Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Losing Is Winning?

I’m sorry but I am having a really hard time with the spin on the Iraq funding bill compromise. Now I see why politicians are politicians. I use to think that they were pretty much like you and me, except with very large egos. Now I am of the opinion that they are from another world entirely.

Once again the Congress has allowed this President to bully and coerce them into backing down. Failing to display the political courage and will that is necessary to end this fiasco. I know that politics is about compromise, but show me the compromise for the Congress. It appears that they have caved in on everything this President wanted. Political expediency has won out again over courage.

I don’t want to hear about moral victories, people are dying. Where is the moral victory in that? This congress had an opportunity to give a voice to those who have lost their voices, the dead from 9/11, Afghanistan, & Iraq. The country needed moral leadership and courage and received a dose of the same old thing. The sad thing is that by holding two votes the Congressional leaders are providing cover for both themselves and the Republicans.

Obviously, I am not a political guru, but I had assumed that kicking the Republicans out the last election was a signal by the people of this country for a new direction. That new direction included Iraq. It is time to quit playing politics with the lives of our soldiers. Let’s make this perfectly clear, the way you support the troops is by saving them from the killing machine that Iraq continues to degenerate into. The Congress has allowed this administration to frame the question and by doing so they have allowed them to limit their responses. By framing the discussion with the question of, “Do you support the troops?” the Republicans leave only 2 responses; yes or no. By the questions asked one can control the responses to come. Instead of the question being, “Do you support the troops?”, it should be do you support the mandate, policy, and handling of the war that our troops are in. What kind of question is, "Do you support the troops?" That is like asking me do I support California.

If I really supported the troops, I would want them out of Iraq. This thing isn’t about body armor or humvees, it is about a flawed policy. News Flash: no matter how much the military and some people want to believe, there will not be a casualty free war. We soothe ourselves by sending over body armor and steel plated humvees, but war by its very nature is violent and people are killed and maimed. No matter how the military tries to make it look like a video game, this is real. Maybe if we just send over enough super-duper equipment and technology we can defeat the enemy and none of our folks will be harmed. And the lottery check is in the mail.

It is time to stop letting the politics of fear override the knowledge of what is right. Each member of Congress must ask him or herself the following question, “Did I come to Washington to represent myself or to represent the people who sent me?” In other words am I here to be reelected or am I here to do what is right regardless of the consequences. I am not naïve; I realize that people are often motivated by self interest. Someone once said, “In a democracy, the people get the government they deserve.” If we continue to elect those people who do not represent our interest or will not enact what we want done, then we are getting the government that we deserve.

I would like to think that this will end prior to the end of the Bush presidency, but I doubt it. There just doesn’t seem to be the political will and courage necessary to overcome the fear. There are no victories today, not for the Congress, not for the White House, and especially not for our troops in Iraq. Oh by the way, “How’s that surge thing working out for you?”

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.- Martin Luther King

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Friday, May 25, 2007

The End Of Civility?

It began with the first George Bush (Willie Horton) and has continued to this day. Each and every year it keeps getting ratcheted up higher and higher. The American public is being bombarded by it on a nightly basis through the 24 hour news cycle. What is it you ask?

It is the loss of civility in our political discourse. There was a time when we could disagree with someone’s ideas and not be disagreeable. We could debate the merits of ideas without debating the patriotism or the character of the person behind the idea. Why is there so much rancor and demagoguery in our governance? When did it become fashionable to discount ideas not based on their value, but based on what side of the political spectrum they came from? Our political dialog has been in a slow and steady decline for a number of years and no one but those who would seek to divide us gains from it. I wish I could say that it was just one side or the other, but that is not true. We can debate from now ‘til doomsday about who started it, but the fact remains we all are doing it. From the extremes of discussing the sexuality of a candidate to the President being the anti-Christ, it is all demagoguery. Do we have to demonize each other to prove who is right and who is wrong? Is it possible that because someone disagrees with my assessment of the situation it doesn’t mean that they are inherently evil and the devil’s spawn?

I read an editorial that said that we as a nation have become so competitive that this new political reality is merely the out-growth of that. It stated that we generally are as a nation fractured and splintered right down the middle and the red/blue state debates are fueling this animosity. That we are so divided on certain issues that any settlement is next to impossible. These issues are so personal and so basic that there can be no compromise. You are either with us and right or with them and wrong and going to hell! Is this really how the majority of Americans feel? There is also a book that argues this same point, “Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America” by James Davison Hunter. He argued that on an increasing number of "hot-button" defining issues—abortion, gun politics, separation of church and state, privacy, homosexuality, censorship issues— there had come to be two definable polarities. Furthermore, it was not just that there were a number of divisive issues, but that society had divided along essentially the same lines on each of these issues, so as to constitute two warring groups, defined primarily not by nominal religion, ethnicity, social class, or even political affiliation, but rather by ideological world views.

I for one disagree with this analysis. The problem as I see it is that we have become a society that feeds on entertainment and conflict. We want to be entertained and see a good fight; hence the obsession with reality shows. There is a time and place for that type of entertainment, but our political arena is not it. The issues we face as a nation are too important to settle with name calling and personal attacks. In order for us to overcome these obstacles we will need the cooperation of all Americans. There are extreme groups on both sides of these issues that would have us believe that the lines are drawn so sharply and run so deep that there is no room for compromise, but they are not right. They said the same thing about slavery, integration of our schools, and women voting. It is just that the extremist are always the loudest and the moderates are becoming complacent. We don’t have to completely agree with each other on everything, but we must respect one another in the process of discussion. We will never get anywhere with the politics of demonizing our opponents. Think about it, what can you say after you have identified your opponent as the anti-Christ? Any meaningful discussions are really limited at that point. It is time to end the politics of division and hate. It is time to stop this viscous cycle before it destroys any chance we have to heal this nation. Do I disagree with this administration? You bet I do, but there are some decent and honorable people in this administration and on the other side of the aisle that deserve my respect. Not because they are right and I agree with them but because they are Americans and have the same right of free speech that I do. The American people deserve better than what the political landscape is now providing. There are many able and qualified people who will not enter into the public arena because of this environment. When that happens we all lose.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Revisionist History

I’m sorry, I normally don’t speak ill of the dead, but that is based on the preposition that they stay dead. I don’t know how it happens, but it seems to happen a lot in America; people rise from the grave. There was Elvis, Tupac, Marilyn Monroe, and now Ronald Reagan.

The reincarnate Ronald Reagan is a lot different from the original, I guess being dead for 3 years will do that to you. The reincarnate Ronald Reagan was last spotted at the Republican candidate debate, but since that appearance he is being booked all over the media. I thought it was crazy that Tupac wrote more albums after he died than he did when he was living, but Mr. Reagan has written a diary. Of course the diary is not new, but as usual when things are going badly there are some who long for the “good ole days”. The reincarnation of Ronald Reagan would be humorous if not for its nefarious intentions.

