Archive for February, 2012|Monthly archive page


In Bureaucracy, Law Enforcement on February 29, 2012 at 12:30 am

First, the good news: The Pentagon, a past target of Al Qaeda terrArabism, is still open for public tours.

Americans can still observe–if only during a limited, guided tour–how the men and women of the United States military “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Now, the bad news:  Some of the security measures at the Pentagon are as absurd as those found at most local, State and Federal buildings.

Consider this memo from the Public Affairs Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, dated February 2, 2012:

MEMORANDUM FOR Tour Requestors

FROM:  Pentagon Tour Office

SUBJECT:  Security Measures

The following guidelines must be adhered to when taking a tour of the Pentagon to ensure everyone’s safety and security.

  1. Tour groups should arrive 30 minutes prior to your scheduled tour to provide enough time to be cleared through Pentagon security.  Have your confirmation letter available to show the Pentagon Police upon arrival at the Pentagon’s Metro entrance.  Once cleared, groups will check in at the Pentagon Tours window located inside the visitor’s center 15 minutes before the scheduled tour start time.  Groups that fail to check-in at the scheduled time will have their tour cancelled.
  2. Persons participating in a Pentagon Tour will not be allowed to bring weapons of any sort (i.e. guns, knives, box cutter, mace, pepper spray, etc.) or inside the building: weapons of any sort or large bags (i.e. knapsacks, camera bags, backpacks and shopping bags, etc.) into the Pentagon.  Purses are permitted but are subject to search if brought into the Pentagon.
  3. Electronic devices such as cellular telephones, mobile e-mail and smartphone devices (Blackberry, iPhone), cameras (still, digital or video), PDAs, laptop and tablet computers, and tobacco products may not be used while participating in a Pentagon Tour.  Additionally, eating and drinking are prohibited while on the tour.  You are encouraged to not bring these items inside the building as it will slow processing into the building.
  4. Proper personal identification (ID) must be produced when requested by Pentagon Police prior to entering the Pentagon as follows.

–        Ages 12 and under – ID not required.

–        Ages 13 to 17 – One form of photo ID or a parent/guardian to vouch for them.

–        Ages 18 and up – Two forms of ID: one form must be a government issued photo ID, the other may be a credit/debit card, U.S. passport, birth certificate, or another item with the individual’s name printed on it, excluding business cards.

Please contact Pentagon Force Protection Agency directly at (703) 697-1001 if you have questions regarding what constitutes acceptable forms of ID.


Director, Pentagon Tour Program

* * * * *

OK, let’s examine these requirements one-by-one.

Number One: “Tour groups should arrive 30 minutes prior to your scheduled tour to provide enough time to be cleared through Pentagon security.  Have your confirmation letter available to show the Pentagon Police upon arrival at the Pentagon’s Metro entrance.”

This makes sense, becuse it takes time for people to go through metal detectors and show various forms of ID to security guards.

Number Two: “Persons participating in a Pentagon Tour will not be allowed to bring weapons of any sort….into the Pentagon.”

Again, this is just basic common sense.  The military have more than enough weapons of their own–and they want to be certain that only they have access to them.  And having been the targets of a massive terrArabist attack on 9/11, those who work at the Pentagon don’t want to risk being the targets of smaller attacks, either.

Number Three: “Electronic devices….and tobacco products may not be used while participating in a Pentagon Tour.  Additionally, eating and drinking are prohibited while on the tour.”

Once again, this is intelligent security.  The Pentagon is crammed with sophisticated electronic equipment–much of it for keeping track of United States military forces positioned throughout the world.  Its officials don’t want any of this–nor the faces of those who work there–captured on cameras.   The same holds true for cell phones and computers.

As for banning eating, drinking and using tobacco products: The Pentagon is the world’s largest office building by floor area, with about 6,500,000 sq ft.  This translates into about 600,000 miles, of which  3,700,000 sq ft (340,000 miles) are used as offices.  About 23,000 military and civilian employees and 3,000 non-defense support personnel work in the Pentagon.

So it makes sense to not have people scattering pieces of their various sandwiches, candies, potato chips and other snacks all over the building.  That’s why the Pentagon has over 20 of its own fast food operations, including Subway, McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Panda Express and Starbucks–for its employees.

And even though grizzled officers still order their men to “smoke ’em if you got ’em”–that’s only in old movies.  The Pentagon–like all other Federal buildings–is off-limits to smokers.

Having reached the limits of intelligent security, we will next explore its opposite.


In Bureaucracy, History, Politics on February 28, 2012 at 12:18 am

Once again, Washington politicians are wringing their hands in public.

The reason: A civil war is raging in Syria.

United Nations officials estimate that 6,000 people have died there since protests demanding political reforms and the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad began nearly a year ago.

