ease suffering through initiatives that build secure communities at home and abroad.

Instead, we are reminded of vague threats that evoke fear and encourage division among the peoples of the world. War and militarism activate fear circuits in our brains, altering the processing of information toward absolutist concepts of "good versus evil," "us versus them" and the acceptability of violence.

Progressives need to understand the politics of fear if we are to build upon the basic human capacity underlying our view of the world - empathy with responsibility. Feelings of fear and anxiety reduce the expression of empathy and lead us to place responsibility elsewhere. The antidote is to pay attention to the common bonds we all share. As Shakespeare once wrote, "If you prick us, do we not bleed?" It is this recognition that pain in others is like our own that motivates the desire for healing and peace.

Progressive leaders need to promote progressive leadership frames. This means dropping the commander-in-chief term in general debates about the nature of the presidency and shifting instead to the overall role of government, protection in general, empowerment of both individuals and business and overall presidential leadership need to accomplish them.

We need a president, not just a commander in chief.

Joe Brewer brings a diverse educational background to Rockridge. He received three B.S. degrees from Southeast Missouri State University - in physics, applied mathematics, and interdisciplinary studies. He received an M.S. in atmospheric sciences from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Since receiving his masters, Mr. Brewer has focused on the study of cognitive science and linguistics, including studying with Mark Johnson - a co-author with George Lakoff on two books. Mr. Brewer has a special interest and expertise in the framing of global warming issues.

George Lakoff is the co-founder and senior fellow of the Rockridge Institute. A professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, he previously taught at Harvard University and the University of Michigan. He has been a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, and a visiting professor at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris (1995) and at the Linguistics Society of America Summer Institute at the University of New Mexico (Summer, 1995).

Thursday, March 20, 2008

"Success": Paving the Way for a John McCain Presidency and Continued Occupation of Iraq

Above, President Bush poses with U.S. Army Specialist Rick Yarosh
at the Brooke Army Medical Center last Veterans Day.

There is no "success" in war, no "winning".


On ABC's March 19th "Good Morning America" show, Martha Radditz interviewed Dick Cheney during his visit to Oman. The subject turned to Iraq:

CHENEY: On the security front I think there's a general consensus that we've made major progress, that the surge has worked. That's been a major success.

RADDITZ: Two-thirds of Americans say it's not worth fighting...

CHENEY: So? (Said with a devilish smile that replaced his usual "smirk".)

RADDITZ: do not care what the American people think?

CHENEY: No, I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls. There has in fact been fundamental change and transformation and improvement for the better. That's a huge accomplishment.


From what I've seen the past few years, this particular poll has not fluctuated much. Rather, it has moved steadily in one direction: increasingly, Americans are opposed to the war and occupation in Iraq.

With a concentrated and emboldened campaign to sell the "success" in Iraq, the Bush Administration is working to defuse one of two overwhelming concerns for Americans. If they "succeed" in convincing America that Iraq is on the path to normalcy, they can focus on the economy, an area where monetary policy, international lending and, yes, stimulus rebates can be brought to bear, yielding apparent (if momentary) relief. This is part of the strategy for holding The White House.


How many ways can you say "success"?

By now, Americans have grown accustomed to Bush Administration public relations blitzkriegs, hitting all major news channels with a concerted message and uniform talking points mouthed by a predictable cast of characters. So, in discussions of Iraq this week, the term "success" was on "everyone's" lips, whether the speaker was George Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice, General Petraeus or John McCain (who made a quick trip to Baghdad so that he could be more convincing in his assertion.) Of course, this rosy analysis is almost entirely derived from the Administration, Republican politicians, the U.S. Military or from reporters embedded with the military in Iraq.

Unsurprisingly, their view is not necessarily shared by other, "less aligned" agencies. For example:
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross: the "humanitarian situation in Iraq is among the most critical in the world."
  • The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates over 4.5 million Iraqis have been forced from their homes.
  • Amnesty International: "Five years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, the country is still in disarray. The human rights situation is disastrous, a climate of impunity has prevailed, the economy is in tatters and the refugee crisis continues to escalate."
And, without noting specific citations here, there are the dozen or so reports I've read and heard this week from foreign media reporters, independent observers and bloggers on the ground in Iraq, Iraqi refugees in Syria, analysts, diplomats, etc. (See Dahr Jamail's analysis "Iraq: Five years, and counting.")

The picture is not as neat and clean as the Administration paints it (and began painting it five years ago.)

But as Dick Cheney so resolutely put it, "you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls" (nor, apparently, by the American people, by a few million refugees, by the international community, nor even by the citizens of the nation you are occupying.)

Has there ever been an American Administration that has displayed such open contempt for the will of its own people, and for humanity?

(Note about the above photo: the look on Bush's face betrays an inner conflict. For him, this must have been a profound experience. Compare the left and right halves of his face - cover one side, then the other.)

