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GRIZZLIES AND AMERICANS

In Entertainment, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 31, 2014 at 12:00 am

There is a poignant scene in the middle of John Milius’ classic 1975 adventure film, “The Wind and the Lion,” that Americans would do well to remember.

The movie is set in 1904 America and Morocco.  An American woman, Eden Pedicaris (Candice Bergen) and her two children have been kidnapped while vacationing in Tangier.

The kidnapper is a Berber brigand named Mulai Ahmed Raisuli (Sean Connery, trying–successfully–to shed his James Bond image).

To Raisuli, the Sultan and his uncle, the Pasha of Tangier, are corrupt and beholden to the European powers struggling to ontrol Morocco.

Raisuli then issues an outrageous ransom demand to provoke an international incident, embarrass the Sultan and start a civil war.

In the United States, President Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Keith) is running for re-election.  He sees the crisis as a way to score campaign points and demonstrate America’s military strength as a new power.

So he issues a demand of his own: “Pedicarus alive–or Raisuli dead!”

While events rapidly spiral out of control in the Middle East, Roosevelt decides to vacation in Yellowstone National Park.

One night, a grizzly bear attacks the camp and is shot by Roosevelt and several other campers.  The next morning, Roosevelt holds an imprumptu press conference for the reporters who have accompanied him.

Brian Keith as Theodore Roosevelt

REPORTER:  Did you take part in killing the grizzly, Mr. President?

ROOSEVELT:  Yes, unfortunately.

REPORTER:  Why do you say, ‘unfortunately,’ Mr. President?

ROOSEVELT:  The American grizzly is a symbol of the American character: strength, intelligence, ferocity. Maybe a little blind and reckless at times, but courageous beyond all doubt. 

And one other trait that goes with all previous.

REPORTER:  And that, Mr. President?

ROOSEVELT:  Loneliness. The American grizzly lives out his life alone. Indomitable, unconquered–but always alone. He has no real allies, only enemies, but none of them as great as he.

REPORTER:  And you feel this might be an American trait?

ROOSEVELT:  Certainly. The world will never love us. They respect us–they might even grow to fear us.  But they will never love us, for we have too much audacity! 

And, we’re a bit blind and reckless at times, too.

REPORTER:  Are you perhaps referring to the situation in Morocco and the Panama Canal.

ROOSEVELT:  If you say so. The American grizzly embodies the spirit of America. He should be our symbol! Not that ridiculous eagle–he’s nothing more than a dandified vulture.

When the Pasha of Tangier refuses to negotiate with Raisuli to secure the return of Pedecaris, the American Consul to Tangier, Samuel Gummere, decides on action.

He confers with Admiral Chadwick, commanding the South Atlantic Squadron, and a Marine captain named Jerome.

Gummere then orders a company of Marines, supported by a small detachment of sailors, to seize the Pasha.  But privately he admits to the riskiness of the decision:

GUMMERE:  You realize, of course, that if we fail in even the slightest way, we’ll all be killed.

CHADWICK:  Yes, and the whole world will probably go to war.

JEROME: Gentlemen, if we fail and are killed, I certainly hope the world does go to war. 

CHADWICK:  A world ar war!

GUMMERE:  A world war.  Now that would be something to go out on.

In just ten years, they will get their hearts’ desire when World War 1 erupts.

The Marines quickly overwhelm the Pasha’s palace guard, take the Pasha hostage and force him to negotiate.

The film ends with a confident Theodore Roosevelt expecting (accurately) to be re-elected–and telling reporters  that “the fate of Morocco will be decided tomorrow by me.”

“The Wind and the Lion” is set in an era when

  • nuclear weapons did not exist;
  • Russia and China were militarily insignificant nations;
  • England was the world’s superpower;
  • America, Germany and Japan were on the rise;
  • Israel was still a distant dream in the eyes of European Jews;
  • the “Great Powers”–Germany, France and Great Britain–were struggling to carve up the Middle East to exploit its massive oli reserves; and
  • Americans did not feel threatened by Islamic radicals.

That era–for all its faults–is long vanished.  As complex and dangerous as it often seemed to those living in it, that era has been succeeded by one even more complex and dangerous.

In this new and even more lethal era, it is well to remember Theodore Roosevelt’s warning that “we’re a bit blind and reckless at times, too.”

HONEST VS. POLITICALLY INCORRECT

In Business, Entertainment, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 28, 2014 at 12:05 am

The 1992 military courtroom drama, “A Few Good Men,” climaxes with a brutal exchange that has since become famous.

Jack Nicolson vs. Tom Cruise in “A Few Good Men”

The legal combatants are Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) and Marine Colonel Nathan R. Jessup (Jack Nicholson).

COLONEL JESSUP: You want answers?

KAFFEE: I want the truth!

COLONEL JESSUP: You can’t handle the truth!

Apparently, many of those who work in the television news business feel the same way about their audiences.

[WARNING: This column contains some words that some readers may find offensive.  Read on at your own risk.]

On February 18, 2012, editor Anthony Federico posted this headline on ESPN’s mobile website: “Chink in the Armor: Jeremy Lin’s 9 Turnovers Cost Knicks in Streak-Snapping Loss to Hornets.”

The headline was posted at 2:30 a.m. and quickly removed when someone realized that it might be seen as offensive. By Sunday afternoon, Federico had been fired from ESPN.

Jeremy Lin

It’s true that “Chink” is seen by Asians as a derogatory word. It’s equally true that ESPN has the right to discipline its employees when they violate its journalistic standards.

But ESPN should not have the right to treat its audience like so many school children who must be protected, at all costs, from life’s unpleasantness.