But that’s not what worries these pillars of the Washington elite.

Here’s what does: TV reporters from ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and other networks are eagerly training their cameras on the carnage.

As they say in television journalism: “If it bleeds, it leads.”

And this, in turn, causes members of Congress and the Obama administration to fear for their jobs. They dread that voters will blame them for not “doing something” to end the fighting.

Like sending in American armed forces to somehow stop it.

True, most of these officials never spent a day in military service. But it’s always easier to send someone else into combat than to take that risk yourself.

Actually, they need not fear for their jobs.

A CNN/ORC/International poll released on February 14 revealed that 73% of Americans believe the United States has no obligation to respond to the Syrian unrest. Only 25% believe it does.

Still, there are better reasons than public opinion–always a fickle commodity–for staying well out of Syria. Among these:

First, the United States just disengaged from Iraq. On Dec. 15, 2011, the American military formally ended its mission there. The war–begun in 2003–had cost the lives of 4,487 service members, with another 32,226 wounded.

Second, the war in Iraq fell victim to the law of unintended consequences. The Bush administration invaded Iraq to turn it into a base–from which to intimidate its neighboring states: Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey, Syria and Iran.

But this demanded that the United States quickly pacify Iraq. The Iraqi insurgency totally undermined that goal, forcing U.S. troops to focus all their efforts inward.

Another unintended result of the war: Whereas Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had been a counter-weight to the regional ambitions of Iran, the destruction of the Iraqi military created a power-vacumn. Into this–eagerly–stepped the Iranian mullahs.

Third, the United States is still fighting a brutal war in Afghanistan. By early 2012, the United States had about 90,000 troops in Afghanistan, with 22,000 of them due home by the fall. There has been no schedule set for the pace of the withdrawal of the 68,000 American troops who will remain, only that all are to be out by the end of 2014.

The initial goal of this war was to destroy Al Qaeda–especially its leader, Osama Bin Laden–and its Taliban protectors. But, over time, Washington policy-makers embarked on a “nation-building” effort.

So the American military didn’t wrap up its campaign as quickly as possible and then leave the country to its own devices. Instead, U.S. forces wound up occupying the country for the next ten years.

This increasingly brought them into conflict with primitive, xenophobic Afghans, whose mindset remains that of the sixth century.

On February 21, protests erupted throughout Afghanistan as accounts emerged that NATO personnel at Bagram Air Base had burned copies of the Koran. The books had been confiscated from suspected insurgents and inadvertently marked for incineration.

The incident sparked rabid anti-American demonstrations. At least 30 people, including four American troops, were killed, and many were wounded. Two American military officers were murdered by a trusted member of the Afghan military.

As a result, American forces no longer trust their “brothers” in the Afghan army to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them against the Taliban. One American officer stated that he would no longer meet with his Afghan counterparts unless there were five armed U.S. troops in the same room.

Fourth, intervening in Syria could produce similar unintended consequences for American forces–and make the United States a target for more islamic terrorism.

Fifth, since 1979, Syria has been listed by the U.S. State Department as a sponsor of terrorism. Among the terrorist groups it supports are Hezbollah and Hamas. For many years, Syria provided a safe-house in Damascus to Ilich Ramírez Sánchez–the notorious terrorist better known as Carlos the Jackal.

Sixth, according to U.S. defense reports, Syria has weapons of mass destruction–and the ballistic missiles to deliver them. Syria has an active chemical weapons program, including significant reserves of the deadly nerve agent sarin.

Seventh, the United States had no part in instigating revolt against the Assad regime. Thus, Americans have no obligation to support those Syrians now trying to overthrow it.

Eighth, 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.

Ninth, 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.

All of this adds up to one, overwhelming conclusion: America should mind its own business–and let the Syrians attend to their own.


In History, Politics, Social commentary on February 22, 2012 at 1:00 am

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

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, 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.

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

“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.


In History, Law Enforcement, Politics on February 21, 2012 at 1:30 am

There is a famous joke about racial profiling that’s long made the rounds of the Internet.  It appears in the guise of a “history test,” and offers such multiple-choice questions as:

In 1972 at the Munich Olympics, athletes were kidnapped and massacred by:

  • Olga Corbett
  • Sitting Bull
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

In 1979, the US embassy in Iran was taken over by:

  • Lost Norwegians
  • Elvis
  • A tour bus full of 80-year-old women
  • Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

During the 1980s a number of Americans were kidnapped in Lebanon by:

  • John Dillinger
  • The King of Sweden
  • The Boy Scouts
  • Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

In 1983, the US Marine barracks in Beirut was blown up by:

  • A pizza delivery boy
  • Pee Wee Herman
  • Geraldo Rivera
  • Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

On September 11, 2001, four airliners were hijacked.  Two were used as missiles to take out the World Trade Center; one crashed into the Pentagon; and the other was diverted and crashed by the passengers. Thousands of people were killed by:

  • Bugs Bunny, Wiley E. Coyote, Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd
  • The Supreme Court of Florida
  • Mr. Bean
  • Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

It’s well to remember the bitter truth behind this joke, especially in light of the latest headline:

On February 17, the FBI and Capitol police arrested a man who intended to carry out a suicide bombing at the U.S. Capitol as part of a larger al-Qaida terror campaign.

