Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Latest poll sends mixed messages

The results of a recent poll conducted by The Washington Post & ABC News were released yesterday. The results definitely sent some mixed messages while confirming other things as well. The problem I have found with polls is that regardless of the credibility; if you look hard enough you will find another poll with conflicting results. I have been guilty of that in the past. I was given poll results from Rasmussen, a credible source, and refuted them with results from a PEW poll. Since PEW polls have long been considered biased; my argument was a poor one. I digress. My point is that I advise you to view these results with a grain of salt.

Many of these findings indicate a favorable view of President Obama to date. The problem is that the bar wasn’t set very high to begin with. As an example: Though the percentage of Americans who feel we are on the right path to economic recovery has tripled since December of 2008; that rate is only 42%. The percentage of people who felt we were on the right course at the end of Bush’s term was a pitiful 15%. I am fairly confident that my local bartender could have improved on that rate. Another example would be that only 25% of the public blame the present administration for the current economic crisis. This is undoubtedly justified considering the problems in the banking, insurance, and auto industries were firmly established prior to his taking office. While I remain vehemently opposed to some of the President’s tactics; I have never considered him to be responsible for their failures. Approximately 70% of those polled blame excessive consumer spending (credit debt) and the Bush administration’s absence of regulation and oversight as being the main causes of this economic collapse.

The presence of partisanship is glaring in this poll. The percentage of Republicans who feel that the economy is continuing to erode is double that of the Democrats (thank you Sen. Gregg). They are also much quicker to place the blame on President Obama for his lack of action. To be fair; the Republicans were equally critical of the Bush administration for their lack of regulatory measures. There has been a sharp rise in optimism from both Democrats and Independents while the Republican level has remained constant.

President Obama’s approval rating continues to be favorable. Close to 66% feel that he is doing a good job while 60% approve of his handling of the economy. Last fall, an incredible 90% of Americans felt we were nowhere near economic recovery. That figure has dropped to less than 60% which I don’t consider a particularly encouraging rate but it is a drastic improvement. Perhaps the most impressive result for the President is that 64% of Americans still believe in his various plans. However, that number stood at 72% prior to his inauguration. Among Independents and Republicans, the confidence rate has dropped by 13 points regarding his stimulus plan and budget proposal.

While the poll suggests that the public remains somewhat optimistic; it will be interesting to see future results after the President delivers the details of his budget to Congress. Strong resistance is predicted from both parties concerning key elements of the President’s budget. How he fares with Congress will most definitely have a direct effect on the stock market. Evidence of that is the fact that after President Obama described in detail the dire condition of the auto industry; shares in General Motors dropped 25% yesterday. Personally, I am very interested to find out what transpires in Congress and what effect it will have on the market. I guess we’ll just have to wait for the next poll.

For a more concise view of this poll, visit http://washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/polls/postpoll_033109.html?wpisrc=newsletter.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Time to back off Mr. President

In my last article, I expressed my anger and concern regarding Treasury Secretary Geithner’s proposal to assert control over additional financial sectors other than banking. If I was worried about excessive government intervention then; I am incensed now. The actions of the Obama administration over the past two days in regard to the auto industry are further evidence of this new hands-on approach. As stated in the previous article: Our capitalistic system has always been based on the laissez faire premise. Translated; this equates to hands-off. I feel it is necessary to warn you that the material I have read pertaining to these latest maneuvers have raised more questions for me than answers. I fear this article will do the same for you.

According to the New York Times, General Motors’ CEO Rick Wagoner resigned yesterday due to demands placed upon the auto giant by the White House. It appears that in order for G.M. to receive the additional $6 billion needed to stay afloat; certain contingencies must be met. The resignation of Wagoner was one of those contingencies. Chrysler is also being subjected to these borderline extortion tactics. They have been ordered to form a partnership with Fiat, an Italian based corporation, within 30 days or risk falling victim to the wrath of President Obama. Chrysler is also required to reduce their unsecured debts significantly and cut their health care financial obligations. Does anyone else see the paradox here? The government is demanding that a corporation reduce their debt while they are in the process of seeking aid in order to remain solvent. I am very confused, again!

President Obama has stated publicly that in order for these companies to receive additional aid, there must be a “willingness to make some pretty drastic changes.” It would be difficult to find anyone that would disagree with that but I’m not sure they would approve of the President, or his “task force”, being the ones that decide which changes must be made. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were able to demand personnel changes in Congress whenever we feel they haven’t performed up to our standards? Say goodbye to the Senate Banking Committee. Adios to the House Committee on Appropriations. It is important to note that Wagoner’s successor will be Frederick A. Henderson; General Motors’ very own president and chief operating officer. Apparently, he had nothing to do with the failure of G.M. Does anyone else smell a witch hunt?

A related article in the Los Angeles Times reports that President Obama has named Edward B. Montgomery to be director of auto recovery. His primary responsibility will be to provide support for laid-off workers and their families. Unfortunately, Dr. Phil was either unavailable or refused the offer. Considering that Montgomery may very well be strung up on Main St. in Detroit; Dr. Phil made a wise choice. How the hell is Montgomery expected to oversee the recovery process of an industry when he is dealing with people who are no longer a part of that industry? Don’t say I didn’t warn you! I have done a considerable amount of head scratching while researching the events of these last two days.

I could go on and on searching for rational explanations to these moves. The problem is that I continue to come back to the same conclusion. This is all a ploy to satisfy Obama’s desire to control still more facets of our lives. In the case of the auto industry; Obama has basically demanded that Chrysler and General Motors ignore their contractual obligations to the United Auto Workers Union regarding health care. He has given each company 60 days to cut their health care contributions to retirees in half. I certainly hope this is not his idea of health care reform. If in fact it is, all he needs to do is to order an across-the-board cut in corporate contributions to health care. Since he is determined to insinuate himself into arenas that the government has no right being involved in to begin with; this method of cutting health care costs would be rather significant. Though I was originally a proponent of the President and his plans; I am quickly realizing that these plans were also designed to force unprecedented government intervention.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Geithner to make power play before Congress today

It’s going to be a long day on the Hill as Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner outlines his plan to toss capitalism out the window. For some time, I have heard certain Republicans warn us of the Obama administration’s desire to increase the size and power of the government. Well, as much as I hate to admit it; Geithner’s scheduled proposal today to Congress is certainly evidence of that. Though this is obviously a reactionary response to the current economic crisis; the requests for regulations and mandates have clearly crossed the line. The thought of putting that much power in the hands of a Cabinet member scares the hell out of me.

According to an article in the Washington Post (see http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29887343), this proposed plan is the most aggressive since The Great Depression. The focal point of Geithner’s argument to Congress (no doubt at the behest of President Obama) is the necessity for the government to assume the responsibility of imposing regulations and mandates on ALL large financial institutions. Bid a fond adieu to our long history of the laissez faire approach to business; the foundation of capitalism.

Although President Obama alluded to the need for additional oversight in other financial sectors other than banking; I never dreamed it would be of this magnitude. Among the proposed mandates is to pay workers based on seniority and eliminating bonuses for what they will deem as short-term gains. Does this include the elimination of commissions on sales as well? How far do they intend to go? This will all be monitored by a specified government agency. Many experts predict that the Federal Reserve will be the likely choice. Don’t they answer to Geithner? This is a man who has yet to fill key positions in the Treasury; among them a Deputy Secretary.

Along with the previously mentioned proposals; Geithner is asking for the right to seize any company that he feels has put itself in danger due to risky investments. Doesn’t the government have enough on its plate in regard to the economy without adding to it by assuming the management of large financial institutions? As part of the plan, the FDIC would take over the management of these corporations. FDIC chairman Sheila C. Blair is a strong proponent of this plan citing the FDIC’s record of salvaging financial collapses. And yet; not one instance was given. Also on board and scheduled to testify today is SEC chairman Mary Schapiro-it seems they all want a piece of the pie.

I have not been asleep for the past few years so I am aware of the state of the economy. However, to completely restructure, or eliminate our capitalistic system seems a bit drastic to me. It seems that Geithner’s power play may be an indication of the lack of faith the Obama administration has in its own plans. I pray that isn’t the case.