Consider ESPN’s apology:

“Last night, ESPN.com’s mobile web site posted an offensive headline referencing Jeremy Lin at 2:30 am ET.  The headline was removed at 3:05 am ET.

“We are conducting a complete review of our cross-platform editorial procedures and are determining appropriate disciplinary action to ensure this does not happen again. We regret and apologize for this mistake.”

Note the words “posted an offensive headline.” If you didn’t already know what the headline had said, ESPN wasn’t going to enlighten you.

And other news networks–such as ABC and NBC–have acted similarly, referring to the “c-word” without telling viewers just what was actually posted.

Since the “c-word” is often used as a euphemism for “cunt,” it’s easy to see how many viewers could imagine the writer had used a very different expression.

The official reason given for refraining from actually saying the word that lies at the center of the story is to offending some members of the audience.

But when the use of certain words becomes central to a news story, editors and reporters should have the courage to reveal just what was said–and let the audience decide for itself.

The evening news is–supposedly–aimed at voting-age adults.  And adults need–and deserve–the hard truth about the world they live in.  Only then do they have a chance to reform it–if, in fact, they decide it needs reforming.

Examples of such censorship are legion.  For instance:

In 1976, entertainer Pat Boone asked Earl Butz, then Secretary of Agriculture: Why was the party of Lincoln having so much trouble winning black votes for its candidates?

“I’ll tell you what the coloreds want,” said Butz. “It’s three things: first, a tight pussy; second, loose shoes; and third, a warm place to shit.”

Unknown to Butz, a Rolling Stone reporter was standing nearby.  When his comments became public, Butz was forced to resign.

Meanwhile, most TV and print media struggled to protect their audiences from the truth of Butz’ racism.

Many newspapers simply reported that Butz had said something too obscene to print.  Some invited their readers to contact the editors if they wanted more information.

TV newsmen generally described Butz’ firing as stemming from “a racially-offensive remark,” which they refused to explain.

In short: A high-ranking government official had been fired, but audiences were not allowed to judge whether his language justified that termination.

Nor is there any guarantee that such censorship will not occur again.

On February 16, 2012, Foster Friess, offered his views about the importance of legalized birth control.  Friess was the wealthy investor bankrolling a super PAC for GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum.

Foster Friess

“This contraceptive thing, my gosh it’s such inexpensive,” said Friess. “Back in my days, they used Bayer Aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly.”

It’s understandable that women would be highly offended by this remark.

But shielding them from the women-hating mindset of those who support right-wing candidates like Santorum would ill serve their interests.

Censoring the truth has always been a hallmark of dictatorships.  It has no place in a democracy–no matter how well-intentioned the motives of those doing the censoring.

Some words will always be hateful–to blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, women, men.  In short, everybody.  Refusing to acknowledge their use will not cause them to vanish.

The truth is the truth. If you can’t handle it, that’s your problem.

But those of us who can deserve the opportunity to learn it.  And, when necessary, to act on it.

HEROES–ONCE IT’S SAFE

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 27, 2014 at 12:00 am

“One man with courage,” said frontier general Andrew Jackson, “makes a majority.”

Yet it’s amazing how many “heroes” come out of the woodwork only after the danger is safely past.

Joseph Stalin dominated the Soviet Union from 1928 to 1953.  He held absolute power twice as long as Adolf Hitler–whose Third Reich lasted only 12 years.

Joseph Stalin

Above all, he was responsible for the deaths of at least 20,000,000 men, women and children:

  • At the hands of the executioners of the NKVD (later named the KGB).
  • In exile–usually in Siberia–in Soviet penal camps.
  • Of man-made starvation brought on by Stalin’s forced “collective-farm” policies.

Then, the unthinkable happened–Stalin finally died on March 5, 1953.

Almost three years later–on February 25, 1956–Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev, shocked the 20th Party Congress of the Soviet Union with a bombshell announcement:

Stalin–the “Wise Leader and Teacher”–had been a murderous despot.

Among his crimes:

  • He had created a regime based on “suspicion, fear and terror.”
  • His massive purges of the officer corps had almost destroyed the Red Army–thus inviting Hitler’s 1941 invasion, which killed at least 20 million Soviet citizens.
  • He had allied himself with Hitler in 1939 and ignored repeated warnings of the coming Nazi invasion.

Naturally, Khrushchev didn’t advertise the role he had played as one of Stalin’s most trusted and brutal henchmen.

Over the ensuing years, many of the statues and portraits of Stalin that had dotted the Soviet Union like smallpox scars were quietly taken down.  The city of Stalingrad–which Stalin had renamed from its original name of Tsaritsyn–became Volgograd.

Then, in 1961, Stalin’s corpse was removed from its prominent spot in the Lenin mausoleum and reburied in a place for lesser heroes of the Russian Revolution.

The young poet, Yevgeney Yevtushenko, noted the occasion in his famous poem, “The Heirs of Stalin.”  Its gist: Stalin the tyrant was dead, but his followers still walked the earth–and lusted for a return to power.

Something similar happened in the United States around the same time.

From 1950 to 1954, Wisconsin Republican Senator Joseph R. McCarthy terrorized the nation, accusing anyone who disagreed with him of being a Communist–and leaving ruined lives in his wake.

Joseph R. McCarthy

Among those civilians and government officials he slandered as Communists were:

  • President Harry S. Truman
  • President Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • Broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow
  • Secretary of State George C. Marshall
  • Columnist Drew Pearson

Finally, in 1954, McCarthy overreached himself and accused the U.S. Army of being a hotbed of Communist traitors.  Joseph Welch, counsel for the Army, destroyed McCarthy’s credability in a now-famous retort:

“Senator, may we not drop this?….You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

Later that year, the Senate censured McCarthy, and he rapidly declined in power and health.

