Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Open warfare has once again broken out in and around Israel. This time the fighting is between Israel and Hamas, and civilians on both sides are caught in the line of fire. I have many thoughts about this, both from the perspective of the present round of violence, and a broader historic and future perspective.

And for clarity - I am a secular (atheist) Jew and have visited Israel a few times, and parts of the West Bank once. One of the trips was a Journey of Peace, from which I posted to this blog (use the search function for the term "Israel.")

The present round of violence - There is no question that Israel has the right to defend itself against constant attacks by Hamas and other factions from within Gaza, or anywhere else. Over the past several years, since Israel pulled out of Gaza, more than 10,000 rockets and mortars have been launched from Gaza into civilian areas of southern Israel. The targets have been either random or specific civilian sites including schools and hospitals. The physical, psychological and economic impacts to the people of the region have been very great; deaths and injuries have been minimized by warning systems and bomb shelters. Israel's response to this constant barrage has been mostly restrained, using economic pressure (blockades, sanctions, etc.) and limited military actions - against military targets (yes, there have been civilian casualties, because the Palestinian rocket launchers typically hide in residential areas).

I think every one of us would agree that if someone started launching rockets into our neighborhood, we would expect our government to take decisive action immediately to end it!

Is the military response by Israel too much? This is a tough one to answer from where I sit. The information I've seen is that Israel has targeted military and government (Hamas) installations, and has tried to warn civilians in Gaza to get away from any military or government sites because they are targets. I believe that Israel does not target civilians (unlike Hamas and other terrorists), but there have been civilian casualties (I refuse to call these unfortunate persons "collateral damage."). I do support the suggestions that Israel call and maintain a 48-hour cease fire, asking Hamas to cease launching rockets into Israel in order to get discussions going to build a truce.

Can Israel or Hamas "win" this battle? No. Hamas cannot defeat Israel in a war. And, short of complete annihilation of the people in Gaza, Israel can only achieve a lessened amount of violence against it from within Gaza, with an accompanying strengthening of resolve of Palestinians, particularly the young, to fight "the oppressor."

The situation is an ongoing cycle of violence that seems to have no end. The fact that Hamas has the stated goal of eliminating Israel as a main part of it's mission is a major roadblock to peace.

Is there hope for the future? I'm not a citizen of Israel or Gaza or the West Bank, so these are armchair musings based on my study of the situation and my few visits there. I do think that there are some positive steps that can be taken for a better future for all people in the region.
  • Mutual respect for each other.
    • Israel - A civil rights movement is needed in Israel to provide Arab Israelis equality and greater integration into Israeli society. Prejudice against Arabs in Israeli society needs to be identified and eliminated.
    • Gaza and West Bank - the teaching of anti-Semitism in schools and mosques, as well as on TV and in other mass media, has to end.
  • Education.
    • Gaza and West Bank - accurate history and geography of the Middle East need to be taught in schools; Israel (not "the Zionist Entity") exists and needs to be shown on maps; the histories of the Jewish people, the Palestinian people, and the region are complex and rich, and should be a focus of education
    • Israel - the history and claims of the Palestinian people need to be recognized and taught, including an objective history of the creation of the modern Israel within the context of world politics and local realities at the time
  • State Building - the West Bank.
    • Israel - Israel's future will be best served by helping establish a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank (based on the pre-1967 border). Building of Jewish settlements and outposts in the West Bank should be halted immediately, and existing ones either disbanded or traded with the Palestinians for land of equal value inside Israel. Israel should work closely with moderate Palestinians and their leadership to forge a lasting peace based on mutual respect, security, and economic cooperation. Israel and other nations should be encouraged to invest in West Bank economic ventures, education and infrastructure development.
    • West Bank - Palestinians need to end fighting between political factions and find common ground based on building a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank. A vision of statehood needs to reject extremism/terrorism and hatred of Israel and work towards cooperation with Israel for mutual benefits.
  • Jerusalem. Control of Jerusalem is a major and contentious issue between Jews, Muslims and Christians. The Old City (within the walls) contains important sites for these and other religions, and each group has important historic ties to the City. The Old City of Jerusalem should be re-established as a World City - perhaps a Heritage Site - under the auspices of the United Nations, and administered by a board of atheists. The remainder of Jerusalem should be divided between Israel and the Palestinian State based on negotiations. (Yes, this idea is way out there!)
I focused above on the West Bank because the present leadership there is more moderate and willing to work towards peace with Israel. Hamas, Hezbollah and other terrorist groups in the region do not want peace with Israel - they want to destroy Israel and kill Jews. The present open warfare between Hamas and Israel is a lose-lose proposition for both sides, and the human toll is unacceptable. Implementing the items above, or something similar, can change the future by moving in positive directions and demonstrating that people on all sides of the conflict can learn to live in peace and work together towards a better world.