Geithner was quoted as saying: “Our plan will give the government the tools to limit the risk-taking at firms that could set off cascading damage.” It seems a little late to close that barn door. Beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Netanyahu vies for control of Israel

Last evening, President Obama primarily addressed economic and budgetary topics in his press conference. I was surprised that more attention was not given to the inevitable problems he will have to confront regarding the new government being formed in Israel. Israel now has the capability of presenting even further problems for an already beleaguered president. Personally, I am entering unchartered waters in regard to the nuances involved in the precarious state that Israel has been in for generations. So feel free to weigh in should I veer off-course.

I was prompted to research this potentially problematic situation by an article in MSNBC News, as I often am. See http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29862967. The story revolves around the creation of a new government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister-designate and Chairman of the Lukid Party. He was given this task by Israeli President Peres in February of this year. He has wasted little time attempting to unite the various parties in order to gain complete control of the Knesset, the legislative branch of Israel. He has recently struck a deal with the Labor Party which is center-left. This is a significant accomplishment considering the Lukid Party is conservative. The Labor Party has joined the Shas, a conservative religious party, in siding with Netanyahu. As a result, the chairman of the Lukid’s negotiation team stated “Now, 53 members of the Knesset are bound by agreement to support a government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu…” as reported by Globes, Israel business news.

Standing between Netanyahu and complete control of the Knesset is the Kadima Party headed by Tzipi Livini. In the past election, the Kadima Party won 28 seats besting the Lukid Party, which won 27. (Still with me?) Many believe that Netanyahu will be able to win over the Kadima Party since it consists of former members of both the Labor and Lukid parties. Should he pull this off, he will have secured 80 seats out of a possible 120 in the Knesset.

Where am I going with all this you ask? An Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu presents several obstacles to Washington’s quest to establish a two-state solution to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Netanyahu is not an advocate of this two-state system and his Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman (must be the name) is “fervently anti-Arab.” While the Obama administration vows to work with whatever government is in control; its primary goal would appear to be out of reach. Part of the problem is that Netanyahu has cautiously begun negotiations with Syria. This is where it gets very interesting or very confusing; depending on your knowledge of the history between the two nations.

In the 1967 Six Day War; Israel was able to obtain the Golan Heights which is considered to be very important strategically. As part of the newly proposed negotiations, Syria would like the Golan Heights returned to them. 70% of Israelis vehemently oppose this move. Also as part of the agreement, Syria has insisted that Israel return some of the land it acquired in the war to Palestine as well; namely the West Bank. Hold the phone! Netanyahu has an almost pathological hatred of Iran, as do most Israelis. He feels that concessions previously made have already jeopardized the security of Israel. He cites the withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 and from the Gaza Strip 5 years later as examples. For more on the fascinating story of The Six Day War; I recommend you visit http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761570433/six-day_war.html.

It is impossible to encapsulate the party differences, historical precedents, and omnipresent conflicts in a single article. So I will return to my original point. While we, as Americans, would settle for a modicum of bipartisanship; Netanyahu is seeking complete and unabated control of Israel’s legislative body. Should this transpire; President Obama will be faced with yet another dilemma. Can he continue to negotiate for a two-state solution at the risk of alienating our only ally in the Middle East? Or does he simply acquiesce and allow them to sort it out? Given our history; I’m afraid the former is the route he will choose.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Please come home safely Chris

I awoke this morning and began my normal routine of putting on a pot of coffee and scanning through the various dailies that I receive via the Internet. However, this morning I didn’t have to look any further than my homepage which consists of links to stories reported by MSNBC News. The story that caught my attention today was the planned change in direction our military is expected to undergo in Afghanistan. My focus there has become very personal for me; something I will elaborate on later in the article. The title of the article I read was entitled Obama wants exit plan strategy and was reported by the Associated Press. Much of the story derives from President Obama’s interview on 60 Minutes last evening which I watched.

In an attempt to summarize to be able to get to the real reason for my article; I will briefly outline the President’s plan. This is a plan he intends to implement over the next 3-5 years. We have already heard of his intention to send 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. A decision he states to be the hardest one he has been forced to make in his brief term as President. Part of the plan that we are privy to is the heightening of our engagements (such a proper term) with the insurgents and the provision for additional bases deeper into Afghanistan to better equip us to fight the Taliban. Obama’s goals are to prevent the insurgents from overthrowing an already weak central government and providing the Afghan National Security Force with ample training and resources to better defend themselves. Geez-where have we heard that one lately? Obama went on to explain that Afghanistan is a much more difficult environment to fight in than Iraq; clearly overstating the obvious. He referred to the terrain, infrastructure, and education of the people as stumbling blocks in our pursuit of the Taliban. Perhaps a look at the results the former Soviet Union had in Afghanistan would have been a good place to start in understanding the “terrain” and the ” people.”

The parallels are frightening; both from a military standpoint and an ideological one. While our initial reasons for intervention differ, the difficulties are the same. The Soviets first invaded in December of 1979 with the expressed purpose of preventing the Russian backed government from being overthrown by the mujahideen resistance. Our initial purpose was to hunt the Taliban in an effort to prevent further attacks on our country. Contrary to many pundits; I still maintain that this was both justified and necessary. Unfortunately, our results to date are less than encouraging. The Soviet’s goal was to impose their social and economic practices on the Afghan people. It is ignorant to think that while we are pursuing the Taliban; that we are not attempting to impose our democratic ideals on the Afghans as well. Another glaring similarity is the fact that neither of us anticipated the level of resistance we have encountered. Couple that with our lack of training in mountainous combat and you have a lethal combination. Something the Soviets discovered in their 9+ years of futile attempts at accomplishing their mission. For more on the Soviet failure, go to http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSABB57/soviet.html.

As I alluded to earlier; Afghanistan and our decision to deploy 17,000 more troops has hit home with me, as it has with thousands of others. I spent some time with a dear friend last week and he informed me that his youngest child had just received his deployment orders to Afghanistan. Though unquestionably a man now; I can’t help but flash back to holding him in my arms while babysitting for my friend and his wife. He is a graduate of Brown University (Ivy League), a former All-American soccer player and distance runner, and an officer in the United States Marine Corps-a patriot in every sense of the word. His grandfather was also a college graduate (Georgetown) and a Marine Corps officer and I can only imagine the pride he would have felt if he were still with us. Though my concern and worries are nowhere near those of his parents; I have still been unable to get him out of my mind. Amidst the persistent mudslinging and the questioning of our presence; we tend to lose sight of what truly matters and that is the safe return of our young men and women. For now, I would like everyone to focus their thoughts and prayers on the men and women who honor their pledge to defend our country. And I assure you Chris; you will be in my prayers every day until you return home safely. Thank you so much for being the person you are and the patriot you are. God bless every one of you.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Format Change

As you can see; I have changed the format of my site in order for you to be able to read my work without the need for a microscope. For those of you who were unable to see the link to my friend Travis' site, I will repeat it for you. Visit http://newsday.today.com. For those of you interested in reading the opinions of a truly intelligent and inspired writer, I strongly recommend you check out his site. I, too, submit to that site. Though the content is the same; there is a great deal of interaction among the bloggers. http://deanconnorsblog.today.com. Thank you for your interest.

Post Conviction DNA testing

I have decided to open this article by stating that I have no intention of debating the morality or immorality of the death penalty. Personally, I feel that unless a heinous act was committed against one of my loved ones; I have no right to question its merit. The gist of this piece is the ongoing argument in the Supreme Court regarding the admissibility of DNA testing in a case in Alaska. I came across this article in the Washington Post and chose to research both the case and the arguments presented by members of the Supreme Court.

I find the nuances in this case to be somewhat perplexing. The focal point of this case is whether or not DNA testing should be allowed after an individual is convicted of a crime. In this instance, William G. Osborne was convicted of rape and leaving a prostitute to die in 1993. Osborne now contends that DNA testing will exonerate him of the crime. The argument is whether or not he is entitled to access of any past or future results of DNA testing. This is where the circus begins. If you want to see a classic example of partisanship; you need only look to our Supreme Court. In the majority of controversial cases regarding constitutional law, the vote usually comes back 5 to 4. Over the past few years, the deciding vote has been placed in the hands of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. For more on Kennedy and his voting record, go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/15/AR2009031501856html. Not surprisingly, Justice Kennedy has been known to agree with arguments presented by both factions.