Senatorial colleagues who had once courted his support now avoided him.

They left the Senate when he rose to speak.  Reporters who had once fawned on him for his latest sensational slander now ignored him.

Eisenhower–who had sought McCarthy’s support during his 1952 race for President–joked that “McCarthyism” was now “McCarthywasm.”

Fast-forward to July 12, 2012–and the release of former FBI Director Louie Freeh’s report on serial pedophile Jerry Sandusky.  As the assistant football coach at Penn State University (PSU), he had used the football facilities to sexually attack numerous young boys.

Jerry Sandusky

But Sandusky was regarded as more than a second-banana.  He received Assistant Coach of the Year awards in 1986 and 1999, and authored several books about his coaching experiences.

In 1977, Sandusky founded The Second Mile, a non-profit charity serving underprivileged, at-risk youth.

“Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State,” Freeh stated.

College football is a $2.6 billion-a-year business. And Penn State is one of its premiere brands, with revenue of $70 million in 2010.

PSU’s seven-month internal investigation, headed by Freeh, revealed:

  • Joe Paterno, head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions, was aware of a 1998 criminal investigation of Sandusky.
  • So was president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz.
  • In 2001, then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary reported to Paterno that he’d seen Sandusky attacking a boy in the shower.
  • Paterno, Spanier, Curley and Schultz then conspired to cover up for Sandusky.
  • The rapes of these boys occurred in the Lasch Building–where Paterno had his office.
  • A janitor who had witnessed a rape in 2000 said he had feared losing his job if he told anyone about it. “It would be like going against the President of the United States,” Freeh said at a press conference.

In 2011, Sandusky was arrested and charged with sexually abusing young boys over a 15-year period.  On June 22, 2012, he was convicted on 45 of the 48 charges.  He will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.

On the day the Freeh report was released, Nike–a longtime sponsor for Penn State–announced that it would remove Paterno’s name from the child care center at its world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.

GOOD NEWS IN THE TERROR WARS

In History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on March 26, 2014 at 12:25 am

On February 15, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights released some encouraging newws for those fighting Islamic terrorism.

More than 140,000 people have been killed in Syria’s uprising-turned-civil war.

Conflict began on March 15, 2011.  The trigger: Protests demanding political reforms and the ouster of dictator Bashar al-Assad.

According to the Observatory, which is based in Britain:

  • The death toll is now at 140,041.
  • More than 30,000 rebels have been killed and over 50,000 from pro-Assad forces.
  • The true toll on both sides was likely much higher–by perhaps more than 60,000.

And the Observatory’s director, Rami Abdelrahman, had a solution to offer to this constantly escalating violence:

“It is shameful that the international community has done nothing to show that it will defend human rights.  They are just looking on at this tragedy. The Syrian people dying are just statistics to them.”

If those dying in Syria are “just statistics,” then they are statistics of terrorists and potential terrorists who will never pose a threat to the United States.

Think of it:

  • In three years, 140,041 actual or potential enemies of Western Civilization have chosen to kill each other off.
  • Additional thousands are certain to follow their example.
  • And the United States cannot be held in any way responsible for it.

Here are seven excellent reasons why America should not send soldiers to bomb and/or invade Syria.

1. Intervening in Syria could produce unintended consequences for American forces–and make the United States a target for more Islamic terrorism.

American bombs or missiles could land on one or more sites containing stockpiles of chemical weapons.  Imagine the international outrage that will result if the release of those weapons kills hundreds or thousands of Syrians.

Within the Islamic world, the United States will be seen as waging a war against Islam, and not simply another Islamic dictator.

Almost certainly, an American military strike on Syria would lead its dictator, Bashar al-Assad, to attack Israel–perhaps even with chemical weapons.

Assad could do this simply because he hates Jews–or to lure Israel into attacking Syria.

If that happened, the Islamic world–which lusts to destroy Israel more than anything else–would rally to Syria against the United States, Israel’s chief ally.

2.  Since 1979, Syria has been listed by the U.S. State Department as a sponsor of terrorism.

Among the terrorist groups it supports are Hizbollah and Hamas. For years, Syria provided a safe-house in Damascus to Ilich Ramírez Sánchez–the notorious terrorist better known as Carlos the Jackal.

There are no “good Syrians” for the United States to support–only murderers who have long served a tyrant and other murderers who now wish to become the next tyrant.

3.  The United States doesn’t know what it wants to do in Syria, other than “send a message.”

Carl von Clausewitz, the Prussian military theorist, wrote: “War is the continuation of state policy by other means.”  But President Barack Obama hasn’t stated what he intends gain by attacking Syria.

Obama has said he’s “not after regime-change.”  If true, that would leave Assad in power–and free to go on killing those who resist his rule.

4. The Assad regime is backed by–among others–the Iranian-supported terrorist group, Hezbollah (Party of God).  Its enemies include another terrorist group–Al Qaeda.

Hezbollah is comprised of Shiite Muslims, who form a minority of Islamics.  A sworn enemy of Israel, it has  kidnapped scores of Americans suicidal enough to visit Lebanon and truck-bombed the Marine Barracks in Beirut in 1983, killing 299 Americans.

Flag of Hezbollah

Al-Qaeda, on the other hand, is made up of Sunni Muslims, who form the majority of that religion.  It considers Shiite Muslims to be “takfirs”–heretics–and thus worthy of extermination.

Al Qaeda has attacked the mosques and gatherings of liberal Muslims, Shias, Sufis and other non-Sunnis.   Examples of sthese ectarian attacks include the Sadr City bombings, the 2004 Ashoura massacre and the April, 2007 Baghdad bombings.