Mr. Global Economy

As I prepared to leave the house this morning, I thought about this entwined economy in which we live. I pride myself on being aware of the origins of things I buy, trying to buy locally-made products when possible. It's not easy. When we complain about "off-shoring of jobs", what role do we as the consumer play? The central role. Personal consumption is 65-70% of the economy.

So here's the 5-minute inventory made before heading out the door.

Boxers - Thailand
Socks - USA
T-shirt - Honduras
Levi's 501s - Dominican Republic
Shirt - India
Vest - USA
Belt - China
Watch - Switzerland
Watch band - China
Wallet - China
Glasses - Italy (frames) and Germany (lenses)
Memo pad and pen - USA
Riding jacket - Vietnam
Helmet - Japan
Gloves - Romania
Boots - Italy
Motorcycle - Germany (components from various countries)
Panniers - Spain
Gasoline - Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Iran, UAE, Ecuador???

And that was just to get me up to the coffee shop (for my cup of Sulawesi coffee.)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Invasion of Iraq - 5th Anniversary

14-year-old Trevor Nixon came out to "support the troops, but not the war." His brother, a Marine, has just returned after two tours in Iraq. Another brother has just entered the Navy, and is training to be a SEAL.

At the Sonoma demonstration, I ran into "Diane" (on the right), who had also attended last January's "March on Washington".

Sonoma Valley Hospital board member Mike Smith kneels in the intersection of Napa Street and Broadway in Sonoma, as Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputies move in to make a symbolic arrest.

For 393 weeks, Sonoma peace activists have been demonstrating against the war.

Demonstrators begin to gather in front of Sonoma's City Hall. The retirees showed up first, followed by younger people as they finished their work days.

It's a Long Way From Kennebunk

The last time I saw Kevin Allen was in El Chaltén, Argentina in February, 2006. He was hitchhiking, trying to get a ride out of the remote town. For the past seven weeks, Kevin has been driving the frozen North, from Kennebunk, Maine, up to the Yukon and Alaska, then down the Pacific Coast.

We met for breakfast in Pt. Reyes Station, California. Afterwards, he continued his 10,000-mile-and-counting trek, planning to see the Big Sur coastline before turning toward Las Vegas.

Kevin plots his course to Las Vegas.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan"

Virtually ignored by the mainstream media, this four-day conference has just concluded in Silver Spring, Maryland. It featured the spoken and written testimonies of over 100 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

They speak about the side of these wars that our leaders, public and private, civic and corporate, would rather we never hear. Illegitimate wars cannot be prosecuted when the citizenry is fully informed.

This event follows in the vein of the original "Winter Soldier" testimonies of 1971, as the Vietnam War was becoming increasingly unpopular.

See excerpts of this powerful testimony on Democracy Now! and on the website of "Iraq Veterans Against the War".

Friday, March 14, 2008

March 19th: Don't Let the 5th Anniversary of the Iraq Invasion Pass Unnoticed

Now longer in duration than World War II, and (after WWII) this nation’s second costliest military campaign, the Illegal Occupation of Iraq (I.O.I.) must be brought to an immediate end, and our military forces returned home.

This Wednesday, March 19th, marks the 5th Anniversary of the Iraq invasion. (And it is nearly five years since the May 1st, 2003 "Mission Accomplished" photo op pictured above.)

Please join in a march, vigil or other action in your community. If you are unable to do so, please at least write a message to your representatives in Washington. See any of the following websites for details on actions in your area:

United for Peace and Justice

CODEPINK, Women for Peace

Let’s make certain the Administration, present and future, understands the People’s Priorities.

It’s time to “be the words”.


9-11 Press For Truth

President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Rice should know that The 9/11 Commission Report, that "Cliff Notes" narrative carefully negotiated by an "independent, bipartisan panel" , and impeded at every turn by the Bush Administration, has not, and will not serve to absolve the Bush Administration of its, at best, incompetence, and at worst, duplicity relating to the terrorist attacks upon America.

The outstanding film 9-11 Press for Truth can be viewed in 9 segments on "YouTube" (segment 1 above) or you can visit the official website to order the DVD.

All Americans should study the facts, and decide for themselves. The more you learn, the more you may find the "official" narrative is suspect.

Zeitgeist - The Movie

This film appeared on the internet last June, and has subsequently been updated several times. Click on the above picture to link to the home site. There you can watch the 2-hour film. Perhaps partly to its credit, over the ensuing 8 or 9 months, the subjects presented have been the topic of a lively public debate (at least in my local coffee shop!)

According to its writer and director, the film "was created as a nonprofit filmiac expression to inspire people to start looking at the world from a more critical perspective and to understand that very often things are not what the population at large think they are."

Zeitgeist is divided into three parts, each seeking to prove a particular assertion:

Part 1 attacks the artifice of religion as a means to manipulate populations. Part 2 examines the events of 9/11, claiming this was a "false flag" operation designed to take us to war. Part 3 describes how the international banking elite are manipulating money supplies, profiting from perpetual warfare and steadily moving us toward a "New World Order".