Alaska’s Attorney General has stated that a prerequisite for obtaining access to DNA results is that the convicted must swear under the penalty of perjury that he is innocent. As ridiculous as that sounds, it is in accordance with Congress’ own Innocence Protection Act. Naturally, a convicted rapist and murderer would certainly shudder at the thought of perjury charges being brought against him-WOW! To further emphasize this petty legislation is the fact that the convicted is obligated to incur the costs of any additional testing. If that’s the case; what’s the problem? I appreciate Congress looking out for us taxpayers but that is a non-issue here.

What further confuses me (it’s becoming clear that’s not very difficult to do) is a statement made by Defense Attorney Peter J. Nuefeld of the Innocence Project. He claims that the prosecution has conceded that the admittance of DNA results would erase any doubt as to whether Osborne is guilty. Am I missing something? Enter the Supreme Court with their litany of questions and concerns. Justice Paul Stevens opposes the admittance of this evidence parroting former President Bush by saying that this will only “open the floodgates” to frivolous and expensive appeals. Given Texas’ record on the death penalty, where Bush served as governor, this should come as no surprise. According to the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, 9 prisoners awaiting execution were exonerated because of DNA testing in 2008 alone. To date, 232 people have been released nationwide due to DNA test results. That figure alone is all the information I would need to cast my vote. Not so fast!

Chief Justice John G. Roberts presented this ridiculous question. If post conviction DNA testing is allowed; should that right be extended to those who confessed to their crimes? UNBELIEVABLE! Of course every confession has been obtained without any coercion (sarcasm); and this is our Chief Justice asking this question. Perhaps the only legitimate question posed was by that of Justice Kennedy to Attorney General Rosenstein. He inquired as to whether Rosenstein would “put aside procedural measures” to prevent imprisoning an innocent person. Rosenstein’s reply was that it was “conceivable.” Justice Kennedy was less than pleased with that answer.

From where I sit; the decision really shouldn’t be that difficult. Taking into account the number of people who have been exonerated coupled with the fact that these tests are not on the state’s dime; where’s the dispute? I have no idea whether Osborne is guilty but that is not the issue. I would like to see every available piece of evidence presented before we sentence someone to die. The technology is there-use it!!

For more on Post Conviction DNA testing; http://www.dna.gov/postconviction

Let us not forget them

I received this from a friend of mine some time ago. The friend who sent this to me is a veteran of the Viet Nam War and felt that this might improve the climate of my articles-I agree. I have submitted it exactly as I received it so please read it and allow yourself some time to give some thought to our men and women who risk their lives every day for us.

The Sack Lunches

I put my carry-on in the luggage compartment and sat down in my assigned seat. It was going to be a long flight. 'I'm glad I have a good book to read and perhaps I will get a short nap,' I thought.

Just before take-off, a line of soldiers came down the aisle and filled all the vacant seats, totally surrounding me. I decided to start a conversation. 'Where are you headed?' I asked the soldier seated nearest to me.

'Petawawa. We'll be there for two weeks for special training, and then we're being deployed to Afghanistan .'

After flying for about an hour, an announcement was made that sack lunches were available for five dollars. It would be several hours before we reached the east, and I quickly decided a lunch would help pass the time.

As I reached for my wallet, I overheard soldier ask his buddy if he planned to buy lunch. 'No, that seems like a lot of money for just a sack lunch. Probably wouldn't be worth five bucks. I'll wait till we get to base.
His friend agreed.

I looked around at the other soldiers. None were buying lunch. I walked to the back of the plane and handed the flight attendant a fifty dollar bill. 'Take a lunch to all those soldiers.' She grabbed my arms and squeezed tightly. Her eyes wet with tears, she thanked me. 'My son was a soldier in Iraq ; it's almost like you are doing it for him.'

Picking up ten sacks, she headed up the aisle to where the soldiers were seated. She stopped at my seat and asked, 'Which do you like best - beef or chicken?'

'Chicken,' I replied, wondering why she asked. She turned and went to the front of plane, returning a minute later with a dinner plate from first class. 'This is yours with thanks.'

After we finished eating, I went again to the back of the plane, heading for the rest room. A man stopped me. 'I saw what you did. I want to be part of it. Here, take this.' He handed me twenty-five dollars.

Soon after I returned to my seat, I saw the Air craft Pilot coming down the aisle, looking at the aisle numbers as he walked , I hoped he was not looking for me, but noticed he was looking at the numbers only on my side of the plane. When he got to my row he stopped, smiled, held out his hand, and said, 'I want to shake your hand.'

Quickly unfastening my seatbelt I stood and took the Captain's hand. With a booming voice he said, 'I was a soldier and I was a military pilot. Once, someone bought me a lunch. It was an act of kindness I never forgot.' I was embarrassed when applause was heard from all of the passengers.

Later I walked to the front of the plane so I could stretch my legs. A man who was seated about six rows in front of me reached out his hand, wanting to shake mine. He left another twenty-five dollars in my palm.
When we landed I gathered my belongings and started to deplane. Waiting just inside the airplane door was a man who stopped me, put something in my shirt pocket, turned, and walked away without saying a word. Another twenty-five dollars!

Upon entering the terminal, I saw the soldiers gathering for their trip to the base. I walked over to them and handed them seventy-five dollars. 'It will take you some time to reach the base. It will be about time for a sandwich. God Bless You.'

Ten young men left that flight feeling the love and respect of their fellow travelers. As I walked briskly to my car, I whispered a prayer for their safe return. These soldiers were giving their all for our country. I could only give them a couple of meals. It seemed so little.

A veteran is someone who, at one point in his life, wrote a blank check made payable to his country for an amount of 'up to and including my life.'

That is Honor, and there are way too many people who no longer understand it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Thanks Travis

I would like to thank my friend Travis who took time out of a busy schedule to design my new look. Dashing, isnt it? For more of Travis' skills, visit him @ http://newsday.today.com/. Thanks amigo.

The song remains the same!

Throughout the week, we have been bombarded with news of the bonuses given to employees of AIG. Though I will certainly address that; there are a few other details that remind us that “change” is nowhere in sight. Today, the deficit soared to $1.8 trillion while the California unemployment rate rose to 10.5%, it’s highest since 1983. One can only imagine what those stats are going to do to the market today. My original optimism is slowly waning. All I see is business as usual. The promise of Congressional oversight and the numerous bailouts and stimulus plans have, so far, accomplished zip. I have preached patience and will continue to do so but there are those in key positions who are performing as if they took a seminar put on by the Bush administration.

I am referring to Treasury Secretary Geithner and Democratic chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Sen. Dodd of Connecticut. These two misfits have more to answer for than those greedy suits at AIG. Dodd, the highest ranking member of banking oversight community, claims that he had no knowledge of these bonuses. If that is true; then he truly is an idiot. I actually hope that he’s lying so he can blend in with the rest of them instead of being perceived as a moron. Treasury Secretary Geithner, an old Wall Street boy himself, seems to have shown complete indifference to the situation. Since the Fed now owns 80% of AIG, where was its fearless leader while this travesty was unfolding? Thanks in part to these two do-nothings; it is President Obama who now has egg on his face, and justifiably so.

AIG-where do I begin? First and foremost; I question the moral turpitude of any individual associated with AIG who accepted these bonuses because there were those who declined. $165 million to a group of people who are as responsible for our economy’s demise as anyone. The present and past CEOs of the company are now playing the blame game as far as who is responsible for these rendition bonuses. Who gives a damn who is responsible for creating this system-flush it!! While all this is happening, Geithner and Dodd both confess to being concerned about the possible legal implications of refusing to give out these bonuses. Who the hell are they going to sue? The government is the “chief stockholder.” Which brings me to my next question. As “chief stockholder”, shouldn’t we have had a say in the dispensing of these bonuses? Apparently not since no one stepped up to the plate. Oh yeah-I forgot that they were unaware.