Flag of Al Qaeda

When your enemies are intent on killing each other, it’s best to stand aside and let them do it.

5.  China and Russia are fully supporting the Assad dictatorship–and the brutalities it commits against its own citizens. This reflects badly on them–not the United States.

6.  The United States could find itself in a shooting war with Russia and/or China.

The Russians have sent two warships to Syria, in direct response to President Obama’s threat to “punish” Assad for using chemical weapons against unsurgents.

What happens if American and Russian warships start trading salvos?  Or if Russian President Vladimir Putin orders an attack on Israel, in return for America’s attack on Russia’s ally, Syria?

It was exactly that scenario–Great Powers going to war over conflicts between their small-state allies–that triggered World War l.

7.  While Islamic nations like Syria and Egypt wage war within their own borders, they will lack the resources to launch attacks against the United States.

When Adolf Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, then-Senator Harry Truman said: “I hope the Russians kill lots of Nazis and vice versa.”

That should be America’s view whenever its sworn enemies start killing themselves off.   Americans should welcome such self-slaughters, not become entrapped in them.

SPHERES OF INFLUENCE: OURS AND THEIRS

In History, Military, Politics on March 25, 2014 at 1:04 am

It didn’t take much for American Right-wingers to start salivating–and celebrating.

All it took was for Russia to move troops into its neighboring territories of Ukraine and Crimea.

Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the American Right has felt dejected.  Accusing Democrats of being “terrorist-lovers” just hasn’t been as profitable as accusing them of being “Communists.”

The torch had barely gone out at the much-ballyhooed Sochi Olympics when Russian President Vladimir Putin began menacing the Ukraine.

Even while the Olympics played out on television, Ukrainians had rioted in Kiev and evicted their corrupt, luxury-loving president, Victor Yanukovych.

And this, of course, didn’t sit well with his “sponsor”–Putin.

Yanukovych had rejected a pending European Union association agreement.  He had chosen instead to pursue a Russian loan bailout and closer ties with Russia.

And that had sat well with Putin.

Since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Putin had yearned for a reestablishment of the same.  He had called that breakup “the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century.”

So it was almost a certainty that, when his chosen puppet, Yanukovych, was sent packing, Putin would find some way to retaliate.

And since late February, he has done so, gradually moving Russian troops into Ukraine and its autonomous republic, Crimea.

By late March, it was clear that Russia had sufficient forces in both Ukraine and Crimea to wreak any amount of destruction Putin may wish to inflict.

And where there is activity by Russians, there are American Rightists eager–in Shakespeare’s words–to “cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.”

Or at least to use such events to their own political advantage.

Right-wingers such as Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachussetts who lost the 2012 Presidential election by a wide margin to Barack Obama.

“There’s no question but that the president’s naiveté with regards to Russia,” said Romney on March 23.

“And unfortunately, not having anticipated Russia’s intentions, the president wasn’t able to shape the kinds of events that may have been able to prevent the kinds of circumstances that you’re seeing in the Ukraine, as well as the things that you’re seeing in Syria.”

All of which overlooks a number of brutal political truths.

First, all great powers have spheres of interest–and jealously guard them.

For the United States, it’s Latin and Central America, as established by the Monroe Doctrine.

And just what is the Monroe Doctrine?

It’s a statement made by President James Monroe in his 1823 annual message to Congress, which warned European powers not to interfere in the affairs of the Western Hemisphere.

It has no other legitimacy than the willingness of the United States to use armed force to back it up.  When the United States no longer has the will or resources to enforce the Doctrine, it will cease to have meaning.

For the Soviet Union, its spheres of influence include the Ukraine.  Long known as “the breadbasket of Russia,” in 2011, it was the world’s third-largest grain exporter.

Russia will no more give up access to that breadbasket than the United States would part with the rich farming states of the Midwest.

Second, spheres of influence often prove disastrous to those smaller countries affected.

Throughout Latin and Central America, the United States remains highly unpopular for its brutal use of “gunboat diplomacy” during the 20th century.

Among those countries invaded or controlled by America: Mexico, Cuba, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Columbia, Panama and the Dominican Republic.

The resulting anger has led many Latin and Central Americans to support Communist Cuba, even though its political oppression and economic failure are universally apparent.

Similarly, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) forced many nations–such as Poland, Hungary and Czechoslavakia–to submit to the will of Moscow.

The alternative?  The threat of Soviet invasion–as occurred in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslavakia in 1968.

Third, even “great powers” are not all-powerful.

In 1949, after a long civil war, the forces of Mao Tse-tung defeated the Nationalist armies of Chaing Kai-Shek, who withdrew to Taiwan.

China had never been a territory of the United States.  Nor could the United States have prevented Mao from defeating the corrupt, ineptly-led Nationalist forces.

Even so, Republican Senators and Representatives such as Richard Nixon and Joseph McCarthy eagerly blamed President Harry S. Truman and the Democrats for “losing China.”

The fear of being accused of “losing” another country led Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon to tragically commit the United States to “roll back” Communism in Cuba and Vietnam.

Now Republicans–who claim the United States can’t afford to provide healthcare for its poorest citizens–want to turn the national budget over to the Pentagon.

They want the United States to “intervene” in Syria–even though this civil war pits Al Qaeda and Hezbollah, two of America’s greatest enemies, against each other.

They want the United States to “intervene” in Ukraine–even though this would mean going to war with the only nuclear power capable of turning America into an atomic graveyard.

Before plunging into conflicts that don’t concern us and where there is absolutely nothing to “win,” Americans would do well to remember the above-stated lessons of history.  And to learn from them.