There are once again many public anti-Israel demonstrations in the United States and around the world. I find it strange, and frankly disheartening, that there have been no public demonstrations in the U.S. against Hamas as they launched thousands of rockets and mortars into civilian areas of Israel over the past few years. Where were the demonstrations and letters to editors when Palestinian suicide-bombers and shooters killed and injured hundreds of Israeli civilians? I'm afraid there is at best a double standard in the liberal community - and at worst an ugly strain of anti-Semitism.

Let's be clear - Hamas, Hezbollah and others of their ilk are not "freedom fighters" - they are terrorists. The Palestinian people have legitimate grievances with Israel, but terrorism and violence are not acceptable tools. Israeli military strategy, like the current U.S. military strategy that relies on massive air power ("shock and awe") is also not acceptable. The State of Israel has, in my opinion, lost it's moral compass and needs to change direction. The 40 year occupation of the West Bank, and the continuing land grabs by Israeli Jews, as one example, needs to end now.

The present violence in Gaza will end, just as it did in Lebanon a couple of years ago; unfortunately, the toll in lives and property will be high, and the result will be the same tension that existed before - a status quo between armed camps waiting for the next round of violence. This is a failed paradigm, a cycle with no end. There has to be a better way.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


The fallacies of drilling or nuking our way out of our petroleum addiction have become quite evident, now that the hot air phase of the elections is over. The idea that we can solve the fuel problem by drilling new oil and gas wells off the coasts of the USA has a number of problems, primary of which is the simple fact of market economics (geeze - now I'm sounding like a free market Republican). If you've been paying any attention at all, you've certainly noticed that the price of gasoline at the pump is below $2 per gallon and still falling (dare I ask why we were paying over $4 per gallon a few months ago?), because the price of oil by the barrel has been in free-fall. The oil companies have suspended any thoughts of new drilling because - yep - the price of oil is too low to create the obscene profits they're used to, and want.

But wait, you say, isn't nukaler power the answer to our problems? It doesn't pollute, it's quiet, it's safe..... Well, one of the basic laws of ecology is that there is no such thing as a free lunch. In addition to safety and security issues, a major problem with nuclear power is the waste it generates, material that remains dangerous for a very, very long time. As discussed in a New York Times editorial today, there is still not a national repository for nuclear wastes, as ordered by Congress in the 1980's. "Tens of thousands of tons of spent fuel and military waste" are sitting around in temporary storage around the country waiting for the national repository to open. The Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada - the only one that has been pushed forward since the 1980's order - appears to be doomed by a combination of politics and technical issues. And oh, by the way, as designed, it is too small for the amount of waste that is now waiting for a place to go.

Using a controlled nuclear reaction to boil water for steam turbines has always seemed to me to be a bizarre and dangerous technology. Actually using a technology that generates extremely toxic waste that lasts for millennia, and deferring the decision to future generations about how to safely dispose of the waste is more than bizarre - it is simply irresponsible and immoral.

As citizens, we actually have some power here. When gasoline was over $4 per gallon, we drove our cars less, and also drove down the price of gasoline (supply and demand theory). Now that the price has fallen, let's not go back to our old ways, let's continue to use the gas guzzlers less. And the demand for electricity (i.e. more nukes)? Conservation has not been a part of the Cheney energy policy, but small to moderate increases in the amount of electricity each of us conserves, coupled with real conservation policies from the Obama administration, will literally speak truth to power.