As previously stated; Obama is now the one who looks the fool. His only salvation seems to be the House vote to levy a 90% tax on these bonuses. Now if only the Senate would step forward and impose a fine for misappropriation of funds. Though this may sound counter-productive; the way things are going this may be our only way to get any of our money back. I apologize for the tone of this article but I am pissed.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Closing Gitmo: Where's the plan

Once President Obama signed the bill that honored his campaign promise to close Guantanamo Bay; we were subjected to the pros and cons, morality and immorality, necessity and lack of necessity, ad nauseum. Blame was passed from administration to agency to individuals like a bottle of whiskey on St. Patrick’s Day. What seems to be lost amidst this finger pointing was the fact that nobody has proposed a definitive plan to close Guantanamo Bay. The conflict is not only restricted to party ideology, but to the promised assistance of our European allies as well. Though the Democrats and Republicans certainly have different views on how the closing should be handled; our friends from Europe have begun to backpedal away from their promises as well.

According to William Blaberson and Steven Erlenger of the New York Times; a delegation of countries called the European Union is scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in Washington on Monday. Among the countries attending are Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland, and others. Previously encouraged; Secretary of State Clinton must now contend with questions regarding the status of these individuals than originally anticipated. These questions and concerns are legitimate ones and stem from the absence of complete disclosure from the Bush administration. Could it be they have a problem with the word of GW, Cheney, and Rumsfeld? Go figure! Though the Obama administration has taken a much different approach than the Bush administration; that being the admission of unlawful detentions. They still have yet to propose a plan that will put a stop to this blatant violation of human rights.

As reported by CBS News; in 2008, the Bush administration admitted that many prisoners (I refuse to refer to them as detainees) were cleared for release but there was no plan to safely place them anywhere. Many of these prisoners could not return to their homeland for fear of reprisal and mistreatment by their governments. Case in point: 17 Uighurs, a small Chinese Muslim group, were captured in Pakistan and Afghanistan. As far back as 2001, they were deemed to be no threat to the United States. To phrase it another way; these people were mistakenly captured and have been imprisoned for over 8 years. What puzzles me, rather angers me, is the fact that the Attorney General’s Office in conjunction with the U.S. Marshalls, have the power and the resources to provide a new identity and location for the likes of Sammy “The Bull” Gravano. Gravano, one of the most notorious hit men in the history of Organized Crime was granted this opportunity (he later left the program), but we are unable to afford this same opportunity to the Uighurs.

For the sake of brevity; I will close with my feelings toward the European Union. I respect the concerns of most of these countries but I do have difficulty with the reservations of Germany and France. We are talking about them accepting responsibility for a maximum of 7 human beings. Has Germany forgotten who was responsible for the reconstruction of their country after WWII? France, who we liberated during WWII, have consistently denied even our minute requests ever since. During our “Line in the Sand” conflict with Libya; we requested that our planes be allowed to fly over French airspace-DENIED! If it were up to me, I would have flown over anyway and accidentally dropped a few 3,000 pounders on that ungrateful nation.

While I applaud President Obama’s pledge to close Gitmo; he would have been better served having a definitive plan in place before making this promise. If we are going to accept responsibility for these travesties; then we should also devise a resolution. And if the European Union is willing to offer a helping hand; we should provide them with an answer to any question they have. Regardless, if we have the capability to provide safe havens for admitted killers; we should certainly be able to provide the same for those we have so obviously wronged.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Add Charlie Lynch to America's Most Wanted

Last evening I witnessed one of the poorest displays of “investigative journalism” that I have ever had the misfortune of watching. After being subjected to a two week long campaign advertising the airing of John Stossel’s show Bailouts and Bull; I was led to believe that he was going to expose the numerous flaws in some of the bailout plans. He devoted approximately five minutes to these plans. The rest of the show was spent reporting on issues that would have made Geraldo proud. However, I was able to extract one story that was worthy of further research. That was the story of Charlie Lynch; a California man who ran a dispensary that provided marijuana for people who required it for medicinal purposes.

On March 29, 2007, his store called the Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers, was raided by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). At the time, no arrests were made and according to reporter Radley Balko; the store reopened on April 7th. The reason being is that California is one of 13 states that allow the sale of marijuana with written approval by a physician stating that marijuana is a necessary part of their treatment. The DEA was not done. They pressured Lynch’s landlord to evict him or risk the forfeiture of his property. The landlord complied with these Gestapo style threats and evicted Charlie Lynch on May 16th. After his eviction; Lynch was later arrested and tried on August 5, 2008. He was found guilty, completely ignoring California law, and was released on $400 thousand bail. At his federal trial, the fact that he was operating under the parameters of California law was deemed inadmissible. What? Also deemed inadmissible was the testimony of his customers who intended to inform the jury of their illnesses and the relief they were given by the marijuana. One of our justice system’s finest hours!

Naturally, Charlie Lynch’s appeal was denied and he remained free on bail until his sentencing. Among the provisions of his bail were ankle bracelet monitoring and restrictions placed on when he could leave his home-they were between 1 and 5 PM. This is all perfectly understandable considering the hardened criminal that Charlie Lynch is. I have read of child molesters who were not subjected to this level of scrutiny. According to Alex Johnson of MSNBC News; Attorney General Eric Holder stated that DEA raids in states where the use of marijuana is permitted for medicinal uses would no longer be allowed. This was a pledge made by President Obama during his campaign. How refreshing it is to see a President fulfill a promise.

The precedent cited by the Supreme Court in upholding the Lynch verdict was the Raich decision in the case of Gonzales, Attorney General et al v. Raich et al. in 2004. According to the Cornell Law University, the decision was based on the Federal Controlled Substance Act which classifies each controlled drug into one of five categories. "Marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 substance based on its huge potential for abuse, no accepted medical use, and no accepted safety for use in medically supervised treatment. This classification renders the manufacture, distribution, or posession of marijuana a criminal offense." For more information, go to http://www.law.cornell.edu/suspect/html/03-1454.ZS.html. The court ruled that this act superseded California’s Compassionate Use Act. Compassion; we’ll have none of that.

Personally, I am not a proponent of the legalization of marijuana (I can feel the daggers from some already). However, to deny a cancer patient relief due to a jurisdictional dispute between federal and state laws is both irresponsible and inhumane. I have read nothing that contradicts the idea that marijuana is effective in the treatment of pain for certain ailments. If there are any; I need someone to explain to me the difference between the use of morphine or oxycontin over the use of marijuana. Don’t worry; I’ll wait.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Families are asking but the military isn't telling.

The number of alleged sexual abuse cases against women in the military has reached startling and sickening proportions. The questions surrounding the death of Army Pfc. LaVena Johnson and the plight of U.S. Army Spec. Suzanne Swift have aroused the attention of all of America. Key members of Congress along with retired female officers are demanding answers to a number of unanswered questions along with explanations for some of the sobering statistics now brought to light. Rose Aguilar reported that the Miles Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides assistance to victims of military abuse, has cited 518 cases of sexual assault on women in the Middle East since the fall of 2003.

Having studied Criminal Justice in college; I took a couple of courses on forensics. The sad story of LaVena Johnson appears to have so many holes in it that someone with my limited knowledge of investigative protocol can see right through them. David Zucchino of the Los Angeles Times was able to garner information on the lax investigation from the father of LaVena; a veteran of the Army himself. Though understandably biased in its content; some of the accusations and questions posed by Mr. Johnson require further attention. He contends that the scene was staged in order to avoid any investigation into the possibility of rape and murder. Having read his account as well as the answers provided by the Army; my opinion is that the investigation was conducted so poorly that the notion of a cover up graduates from possible to extremely probable.

Zucchino reports that LaVena Johnson killed herself while cradling an M-16 rifle in her lap. This alone begs the question: Why didn’t she simply use a sidearm? Same result with less effort. Mr. Johnson contends that once he received pictures of the crime scene; he noticed both bruises and abrasions which seem to indicate a struggle. There were a number of discrepancies he found and it is important to note that he was forced to file a request under the Freedom of Information Act. The Army refused to provide him with this material. Christopher Grey, spokesman for the Army Criminal Investigation Council, called the investigation “thorough and closed.” Thorough-are you kidding me? Among the blatant errors in the “investigation” are the absence of a vaginal swab, the absence of a fingernail swab, and the failure to find the bullet. The Army’s explanation for their failure to find the bullet; it must have gone through an open flap in the storage tent where LaVena’s body was found. How convenient. I could fill page upon page noting the inconsistencies of this tragedy but I will close this with one note. In 2005, the Pentagon created an agency entitled the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. It sounds official enough but there is one little twist that requires mentioning. They are not obligated to provide information to any law enforcement agency or the military command. I can’t take much more of this.