AVOIDING THE BUMS’ RUSH

In Bureaucracy, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on March 24, 2014 at 12:37 am

Almost one year ago–on May 24, 2013–Californians dodged a bum’s rush.

That was when the California Legislature refused to make the streets safe for DDMBs.

Or Druggies, Drunks, Mentals and Bums, as they’re known to many of the paramedics and police who must deal with them.

Or as “the homeless,” to those of Politically Correct persuasion.

A measure introduced in April, 2013, by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) would have legally allowed DDMBs to sleep and sit in public places and accost hard-working citizens for unearned money.

The bill had already passed the Assembly Judiciary Committee on a 7-2 vote, but fatally stalled in the Assembly Apporpriations Committee on May 24, 2013.

Titled ”The Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights and Fairness Act,” it was first introduced on December 5, 2012.

Among the “rights” the bill would have created

  • “The right to rest in a public space in the same manner as any other person without being subject to criminal or civil sanctions, harassment, or arrest by law enforcement, public or private security personnel….because he or she is homeless, as long as that rest does not maliciously or substantially obstruct a passageway.”
  • “The right to decline admittance to a public or private shelter or any other accommodation, including social services programs, for any reason he or she sees fit, without being subject to criminal or civil sanctions, harassment, or arrest from law enforcement, public or private security personnel….”
  • “The right to assistance of counsel if a county chooses to initiate judicial proceedings under any law set forth in Section 53.5….  The county where the citation was issued shall pay the cost of providing counsel….”

  • Every local government and disadvantaged unincorporated community within the state shall have sufficient health and hygiene centers available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for use by homeless people. These facilities may be part of the Neighborhood Health Center Program.”
  • “The right to solicit donations in public spaces in the same manner as any other person without being subject to criminal or civil sanctions, harassment, or arrest by law enforcement, public or private security personnel…because he or she is homeless.”
  • “‘Harassment’ [of DDMBs] means a knowing and willful course of conduct by law enforcement, public or private security personnel…directed at a specific person that a reasonable person would consider as seriously alarming, seriously annoying, seriously tormenting, or seriously terrorizing a person.”

“Seriously alarming” and “seriously annoying” behavior by DDMBs–such as aggressively demanding money from passersby–would, of course, not have been considered illegal.

The bill further stated: “Any person whose rights have been violated under this part may enforce those rights in a civil action.

“The court may award appropriate injunctive and declaratory relief, restitution for loss of property or personal effects and belongings, actual damages, compensatory damages, exemplary damages, statutory damages of one thousand dollars ($1,000) per violation, and reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs to a prevailing plaintiff.”

In short, the aim of the bill was three-fold:

  1. To arm society’s undesirables with the full force of law to demand unearned monies from those who actually work for a living;
  2. To arm them with the right to infest, with their psychotic behavior, drug/alcohol addiction and often disease-carrying belongings, any public place they choose; and
  3. To put hard-working, law-abiding “squares” on the defensive in protecting themselves against the filth, aggressiveness and risk of injury from such DDMBs.

In recent years, several cities concerned about the number of undesirables occupying public spaces have passed local ordinances banning them from sitting and lying on streets and sidewalks.

These include Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, Palo Alto and San Francisco (where it is unenforced).

Ammiano’s bill would have forbidden police from enforcing ordinances regarding resting in public places unless a county has provided sufficient support to such undesirables.

The legislation received little attention from the media.

To fully understand what passage of such legislation would have meant for California, it’s necessary only to look at Ammiano’s own city, San Francisco.

This city:

  • Doles out cash payments to virtually anyone with no residency requirement.
  • Spends $200 million a year on “honeless” services.
  • Has a “homeless” population between 7,000 and 10,000.
  • Of these, 3,000 to 5,000 refuse shelter.

But the true realities of this problem can only be seen at the street level.

One of these realities is Suzie Wong, 66, who goes by the name Ling Ling.  A resident of the Nob Hill District, Wong daily alights from the 27 Bryant bus from the Mission and halts at the nearby bus stop.

There she drops her drawers to leave a yellow or brown deposit on the sidewalk, then heads to her usual spot to panhandle.

Residents have lodged scores of complaints with the city about Wong’s repeated defecations.  The Department of Public Works sent crews to clean up her messes at least 44 times in a six-month period.

Police have repeatedly arrested Wong for a 5150 involuntary psychiatric hold at San Francisco General Hospital.  But doctors usually release her before the cops even get back to the station.

Ammiano’s legislation would have legalized such behavior throughout California.

So the upcoming anniversary of its defeat is well worth celebrating.

THE DOOM OF MEN

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on March 21, 2014 at 12:35 am

In  ”Excalibur,” director John Boorman’s brilliant 1981 telling of the King Arthur legends, Merlin warns Arthur’s knights–and us: “For it is the doom of men that they forget.”

Not so Steven Pressfield, who repeatedly holds up the past as a mirror to our present.  Case in point: His 2006 novel, The Afghan Campaign.

By 2006, Americans had been fighting in Afghanistan for five years.  And today, almost ten years into the same war, there remains no clear end in sight–to our victory or withdrawal.

Pressfield’s novel, although set 2,000 years into the past, has much to teach us about what are soldiers are facing today in that same alien, unforgiving land.

Matthias, a young Greek seeking glory and opportunity, joins the army of Alexander the Great.  But the Persian Empire has fallen, and the days of conventional, set-piece battles–where you can easily tell friend from foe–are over.

Alexander next plans to conquer India, but first he must pacify its gateway–Afghanistan. Here that the Macedonians meet a new–and deadly–kind of enemy.

“Here the foe does not meet us in pitched battle,” warns Alexander. “Even when we defeat him, he will no accept our dominion.