Amine El Khalifi, 29, a Moroccan who had lived in the United States for 12 years, was arrested near the Capitol after he received what he thought was a MAC-10 automatic weapon and a vest packed with explosives.

The “Al Qaeda terrorists” who provided these items were actually FBI undercover agents.  The gun was disabled and the vest had inert material.

And now the NYPD’s Intelligence Unit, tasked with preventing another 9/11 in America’s Number One target city, finds itself facing a possible civil rights lawsuit.

On February 18, the Associated Press (AP) broke the news that the New York Police Department (NYPD) has monitored Muslim college students far more broadly than previously known.

According to the AP, the NYPD conducted surveillance at schools far removed from New York.  These included Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Detectives daily tracked Muslim student websites and recorded the names of professors and students.

The NYPD, with CIA help, has monitored Muslims where they eat, shop and worship.  The NYPD has placed undercover officers at Muslim student associations in colleges within New York City.

The United States is locked in deadly combat with Islamic “holy warriors” around the world–including those within its own borders.

To put this act of treachery into historical context, imagine the New York Times leaking the exact timetable for the D-Day invasion to agents of Nazi Germany.

And America’s enemies are not just willing but eager to make use of that information–legally and illegally.

“I see a violation of civil rights here,” said Tanweer Haq, chaplain of the Muslim Student Association at Syracuse, upon learning of the AP’s revelations.

“Nobody wants to be on the list of the FBI or the NYPD or whatever. Muslim students want to have their own lives, their own privacy and enjoy the same freedoms and opportunities that everybody else has.”

That’s true.  But no other nationality has so often attacked Americans within the last 30 years–nor continues to pose so great a threat to the country.

In one NYPD operation, an undercover officer accompanied 18 Muslim City College students on a whitewater rafting trip in upstate New York.  He noted the names of those who were officers of the Muslim Student Association.

Jawad Rasul, one of the students on the trip, was stunned when he learned that his name was included in the police report.

“It forces me to look around wherever I am now,” Rasul said.

So now he knows how Americans feel when they spot Muslims wearing chadors that hide their faces from view, or even burqas that cover their entire bodies (and any explosive devices they might be carryinig).

Don’t laugh–or sneer: Al Qaeda has used exactly that tactic repeatedly–and successfully–against Afghan military forces.

Osama bin Laden was forced to spend his last years in a Pakistani house watching movies on TV.  But that didn’t stop him from continuing to plot further acts of destruction against “infidel Crusaders.”

Among the plots he sought to unleash was the assassination of President Barack Obama.

It was simply America’s good fortune that the Navy SEALS got him first.


In Politics, Social commentary on February 20, 2012 at 12:24 pm

A two-time “Teacher of the Year” in Arlington, Texas, is now fighting to keep her job.

Her crime: Telling a disruptive Hispanic student: “Go back to Mexico.”

Shirley Bunn has spent 24 years as a teacher.  But her career as a math instructor at Barnett Junior High School could end with what she called a moment of frustration.

On September 30, she was distributing Title 1 forms to her eighth-grade students.

That was when a student who had a history of being disruptive repeatedly demanded a form printed in Spanish: “I’m Mexican, I’m Mexican.”

Bunn tried to tell him that he could get the forms in the office.

Instead, he continued arguing with her and loudly repeaing, “I’m Mexican.”

“Then go back to Mexico,” replied Bunn.

The school board placed Bunn on paid leave, until an independent hearing examiner could review the case.

“It was a very, very hard week, the end of six weeks,” Bunn, 63, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.  “It was late in the day. It was a Friday.

“We were on the third day of the first curriculum assessment and I knew it wasn’t going well. It was just an extremely bad day,” Bunn said.

Bunn had previously had problems with a disruptive group of Mexican boys in her class.

An independent hearing examiner recommended that the district reinstate Bunn.  He cited her student approval, two “Teacher of the Year” awards, excellent appraisals and volunteer efforts with a Hispanic heritage organization.

The school board is expected to decide Bunn’s fate before March.

Could this have happened in Mexico?  Hardly.

First, let’s consider the matter of nationality.

Is this student an American citizen?  If he isn’t, then he shouldn’t even be in the United States.

Because if he was an American citizen living illegally in Mexico, the Mexicans wouldn’t hesitate to kick him out.