Col. Ann Wright (U.S.A. Retired) has publicly accused the military of “stonewalling” the families of the victims. For more on her views, go to http://lavenajohnson.com/category/deaths. Due largely in part to Col. Wright’s protestations and the outrage voiced by Rep. Lane Evans (D-Ill), Rose Aguilar reported that Congress mandated the Department of Defense to disclose the number of cases on sexual assault they have on file. In 2005, that number was 2,734 worldwide. A 65% increase from 2003 alone!! Rep. Evans is the ranking Democratic Member of the House Veteran’s Affairs Committee and publicly criticized the Bush administration for their failure to release these findings. What a surprise there.

I have never been a proponent of having women in combat zones. I say that at the risk of being politically incorrect and chauvinistic as well. That being said; I find the numbers to be another example of the government’s continued efforts to keep us in the dark. The families of these victims are entitled to answers; not the nonsense that the military has provided. I have two daughters of my own, 21 and 26. Though neither chose the military as a career path (Thank God); if something would have happened to them, I would have demanded to be told all of the circumstances relevant to their demise. The family of LaVena Johnson deserves this courtesy.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Obama to educators; be good or be gone.

In a recent speech to the National Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; President Obama held nothing back in his criticism of the public school system in the United States. It seemed only appropriate that this speech was made to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce considering that as of 2006; the dropout rate among Hispanics stood at an incredible 22.1%. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the national average was 9.3%. The dropout rate for Whites stood at 5.8% and 10.7% for Blacks. His criticism was aimed at both the Democratic and the Republican members of Congress.

According to Scott Wilson of the Washington Post; Obama accused Congress of paralyzing progress and being directly responsible for the eroding system. He stated that Democrats had long avoided the rewarding of successful teachers while the Republicans had consistently blocked funding for Early Childhood programs. He called for merit increases for teachers who were deemed responsible for the success of students while calling for the dismissal of those who hadn’t. During his campaign, he walked a tightrope on the issue; afraid of alienating the National Teacher’s Association. Now in office, he shows no sign of being intimidated by the union. Among his proposals was a uniformed national set of academic standards, replacing the power of individual states to determine criteria and curriculum.

With the allocation of $100 billion provided for the public school in the new stimulus package; Obama and Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, positioned themselves to have more influence in the development of a more effective public school system. Obama’s Chief of Staff, Rahn Emanuel, went on to say: “Our basic premise is that the status quo and political constituencies can no longer proceed on public education reform in this country.” This will undoubtedly provoke the ire of the union as well as many politicians in several states.

President Obama had no problem providing statistics that support his contention that the public school system is simply not working. While addressing the issue of a uniformed standard; he pointed out that under the current system, a 4th grader in Mississippi reads at a pace estimated to be 70 points lower than that of a 4th grader in Wyoming-yet receives the same grade! The article in the Post went on to say that 2,000 high schools in such urban cities as Detroit, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia are responsible for over 50% of America’s dropouts. In order to combat this problem, Obama has set aside $5 billion for Early Head Start Programs while at the same time making it feasible for an additional 7 million graduates to attend college as an incentive to complete their high school education.

Among the opponents, and there are several of them, are members of the District of Columbia school district. They have implemented a voucher program that provides for 1,700 low income students to attend private schools by providing them with an annual scholarship of $7.500. Under the President’s plan; this voucher system will be eradicated though he did say that those already in the program will be allowed to continue until they graduate high school. One apparent flaw in this program is the fact that 6,800 students apply for this scholarship while only 1,700 (25%) are granted it. While other states have the same program in place; only D.C. uses federal money to subsidize their program. The District of Columbia invests more money per student than any other area of the country yet still is plagued with low test scores and high dropout rates.

Wendi Weingarten, President of the American Teacher’s Association, claims “as with any public policy, the devil is in the details. And it’s important that teachers’ voices are heard as we implement the President’s vision.” As part of the President’s plan; restrictions in place regarding the number of charter schools would be erased. A test being conducted by the Department of Education is underway to determine if the voucher system and the charter schools are showing significantly better results than the public school system. Members of Congress, including Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) are awaiting these results before they decide which way to vote on the President’s proposals.

While it is clear that the present system is not working; it’s unclear to me what steps are required to improve it. I am afraid that this is another case of the federal government assuming responsibility for something that has long been under the control of the individual states. What type of barometer is going to be used to determine which teachers are reaching their students and which aren’t? My mother-in-law retired from teaching in 1987 and still has former students approach her to tell her what a difference she made in their lives. But let’s be fair: How can you possibly reach students when teaching Algebra. If memory serves me correctly; that was a snoozer no matter who was teaching it. We need to be wary of this increased involvement by the federal government in yet another arena before it is too late.

Urgency-I'll give you urgency!

In a past article, I pointed out how impressed I was with the way the President carried himself and maintained an air of optimism throughout the majority of his speech. What I neglected to mention was that he may have overemphasized the fear portion a bit. Many analysts commented on the same thing and criticized him for attempting to scare Americans into being more receptive to his plans. I felt that perhaps by focusing too strongly on the urgency; he was looking for a way to justify some of his perceived excessive spending. Well, if anything, he did not focus on the urgency enough.

The Washington Post commented that the President lacked the enthusiasm necessary in some of his previous speeches. Former President Bill Clinton publicly criticized him on that very thing. Some of the President’s detractors pointed out that he focused primarily on economic issues with not enough attention given to foreign affairs. For that, I applaud him. For too many years, Bush cloaked the eroding economy with a barrage of patriotic rhetoric centered on Iraq and Afghanistan sprinkled in with the threat of a nuclear presence in North Korea and Iran. In no way do I mean to trivialize these dangers, however, they were not the greatest dangers facing our country.

It is time to step off my soapbox and provide some sobering numbers to hammer home my point. As reported by MSNBC News; the U.S. Department of Labor and the Commerce Department had the task of delivering these harbingers of doom. I will attempt to encapsulate these statistics into 3 categories: housing, unemployment, and manufacturing. Beginning with housing; new home sales are at an all-time low and home resales are at the lowest they have been in 12 years. The value of homes is quickly dropping far below the amount that was borrowed. The Housing Bill only provides relief for those whose value falls 5% or less. And still he smiled.

Grouping unemployment and manufacturing is simple enough. I will start with the most startling statistic I read. People receiving unemployment benefits, coupled with those who are receiving additional funds due to an extension granted by Congress, is 6.5 million!! The figure at this time last year was 2.8 million which we felt was alarming. And still he smiled. New unemployment claims last week alone totaled 667,000-the worst since 1982. The current rate is an unbelievable 7.6%. And still…all right, all right.

Regarding manufacturing; the Commerce Department reported that big ticket item sales fell for a record 6th straight month. This is also a reflection of the state of the global economy. Consumers have simply cut back on purchases of any size which, of course, leads to increased job cuts. As an example, though not a manufacturer, J P Morgan Chase&Co. has recently announced that it plans on eliminating 12,000 jobs. Economist Zach Paul stated that corporations, regardless of size, have been forced into “working with the minimal work force possible”. Believe me; I have more but for your sake and mine we will concede that the point was made. To be kind, I didn’t touch on the banking industry.

Maya MacGuineas, President of the Bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (quite a title) was quoted as saying: “They’ve painted the worst-case scenario in order to make it as easy as possible to improve on”. There is NO WAY she said that with a straight face. Other detractors point to the excessive spending in the new bills and budget as merely adding to an already ridiculously high deficit. To them I say: I couldn’t care less. To quote the late inspirational football coach George Allen: “The future is now!” Given these numbers, drastic measures are imperative. We must keep in mind that the President inherited these problems and is being as aggressive as possible to resolve them. I respect the man for even running for the presidency considering the state our nation is in. And still he smiled.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Obama's troop withdrawal plan; a classic Catch-22

During Barack Obama’s presidential campaign; he vowed to have all of our troops in Iraq home within 16 months of his taking office. He has since amended that to 18 months as a concession to his own military commanders. I can live with that. He originally proclaimed that he would begin withdrawing one brigade a month; the equivalent of 3,000 to 5,000 troops. He has amended that as well by deciding to wait until the spring of 2010 before he begins the aggressive withdrawal approach. I am having a little difficulty with that one.