“He comes back again and again. He hates us with a passion whose depth is exceeded only by his patience and his capacity for suffering.”

Matthias learns this early.  In his first raid on an Afghan village, he’s ordered to execute a helpless prisoner.  When he hesitates, he’s brutalized until he strikes out with his sword–and botches the job.

But, soon, exposed to an unending series of atrocities–committed by himself and his comrades,  as  well as the enemy–he finds himself transformed.

And he hates it.  He agonizes over the gap between the ideals he embraced when he became a soldier–and the brutalities that have drained him of everything but a grim determination to survive at any cost.

Pressfield, a former Marine himself, repeatedly contrasts how civilians see war as a kind of “glorious” child’s-play with how soldiers actually experience it.

He creates an extraordinary exchange between Costas, an ancient-world version of a CNN war correspondent, and Lucas, a soldier whose morality is outraged at how Costas and his ilk routinely prettify  the indescribable.

And we know the truth of this exchange immediately. For we know there are doubtless brutalities inflicted by our troops on the enemy–and atrocities inflicted by the enemy upon them–that never make the headlines, let alone the TV cameras.

We also know that, decades  from now, thousands of our former soldiers will carry horrific memories to their graves.

These memories will remain sealed from public view, allowing their fellow but unblooded Americans to sleep peacefully, unaware of  the terrible price that others have paid on their behalf.

Like the Macedonians (who call themselves  ”Macks”), our own soldiers find themselves serving in an all-but-forgotten land among a populace whose values could not be more alien from our own if they came from Mars.

Instincitvely, they turn to one another–not only for physical security but to preserve their last vestiges of humanity. As the war-weary veteran, Lucas, advises:

“Never tell anyone except your mates. Only you don’t need to tell them. They know. They know you.  Better than a man knows his wife, better than he knows himself.

“They’re bound to you and you to them, like wolves  in  a  pack. It’s  not you and them. You are them. The unit is indivisible. One dies, we all die.”

Put conversely: One lives, we all live.

Pressfield has reached into the past to reveal fundamental truths about the present that most of us could probably not accept if contained in a modern-day memoir.

These truths take on an immediate poignancy owing to our own current war in Afghanistan.  But they will remain just as relevant decades from now, when our now-young soldiers are old and retired.

This book has been described as a sequel to Pressfield’s The Virtues of War: A  Novel  of Alexander the Great, which appeared in 2004. But it isn’t.

Virtues showcased the brilliant and luminous (if increasingly dark and explosive) personality of Alexander the Great, whose Bush-like, good-vs.-evil rhetoric inspired men to hurl themselves into countless battles on his behalf.

But Afghan thrusts us directly into the flesh-and-blood realities created by that rhetoric: The horrors of men traumatized by an often unseen but always menacing enemy, and the horrors they must inflict in return if they are to survive in a hostile and alien world.

DA PLANE! DA PLANE!

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 20, 2014 at 12:35 am

On March 8,  2014, Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 took off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport for Beijing Capital International Airport.

Less than an hour after taking off, the boeing 777-200ER last made contact with an air traffic control tower–and then vanished.

With it vanished 227 passengers–the majority of them Chinese–and a crew of 12.

By March 18, 26 nations were participating in the search.

Not since the 1937 disappearance of aviatrix Amelia Earhart has the disappearance of a single plane triggered such an international frenzy.

And that frenzy extends to the media coverage given it–especially on CNN.

Since its disappearance on March 8, Flight 370 has been the preeminent story on CNN.

With no telltale wreckage or even an oil slick to indicate the plane’s fate, CNN has been forced to make do with maps and “talking heads” speculation.

And to keep audiences attuned while there is no actual news to report, CNN has been forced to rely on a steady stream of “BREAKING NEWS” headlines.

And then what follows is more “talking heads” offering more speculation.

On March 16, CNN anchor Don Lemon and Brad Meltzer, host of Brad Meltzer Decoded, raised the possibility of “the supernatural” as responsible for the disappearance.

Lemon used a toy plane to demonstrate a series of turns and dives before simulating a landing on his anchor desk.

 Don Lemon with his toy plane

“We go to church, the supernatural power of God,” said Lemon.  “People are saying to me, ‘Why aren’t you talking about the possibility?’

“And I’m just putting it out there–that something odd happened to this plane, something beyond our understanding.”

And Meltzer responded: “People roll their eyes at conspiracy theories, but what conspiracy theories do is they ask the hardest, most outrageous questions sometimes, but every once in a while they’re right.

“You can say, ‘Oh, it crashed into the ocean.  But where are the parts? Where are the pieces? Why did it keep going for seven hours?”

This, in turn, has had both a positive and a negative effect.

On the positive side: CNN–which has found itself struggling in the ratings war against Fox News and MSNBC–has seen its ratings surge.

Over the weekend of March 15-16, CNN’s ratings soared, rising by almost 100% in prime time.

On the negative side: CNN’s “All-Vanished-Plane/All-the-Time” coverage has annoyed and angered many other viewers–including some prominent ones.

One of these is Bill O’Reilly, host of Fox News program The OReilly Factor.

“When I’m watching this, I’m like throwing–I’m upset about it,” he said on March 18.   “I know it’s ratings obviously or people wanna watch the mystery, but it’s now corrupting the news business I think.”

Charles Krauthammer, the conservative columnist, replied: What bothered him was that networks were treating the tragedy as “a game, when actually it was a terrible, terrible event.”

“There comes a point where it becomes a burlesque show, it becomes a farce and we’ve reached that point on this coverage,” O’Reilly said.

“When does Godzilla come in? And on another network they actually said aliens might’ve taken it. They actually said that on the air!”