Mexico has a tough, streamlined law that ensures that foreign visitors and immigrants are:

• in the country legally;
• have the means to sustain themselves economically;
• not destined to be burdens on society;
• of economic and social benefit to society;
• of good character and have no criminal records; and
• contributors to the general well-being of the nation.

The law also ensures that:

• immigration authorities have a record of each foreign visitor;
• foreign visitors do not violate their visa status;
• foreign visitors are banned from interfering in the country’s internal politics;
• foreign visitors who enter under false pretenses are imprisoned or deported;
• foreign visitors violating the terms of their entry are imprisoned or deported;
• those who aid in illegal immigration will be sent to prison.

Next, let’s look at the student’s demand for a Spanish-printed form.

Again, in Mexico, that simply wouldn’t happen.  In fact, it couldn’t happen.

Because Mexico has only one officially recognized language–and that’s Spanish.  And the country doesn’t print out forms in any other language.

As the Mexican Government sees it: If you can’t hack it in Spanish, then go back to where you can speak the language.

But, in the United States, there’s a different standard–of catering to the demands of every uninvited visitor.  And even of those visitors who deliberately, systematically vi0late our immigration laws.

Third, let’s look at the student’s known history as disruptive.

Why should one trouble-making student be allowed to disrupt the lives of those students who come to school to actually learn?  Why should a teacher–or, more likely, many teachers–be expected to put up with a mouthy teen punk?

Certainly, in Mexico, such misbehavior would not be tolerated:

  • In Mexican schools, parents do not question the role of the teacher and school in giving their children a fundamental education. 
  • The teacher stands and teaches; students sit and learn.
  • Calling your teacher by his or her first name–as is common in American schools–is unthinkable.
  • Students are addressed as Joven (Youth), followed by their name.  This gives them a title–and denotes their inexperience, which puts the onus on them to gain experience.
  • How a student acts reflects not only upon him but his family.
  • Teachers don’t hesitate to make students aware of what is expected of them–and what is not expected.

A favorite way ot doing this is to call a student before the class and ask his fellow pupils, “What is wrong with this picture?”

Typical student answers:

“He doesn’t wash his hair.”

“He doesn’t study enough.”

“She cheated on a test last week.”

It’s embarrassing to have your peers air out your dirty laundry.  But it’s also highly effective.

In deciding the fate of two-time “Teacher of the Year” Shirley Bunn, the school board can do more than reinstate her.

It can demand that its students–including the Mexican ones–show respect for their teachers and fellow students.

The way they’re required to in Mexico.


In Social commentary, Uncategorized on February 16, 2012 at 12:30 am

Ever since Whtney Houston died on February 11 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, reporters and commentators have repeatedly used the word “tragedy” to describe her fate.

But there are tragedies that are brought on by events beyond human control–and tragedies that are self-inflicted.


You’re Julie Andrews, whose four-octave soprano voice has delighted audiences for decades on Broadway (Camelot, My Fair Lady) and movies (Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music).

In 1997, you undergo surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center to remove non-cancerous nodules in your throat. The nodules are removed–but so is your ability to sing.

Your husband, Blake Edwards, is widely quoted as saying that your voice has been all but ruined: ”If you heard it, you’d weep.”

You’re Whitney Houston, blessed with beauty, charm and a golden, intense singing voice that can turn even the almost-unsingable “Star Spangled Banner” into a rousing anthem.

You become a beloved, internationally-recognized vocalist. This brings  you even greater fame and wealth as a movie star (The Bodyguard, Waiting to Exhale).

Meanwhile, you take on increasingly deadly habits. You chain-smoke cigarettes. You smoke marijuana–“a lot.” You dive into alcohol, pills, cocaine. You admit as much during a 2002 interview with Diane Sawyer.

You deny using crack–not because it’s lethal, or because it will destroy The Voice that you believe is God’s gift to you. No, the reason you give pulses with ego:

“Crack is cheap. I make too much money to ever smoke crack. Let’s get that straight. OK? We don’t do crack. We don’t do that. Crack is whack.”

Nevertheless, reports continue to emerge that you’re a hard-core crackhead.

In 2006, the National Enquirer runs an interview with your sister-in-law, Tina, who charges that you spend your days locked in your bedroom “smoking crack, using sex toys to satisfy herself and ignoring personal hygiene.”

Then, in 2009, appearing on Oprah Winfrey’s season premiere, you finally admit that you used drugs with your ex-husband, Bobby Brown, who “laced marijuana with rock cocaine.”  In other words, crack.

Over time, the once-magnificent instrument that is your voice starts to change noticeably. You can no longer hit those high notes, or hold one the way you did in your immortal hit, “I Will Always Love You.”

Your voice now sounds hoarse, raspy.