I asked myself, why is it necessary for the conservatives to create this mythical “white knight” that is now Ronald Reagan? The answer is simple really and very ingenious, you see people can have flaws, but icons do not. If the conservatives are able to succeed in making Ronald Reagan bigger than life, then they can hitch their flawed policies to him and give these ideas credibility that they do not deserve. The beginning of this was readily on display with the republican candidates falling all over themselves to out-Reagan one another. With all the money and spin being utilized to remake Mr. Reagan maybe we should look at who he really was and what he represented free; from the hype.

To many Ronald Reagan represented a return to “good ole” American values. His handlers had crafted this image of John Wayne with a heart, the beginning of compassionate conservatism. The thing you have to hand it to these conservatives is that they will craft a strategy and continue to play it out over years. If they are nothing else they are patient. Think about it, there was a time in this country when conservatism was a mockery. After the Barry Goldwater melt down, few took conservatism seriously as a viable strategy to govern and considered it a fringe element even in the Republican Party. It was at this bleak time that they begin the long push to make conservatism mainstream. They began by attacking liberalism. By the time they were done, calling someone a liberal was tantamount to a personal affront.

Ronald Reagan despite his short comings was an opportunist and he appeared on the scene at just the right time. He was a natural for the greatest role he would ever play and had the credentials from his years as an informant for the McCarthy crew and as the Governor of California. It is interesting to note that for most of his presidency, Mr. Reagan was not popular. Despite today’s spin being spewed by former Reaganites, his only period of decent popularity was during his reelection period of 1984 to 1986. That was due almost entirely on the surging economy and not any proposal or ideas offered up by Reagan. So let’s go to the record.

Reagan brought down communism is one of the main talking points of Reagan promoters. Ok, just because you happen to be in office when an event occurred doesn’t mean you caused the event. There has never been any direct evidence that any of Reagan’s policies or rhetoric had any effect on the fall of the Communist block. Mr. Reagan take down that wall of lies that was built around you.

Ronald Reagan was a tax cutter. Actually no, he signed the biggest middle-class tax increase in history. The whole “Reagan Recovery” was a farce. In truth most Americans paid more taxes under Reagan than before Reagan.

Then of course there was that Iran-Contra thing, the union busting (PATCO), the racist policy of engaging South Africa, the illegal war in Central America, the ignoring of AIDS, there was the 138 administration officials convicted, there was the whole Alzheimer’s rumors, and the governing by astrology.

When you look at the true record of Ronald Reagan, you see that this reincarnation of Reagan is a right wing conservative trick to put forward its agenda under a new brand. Thanks to the right wing onslaught, there are many who think Reagan was a great President, but the truth is that he wasn’t. Divisive politics should be rejected no matter what brand they are being packaged under. Let’s let sleeping dogs lie. We don’t need another Reagan, we need another Lincoln…

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Poverty In America

WASHINGTON - The percentage of poor Americans who are living in severe poverty has reached a 32-year high, millions of working Americans are falling closer to the poverty line and the gulf between the nation's "haves" and "have-nots" continues to widen.

A McClatchy Newspapers analysis of 2005 census figures, the latest available, found that nearly 16 million Americans are living in deep or severe poverty. A family of four with two children and an annual income of less than $9,903 - half the federal poverty line - was considered severely poor in 2005. So were individuals who made less than $5,080 a year.

The McClatchy analysis found that the number of severely poor Americans grew by 26 percent from 2000 to 2005. That's 56 percent faster than the overall poverty population grew in the same period. McClatchy's review also found statistically significant increases in the percentage of the population in severe poverty in 65 of 215 large U.S. counties, and similar increases in 28 states. The review also suggested that the rise in severely poor residents isn't confined to large urban counties but extends to suburban and rural areas.

If anyone needed a reason to support John Edwards this should do the trick. No one in the race Republican or Democrat is speaking out more or with the specificity of Senator Edwards. After we finally get untangled from Iraq, poverty will be an issue that must be recognized and dealt with. This administration has used the Iraq war to ignore and deprive the poor, while allowing the corporate profits and CEO salaries to reach all-time highs. There is a problem when you have these types of record extremes. It is an indication that the ones in the middle are disappearing. If we do not address this problem America will begin to resemble our Central and South American neighbors, where you have a few very wealthy people and the majority very poor. I believe that democracy cannot survive without a middle-class. I think that the larger the middle-class the stronger the democracy. Those with the largest stake in democracy are the middle-class. The rich don’t need it and the poor don’t believe in it.

So, what are we to do with the severely poor? How do we defeat the systemic causes of extreme poverty in America? Can we free those who are entrenched in this cycle of poverty?

Fighting poverty is a job for government, but it is also a job for all of us in our own communities. I believe our nation is up to this challenge. Hurricane Katrina exposed us to heartbreaking images of extreme poverty but it also reminded us of the extraordinary compassion of the American people -- millions opened their hearts, homes and wallets after the storm.

We need to speak up when we know something is wrong. Let's put poverty on top of the national agenda and pledge to hold our government accountable for ignoring the suffering of so many for far too long. I’ve traveled the country for more than a year, meeting with people who are struggling to get out of poverty. One thing I’ve noticed in these conversations is that they have never had a champion. They have no idea what it’s like to have somebody to speak up for them. All of us must champion their cause.

We must act both locally and nationally to fight for a higher minimum wage and other measures that will improve the lives of low-income families. And we need to get involved when our neighbors are in need. This can be as simple as volunteering your time to be a mentor to a young person or to help build a house for a homeless family. Each of us can make a huge difference.[1]

According to Senator Edwards government and individuals must play a role in solving this national scourge. There is no one right way to do this. It is going to require all of us to come together and collectively exchange ideas and resolutions. I think one of the biggest problems is that we have allowed Conservatives to scare us off this issue. So what everything we tried in the past didn’t work, but that doesn’t mean we throw out the baby. We must be willing to do what this administration is not and that is to evaluate our strategies and when they don’t work, we try something different. We need to include everyday people in the process as well. One of the things that help to drive innovation in the business world was the suggestion box. A simple little thing like that can make a world of difference. It allowed the people dealing with the problem an opportunity to help solve the problem. Who knows better where to start looking for a solution than those who are at ground zero of an issue?

Solving this issue is one of the most difficult and pressing concerns of this nation. We can no longer continue to let the gap between the richest and the poorest grow at these record rates. We have the money and we have the knowledge[2] of what works from years of studies and experience. What is missing is the political will to act. We are also missing the leadership to take up this challenge. When President Johnson launched his “war on poverty” there were plenty of naysayers and intransigents, but because of his strong leadership and political capital he made hard fought gains. And in doing so, he helped to reduce poverty by its largest margins since the depression.