If history has shown us anything in regard to war; the advice of the commanders in the field should be given the most attention. However, in the case of Iraq, these opinions are based on the fact that these commanders do not feel that the Iraqi Security Forces will be up to the task. My response to that: I don’t care! Does anyone honestly believe that our continued presence is going to miraculously change how the Shiites and the Sunnis feel about each other? That is what it all comes down to. The Sunni extremists are supported by al Qaeda and have chosen the town of Mosul as their base from which they launch their offensives. Of course, their offensives are limited to roadside bombs, suicide bombers, and the occasional drive-by shooting.

The violence is not restricted to Mosul as the suicide bombing in Baghdad on Sunday will attest to. A further reminder of the danger our troops face every day. To date, 4,238 Americans have lost their lives-far too many for a war that was started based on either shoddy intelligence or blatant propaganda. Unless I’ve missed something; we still haven’t found those pesky little WMDs that were the foundation for our invasion. We now justify our presence as being the “preventers” of escalated violence between the two factions.

I recall a reporter stating that our withdrawal would open the door to a civil war. What an astute observation. What in the world did he think was taking place for the centuries preceding our intervention? Whether we leave in 18 months or 18 years; nothing is going to change. Putting our young men and women in harm’s way in order to prolong an inevitable conclusion is just wrong. We need to adjust our focus to our troops as opposed to worrying about the future of the Iraqis. If that sounds selfish then so be it. Attempting to broker peace anywhere in the Middle East is akin to trying to take down a redwood with a keyhole saw. It’s just not going to happen. Lt. Col. Tom Cippolla summarized it best by saying, “I think we understand now that it is a fight that doesn’t stop. It’s part of the environment here that will have to be dealt with for a very long time.” Not by us I hope.

I am aware that President Obama is in a difficult spot between appeasing the Democrats who are calling for a quicker aggressive withdrawal, and heeding the advice of his military commanders. Regardless of which path he chooses, he is going to make some enemies. Therein lays the Catch-22. Cippolla believes that the Iraqis will request us to stay longer than the designated deadline and that is what concerns me the most. Prime Minister Maliki assures us that his forces will have the capabilities to manage the situation but they will need additional weapons. Of course they will!

My hope is that President Obama fulfills his promise to the American people and brings our troops home. We are tired of broken promises. He simply cannot cave in to the wishes of our commanders or the Iraqis to continue our presence there. It is bad enough that he plans to leave 50,000 troops there for an additional year as non-combative (doubtful) supporters. Detracting any further from his original withdrawal plan is unacceptable.

Comments or questions: dean_connor@hotmail.com

Hannity and Grace: Sleep Aids

February 23, 2009

As a lifelong insomniac, my sleep hours are normally from 1:30 to 4:00 AM. I have accepted the fact that this has a definite adverse effect on my daily life Aside from adding to an already sunny disposition; I am sometimes forced to watch, and even more damaging, listen to some of these ridiculous and blatantly partisan think tanks. Last night was certainly no exception. I began by watching Hannity (I don’t believe it either) for 20 minutes or so and, after growing tired of his close minded rhetoric, I graduated to Nancy Grace, or is it Nancy Drew. I really have to start watching cage fighting.

Hannity’s topic du jour was his objection to the closing of Gitmo-not much of a surprise there. He sounded as if he was preparing for a re-enactment of Bastille Day; where the doors fly open and the prisoners are left to their own devices. I think it is time to let Sean know that Gitmo is not located in the continental United States. There lays a beautiful ocean separating ourselves from these savage detainees. Relax Hannity; I wouldn’t want you to wet yourself.

He began by stating that more than 1/2 of Americans share in his paranoia; of course they do Sean. He went on to say that 5 of the world’s most dangerous terrorists are housed at Gitmo and ironically are world class swimmers as well. He went on to quote his usually fabricated statistics by pointing out that only 21 of the alleged 800 terrorists are being held at Gitmo awaiting trial for war crimes. He isn’t even bright enough to realize when he is making a point for the opposing view. Wait, it gets better. His contention is that should Gitmo close (I love this part), these very same terrorists could end up being your neighbors, in part due to their aforementioned swimming prowess. Are you kidding me? He closed in true Hannity fashion by saying that he had no problem with the use of “enhanced interrogation tactics”. This is after he had a guest who formerly worked at Gitmo portraying it as something close to a Club Med destination. I am willing to bet any sum of money that Hannity has no idea what these tactics are. Enough was enough.

A quick click and I am on to Nancy Grace; the modern day Barbara Walters, really. As with Hannity, Grace’s topic was one of national interest. It is her incredibly annoying interview approach that I take issue with. Allow me to give a couple of examples. Her topic was the tragic and mysterious disappearance of Haleigh Cummings. Somehow, Grace was able to provide a live feed with her interviewing the paternal grandmother of Haleigh. This is where she truly began to shine. She inquired as to the state of mind of Haleigh’s father to which the grandmother pointed out she hadn’t spoken to him since he hadn’t left his tent. Nancy quickly came back with: “Explain“. Explain what?-he didn’t leave the tent, I got it.

As Nancy waited for an answer that was certain never to come; she quickly switched gears by making such an astute observation that it prompted me to stand and applaud. “He must be exhausted”. Time to call it quits Barbara. In typical Grace fashion, she latched on to a specific point and clung to it like a pit bull to a leg. Loucakis, a known criminal who is now restricted to an ankle monitor and a curfew, was questioned by the FBI and quickly dismissed as a subject. This wasn’t good enough for Nancy-I wasn’t aware of her extensive training at Quantico. She brought on an expert guest who pointed out how it is possible to “beat” an ankle monitor. Clearly something the FBI didn’t take into consideration. I really have to thank Nancy. After this truly compelling interview; I was able to fall into a deep sleep.

I woke this morning suddenly aware of why Hannity and Grace chose these much sought after time slots. They have been sent here to aid us insomniacs. Thank you Sean. Thank you Nancy. I can’t wait until tonight.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

National security and human rights; boundaries are required

While studying Criminal Justice in college, I recall writing a paper on the restrictions imposed on the law enforcement community by the 4th Amendment. For more on the 4th Amendment, go to www.lectlaw.com/def/f081.htm. That being said; the allowances given to former President Bush following the horrific events of 9/11, paved the way for him to make a mockery out of the Constitution. There is no doubt that extraordinary measures were called for. However, according to memos released, and soon to be released by Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr., unprecedented executive powers were granted.

When one man is given the power to disregard constitutional rights; accountability is no longer an issue. History has shown us that nothing positive results from such practices. Have we already forgotten the Iran-Contra Affair? When Bush and his closest followers chose to take advantage of these powers accorded to them; the 1st and 4th Amendments were ignored under the guise of national security.

According to Tim Ruthen of the L.A. Times, the Office of Legal Counsel which was headed by former Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, gave Bush the power to supersede these amendments. Among the actions this carte blanche approach provided for was the torture and illegal detention of many suspected terrorists. It also included the use of widespread domestic wiretapping without the need for a warrant. Among the original opponents of this were Jack Goldsmith, successor to John Yoo, and surprisingly Bush’s own Attorney General, John Ashcroft. What came as no surprise was the fact that Vice President Dick Cheney (shocker!) and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld were staunch supporters of this executive tyranny.

Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights, has publicly accused Rumsfeld of being responsible for the Pentagon’s policy on torture. Author John Byrne has devoted an entire book to Rumsfeld’s actions and has expressed a desire for a formal prosecution. For more: www.commondreams.org/headline/2008/12/14. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Judiciary Committee Chairman, has begun a petition calling for the establishment of a Truth & Reconciliation Commission to investigate the alleged abuses during Bush’s tenure. “These abuses may include the use of torture, warrantless wiretapping, extraordinary rendition, and executive override of laws.” There are many who feel that this is not enough; contending that war crimes were committed. This is a problem that is simply not going to go away.