In 2010, you embark on a “Nothing But Love World Tour.” It’s a disaster. In Brisbane, you pause during singing to take a drink of water.

A critic says your performance in London was marked by a strained voice filled with coughs and wheezes.

Fans feel cheated–especially after paying $165 for a ticket–and react with jeers and boos.  Some walk out in mid-concert.

On the night before your death, you become belligerent and almost duke it out with singer Stacy Francis at the Tru Hollywood nightclub. Your boyfriend, Ray J, has to step in to prevent a fistfight.

You’re seen leaving the club drunk, with scratches and blood-stains on your legs.

* * * * *

Whose tragedy was the predictable–and preventable–one?

The ugly truth is that Houston’s singing career ended long before her life did.

When people remember her monumental hits like “I Will Always Love You,” they’re recalling a time more than 20 years ago.

Another ugly truth is that each of us is responsible for our own actions.

Attorney and talk-show host Nancy Grace recently blamed Houston’s doctors for her death.  She argued that they had kept writing prescriptions for “America’s songbird” when they knew she was an addict.

But Houston was the one who requested that they write those prescriptions.  And she was the one who administered them.

The same chain of events occurred in the Michael Jackson case.

Jackson wanted his drug-of-choice: propofol, a hypnotic sedative used for general anesthesia.  And he got it.

He paid his private doctor, Conrad Murray, $150,000-a-month.  For a salary that large, Jackson clearly expected to get more than the standard: “Take two aspirins and call me in the morning.”

So he got what he wanted–and it killed him.

Houston, for all her charm, was also used to getting her own way.  Once. on an airplane, she tried to light up in the bathroom.  When the pilot warned that she could be fined $2,000, she offered to write out a check that moment if she could have her smoke.  The pilot refused.

No matter how famous, talented, beautiful and/or wealthy you might be, in the end, you remain a mere mortal.  Even if you are allowed to flout the laws of man, you will be held accountable by your own body for bouts of deadly excess.

That, in the end, is the real legacy of Whitney Houston.  And Michael Jackson.  And Elvis Presley.  And Marilyn Monroe.  And a great many other now-dead celebrities.

Sadly, it is a truth that both celebrities and their worshippers must re-learn–over and over.


In Business, History, Law Enforcement, Politics on February 15, 2012 at 12:07 am

Drug-testing welfare recipients has become the new mantra for Republicans.

Some bills have even targeted people who seek unemployment insurance and food stamps, despite scanty evidence that the poor and jobless are disproportionately on drugs.

But no matter.  The “cause” meets several needs for the right-wingers who support it:

  • It gives them a new “devil” to rally their constituents against.
  • It creates yet another divisive “wedge-issue” for election-time.
  • It diverts attention from legitimate problems facing the country–such as a tax-code that forces the poor and middle-class to pay higher taxes than the ultra-rich. 

Republicans claim they want to drug-test welfare recipients for two reasons:

  1. They want to “help” the poor by making sure they’re not messing up their lives with illegal drugs.
  2. They want to protect the “poor, oppressed taxpayer” from “unworthy” welfare recipients.

The concept of background screening is actually sound.  But Republicans are aiming it at the wrong end of the economic spectrum.

Since 2008, the government has handed out billions of dollars in bailouts to the wealthiest corporations in the country.  The reason: To rescue the economy from the calamity produced by the criminal greed and recklessness of those same corporations.

Harvard researcher Hans Breiter has found, via magnetic resonance imaging studies, that the craving for money activates the same regions of the brain as does the lust for sex, cocaine or any other pleasure-inducer.

And unless this craving is reigned in by external controls–such as ever-vigilant regulation–its addictive nature will leave catastrophe in its wake.

In 2008, Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, testified before Congress about the origins of the Wall Street “meltdown.”  He admitted that he was “shocked” at the breakdown in U.S. credit markets and said he was “partially” wrong to resist regulation of some securities.

“Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholder’s equity–myself especially–are in a state of shocked disbelief,” said Greenspan, who had ruled the Fed from 1987 to 2006.

As a disciple of the right-wing philosopher, Ayan Rand, Greenspan had fiercely held to her belief that “The Market” was a divine institution.  As such, “it” alone knew what was best for the nation’s economic prosperity.

“Enlightened self-interest,” he believed, would guarantee that those who dedicated their lives to making money would not allow mere greed to steer them–and the country–into disaster.

As he saw it, any attempt to regulate greed-based appetites could only harm that divine institution.

Greenspan proved wrong.  And the nation will be literally paying for such misguided confidence in profit-addicted men for decades to come.

So if Republicans want to protect the “poor, oppressed taxpayer,” they should demand background investigations for those whose addiction truly threatens the economic future of this country.

That is–the men (and occasionally women) who run the nation’s most important financial institutions, such as banks, insurance and mortgage companies.