Now it is our turn to complete the process. Will we continue to turn a blind eye to the poorest among us, while the wealthiest continue to make record growth? Will we continue to step over the fallen strangers pretending not to see, rather than being the good Samaritan? The answers to these questions will say a lot about who we are as a nation and what values we believe are important. We have the technology to solve this, do we have the desire?

[1] http://www.southernstudies.org/facingsouth/2006/07/senator-john-edwards-on-poverty.asp

[2] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/25/AR2007042502442.html

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Let’s Blame The Iraqi’s

There is a growing chorus here in the states to blame the Iraqi’s for the strife and suffering that they are now experiencing as a result of the invasion and subsequent occupation. While this attitude is becoming politically popular, it undermines the real problems that were uncovered by the invasion. It also belies the terrible job that was done with post invasion planning and reconstruction.

I have stated previously that the military phase of this adventure ended with the taking of Baghdad. At that point it became a political and a logistical problem. How best to relieve the human suffering that was indeed to come should have been foremost, instead what was foremost was the “neoconservative agenda”. How to help the Iraqi’s to overcome the physical and emotional scars of repression in a constructive way should have been the mission. Let’s face it, the majority of people in Iraq have been raised under the tyranny of a dictatorship, to expect them to become young George Washington’s and Thomas Jefferson’s overnight was irresponsible and overly optimistic. It was unrealistic to believe that after years of abuse that they would take the high road and let bygones be bygones. This goes against human nature and human history.

You have two majority groups who have been shut out of the political, social, and economic fabric of a country for decades. When given the opportunity to exact some retribution would anyone think they wouldn’t? To believe this is to know nothing about the region or its customs. In societies that have experienced these types of trauma there is always a need for healing, a national reconciliation and recognition of the tragedies of the past. Rather than assist the Iraqis in their efforts to accomplish this we were pursuing our own agenda. It was just assumed that once we “liberated” them they would sign on to our goals and agenda. Well, time has shown that nothing could be further from the truth. Not only have they not accepted our agenda, they have gone so far as to have an agenda of their own. How dare they?

The violence must and should end and the outcome of this must be completed by the Iraqis. Being responsible for the future and taking blame for the past are two distinct things. It is like blaming the rape victim for being raped, because they haven’t healed as fast as we think they should. Blaming the victim is always easy; it removes any responsibility for our actions and feelings. It makes us feel safe. The victim obviously did something to cause the misfortune, so I am safe so long as I don’t do what they did. Unfortunately, life is not as simple as a Karl Rove sound bite and sometimes bad things happen to good people.

All the troops in China are not going to fix Iraq. What Iraq needs is the international community and that means the UN and the Arab League. Neither of these institutions can bring their power to bear until we leave. It is time for us to acknowledge the fact we don’t have the expertise for nation building. The last time we did any nation building it was 60 years ago and I don’t think we have anyone left around who remembers how to do it, definitely not in this administration.

Thanks to our constant bombing and sanctions the infrastructure in Iraq was already demolished prior to the invasion. With the invasion, we come in and destroy what little bit of social fabric they were left clinging to. We terminated their legal, political, and security systems without any thought as to what we were going to replace them with. Instead of securing the people, we secured the oil. The Iraqis with the help of the international community have to learn to trust each other and their government to get things done. Right now that government is failing them as a nation and must learn to overcome sectarian interests for national interests. Are we any different, consider the current regime in Washington. Have they allowed sectarian interest to cloud what is best for America? We have had a few centuries to practice and we still need work, so all those thinking that after decades of corruption, torture, repression that the Iraqis are just going to start espousing liberty or death are delusional. And as that delusion comes crashing down around them there has to be a scapegoat.

Unfortunately, there are some hard days ahead for the Iraqi people. Starting a country from scratch with three different factions, each with their own agendas is a monumental task. This is their legacy to write for their children and generations to come. Despite our best efforts, we cannot control the pace or the outcome. Conflicts in the Middle East have their own timetables; some have even lasted a thousand years. The deep seated animosity and mistrust between countrymen will take years to overcome and will come with a price; the tree of liberty and all that.

Are the Iraqis responsible for their country? Yes, but are they guilty for what it has become?

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Who Are We?

The next President will have many challenges ahead of him or her. They will inherit our nation at arguably its lowest point in history. We have lost respect abroad and consensus at home. The most important challenge this person will be faced with is to help us as a nation decide just who we are.

Who are we? Are we a nation that respects the rule of law or are we a nation that ignores laws that do not fit into our vision of the world?

Who are we? Are we a nation whose justice system is based on “habeas corpus” and “innocent until proven guilty” or are we a nation where everyone is “guilty until proven innocent”?

Who are we? Are we nation that believes in humane treatment of prisoners no matter what their combat status or are we a nation the practices and condones torture?

Who are we? Are we a nation that seeks to live in peace with the rest of the world or are we a nation that shoots first and ask questions later?

Who are we? Are we the nation that helped to liberate the world from fascism and tyranny or are we a nation that will impose imperialism at the end of a gun?

Who are we? Are we a nation who believes that everyone has a right to health care, a decent wage, and food and shelter or are we nation who believes that our only obligation is to ourselves and our own comforts?

Who are we? Are we a nation that believes in freedom for its citizens from a repressive and secretive government or are we nation that believes all is fair in the war on terrorism?

Who are we? Are we a nation where everyone does and pays his fair share or are we a nation where the wealthy are shielded from their responsibility?

Who are we? Are we a nation that demonstrates the principles of democracy and courage or are we a nation that cowers in fear and paranoia?

Who are we? Are we a nation that learns from its mistakes or are we a nation that has never made a mistake?

Who are we? Are we a nation that leads the fight in solving climate change or are we a nation that buries its head in the sand?

Who are we? Are we a nation that stands united and falls divided or are we a nation that allows politics and demagoguery to keep us separate?

The next president will inherit this country at one of its most important crossroads ever. The next president will have to help this nation define who we really are. Not who we proclaim to be, but who and what we truly believe in. We, as a nation must do some soul searching about some real core issues that supersede red and blue. The answers to these questions will define who we are as a nation for the next generation and beyond. It is time for a national conversation and discussion as to what type of nation we want to be. The choice for now is ours to make. I don’t know how long the decision will be ours at the rate we are going. There are forces at work that want to limit our freedoms and our choices. There are forces at work that want to define for us, who we are.

We as a nation must unite and get past the rhetoric of politics and division and come together to solve the many issues that are facing us. We may not agree on every issue, but we should be able to build a consensus on most. We must all be ready to sacrifice and compromise for the sake of unity and country. First and foremost, we are Americans, any affiliation after that is supposed to be secondary. We are to overlook our petty differences and come together for the greater good. How many of us can truly say we have done this? How many of us can look beyond politics, race, and economics and put America first for a change?