It's up to us folks, and the time is now. Power to the People!

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Certainly you've seen the video of an irate Iraqi journalist throwing his shoes at President George W. Bush during a press conference in Baghdad today. (If you didn't, go to You Tube.) Now, I don't really condone throwing shoes, or anything else for that matter, at people, particularly world leaders; however, I have to admit that this was the best laugh I've had in some time.

Now if only we could get a court of law to throw the book at him.....

(And I really hope the shoe-pitching journalist wasn't dragged out back, tortured and shot, or rendited to Guantanamo.)

[Note - December 15: I heard a news clip this morning of President Bush making light of the incident: "Really, it didn't bother me; and if you need the facts, I think it was a size 10." Nice - but this is one of the things that bothers me about this self-proclaimed compassionate conservative, his lack of compassion and humility. Perhaps he could have used the incident as a moment to express that yes, he understands the pain and suffering of the Iraqi people caused by this war, and his hopes are with them for recovery and reconciliation, etc., etc. But this is too much to ask from the present leader of the free world.]



Our lives are filled with things. We're overwhelmed by possessions we own but do not treasure. Stuff we buy but never love. To be thrown away in weeks rather than passed down for generations.

Perhaps it will be different now. Perhaps now is an opportunity to reassess what really matters. After all, if everything you ever bought her disappeared overnight, what would she truly miss?


The De Beers Family of Companies

[The above is a full-page advertisement in the Sunday New York Times Magazine. Except for the last sentence, it reads like something I might have written on this blog as a protest of consumerism. This is slick copy writing! Never mind that the "value" of diamonds is created by the total control of the supply and market by the De Beers company, and by a brilliant advertising campaign. Ah yes, all she really needs are some diamonds, and everything else will be Okey Dokey!]

Thursday, December 11, 2008


News flash from the U.S. Senate: it's the auto workers union that's going to be the cause of the demise of the Big Three. Oh give me a break!!!!

I've thought a lot about the auto industry bailout, and (with apologies to our Detroit-area relatives) I'm leaning towards saying "goodbye and good riddance!" I've made lists in my mind - reasons to bail them out in one column, reasons to not bail them out in the other column. The "bail them out" column really has only one item - avoiding massive lay offs of working people, people who have no control over the decisions made by the automobile industry. The collapse of the American auto companies will be disastrous for working people and the economy, but I think there are ways the new administration can organize a recovery.

The "don't bail them out" column has a long list. For decades, the American automobile companies, now known as The Big Three, have made business decisions intended to do one thing - increase and protect profits. Yes, this is the goal of business, to make a profit. But the auto industry profits, for the years that the companies made them, were based on massive hidden costs to American taxpayers - and people around the world. The Big Three built their profits on death and destruction, the resulting costs of which have been borne by everyone living on the planet. The automobile, as I've discussed in several previous posts over the last few years, became the central feature of our society, it's use dominating and dictating the realities of urban design, transportation and commerce. America became addicted to foreign oil, our cars and trucks spew millions of tons of carbon dioxide and poisons into the air and water, and thousands of people are injured and killed in auto accidents.

The American auto industry has fought tooth and nail against almost every proposed safety standard, fuel efficiency measure, and emission standard. And they're still at it, challenging the new State of California emission standards in court because they claim that they can't meet them. This is, of course, more of the same BS for which the auto industry is famous. And in the meantime the climate changes more quickly, asthma and other respiratory illnesses are on the rise, and our roads get more gridlocked than ever. None of this is a news flash, we've all known about these problems for years. And yet the Big Three have continued to tell Americans that what we want is bigger and faster cars, behemoth trucks and SUV's, all designed to use gasoline as if it's an unlimited, benign and cheap resource.

So why should we, the taxpayers, bail out these greedy companies? The executives at GM, Ford and Chrysler have made bad decisions, and their chickens have come home to roost. Isn't that what it's all about, we're told, free market, market forces, trickle down, and all that other capitalist mumbo-jumbo? Hey fellas - you snooze, you loose.