Thus, in the future, all CEOs–and their topmost executives–of financial institutions seeking Federal bailouts should be required to:

  • Undergo “full field investigations” by the FBI and IRS.
  • Submit full financial disclosure forms concerning not only themselves but all members of their immediate families.
  • Be subject to Federal prosecution for perjury if they provide false information or conceal evidence of criminal violations.
  • Periodically submit themselves for additional background investigation. 
  • Be subject to arrest, indictment and prosecution if the background investigation turns up evidence of criminal activity.

In addition:

  • If a bailout-seeking financial institution refuses to comply with these criteria, it should be refused the loan.
  • If a CEO and/or other top officials are judged ineligible for a loan, the company should be asked to replace those executives with others who might qualify.
  • Those alternative executives should be subject to the same background investigation requirements as just outlined.
  • If the institution refuses to replace those executives found ineligible, the Government should refuse the loan.
  • If the Government is forced to take over a troubled financial institution, its CEO and top executives should be replaced with applicants who have passed the required security screening.

The United States has a long and embarrassing history in worshipping wealth for its own sake.  Part of this can be traced to the old Calvinistic doctrine that wealth is a proof of salvation, since it shows evidence of God’s favor.

Another reason for this worship of mammon is the belief that someone who is wealthy is automatically endowed with wisdom and integrity.

Following these beliefs to their ultimate conclusion will transform the United States into a plutocracy–a government of the wealthy, by the wealthy, for the wealthy.

Every day we see fresh evidence of the destruction wrought by the unchecked greed of wealthy, powerful men.

When they–and their bought-off shills in Congress–demand, “De-regulate business,” it’s essential to remember what this really means.

It means: “Let criminals be criminals.”


In Business, History, Politics on February 13, 2012 at 9:29 pm

Drug-testing welfare recipients is “an excellent idea,” said GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney during a campaign stop in Atlanta.

“States will deal with drug testing with welfare recipients, but my own view is it’s a great idea,” the multimillionaire said.

“People who are receiving welfare benefits, government benefits, we should make sure they are not using the money for drugs.”

Throughout the past year Republican lawmakers have pursued welfare drug-testing in Congress and more than 30 states.

Some bills have even targeted people who claim unemployment insurance and food stamps, despite scanty evidence the poor and jobless are disproportionately on drugs.

Among these efforts:

  • A law requiring mandatory drug-testing for welfare recipients was proposed in Georgia but died in committee owing to the costs of implementing it.
  • Florida and Missouri have both approved laws requiring low-income parents seeking federal cash aid to pass a drug test. In October, Florida’s drug-testing law was halted by U.S. District Court Judge Mary Scriven. 
  • In January, a Republican member of the Indiana General Assembly withdrew his bill to create a pilot program for drug-testing welfare applicants after one of his Democratic colleagues amended the measure to require drug-testing for lawmakers.
  • According to a poll, more than 75% of Virginians want welfare recipients drug-tested to receive benefits.  But, uncertain about the proposal’s cost, a House of Delegates subcommittee voted on February 6 to put such legislation on hold.

Republicans claim this is not another mean-spirited attack on the poor and jobless.  They cite two reasons for this demand:

  1. They only want to “help” the poor by making sure they’re not messing up their lives with illegal drugs.
  2. They want to protect the “poor, oppressed taxpayer” from “unworthy” welfare recipients.

The concept of background screening is actually sound.  But Republicans are aiming it at the wrong end of the economic spectrum.

Since 2008, the government has handed out billions of dollars in bailouts to the wealthiest corporations in the country.

The reason: To rescue the economy from the calamity produced by the criminal greed and recklessness of those same corporations.

For example:

  • The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) has invested $118.5 billion in restoring liquidity to the financial markets.
  • Federal Reserve rescue efforts: $1.5 trillion invested.
  • Federal stimulus programs designed to save or create jobs and jumpstart the economy from recession.  $577.8 billion  invested.
  • American International Group: Multifaceted bailout to help insurers through restructuring, minimize the need to post collateral and get rid of toxic assets.  $127.4 billion invested.
  • FDIC bank takeovers: Cost to FDIC fund that insures losses depositors suffer when a bank fails.  $45.4 billion billion invested.
  • Other financial initiatives designed to rescue the financial sector.  $366.4 billion invested.
  • Other housing initiatives designed to rescue the housing market and prevent foreclosures.  $130.6 billion invested.

Total of federal monies invested: $3 trillion. 

It’s important to note that these figures–supplied by the Federal Reserve, Treasury Department, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Congressional Budget Ooffice and the White House–date from November 16, 2009.