The next president cannot solve all that ails us, but they can be a unifier. They can be a catalyst for the debate we so desperately need. They can keep the discussion on point and steer it away from partisan agendas. If the Dems win back the White House it will be difficult to not dismiss the losing party out of hand, but we must not do it. Our country is greatest when we use all of our assets. My position is made stronger by the opposition not weaker; my ideas must be able to stand up to critical review. Our next leader must have the strength of character to acknowledge mistakes and learn from them. There is no strength or wisdom in being stubborn and blind to changes taking place around us.

America…who are we? The answer to that question begins with, who are you?

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Taxation Without Representation

For many ex-felons completing their sentencing and/or parole or probation still does not allow them the opportunity to rejoin their fellow citizens in the voting booth. In what many consider the last vestiges of Jim Crow, there are still some states that do not allow these people to vote. It is an effort to continue to disenfranchise the rights of some Americans to vote.

These men and women have served the terms of their sentences and completed the requirements of release, yet they are still denied the right to vote. How can this be? The proponents of these laws base them on the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

“The legal authority of a state to revoke an inmate's voting rights is based upon the Fourteenth Amendment. While this amendment stipulates that, "no state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States", it allows for the denying of the voting rights of individuals guilty of "participation in rebellion, or other crime". Under current law, the federal government may not infringe upon a state's authority to grant or rescind voting rights to prison inmates and former felons.”[1]

So, it is up to the states to determine what voting rights a citizen may get to exercise. Having the states determine the voting rights of our citizens is a dubious proposition at best. If we had left it up to the states to repel the various voting laws on the books to disenfranchise the poor and minorities of this country they would still not be voting in some states. There are those who would use these questionable laws to suppress the votes of those they deem unworthy and to maintain the status quo.

It seems clear to me that the goal of the “founding fathers” was to prevent those that had participated in the armed overthrow of the government from voting, not the guy or gal who may have been convicted or plead guilty to a simple drug possession charge. These people are not a direct threat to this government any more than the guy who shoplifts. Because of how our courts have systematically been bias against minorities, in that minorities are more likely to have their charges upgraded to a felony, it would be logical to assume that these laws would affect minorities more negatively than others.

“The San Jose Mercury News conducted a massive study of 700,000 California legal cases over a 10-year period. The paper reported in December 1991 that a third of the white adults who were arrested, but had no prior record, were able to get felony charges against them reduced. Only a quarter of the African-Americans and Latinos with no priors were as successful in plea bargaining.”[2]

With evidence suggesting that race is indeed a factor in whether felony charges are pursued or not, it would also seem logical to conclude that preventing ex-felons from voting could be used by some states or legislatures to suppress the votes of minorities. Voting has not always been a right for minorities in this country and it took the shedding of blood to acquire it. And I say, it would be a travesty to the memory of those who laid down their lives for this right to have it eliminated through some back door loophole. Because of these laws, 13% of African-American males are being disenfranchised; to continue this is unconscionable. Despite what the Supreme Court said in Bush v. Gore: "The individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States." The truth of the matter is that voting defines democracy and citizenship. This was one of the main linchpins for the American Revolution; taxation without representation. To now over 200 years later to justify this treatment because someone has broken the law is according to the founders of this land; tyranny.

If we are not going to allow them to vote, then it only stands to reason that they should not be taxed without a voice. Many in the Congress are afraid to touch this issue because of the far right attacks of “soft on crime”, but this is not a criminal issue. This is a fairness issue; it is a moral issue. Do we believe in rehabilitation and paying ones debt to society or not. Do we believe in inclusion of those who have made mistakes and second chances? You should not lose your citizenship for making a mistake, if that were the case would any of us be allowed to vote?

It is time for us to make voting a constitutional right for all of our citizens. Many people already believe that it is. Let’s not allow politics and rhetoric to take the voice of our people, any of them and silence it. At the current rate of incarceration figures continue to rise, many in the minority community will be marginalized and remember, “No justice, no peace.” Our democracy is too valuable and has come too far to let the racist attitudes of the past once again derail the rights of those who are different. Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone…

[1] http://www.speakout.com/activism/issue_briefs/1289b-1.html

[2] http://www.crf-usa.org/brown50th/color_of_justice.htm

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Imported Drugs

"There is a pricing problem with prescription drugs," said Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.), who co-sponsored the amendment with Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine). "The identical drug, FDA-approved, the same pill, put in the same bottle, made by the same company, is set virtually every other place in the world at a lower price. And the American consumer is told, 'You know what, we have a special deal for you: You get to pay the highest price in the world.' "

I beg to disagree with the Senator, we don’t have a pricing problem; we have an ethics problem. We have an industry that is too embedded with our legislators and elected officials. The senate voted to add an amendment to an FDA bill to allow for the importation of prescription drugs from Canada. The cost savings to consumers is estimated to be around 50 billion dollars over 10 years. One of the major instruments driving seniors and the poor deeper into poverty is the high cost of health care, particularly prescription drugs. I applaud the senate for pursuing this issue even in the face of a veto from the President.

There has been talk about the safety of imported drugs for years, but as the Senator stated these are the same drugs made by the same manufacturers. This fear concerning the safety of these drugs is a smoke screen being concocted by the pharmaceutical industry to keep Americans paying the highest cost for drugs in the world. It is a sad commentary when those who we have elected and sent to Washington to represent us must be coerced into doing what we pay them to do. We should not have to justify saving money to these people, they should be looking for ways for us to save money in every area of our economy. Unfortunately those elected officials and their aides have decided that the large corporations need protection more than the consumers. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the pharmaceutical companies have spent in excess of 100 million dollars annually to pay for lobbyist to press their agenda. I can see where they need all the help they can get to protect them from us ungrateful consumers.

Public Citizen has done a report of the unethical goings on between Washington and the big pharmaceutical companies.[1] I would recommend everyone to read this report and see just how much money and influence peddling these companies are doing. It’s no wonder we are paying the highest prescription drug costs in the world.

To show you how we must be living in bizarro land, the war on drugs was supposed to increase the cost of illegal drugs, unfortunately it has had the opposite effect. It has however had the unintended effect of increasing the cost of prescription drugs; can anyone explain this to me?

Unless we begin to take control of our government soon I am afraid democracy will be a concept talked about in history classes. It will no longer be practiced here. This President has already begun to plant the seeds of the “Imperial President” due to 9/11. A President that is no longer accountable to anyone, but his own way of thinking and those of like mind. We must never tire of doing the right thing or be swayed by the propaganda of the wealthy and their apologist.

Our seniors have given a lot to this nation and they deserve our thanks and our support. We must not let them be gouged by the big pharmacy companies, because in the end it is us who will have to pay the bill. They should never have to choose between medicine and food; no American should. If the drug companies don’t want to lower prices, then it is only fair to let our seniors and poor get the medicines they need at the lowest and safest possible cost. This unsafe argument is a red herring; I have yet to hear of any mass deaths in Canada from their prescription drugs. Do they care about their citizens any less than we do? When you live on a fixed income the money saved from the imports can go a long way to allowing you some of the comforts that we take for granted.