There's an aspect of the proposed bailout that isn't discussed: if the government loans these guys money so they can stay in business, who's going to buy their cars and trucks anyway? We are in a recession (yes, it is now official - duh), many thousands of people are losing their jobs, their homes, their savings and retirement funds. Car dealers are going out of business, and new cars from Asia are sitting in giant parking lots in west coast ports with no buyers in sight.

I think this is a giant lemons-to-lemonade moment in U.S. history, and I'm hoping our political leadership undergoes a miraculous transformation and actually does the right things. We need to plot a course away from the automobile as the centerpiece of our culture, and become a more sustainable society. We need to rethink the most basic assumptions about our culture and our economy, and make wise choices that will push us in new directions. There are plenty of jobs to be had in a green economy if we have the backbone to make some tough choices, roll up our collective sleeves, and rebuild an America that makes sense.

I, for one, am tired of being pushed around by big companies with fleets of lobbyists and attorneys and over-paid executives who decide how my world should be - for their profit. To the Big Three I say - get out of the road, the times they are a'changin, and you guys are just in the way.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


Here's the video that goes with a previous post about Suzhou Silk Factory Number 1, in Suzhou, China.

Saturday, December 06, 2008


There are certain events that bring people together; brief moments of community that connect people with those around them. Such a moment was tonight's sunset that created a sky filled with gloriously blazing red-bottomed clouds against a darkening blue sky.

I left the house for a quick walk to the store for a few needed items, and a parked car was blocking the sidewalk at the corner - how rude. But as I walked around the car, I noticed a young woman in the drivers seat with her cell phone in hand - held up in front of her eyes. She was taking a picture, so I turned to see what the subject of the photo might be, and froze in my tracks in wonderment. I called my wife to tell her to go out on the porch and look, then walked on towards Hawthorne Blvd. When I got to the next corner, many people on the crowded street were looking to the west, and probably 1 out of 5 were snapping photos with their cell phones. Parents were pointing to the sky to show their children, and people were talking to each other - stranger to stranger - about this incredible display that nature had provided just for us to enjoy.

My cell phone photo doesn't really convey the breathtaking beauty of this brief moment. And, of course, a photograph cannot do justice to the moment of community that I shared with my neighbors.

I wonder how many people, and in how wide a geographic area shared that moment of community. I'm guessing many thousands of people; and you know what? I bet we were all kinds of people in terms of age, race, gender, politics, and religion (or not) watching and marveling at that sky. These are the moments of community that make Earth a small village - wouldn't it be nice if we had more?

Saturday, November 29, 2008


- The Next Big Bailout? Keep your eyeballs on the impending credit
card market crash. Lenders are tightening up offered credit, raising
interest rates, and offering fewer incentives. Mail offers to new and
existing customers are on pace to drop below 8.4 billion pieces.

An interesting thought about the above is the effect on fuel
consumption and global warming: assume each mailing is 1 ounce (very
conservative assumption), the reduced number above would represent one
half billion pounds (250,000 tons) less mail to be transported, with
related less fuel used, fewer emissions, etc. I say: right on!"

- And the bailout of banks? Seems like the Treasury stratigery is to
give money (uh, purchase shares) to the bigger, more solid banks that
don't really need it, in an effort, it seems, to encourage them to
acquire their weaker competitors - ah, free market capitalism. The
criteria are a mystery. Some banks that have not asked for bailout
money have been approached by Treasury and asked to apply for it, and
who can resist free money? Umpqua Bank of Oregon was approached, and
will be getting a quarter of a billion dollars, even though they don't
really need it. And Bank of America has just increased their share of
one of the major banks in China (owned by the Chinese government) to
about 20% - some analysts think this is a bit tacky after B of A
accepted big money from the bailout fund.

- Consumerism Gone Wild. The death by trampling of a Walmart employee
by a Black Friday sale-crazed mob in New York is difficult to
comprehend. These uber-consumers gave up Thanksgiving to wait in line
for the store to open early in the morning, and then broke through the
doors before the opening because they couldn't wait any longer. This
tragedy is a sad commentary on the values of many of our fellow
citizens, and another sad reminder that consumerism as we know it is
an illness that must be cured.