Welfare recipients did not

  • hold CEO positions at any of the banks so far bailed out;
  • run such insurance companies as American International Group (AIG);
  • administer the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, known as Freddie Mac;
  • command the Federal National Mortgage Association, known as Fannie Mae.

The 2010 documentary “Inside Job” chronicles the events leading to the 2008 global financial crisis.  One of its most insightful  moments occurs at a party held by then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

“We can’t control our greed,” the CEO of a large bank admits to his fellow guests. “You should regulate us more.”

Greed is defined as an excessive desire for wealth or goods. At its worst, greed trumps rationality, judgment  and concern about the damage it may cause.

Greed begins in the neurochemistry of the brain.  A neurotransmitter called dopamine fuels our greed.  The higher the dopamine levels in the brain, the greater the pleasure we experience.

Cocaine, for example, directly increases dopamine levels.  So does money.

Harvard researcher Hans Breiter has found, via magnetic resonance imaging studies, that the craving for money activates the same regions of the brain as the lust for sex, cocaine or any other pleasure-inducer.

Dopamine is most reliably activated by an experience we haven’t had before.  We crave recreating that experience.

But snorting the same amount of cocaine, or earning the same sum of money, does not cause dopamine levels to increase. So the pleasure-seeker must increase the amount of stimuli to keep enjoying the euphoria.

In time, this incessant craving for pleasure becomes an addiction.  And feeding that addiction–with ever more money–becomes the overriding goal.

Thus, the infamous line–“Greed is good”–in the 1987 film, “Wall Street,” turns out to be both false and deadly for all concerned.


In History, Politics, Social commentary on February 10, 2012 at 10:05 am

“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?”

The speaker was Joseph N. Welch, chief counsel for the United States Army–then under investigation by Joseph McCarthy’s Senate Permanent Submittee on Investigations for alleged Communist activities.

It was June 9, 1954, the 30th day of the Army-McCarthy hearings.

And it was the pivotal moment that finally destroyed the career of the Wisconsin Senator whose repeated slanders of Communist subversion had bullied and frightened Americans for four years.

Joseph McCarthy

When the Senate gallery erupted in applause, McCarthy–totally surprised at his sudden reverse of fortune–was finished.

Today, however, other Americans could stand to remember the question asked by Welch: “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

Americans like Herman Cain.

Herman Cain

On January 28, 2012, he threw whatever support he might still among the radical right to GOP Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich.

Newt Gingrich

Appearing with Gingrich at a Republican fundraiser, Cain said: “Speaker Gingrich is a patriot. Speaker Gingrich is not afraid of bold ideas.

“I don’t care about where he stands in the polls.  And whether my endorsement helps him or not, that’s not the point. It’s to let my supporters know that he is the closest to what I represented when I was still a candidate.”

The closest to what I represented when I was still a candidate“?  That’s hardly a compliment.

Cain withdrew from the race in December, 2011–after four women charged him with sexual harassment during his tenure as CEO of the National Restaurant Association.

Gingrich, a notorious serial adulterer, twice began affairs and issued marriage proposals while he was still married to his first and second wives.

Then there’s Donald Trump.

Donald Trump

On April 17, 2011, toying with the idea of entering the Presidential race himself, he said this about Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and GOP candidate:

“He’d buy companies. He’d close companies. He’d get rid of jobs.  I’ve built a great company.  I’m a much bigger businessman and have a much, much bigger net worth. I mean my net worth is many, many, many times Mitt Romney.

“Mitt Romney is a basically small-business guy, if you really think about  it. He was a hedge fund. He was a funds guy. He walked away with some money from a very good company that he didn’t create. He worked there. He didn’t create  it.”

Trump added that Bain Capital, the hedge fund where Romney made millions of dollars before running for governor, didn’t create any jobs.   Whereas Trump claimed that he–Trump–had created “hundreds of thousands of jobs.”

So at least some observers must have been puzzled when Trump announced, on February 2, 2012: “It’s my honor, real honor, and privilege to endorse Mitt Romney” for President.

“Mitt is tough, he’s smart, he’s sharp, he’s not going to allow bad things to continue to happen to this country that we all love. So, Governor Romney, go out and get ‘em. You can do it,” said Trump.

Mitt Romney

And Romney, in turn, had his own swooning-girl moment: “I’m so honored to have his endorsement….There are some things that you just can’t imagine in your life. This is one of them.”

Clearly, the word “hypocrisy” means nothing to Cain, Gingrich, Trump and Romney.  But it should mean something to the rest of us.

In samurai Japan, officials who publicly disgraced themselves knew what to do.  The samurai code of seppeku told them when they had crossed the line into eternal disgrace.

And it gave them a way to redeem their lost honor: With a small “belly-cutting” knife and the help of a trusted assistant who sliced off their head to spare them the agonizing pain of disembowelment.