[1] http://www.citizen.org/documents/MedicareDrugWarReportREVISED72104.pdf

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Time For A New Pact

The time has come for America to once again start to reinvest in its young people. Not in the small increments we have seen the last few years, but a whole scale project to once again make them a priority.

Why is it important to make this investment? It is important because as a nation our fortunes have risen with the amount of investment we have made in our young. In previous generations our investments in our young have created the middle-class society, it fueled our technology surge, and it drove our housing markets. By providing affordable college to young people who otherwise would have been unable to attend through the GI Bill and the grant programs we expanded our economy and our societal well-being. Money invested in our young has proven in the past to be money well spent and has repaid itself a hundred-fold.

Today so much of our public investments have been redirected through Medicare and Social Security to the elderly due to their growing costs and populations. Well these programs are important and I would never advocate them being dropped, but we need to make just as large an investment in our future as we are doing for our past. We as a nation have been paralyzed by the Iraq war with all of its enormous cost in money and humanity, but we must not lose sight of our future and those charged to lead it. We must provide more avenues to our young people than “Be all you can be”. We as a society must develop other forms of service for our young people and in return they would receive an investment from this country. We have dabbled with various forms of this, but have not made a full-fledged effort to invest in those young people at the time when they need it most. We must begin to create opportunities for all of our young that want to participate in our society. We are becoming a nation again of the haves and the have nots. Our greatest economic growth occurred when we opened up opportunities for everyone, not just the wealthy. It is time for us to take our focus off destroying the world and place it back on improving the world. We have gained more converts to our system through programs like the Peace Corps than we ever have through violence.

Many of today’s foreign leaders learned about America not from propaganda, but from average American young people who took their values, “our values” abroad and taught the world who we are through service. These programs not only benefit our nation and the nations abroad, but they will also benefit the young people. They will teach them the value of self sacrifice, ingenuity, and perseverance. Ask anyone who has volunteered and they will tell you how it teaches one as much about themselves as about those they are helping. We should create programs that if they provide service to our nation, then we will provide an education, an affordable home, or some sort of job skill. The rewards of the program can be worked out, but the incentive should be there to provide an opportunity for all.

Today, when we are asking some of our young people to make the ultimate sacrifice shouldn’t we also be willing to make a sacrifice for them?

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Outdoor Market In Indiana?

I normally don't post to this blog until Sunday, but this is just too much, especially after today's stunning attack in the Green Zone.

The more I listen to these guys concerning the war, the more confused I become. Recently a congressional delegation led by Senator John McCain went shopping in Baghdad. Now depending on who you talk to the market they visited was either like a farmers market in Indiana or a suicide bombers paradise. Call me crazy, but I am more inclined to listen to the people who live there than some guys who were there for an hour surrounded by a full company of soldiers, six attack helicopters, sharpshooters on the rooftops, & redirected traffic, and they had to wear bullet-proof vests. Here is the typical itinerary for a visit to Iraq:

"Members rarely spend more than a night in Iraq, often flying back to Kuwait or Jordan at the end of the day. The trips are heavy on meetings with American military and embassy officials, with almost no opportunities for unscripted encounters with regular Iraqis."

Ok, it's been a while since I was in Indiana and I know those farmer markets tend to get a little rowdy when haggling over prices, but at what farmers market was Rep. Mike Pence at that resembled this one in Baghdad. Is it me or has there been a real departure from reality for a lot of politicians lately? This is the problem with politicizing every issue. Instead of giving the American people the facts and letting us decide for ourselves we must wade through the reams of spin and talking points to mislead and misinform. Do these guys think we are so stupid that we cannot see through the hype? Oh wait, George W was elected twice...

Senator McCain is in the middle of his "Straight Talk" tour. After this debacle I don't think there is a whole lot of straight talk going on in that bus. The American people deserve better than this. We deserve leaders that will be truthful and willing to trust us with that truth. Do these guys not trust that we can "handle the truth"? It is time we as Americans, not red or blue but just ordinary Americans demand the truth from our politicians. The lies must stop! And it is not just the politicians it is the "talking heads" on the news programs, the spin doctors on talk radio, and all the other status quo lobbyist pretending to be "ordinary Americans" or looking out for the "middle-class".

We must demand the truth and punish those who cannot or will not provide it to us. "I can't recall" is no longer an option. As long as we pay more attention to American Idol than American democracy we will continue to get what we have been getting. The time for complacency is over. This country, this world is at a crossroads and we must (all of us) stand and be counted. Remember, no decision is still a decision.

There was a time in America when we had an adversarial press and a functioning democracy that would not allow this misinformation to take place. However, today you can't tell the journalist from the Whitehouse spokespeople. I am all for rallying behind the troops and war time patriotism, but we still live in a democracy. What makes a democracy work is that we do question authority, we do ask the tough questions, and we investigate. When was the last time we've had any real investigative work by a journalist? I can't remember either.
Here is what the Iraqi's say about the security in that market.

Told about Mr. McCain's assessment of the market, Abu Samer, a kitchenware and clothing wholesaler, scoffed: "He is just using this visit for publicity. He is just using it for himself. They'll just take a photo of him at our market and they will just show it in the United States. He will win in America and we will have nothing."

During their visit on Sunday, the Americans were buttonholed by merchants and customers who wanted to talk about how unsafe they felt and the urgent need for more security in the markets and throughout the city, witnesses said.

"They asked about our conditions, and we told them the situation was bad," said Aboud Sharif Kadhoury, 63, who peddles prayer rugs at a sidewalk stand. He said he sold a small prayer rug worth less than $1 to a member of the Congressional delegation. (The official paid $20 and told Mr. Kadhoury to keep the change, the vendor said.)

Mr. Kadhoury said he lost more than $2,000 worth of merchandise in the triple bombing in February. "I was hit in the head and back with shrapnel," he recalled.

Ali Youssef, 39, who sells glassware from a sidewalk stand down the block from Mr. Kadhoury, recalled: "Everybody complained to them. We told them we were harmed."

He and other merchants used to keep their shops open until dusk, but with the dropoff in customers as a result of the attacks, and a nightly curfew, most shop owners close their businesses in the early afternoon.

"This area here is very dangerous," continued Mr. Youssef, who lost his shop in the February attack. "They cannot secure it."

But those conversations were not reflected in the congressmen's comments at the news conference on Sunday.
Come now Senator, when does the straight talk really begin?

Senator McCain's full letter to The Washington Post:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/con tent/article/2007/04/06/AR2007040601781. html

Further evidence of how safe not only the streets of Baghdad are, but also the vaulted Green Zone.