Along with the other powers mentioned; the President also had the ability to approve treaties with other nations without the consent of Congress. This is an incredible amount of responsibility for a man of superior intelligence and decision making capabilities, never mind one of… Present Assistant Attorney General Steven Bradbury has stated that many of the allowances granted between 2001 and 2003 “should not be treated as authoritative for any purpose.” He went on to claim that the Department of Justice had conveniently withdrawn some of the more questionable memos. This, coupled with the allegation that nearly 100 tapes depicting torture inflicted on prisoners were destroyed by the C.I.A., has brought human rights issues to the forefront.

I have no doubt that certain provisions outlined in the Patriot Act were responsible for the disclosure of numerous terrorist cells. This undoubtedly resulted in the saving of countless American lives. My problem is with the authority one man was granted without the benefit of some oversight. Let’s remember; this was not Abraham Lincoln in office. Americans have been victims of terrible violations of human rights, such as the Bataan Death March in 1942, the abduction of American citizens in Iran in 1980, and more to the point, the abuse of American POWs during and after the Viet Nam War. We portray the image of defenders of human rights as evidenced by our intervention into such places as Bosnia and Somalia.

My hope is that the fallout from these allegations and investigations do not permanently scar our image. Like all Americans, I was outraged watching the planes crash into the towers and called for immediate retribution. But have we gone too far? Only time will tell and personally, I am fearful of what may be uncovered.

Answer for speculators: Deal with it!!

February 22, 2009

The debate over the new Housing Bill centers on who should be entitled to relief and who shouldn’t. There are those that are upset because they feel punished by being forced to have their tax dollars used to bail out those facing foreclosures. Since they have abided by the terms of their mortgages, they don’t feel compelled to help out those that couldn’t. I can certainly sympathize with this way of thinking but the fact remains that something must be done about this epidemic. As projected, as many as 6 million Americans are in danger of losing their homes over the next 3 years. The one thing that people do agree upon is that there should be no help given to speculators.

Webster defines speculators as those who “take part in any risky venture on the chance of making huge profits”. That sounds awfully similar to what the banks did with our money. A couple of differences need to be pointed out. Though there is no denying that the banking industry as a whole made some incredibly poor investments; they did so in the hope of hefty returns that would have eventually trickled down to the public. This would have been seen in the form of substantial returns on CDS, IRAs, and basic savings and checking accounts. The results of a bank’s investments are available to anyone interested since they are posted publicly in places such as NASDAQ. Those interested are able to see if they are doing well or poorly. Shareholders and customers expect a decent return on their money when times are good. Due largely to the housing debacle, returns have been anything but decent.

Speculators, on the other hand, often invest based solely on the misfortunes of others. Years ago I worked for a large contractor and one of the other supervisors was able to purchase 10 homes in Houston for a total cost of $100 thousand (I missed that boat). This investment was predicated by the drastic halt in the growth of the city. Foreclosures were commonplace and many of these houses were sold at auctions for ridiculously low prices. When the anticipated comeback of Houston took place, he simply turned around and sold these homes making an exorbitant profit. The question today is whether or not these bottom feeders should be given the same opportunities as someone who lost their job and are now in danger of losing their home.

As far as I am concerned, the answer is an emphatic NO. While the average American struggles to make his payment in the midst of this pitiful economy; these speculators should have to face the same consequences as any other investor who lost money in the market. You don’t see people who are holding shares in a collapsing corporation looking for help. Why should it be any different for these speculators? Bottom line: You gambled and lost-deal with it!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Response to the neo-conservatives

What follows is my response to a request I received via e-mail to sign a petition calling for the GOP leadership to return to "true conservatism". Though harsh; you do not have the benefit of reading the context of this request. I found it to be an insult to my intelligence and my knowledge of history.

Attention Sender:
Do not EVER, and I mean EVER send me another piece of propaganda filled with neo-conservative drivel. Any group that consistently praises that fat, treasonous, destructive windbag Limbaugh would be wise not to send me any more of their garbage. Your HERO should be deported for some of his recent statements. He loves to portray himself as a patriot. A true patriot is one who defends and works to better his country. Limbaugh does nothing but attempt to tear down anything that does not coincide with his pathological ideologies. The fact that he publicly stated that he hoped the President and his plans failed is testimony to the fact that he does not have his country's best interests in mind. WOW-what a patriot!!

What makes your little campaign even more detestable is the fact that you refer to Ronald Reagan as a hero as well. He was a puppet! Many of his former aides and cabinet members have said as much. He was almost completely unaware of the content of his speeches and he played little to no role in the policy making. Do any of you whackos do your homework? Like the Rash; you ramble on about the dangers posed by Liberals, Democrats, and even Republicans who don't adhere to your pitiful, antiquated ideals. You manage to do all this without a shred of emperical data. Well, here's a little slice for you. At the time when Reagan was first elected; the deficit stood at $955 billion-due largely in part to Carter's desire to be viewed as a worldwide ambassador while neglecting domestic issues (sound familiar?). At the end of the 12 years of Reagan and Bush, the deficit had risen to $4 trillion. GW inherited a $256 billion surplus and turned that into a $1.3 tillion deficit. Nice job Boys!!

One would think that the last three elections (presidential and congressional) would tell you nuts that America has grown tired of your rhetoric along with your results.We actually care about one another; unlike the fat one. He truly has a problem with contradictions from one speech to another. In one, he states that the government is not here to provide for its citizens; that we should all be self-sufficient (a humanitarian as well as a patriot). In his next speech, he states that a true conservative is one who sees the potential in everyone and helps them to achieve their goals. Well, which one is it? God forbid we allocate money for such trivial things as the environment, education, and social issues-areas your HERO is opposed to.

One final note: He warned of the danger of regulation in any industry. Good call Rash-that worked out well for the banking industry. And please don't bother me with that nonsense about allowing them to go under. All that does is eradicate any available credit which translates into no new home sales, no credit cards (great for the economy), and no start-up money for small businesses. Who do you suppose suffers with that scenario? Is that patriotism-I'm confused? Both of my grandfathers fought in the First World War. My father, father-in-law, and six uncles fought in the Second World War. Numerous friends and former co-workers are veterans of the Viet Nam War. So don't you dare wave the flag in my face because I have seen patriots and you and your leader de facto are not them. He constantly refers to his 20 million listeners-I wonder if he is aware of the number who listen for the entertainment value only. Everyone loves a clown!

Dean Connor
Politically Independent Patriot

Personal Note: Please tell me that some of you have feelings and/or questions regarding this post. Please add them to the "comments".

President Obama's Speech: Optimistic yet realistic

Feb 25 2009

It is not very often that I find a speech by anyone, let alone a politician, able to captivate my attention the way President Obama’s did last evening. To be honest, I find myself switching to ESPN about 20 minutes into most. Make no mistake; just as I find it unfair how certain members of the GOP, and some of these mindless pundits judge him after only 5 weeks-I am not ready to nominate him for a Nobel Prize yet either. However, at least for one night, he appeared as a man completely in control of himself and the daunting task he is faced with. As I listened, I found myself thinking that just 5 weeks ago we had a man whose IQ is at least 50 points lower than his leading our country. In the words of Bob Dylan: “A simple twist of fate”.

Throughout his speech, he consistently pointed to three areas that concerned him the most: education, health care reform, and energy reliance. These have pretty much been at the forefront of the last 3 administrations. However, President Obama was able to convince me that he was actually going to do something about them. In fact, he already has. As part of the stimulus plan, he has made it possible for 7 million young men and women to attend college. He has also made cuts in other areas in order to avoid the layoff of teachers. The fact that the U.S. has one of the highest dropout rates of all industrialized nations is nothing short of a slap in the face. Because of this; the President plans to increase funding in areas such as Early Childhood Education and more Charter Schools. He will also implement a plan that rewards those teachers that prove to be innovative and produce positive results. That alone is something I think is long overdue.