In the armies of America and Europe, the method was slightly different: A pistol in a private room.

Considering the ready availability of firearms among right-wing Republicans, redeeming lost honor shouldn’t be a problem for any of these men.

But of course it will be.  It takes more than a trigger-pull to “do the right thing.”  It takes insight to recognize that you’ve “done the wrong thing.”   And it takes courage to act on that insight.

In men who live only for their own egos and wallets, such insight and courage will be forever missing.   They are beyond redemption.  Their lives give proof to the warning offered in Matthew 7: 17-20:

“Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.  A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.

“Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”


In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics on February 9, 2012 at 10:57 am

Here’s another Republican “contribution” to consider on Election Day:

They have slandered the patriotism of the tens of thousands of police, firefighters, construction workers and others who risked their lives to save their fellow Americans on 9/11.

It’s a “gift” that comes to these heroes from Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) and other self-righteous bureaucrats of the Republican Party.

The responders have been informed that their names must be run through the FBI’s database of suspected terrorists.  Otherwise, they will be barred from getting treatment for their numerous, worsening ailments.

In 2010–nine years after the worst terrorist attack in American history–Congress passed the Democratically-sponsored James Zadroga 9/11 Health And Compensation Act.

The law is named for a New York City detective who died of a respiratory disease in 2006 after his contact with toxic chemicals at Ground Zero.

The law authorizes $1.8 billion to be spent over five years to treat injuries of police, firefighters, emergency workers, construction and cleanup crews caused by exposure to toxic dust and debris at the site.

From the outset, Republicans bitterly opposed the legislation.  They argued that providing healthcare for ailing September 11 heroes would bankrupt the nation.

For Republicans, the heroes of 9/11 had become “welfare-seeking bums.”  If they couldn’t afford their own medical care, so what?

Republicans slandered the proposal as a new “entitlement program,” like Medicare.  They demanded that the responders return to Congress every year to make their case, claiming this would prevent fraud and waste.

“If this issue is so credible based on the results of September 11, we shouldn’t be afraid of going through the (budget) authorization process and fight for the spending bill,” said Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.)

Republicans forced Democrats to accept an amendment that deliberately casts a slur on the men and women who answered their country’s call in its supreme moment of agony.

Only then was the legislation passed.

The amendment reads:

“No individual who is on the terrorist watch list maintained by the Department of Homeland Security shall qualify as a screening-eligible WTC survivor or a certified-eligible WTC survivor.

“Before determining any individual to be a screening-eligible WTC survivor…or certifying any individual as a certified eligible survivor….the Administrator, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, shall determine whether the individual is on such list.”

The amendment provoked outrage among non-politicians, Democrats and even some Republicans.  Among these:

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)  whose district encompassed Ground Zero, said it was “absurd” to consider that any of the 9/11 heroes would be terrorists.  He added that the screenings were a “waste of money.”
  • Rep. Peter King (R-NY) called the exercise “shameful” and “a waste of time,” adding: “It put a cloud over extraordinarily good people for no reason.”
  • “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart noted that the federal government didn’t run background checks on any other group of people receiving financial benefits.  These included Social Security recipients, Medicare patients and even Wall Street bankers bailed out during the recession.

Dr. John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, advised doctors and hospital administrators to begin letting patients know before the new program took effect in July, 2011.

Specifically, patients seeking help under 9/11 treatment and monitoring programs have been told that their

  • names
  • birthplaces
  • addresses
  • government ID numbers
  • and other personal data

will be provided to the FBI to prove they are not terrorists.

Howard’s instructions to medical providers included a sample letter to responders designed to minimize alarm:

“Although neither we nor [the Centers for Disease Control]/NIOSH anticipate the name of any individual in the current Programs will be on the list, CDC/NIOSH is expressly required by law to implement this particular requirement of the Act.

“Thank you for your understanding. We look forward to working with you and ensuring that you continue to receive uninterrupted services under the new WTC Health Program,” it concluded.

By August, 2011, the FBI had screened some 60,000 emergency responders to the attacks on the World Trade Center and had not uncovered any suspected terrorists.

Glen Kline, a former NYPD emergency services officer, best summed up the insanity and disgrace of these background checks: “This is absurd. It’s silly. It’s stupid. It’s asinine.  I mean, who are we even talking about–the undocumented workers who cleaned the office buildings?

“We know who all the cops, firefighters and construction workers were. They’re all documented.  Is the idea that a terrorist stayed to help clean up? And then stayed all these years to try and get benefits?”

For Republicans the message was obvious: Only certified right-wingers are loyal to the United States.  Everyone else is suspect.

Thus, self-righteous right-wing legislators–who never lifted a beam from a trapped 9/11 survivor or inhaled toxic fumes that spewed from the crater that was once the World Trade Center–now stand in judgment over those who did.

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