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/world/AP -Iraq.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin

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Monday, May 14, 2007


You can’t govern, if you don’t win. The important thing to remember is that we are very early into this election cycle and no one really has a clue what the electorate will do when the time comes. As much as I identify with the aspirations of Senators Clinton and Obama wanting to change history, the fact remains. Are they electable?

One must not get caught up in all the pre-election year hype. Anyone familiar with the electoral process in America knows that it is not who is ahead in March 07 but who is ahead in March 08 and beyond. How many immensely popular candidates early on have withered when the voters begin to ask the tough questions? Right now the media and the public are caught up in “feel good” stories to overcome the growing anxiety of Iraq and the myriad of other issues that we are facing as a nation. Witness the media frenzy over the death of a woman whose only talent was self-hype and the ability to marry an aging billionaire. It is good copy to have those two other candidates as frontrunner's; it allows us as a nation to feel that we have overcome the barriers of gender and race. We can pat ourselves on the backs and say how glad we are to be over those hurdles. The reality of course is somewhat different from the perception. It doesn’t matter how good your ideas or how solid your platform, if you don’t win you don’t get to institute your policies. In politics, there are no moral victories. Either you win or you lose and no one knows it better than the Dems after eight years of George W. Let them have their 15 minutes, in the mean time we will be creating a groundswell waiting to erupt when the time is right. And of course the media will be caught completely off-guard and will wonder where all this support and those victories came from and of course we will just give them that knowing smile.

For those with very short memories, the majority of party nominees were not leading in any poll prior to the primaries (i.e. Howard Dean). A few of them were not even known to the general public (i.e. Bill Clinton) beyond their regions or states. No ladies this party is just starting. What we should be doing is making sure we are dotting our I(s) and crossing our T(s). We should be shoring up our grass roots organizations, because these groups are the ones who get people elected (i.e. George W. Bush) not polls. We should continue to stress individual contributions as well as the larger donors to build the war chest necessary to overcome all the hype and keep the Senator out front and visible.

We need to position Senator Edwards in the right place for when the smoke clears, and make no mistake as we get closer to the appointed time the smoke will clear, so he will be able to accept the mantle and carry us to victory. No folks, Senator Edwards is where he is suppose to be, building a grass roots organization and campaign, creating policy and priorities, laying the groundwork for after the beauty pageant. Let us not lose hope because of the media frenzy. Let us do as our candidate has done in the past, let us roll up our sleeves and pour our foundation for victory. People elect Presidents, not polls.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Another Atrocity Waiting To Happen

What causes men and women to abuse and torture other humans? For many there is some degree of sadism and tendencies towards deviant behavior, but for many others it is the stress and frustration of constant fear and uncertainty.

We are about to increase the amount of time our service personnel spend in Iraq and we are decreasing the amount of time for leaves. By keeping our service people in these heighten states of fear for these extended periods, we are laying the groundwork for more atrocities on civilians in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Any military or civilian doctor will tell you that wars like these are extremely stressful on the soldiers, because there are no fronts to guard or hide behind. The soldier is constantly surrounded by both friend and foe and no real way to distinguish the two. As we put more and more soldiers in close proximity to civilians as the surge plan does, this increases the level of stress for the soldier. Our military personnel can only take so much stress before time has shown; they will become less inclined to abide by the rules and conduct of engagement with civilians.

The detailed mental health survey of troops in Iraq released by the Pentagon on Friday highlights a growing worry for the United States as it struggles to bring order to Baghdad: the high level of combat stress suffered during lengthy and repeated tours.[1]

The fourth in a continuing series, the report suggested that extended tours and multiple deployments, among other policy decisions, could escalate anger and increase the likelihood that soldiers or marines lash out at civilians, or defy military ethics.

That is no small concern since the United States’ counterinsurgency doctrine emphasizes the importance of winning the trust and support of the local population.[2]

In an effort to sway public opinion in America our political leaders are playing a very dangerous game with the lives of civilians in both countries. Because they have stretched our military to the point of breaking and new recruits are becoming more difficult to find, the current troops are being asked to do more than even the military knows they should. But rather than stand up to this Commander and Chief they are allowing the seeds to be planted and when the harvest comes in with more atrocities they will once again blame the ordinary soldier for behavior that they in fact put into motion by their cowardice.

Another component to all of this is the lowering of standards for the military. To try to keep pace with the growing need for bodies in uniforms, the military has been lowering the standards for recruits that are being accepted. As we lower our standards for military personnel, we increase the likelihood for abuse. The new recruits are more likely to have criminal histories or behavioral issues that could manifest themselves under stress related duty. Remember, we are putting these young men and women under some extreme conditions and expecting them to behave as robots, it isn’t going to happen. These conditions could bring out the savageness in anyone of us. Who is to say what any of us would do under those conditions?

By placing our troops in the middle of the sectarian violence, we are making them targets for both sides. Also, we are dealing with a civilian population that is growing more and more frustrated with the violence and the reconstruction efforts. This is a recipe for disaster, and it is unfortunate that no one is going to speak out until the next massacre or other atrocity. And again only to condemn the soldier, but not the policy that has placed them in this situation. As we place them in more and more stressful situations the casualty count will increase, as well as the mental health issues. We are already providing woefully poor care for our current veterans in the mental health area and now we are going to dump more people into an already congested pipeline. I hate to think it, but I have a feeling the number of veteran suicides may very well increase due to the current stress load being applied.

Those of us at home must not continue to stand pat while our military personnel are placed in these situations. Just because we may not have a direct stake or loved one involved; it does not allow us the right to be mute. In a democracy it is the people that decide inevitably when and where our soldiers fight. The President can declare a war, but without public support it cannot continue. The lives of our military and of innocent civilians are at stake. There are those who may say that innocents may die if we leave and that well may be true, but we won’t be the ones killing them.


[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/06/washington/06military.html?hp

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Drug Wars III

In my ongoing discussions of the drug policy in America, I have come across some very disturbing information concerning our children, doctors, and pharmaceutical companies. I briefly talked about the relationship in Drug Wars II, but there are reports that doctors on the pharmaceutical payroll are now prescribing drugs for our children that were not tested or designed for the purposes they are being prescribed.

The information is from Minnesota, the only state by the way that forces doctors to disclose where their income is coming from, and shows a correlation between the amounts of money doctors are receiving from the pharmaceutical companies and the number of prescriptions being written by the doctors. The pharmaceutical companies pay doctors to hold “educational” meetings to discuss their products and how to prescribe them, which seems harmless enough. However, the fees charged for these meetings may actually be concealed payments to the doctors from the pharmaceutical companies, which is in violation of the law. It is illegal for pharmaceutical companies to directly pay doctors for prescribing specific products and against Federal rules for the companies to promote unapproved uses for the products.