As a result, there are three journalistic truths that CNN can–and should–take to heart:

  1. Breaking News!” means “news that is happening right now.” It does not mean “news that happened last week but we just found out about it today.”  Nor does it mean speculation about events that still remain a mystery.
  2. It is possible to broadcast more than one news story in a 24-hour period. The disappearance of the Malaysian plane does raise troubling questions about aviation safety. But there are other events going on in the world. And some of them are–surprise!–even more important.
  3. When you don’t have any actual news to report on a particular story, just say so and move on to another story where you do have news. Putting a half-dozen “talking heads” around a table to endlessly speculate about what might have happened isn’t the same as actually reporting the news.

There’s nothing wrong with a network’s sticking with a story as long as (1) it’s truly important, and (2) it’s actually ongoing.

The classic example of this: When, in August, 1991, the KGB and other Right-wingers overthrew Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary of the Soviet Union.

Closely following this story–for reporters and viewers–made sense: The Soviet Union commanded enough nuclear weaponry to destroy the United States.

Boris Yeltsin, President of the Russian Federation, denounces the KGB coup

So it truly mattered whether Gorbachev–a moderate reformer–remained in power or was replaced by a KGB-sponsored coup.

Fortunately–for Gorbachev and the West–he was returned to power and Communism collapsed.

Watching on TV as Russians throw off the yoke of 70 years of Red slavery was like watching the fall of the Roman Empire.

This was a truly monumental and historical event.   And those who lived through it as spectators could be grateful to CNN and other networks for their ongoing coverage.

But the disappearance of a single Malaysian plane doesn’t fit into these categories.  Even if it proves monumentally good for CNN’s ratings.

“DR. STRANGELOVE” LIVES: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on March 19, 2014 at 12:21 am

He’s the man who sends a nuclear bomber wing off to attack the Soviet Union–thus triggering all-out thermonuclear war between the U.S.S.R and America.

Sterling Hayden as General Jack D. Ripper

While others feel he has clearly gone insane, Ripper is certain he’s done the right thing–and for the right reason: To stop “the most monstrously conceived and dangerous Communist plot” of all: Fluoridation.

And Ripper has assigned himself the task of saving “our precious bodily fluids”–although the result can only be universal destruction.

Fortunately, Ripper is only a fictitious character–played by Sterling Hayden in Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1964 dark comedy, “Dr. Strangelove.”

But America has had its share of irrational behavior among its Presidents.

RICHARD NIXON: In 1970, while deciding whether to widen the Vietnam war by invading Cambodia, he repeatedly watched the movie “Patton.”

Richard Nixon

In 1974, as journalistic and Justice Department investigations of Watergate increasingly threatened his Presidency, his behavior grew increasingly erratic.

He drank heavily, took pills by the handful, and, on at least one occasion, was seen talking to pictures of Presidents that adorned the walls of the White House.

In the final weeks of his administration, as impeachment for Watergate abuses seemed inevitable, Nixon inspired fears of a military coup in his Secretary of Defense.

James Schlesinger warned all military commands to ignore any direct orders from the White House–or any other source–without the counter-signature of the SecDef himself.

* * * * *

GEORGE W. BUSH:  In June, 2001, he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Slovenia.  Bush judged others–even world leaders–through the lens of his own fundamentalist Christian theology.

And Putin was quick to take advantage of it.

Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush

BUSH:  Let me say something about what caught my attention, Mr. President, was that your mother gave you a cross which you had blessed in Israel, the Holy Land.

PUTIN:  It’s true.

BUSH:  That amazes me, that here you were a Communist, KGB operative, and yet you were willing to wear a cross.  That speaks volumes to me, Mr. President.  May I call you Vladimir?

Falling back on his KGB training, Putin seized on this apparent point of commonality to build a bond.  He told Bush that his dacha had once burned to the ground, and the only item that had been saved was that cross.

BUSH:  Well, that’s the story of the cross as far as I’m concerned.  Things are meant to be.

Afterward, Bush and Putin gave an outdoor news conference.

“Is this a man that Americans can trust?” Associated Press correspondent Ron Fournier asked Bush.

“Yes,” said Bush. “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue.

“I was able to get a sense of his soul, a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.  I wouldn’t have invited him to my ranch if I didn’t trust him.”

In early 2003, Bush telephoned French President Jaques Chirac, hoping to enlist his support–and troops–for his long-planned invasion of Iraq.

Failing to convince Chirac that overthrowing Saddam Hussein was politically advantageous, Bush took a different tack.

BUSH: Jaques, you and I share a common faith.  You’re Roman Catholic, I’m Methodist, but we’re both Christians committed to the teachings of the Bible.  We share one common Lord.

Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East.  Biblical prophecies are being fulfilled.

This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase His people’s enemies before a new age begins.

When the call ended, Chirac asked his advisors: “Gog and Magog–do any of you know what he’s talking about?”

When no one did, Chirac ordered: Find out.

The answer came from Thomas Roemer, a professor of theology at the University of Lausanne.

Romer explained that the Old Testament book of Ezekiel contains two chapters (38 and 39) in which God rages against Gog and Magog, sinister and mysterious forces menacing Israel.

Jehovah vows to slaughter them ruthlessly. In the New Testament book of Revelation (20:8) Gog and Magog are depicted as gathering nations for battle: “And fire came down from God out of Heaven, and devoured them.”

Chirac decided to oppose joining the upcoming invasion of Iraq.  France, he said, would not fight a war based on an American Presient’s interpretation of the Bible.

The incident is chronicled in 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars, by investigative journalist Kurt Eichenwald.

Click here: 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars: Kurt Eichenwald

Bush’s war cost the lives of 4,486 Americans–and an estimated 655,000 Iraqis.