With regard to health care; he has helped pass legislation which will allow 11 million children to be insured. On Monday, he is creating a panel consisting of health care professionals such as doctors, administrators, and insurance specialists to address the issue of health care reform. He contends that the lack of efficiency is at the root of the problem. I was a bit taken aback when he stated that 1.5 million Americans may lose their homes in the next year due to medical costs. I know from personal experience that if you do not have a solid insurance plan, you can lose everything because of a health problem. In 2003, I suffered a heart attack and my total bills amounted to $140 thousand. Fortunately, I was a member of the Carpenters Union who were able to provide us with an excellent insurance plan. Without it, I would have lost my home.
When President Obama spoke of energy reliance, there was a hint of anger in his tone when he pointed out that China now leads the world in the use of renewable energy. He was equally upset that we were the first country to experiment with solar power and have since been passed by Germany and others in its use. Because of these things; he has pledged to allot $15 billion annually to energy technology.

It would be impossible for me to accurately depict the crisis facing both the banking and auto industries. One of the reasons is the ever-changing relief amounts requested. To emphasize this point, the New York Times reported that on Monday the American International Group (AIG) asked for additional tens of billions on top of the $150 billion previously requested. Citigroup is experiencing the same type of problems as they see their losses continue to mount. As I said; it is pointless to beat this proverbial horse. He is fully aware that his decision to continue granting aid to these institutions is not a popular one, but it is one that must be made in order to restore credit opportunities for Americans. This is an integral part in stimulating the economy. There was talk of nationalizing the banking industry but that has been replaced by a tracking system that will be put in place to enable all Americans to see how their tax dollars are being spent. Accountability will be the primary focus and Vice President Joe Biden will be in charge of the oversight. President Obama jokingly (sort of) commented that “You don’t mess with Joe”.
The auto industry has joined ranks with the banks in asking for additional monies exceeding the already exorbitant amounts already requested. General Motors and Chrysler are asking for an additional $22 billion on top of the $17 billion already promised. The President was quick to point out that this was in no way excusing them for their past performance, but a necessary move in order to help them re-tool and make them viable again. The number of jobs at stake should either of these giants go under is staggering. It is clear that the bailout is simply the lesser of two evils

Throughout the President’s speech, he maintained an optimistic view of the chance of recovery; albeit a slow recovery. The American public has come to appreciate that they are looking at 2 to 3 years before they see significant improvements. The President didn’t hesitate to explain the gravity of the situation; as the aforementioned numbers clearly indicate. Mixed in with battle cries of “We will recover” were reminders that we are on the brink of a total collapse. A collapse that has the potential to cripple the global economy as well. He issued challenges to lawmakers to set aside party differences and work together to focus on the future. Only this will help us crawl out of this seemingly bottomless pit. To his credit, the President refrained from taking shots at the previous administration that allowed these conditions to escalate year after year. Instead, he chose to take the high road and appealed to Americans and their history of resiliency to help in overcoming these incredible obstacles.

Though admittedly inspired; only time will tell if I witnessed a historical speech or merely more political rhetoric. Presently, President Obama has captured the hearts of Americans and is asking them to join him in this fight, and if the polls are any indication, the answer is an emphatic YES!!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Mars vs America's Youth. The winner is...

The other night I spent a considerable amount of time looking over the breakdown of the individual allocations in the Stimulus Plan. Regardless of your cause or agenda; finding alarming figures is a simple task. In my case; a very hot topic is the Juvenile Justice System. This is a system that has attracted very little attention since its’ conception.

NASA, which according to the U.S. Office of Budget and Management, operated under a budget of $17.1 billion in 2008. I am aware that there are many people who are fascinated by space exploration and the possibility of life forms on Mars. I can assure you that I am not one of them. Unless they strike gold, in which case we could hand it over to the auto industry to grant their request for an additional $14 billion, I could care less what they find up there. The administration apparently doesn’t share in my apathy. NASA was granted an additional billion dollars.

While NASA, whose most significant finding over the past decade has been water on Mars, received their billion dollars; the entire judicial system was given $350 million. Keep in mind, this money is earmarked for every level of the national judicial system. I am having a very hard time digesting the flaws in the prioritizing. Is the discovery of water that much more important than the care and guidance of our troubled youths?
While CEOs on Wall Street are crying over the restrictions imposed on them such as having to give up their private jets and multi-million dollar bonuses; indeed.com reports that Juvenile Probation Officers have had to suffer through a drastic decline in numbers and salaries over the past year. These are people who are in a position to change the lives and futures of America’s troubled youths. This is an incredible responsibility and all too often, they find their caseload unmanageable. According to author Marilyn McShane, the accepted rate has risen to 30 to 1.

America has a system in place which has the ability to contribute to the future of this country; yet has all but ignored it over the years. The need to address this issue is long overdue and I hope this administration will recognize that. Unfortunately, my hopes were seriously deflated when I read that the plan included $650 million more to inform the public that they need to get a converter box for their television. I have been watching ads on this topic ad nauseam for close to a year. $650 million-I am not making this up. To put this in perspective; that amount would have paid for an additional 14,130 Juvenile Probation Officers.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Now this is a stimulus package!

For those of you who were fortunate enough to watch Charles Gibson's interview Friday evening; my article will simply be a repeat of what you heard. I had planned on watching it and had intended to write an article about the Miami banker even before I had heard he was going to be on television. Since I didn't have the benefit of watching it; I went back to my original plan of researching this story about a banker who has helped restore many people's faith in Americans-mine included. In these tumultuous times; a story such as this is just what many of us need.

As a writer who focuses mainly on the political arena; it is not often that I am able to write about anything as moving as the incredible act of kindness and generousity displayed by Leonard Abess, Jr. Though this is a wonderful story; the sad fact is that it received very little national attention until Friday evening. We, as Americans, are programmed to write and read about stories dealing with conflict, tragedy, and loss. Think how different it would be if the dailies' lead story everday was similar to this one. They happen; they are just not newsworthy.

There is no doubt that there are a number of stories out there about acts of kindness and couragous feats, but you would be hard pressed to find one comparable to the story of Leonard Abess, Jr. and his empoyees and retirees. When he sold the majority of his holdings last November; he did something no one could have possibly foreseen with $60 million worth of the profits. He gave unbelievably generous bonuses to his loyal employees as well as those who had been retired for a nuber of years. One retiree, William Perry, who had worked for the bank for 43 1/2 years told the Miami Heral that he was shocked. Perry had worked his way up from janitor to Vice President during his long tenure.

When Abess completed the merger in November and made a healthy profit for himself; he was very concerned about the state of the 401Ks that his employees had counted on for their retirements. He was aware that due to the debacle on Wall Street, many of his people found their plans worth very little or nothing at all. Mr Abess decided he had to do something for these people who had been so loyal to him over the years and were instrumental in the success of his bank.. By way of an online video, he told his employees that they could expect a substantial bonus soon while making it clear that this was a one time deal and was not to be looked upon as a prelude to their being dismissed. According to the Associated Press; 471 employees and retirees received an average of $127,000 each!

As heartwarming as this story is: the sad part about it is the fact that had Leonard Abess not been mentioned in President Obama's last speech, we may never have heard of this incredible story. He certainly would not have appeared as a guest of Charles Gibson on television. It is stories such as this that we need to hear about; especially in these times. Though I merely write for a small audience, I vow to find at least one story per month that examplifies the good in Americans as opposed to writing about the dismal state we find ourselves in or the incessant Congressional in-fighting that we are subjected to on a daily basis. I would prefer to write about these acts than devoting my energies to the ramblings of such pundits as that windbag Rash (not a typo) Limbaugh, whose sole purpose is to attack anything that doesn't coincide with his pathological ideologies.

Just last week, I was watching the local news when I heard a story that displayed the good in Americans. Though nowhere near the magnitide of Leonard Abess' story; it still warrants repeating. An elderly woman was in line at the Water Dept. pleading for an extension on her shutoff notice. She explained that she was forced to make the decision between paying for her heating oil or her water bill. A gentleman in line overheard the conversation and promptly stepped forward and wrote a check out to cover her outstanding bill. Although the bill was only a little over $120, I found this to be a true act of kindnesss and something I like to think that I would do. Unfortunately, I scanned the newpapers the next day and was unable to find a single mention of it. But there was Rash, front and center, tearing apart the President's stimulus plan. Time for a change is right!