“From 2000 to 2005, drug maker payments to Minnesota psychiatrists rose more than sixfold, to $1.6 million. During those same years, prescriptions of antipsychotics for children in Minnesota’s Medicaid program rose more than ninefold.

Those who took the most money from makers of atypicals tended to prescribe the drugs to children the most often, the data suggest. On average, Minnesota psychiatrists who received at least $5,000 from atypical makers from 2000 to 2005 appear to have written three times as many atypical prescriptions for children as psychiatrists who received less or no money.

But studies present strong evidence that financial interests can affect decisions, often without people knowing it.

In Minnesota, psychiatrists collected more money from drug makers from 2000 to 2005 than doctors in any other specialty. Total payments to individual psychiatrists ranged from $51 to more than $689,000, with a median of $1,750. Since the records are incomplete, these figures probably underestimate doctors’ actual incomes.

Such payments could encourage psychiatrists to use drugs in ways that endanger patients’ physical health, said Dr. Steven E. Hyman, the provost of Harvard University and former director of the National Institute of Mental Health. The growing use of atypicals in children is the most troubling example of this, Dr. Hyman said.

“There’s an irony that psychiatrists ask patients to have insights into themselves, but we don’t connect the wires in our own lives about how money is affecting our profession and putting our patients at risk,” he said.”[1]

It is apparent that money and medicine are creating an atmosphere that is endangering the health and welfare of many of our children. Many times these drugs have not been tested on children in clinical trials so no one really knows what the side-effects or outcomes will be with long term usage. Because so much of medicine is trial and error we are putting these children at grave risk by allowing them to be human guinea pigs for the pharmaceutical companies and unscrupulous doctors. Many of these drugs are being prescribed with little or no empirical or historical data that they even work for symptoms or illnesses they are being prescribed for. So often today people are looking for the magic pill or quick fix for an unruly or aggressive child and these doctors are promising the parents quick answers to what usually are very complex issues.

As a parent, I understand the desire to want your children to be healthy and happy. I couldn’t imagine the pain and suffering that some parents endure with children that have emotional issues, but there is a growing body of evidence that many of our children are being misdiagnosed and drugs are being improperly prescribed. Doctors are free to prescribe medication as they see fit and the majority of doctors do an excellent job, but just as there are those in my field that are looking for easy answers I am sure there are doctors doing the same. Of course it doesn’t hurt to make a little cash on the side either.

“The drug industry and many doctors say that these promotional lectures provide the field with invaluable education. Critics say the payments and lectures, often at expensive restaurants, are disguised kickbacks that encourage potentially dangerous drug uses. The issue is particularly important in psychiatry, because mental problems are not well understood, treatment often involves trial and error, and off-label prescribing is common.

Dr. Steven S. Sharfstein, immediate past president of the American Psychiatric Association, said psychiatrists have become too cozy with drug makers. One example of this, he said, involves Lexapro, made by Forest Laboratories, which is now the most widely used antidepressant in the country even though there are cheaper alternatives, including generic versions of Prozac.

“Prozac is just as good if not better, and yet we are migrating to the expensive drug instead of the generics,” Dr. Sharfstein said. “I think it’s the marketing.”

Some psychiatrists who advocate use of atypicals in children acknowledge that the evidence supporting this use is thin. But they say children should not go untreated simply because scientists have failed to confirm what clinicians already know.

“We don’t have time to wait for them to prove us right,” said Dr. Kent G. Brockmann, a psychiatrist from the Twin Cities who made more than $16,000 from 2003 to 2005 doing drug talks and one-on-one sales meetings, and last year was a leading prescriber of atypicals to Medicaid children.”[2]

It is a frightening thing that some doctors feel that it is ok to prescribe these drugs even without scientific evidence of their effectiveness. There have been too many cases and lawsuits where doctors have prescribed medication that had not been thoroughly tested or had been marketed with false test data and promises. We as parents must be vigilant in safeguarding our children’s health. It is ok to question the doctors and do research on the diagnosis they give. It is especially important to find out all the information you can on the drugs being prescribed for your children, being careful to investigate the side-effects and any clinical trial data that you can find. It is a lot of work, but it is becoming evident that if you don’t do it, no one else will.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/10/health/10psyche.html

[2] ibid

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Drug Wars II

Last week, I wrote about how illegal drug usage has skyrocketed. There is another phenomenon taking place simultaneously. We are taking more prescription drugs than ever before. Some would have us believe that it is due to our being better able to diagnose and treat diseases. I am not so sure.

One in ten of our children are taking prescription drugs. Not just for treating diseases, the majority of them are taking a potent cocktail of psychiatric drugs for behavioral problems. For the first time ever spending for behavioral problems outpaced spending for antibiotics and asthma among children. One in twenty of our kids are taking more than three prescription drugs per day. There has been a 369% increase in spending on ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyper Disorder) drugs for kids under five. That’s right, kids under 5! We are setting them up for a lifetime of drug dependency and we do not even know what the long term effects of these drugs are. We are already seeing an increase in suicides and violence in our young people. Not to mention the costs they will incur for a lifetime of drug therapy.

Are there children who have legitimate medical reasons for taking prescription medication? Of course there are, but from the numbers there appears to be a large number of doctors and parents that are using these medications for quick fixes. There are some doctors over prescribing these dangerous drugs and misdiagnosing these children. We are not even letting these children develop personalities before we begin to try to alter them with these psycho drugs, many of which were not even developed for or tested on children. We must be careful and more diligent in this area; the stakes are too high to just casually prescribe these medications.

American consumers spent nearly $100 billion on prescription drugs last year, more than double what the nation spent on drugs in 1990. That number seems astronomical to me, so I have to break it down in a form that I can understand. That would put us number 48 on the worldwide country GNP list. We spent more money on prescription drugs than three-fourths of the world made in GNP. Why do we need to take so many drugs? Are our lives any better with all these drugs? Has our medical care gotten better because of taking all these prescription drugs?

There are a few things that are crystal clear concerning prescription medication in recent years:

1) Most seniors are taking more than one prescription drug, with almost half taking three or more.

2) Children are becoming major consumers of prescription drugs, in some cases on par with their parents, depending on their age.

3) The policy of prescribing multiple drugs simultaneously has become standard practice for most medical doctors and hospitals.

On the one hand we condemn the use of recreational drugs in our society and criminalize it, however we have no problem with drug usage as long as it prescribed and distributed by “Big Pharma”. We go into the schools proclaiming the dangers of drugs at the same time every morning these same kids are standing in line to get their morning dose of “Ritalin” to make them feel better. So, it is okay to use drugs to feel better so long as they are the drugs we give you. Am I the only one who sees the inconsistency here?

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Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Quantifiable Results

I need some help. I need for someone to tell me what is so wrong with setting up demonstrable criteria to gauge if a program is successful or not? Either something is working or it isn’t. Would we just accept the findings concerning some new drug based on the claims of the maker without any verifiable proof that it works? Oooops, forget that one.