Bush, however, was not the first President to invoke Gog and Magog.

Ronald Reagan predicted that this Biblical confrontation would pit the United States against the Soviet Union–which had abandoned God at the time of the Russian Revolution.

Evangelical Christians twice elected Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush to the Presidency.

In light of this, voters should think carefully before choosing candidates who accept superstitious beliefs over rational inquiry.

“DR. STRANGELOVE” LIVES: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on March 18, 2014 at 12:15 am

In December, 1916, a group of outraged aristocrats, led by Prince Felix Yusspov, one of the wealthiest men in Russia, decided to take action.

They would murder Grigori Rasputin and–they believed–save the Czar from his corrupting influence.

On the night of December 29, 1916, Yusspov lured Rasputin to his estate on the pretext of meeting his lovely wife, Irina.

While Rasputin waited eagerly to meet the princess, Yusspov plied him with cakes and glasses of wine–all poisoned with potassium cyanide.  When these had no effect, Yusspov drew a revolver and shot him in the back.

Shortly afterward, Rasputin, with superhuman strength, tried to escape from the palace.  The rest of the assassins shot him several more times, wrapped his body in chains, and dumped it into an icy river.

The conspirators were hailed as heroes by the outraged aristocracy.  They believed that Rasputin’s death would ensure the salvation of the monarchy.

But it didn’t.  The notoriety of Rasputin’s life had by now fully attached itself to Nicholas and Alexandra.

In February, 1917, food riots broke out in St. Petersburg, and the Czar was forced to abdicate.   On July 17, 1916, he and his family–including Alexandra, their four daughters and Alexei–were executed by the Bolsheviks.

Click here: Nicholas and Alexandra: Robert K. Massie: 9780345438317: Amazon.com: Books

But Nicholas II was not the only world leader who placed his faith in the supernatural.

A modern-day example of this was Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States from 1981 to 1989.

Ronald Reagan

Nancy Reagan met an astrologer named Joan Quigley on “The Merv Griffin Show” in 1973.

Quigley supposedly gave Nancy–and through her, Reagan himself–astrological advice during the latter’s campaign for the Republican Presidential nomination in 1976.

That effort failed to unseat President Gerald Ford–who was defeated that November by Jimmy Carter.

Four years later, in 1980, Reagan defeated Carter to become the 40th President of the United States.

On March 30, 1981, a mentally-disturbed loner named John W. Hinckley shot and critically wounded Reagan.  Hinckley’s motive: Fixiated on actress Jodie Foster, he believed that by shooting the President he could gain her affection.

For Nancy, the assassination attempt proved a watershed.

Shortly after the shooting, Merv Griffin told her that Quigley had told him: If Nancy had called her on that fateful day, she–Quigley–could have warned that the President’s astrological charts had foretold a bad day.

From that moment on, Nancy made sure to regularly consult Quigley on virtually everything that she and the President intended to do.

Click here: The President’s Astrologers – Joan Quigley, Nancy Reagan, Politicians and Their Families, Ronald Reagan : People.c

Many–if not most–of these calls from the White House to Quigley’s office in San Francisco were made on non-secure phone lines.

Joan Quigley

This meant that foreign powers–most notably the Soviet Union and Communist China–could have been privy to Reagan’s intentions.

Nancy passed on Quigley’s suggestions in the form of commands to Donald Regan, chief of the White House staff.

As a result, Regan kept a color-coded calendar on his desk to remember when the astrological signs were good for the President to speak, travel, or negotiate with foreign leaders.

Green ink was used to highlight “good” days, red for “bad” days, and yellow for “iffy” days.

A list provided by Quigley to Nancy made the following recommendations–which Nancy, in turn, made into commands:

Late Dec thru March    bad
Jan 16 – 23    very bad
Jan 20    nothing outside WH–possible attempt
Feb 20 – 26    be careful
March 7 – 14    bad period
March 10 – 14    no outside activity!
March 16    very bad
March 21    no
March 27    no
March 12 – 19    no trips exposure
March 19 – 25    no public exposure
April 3    careful
April 11    careful
April 17    careful
April 21 – 28    stay home

Donald Regan, no fan of Nancy’s, chafed under such restrictions: “Obviously, this list of dangerous or forbidden dates left very little lattitude for scheduling,” he later wrote.

Forced out of the White House in 1987 by Nancy, Regan struck back in a 1988 tell-all memoir: For the Record: From Wall Street to Washington.

The book revealed, for the first time, how Ronald Reagan actually made his Presidential decisions.

All–including decisions to risk nuclear war with the Soviet Union–were based on a court astrologer’s horoscopes.  Rationality and the best military intelligence available played a lesser, secondary role.

In 1990, Quigley confirmed the allegations an autobiography, What Does Joan Say?: My Seven Years As White House Astrologer to Nancy and Ronald Reagan.

Click here: What Does Joan Say?: My Seven Years As White House Astrologer to Nancy and Ronald Reagan: Joan Quigley

The title came from the question that Ronald Reagan asked Nancy before making important decisions–including those that could risk the destruction of the United States.

Among the success Quigley took credit for:

  • Strategies for winning the Presidential elections of 1980 and 1984;
  • Visiting a graveyard for SS soldiers in Bitburg, Germany;
  • Pursuing “Star Wars” as a major part of his strategy against the Soviet Union;
  • The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty; and
  • Moving from seeing the Soviet Union as the “Evil Empire” to accepting Mikhail Gorbachev as a peace-seeking leader.

Thirty-three years after he became President, Ronald Reagan remains the most popular figure among Republicans.

His name is constantly invoked by Right-wing candidates, while his deliberately-crafted myth is held up as the example of Presidential greatness.

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