Far from being an academic thesis, Zeitgeist serves more as a thought- and debate-provoking work, clearly targeted at an audience half my age. And these days, I'd say thought and debate are good. Complacency is bad.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Philadelphia Finds 56 Pharmaceuticals or By-Products in its Water Supply

See this incredible story from the AP: link.

It is one in a series of reports on municipal water supply sampling across the country.

If you think drinking bottled water is the answer, think again: link.

This article discusses AP's comprehensive investigation: link.

"Warfare and Health Care" by Norman Solomon

t r u t h o u t | Perspective

It's kind of logical. In a pathological way.

A country that devotes a vast array of resources to killing capabilities will steadily undermine its potential for healing. For social justice. For health care as a human right.

Martin Luther King Jr. described the horrific trendline four decades ago: "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

If a society keeps approaching spiritual death, it's apt to arrive. Here's an indicator: Nearly one in six Americans has no health insurance, and tens of millions of others are badly underinsured. Here's another: The United States, the world's preeminent warfare state, now spends about $2 billion per day on military pursuits.

Gaining health care for all will require overcoming the priorities of the warfare state. That's the genuine logic behind the new "Healthcare NOT Warfare" campaign.

I remember the ferocious media debate over the proper government role in health care - 43 years ago. As the spring of 1965 got underway, the bombast was splattering across front pages and flying through airwaves. Many commentators warned that a proposal for a vast new program would bring "socialism" and destroy the sanctity of the free-enterprise system. The new federal program was called Medicare.

These days, when speaking on campuses, I bring up current proposals for a "single payer" system - in effect, Medicare for Americans of all ages. Most students seem to think it's a good idea. But once in a while, someone vocally objects that such an arrangement would be "socialism." The objection takes me back to the media uproar of early 1965.

Today, we're left with the unfulfilled potential of Medicare for all. It could make health care real as a human right. And it could spare our society a massive amount of money now going to administrative costs and corporate gouging. At last count, annual insurance-industry profits reached $57.5 billion in 2006.

On Capitol Hill, lobbyists for the corporate profiteers are determined to block H.R. 676, the bill to create a universal single-payer system to implement health care as a human right.

In the current presidential campaign, none of the major candidates can be heard raising the possibility of ejecting the gargantuan insurance industry from the nation's health care system. Instead, there's plenty of nattering about whether "mandates" are a good idea. Hillary Clinton even has the audacity (not of hope but of duplicity) to equate proposed health care "mandates" with the must-pay-in requirements that sustain Social Security and Medicare.

For Clinton's analogy to make sense, we'd have to accept the idea that requiring everyone to pay taxes to the government for a common-good program is akin to requiring everyone to pay premiums to private insurance companies for personal medical coverage.

A recent New York Times story was authoritative as it plied the conventional media wisdom. The lead sentence declared that an "immediate challenge that will confront the next administration" is the matter of "how to tame the soaring costs of Medicare and Medicaid." And the news article pointedly noted that current federal spending for those health-related programs adds up to $627 billion.

I've been waiting for a New York Times news story to declare that an immediate challenge for the next administration will be the matter of how to tame the soaring costs of the Pentagon. After all, the government's annual military spending - when you factor in the supplemental bills for warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq - is well above the $627 billion for Medicare and Medicaid that can cause such alarm in the upper reaches of the nation's media establishment.

Assessing the current presidential race, the Times reported: "The Democrats do not say, in any detail, how they would slow the growth of Medicare and Medicaid or what they think about the main policy options: rationing care, raising taxes, cutting payments to providers or requiring beneficiaries to pay more."

There are other "policy options" - including drastic cuts in the Pentagon budget. And health care for all.

Norman Solomon, the author of "War Made Easy," is on the advisory board of Progressive Democrats of America. PDA's new nationwide petition for Healthcare NOT Warfare is online.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

"Well, George, what would Jesus think of your 'jobs program'?"

According to Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and his co-author Harvard professor Linda Bilmes, the Iraq War is second only to World War II in total cost to this nation for a war.

The authors also claim that while providing tax breaks to the wealthiest constituents, President Bush has funded the war by borrowing from foreign nations. This debt, and debt service, included in the $3 Trillion estimate, will have to be repaid by future generations of Americans.

In the linked interview (click on the book cover), Stiglitz states quite bluntly that there are two main sectors profiting from this quagmire: the oil industry and the arms industry.

Incredibly, President Bush, in a clip taken from a recent interview with "The Today Show's" Ann Curry, states that he does not agree with Americans who say that the Iraq War is harming our economy. With his characteristic smirk, he claims the war is creating jobs. (His candor here is both shocking and a confirmation, that to many, the nature of a "job" is unimportant. Capitalism has its unique morality. "Well, George, what would Jesus think of your jobs program?")

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Twenty years of Bush and Clinton...

And now we're talking about perhaps making it 24? (Shall we just assume that Chelsea or Jenna are next in line?)

We express outrage and contempt at the thought of Russian President Putin hand-picking a successor. And how is this country so different?

Indeed, when do we intend to bring Democracy to "the Homeland"?

Wake up, America!