How can we as the American public know what progress is being made in Iraq without some type of measurement. Are we to rely on just the word of this administration and its apologists? What a minute isn’t this the same administration that said Iraq was a part of the 9/11 attack, that there was going to be a smoking gun “mushroom cloud, and that there is no scientific basis for global warming? Oh yeah, I can see how we can just take their word for it.

News flash, there will be no military victory in Iraq. There will be no treaty signed or surrender to accept. Those who believe there will be are not living in reality. We need to develop some definable and verifiable criteria to gauge our continued presence in Iraq. There needs to be security and political objectives that are transparent. Not the kind we have now that no one is really sure what they are. All parties involved need to publicly acknowledge they understand the benchmarks and accept their ability to reach them at their appointed time. These vague and ambiguous goals must no longer be allowed to determine our presence in Iraq.

Along with these benchmarks there must be consequences to inaction. Currently the Iraqi government, the militias, and the insurgents know that they have Mr. Bush over a barrel. He can no longer pressure any of these groups to do anything. They know that he is committed to this war and our presence there and that is why no one is taking him seriously. Mr. Bush can no longer deliver in Iraq; he no longer has any leverage to pressure them with. The only pressure that can be exerted must come from us the American public. We must become mobilized behind a workable strategy to begin our disengagement from Iraq. We must have standards that are either being met or they are not. If not, here will be our response, end of story. This situation is no longer about America or Iraqi freedom; it is now about Mr. Bush and history. He has proven that he has no objectivity to the issues on the ground. He and Mr. Cheney have created this “Neverland” where all news is good news and anyone with the nerve to introduce reality is to be unmercifully bludgeoned.

The reason that the supporters of this debacle refuse to publically state any benchmarks they claim to have is not because it aids the enemy, but because the Iraqi government cannot or will not deliver on them. The current Iraqi government are the ones playing the waiting game; while our troops are there they are consolidating their power and carving up their sections of a soon to be divided Iraq. This government does not appear to be directed by an overriding desire to create a new Iraq for all Iraqis, but instead are too enmeshed in sectarian and clan loyalties to overcome the tremendous problems that they face. Tribal interests have outweighed national interests. As with any recently freed people there is a tremendous amount of distrust and seeking of self-interest. Unless they are forced by circumstances or political expediency they are in no hurry to seek unification. The Shia finally have the political, social, and material advantage they have been denied for years and the Kurds believe they have a chance at creating the nation of Kurdistan which they have sought for centuries. Neither group has much incentive to resolve this impasse or to extend the olive branch. Unless we hold their feet to the fire there will be no political resolution.

Therefore we need to negotiate achievable goals between all parties that are verifiable and transparent. These goals should be tied to economic as well as security incentives. There has been too much strife and mistrust for us to expect these groups to be able to come to some sort of equitable arrangement. To expect these groups to display altruistic motives at this stage would be irrational on our part. It is time to pull back the generals and insert the diplomats into this quagmire to negotiate the best terms for the Iraqi people that we can. We are no longer in control of this situation and anyone who thinks that we are is displaying that American arrogance we are so known for throughout the world.

“To prove something, first measure it”

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Tuesday, May 8, 2007

500 Billion

The cost of the war in Iraq is about to eclipse the 500 billion dollar mark. But what does that mean? Who among us really understands those kinds of numbers? I know I don’t have a clue as to how a figure like that impacts my life. Unfortunately, for too many of us it is some incomprehensible number in a sea of numbers.

According to this administration the cost of this war would be in the 50 billion dollar range, with the majority of the cost being recovered from the Iraqis. Most economists considered this figure to be a ridiculous understatement of the true cost, but again in the run up to this war the first casualty has always been the truth. Just as they underestimated the cost of this war in lives, reconstruction, and political capital, they also miscalculated the cost in dollars.

It is a known fact that the majority of people cannot get a handle on a figure like 500 billion, it is beyond the realm of our comprehension. It is usually beyond us to make sense of such large numbers, unless we relate them to other things or other numbers. How do we know if 500 billion is a lot of money? It sounds like a lot of money. To help get a grip on this large amount I found an example that might help. A group has put together a shopping spree comparison to help us manage this figure. The example is based on a shopper spending 20 dollars a second for 24 hours every day until the money is gone. It would take 792 years for our busy shopper to exhaust the 500 billion. This is spending 20 dollars a second, every day, for 24 hours a day. Or if you would like to see what the running cost of the war is and what we could be spending the money on instead check out Cost Of The War.

With the President and the Congress haggling over another war spending bill, the question at some point has to be asked, how much is enough? How much more money and lives are we willing to sacrifice for this man’s foolish venture at greatness. With no end in sight and no plan to bring about an end, how can we continue in good conscience to support this effort in silence? If we continue to not speak out, we are ourselves complicit in the continuing calamity that is now Iraq. Is there anyone left who is foolish enough to believe that we can solve this with more money and lives? If there are any who continue to believe, then left them volunteer to carry out this surge strategy. Anyone can be brave with someone else’s life; it is a far different animal to be willing to risk your own life for what you claim to believe in.

So what has our 500 billion bought us? Is Iraq any safer? Are we any safer? Have we improved the lives of the ordinary Iraqi’s?

A recent report concerning the reconstruction of Iraq has found that seven of the eight so called successful projects have been abandoned or are in disrepair.[1] These projects were supposed to represent our successes. These are the successes that the media is not reporting according to the administration. Well, if this is success I can’t wait to see the failures.

Unfortunately, our 500 billion has purchased little in the way of success or stability. Ordinary Iraqis have received little or no benefit from it. Iraq is less safe than under Saddam. This administration has managed to dispose of a dictator and make life worse for the Iraqi people. This is money well spent. Instead of helping to decrease the terrorist threat, we have managed to increase the threat. Their daily lives have deteriorated into a struggle just to survive. Those who have the means have left Iraq, placing a brain drain on this country when they desperately need their brightest and their best. So, even the projects we do create do not have the technical personnel to maintain them. They are in desperate need of maintenance and support personnel. The country is being run by sectarian bureaucrats and religious zealots that are more concerned with clan loyalty than rebuilding the sectarian society we helped to destroy.

It is time to make some hard choices about Iraq and nobody seems to want to make them. It is always more politically expedient to stay the course, but we can no longer afford such cowardice. Shall we wait for 3,000 more Americans to die, 40,000 more Iraqis to die, and 500 billion dollars more to be spent before we find the courage to end this outrage. Who among us has the courage to step forward and acknowledge a 500 billion mistake? Ooooops my bad! Until then, we will continue to send more troops, kill more Iraqis and spend more money. It appears we have more money than wisdom.

[1] http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0502/p99s01-duts.html

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