- The Tragedy in Mumbai. How can one make any sense of terrorism other
than to conclude that these are evil acts perpetrated by evil people.
We have perhaps become so desensitized to this now common form of
brutality that the "every day" bombings in Iraq and Afghanistan kind
of roll off our minds as just another one of those incidents. But the
magnitude, brazeness and cold calculated brutality of the Mumbai
terrorists shocks us into a recognition of the ugliness of the real
world. I intend to write soon about the aspects of the human species
that often lead me to conclude that Mother Nature made a fatal error
in the evolution of Homo sapiens.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Silk Factory Number 1 has operated inside a non-descript building in a Suzhou neighborhood since the 1920's. Inside the entrance from the street, visitors can tour a small museum telling the history of the silk trade and the process of silk making. Live silkworms methodically eat mulberry leaves on an open tray, and real historic looms and other equipment are displayed in a museum setting. Visitors can then wander through the factory, peeking over the shoulders of workers - mostly women - and poking cameras at and around them as they sort cocoons, cook them in warm water to kill the pupae and loosen the strands, and deftly coax silk strands from cocoons in warm water as machines that look like they just leaped of the page of a history book about the industrial revolution spool the silk. After additional processing, the silk is woven into cloth on several old card looms. The final stop on the tour is the sales room, where purchases can be carried with or shipped to your home.

The remarkable thing about our visit to Silk Factory Number 1 was how unremarkable it seemed within the context of China. Now, at the end of a three week trip, I'm trying to sort out the complex threads of our experiences, like finding the one loose end of silk strand in a cocoon and carefully unraveling it to make whole cloth.

The People's Republic of China is at once fascinating and overwhelming, charming and intimidating, enigmatic and complex and yet simple. It has to be seen, felt, heard, smelled and tasted in order to have any chance of being understood. As visitors, we realized that understanding could only be gained by meeting and building friendships with people - certainly not a new concept, but an essential one.

The following China posts will not be written during our visit as I had planned. My trusty pocket PC was mostly useless as an internet reporter's device because I rarely found wifi access (2 Starbucks stores allowed brief interludes of connectivity - all praise globalization). The very modern American-owned hotels in Beijing and Shanghai, as well as the older Chinese hotel in Xian all had internet access, but only wired - doesn't work with a wireless device. A few hours before leaving China from Shanghai, Hotel Manager Kim explained that China is still catching up, and wifi would probably be very common within a year or so. China is, after all, a developing nation.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


November 5, 2008, in the early afternoon, my cell phone alerted me to a text message. It was from one of our sons: "Wow. Yes we DID!" It could only mean one thing - Barack Obama won!! Our exclamations and tears of joy and relief let our guide, Jessie, know that Obama had been elected President of the United States. She told our driver, Mr. Wu, the news in Chinese, and he nodded and smiled as he threaded the car through Beijing traffic towards the neighborhood where we hoped to find the French wine bar next to the Hutong Pizza place, where American journalists and others would be watching the election returns. We did get to the bar, just after Obama finished his acceptance speech, and we watched CNN with jubilation and awe as they ran a montage of scenes from the Obama acceptance. What pride for America we have. Look what the people have done! About an hour later, we looked at each other in amazement as we strolled the expansive Tien an Mein Square, looking at the monuments to the heroes of the birth of modern China, and Mao. How wonderfully strange to be here, on this day, celebrating within ourselves and with each other for a gentle revolution in our home country. This truly is a small world. I'll always remember November 5, 2008 as the day the people of the United States took back our country from those who would destroy it, and started out on a path to a new time for America and the world.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


I recently stumbled into a conversation between three women friends,
Meg, Kaia and Sherry, who had decided that patriotism should be replaced
with matriotism, thus resulting in a better world.

Immediately realizing the delicate nature of my position in this
discussion, my brain raced for the correct words (as much as a
wine-soaked male brain can race). "That sounds like a good idea," I
mumbled, "but wouldn't natriotism be even better?"

Whew! Nice save, for once.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


The McPalin Campain, sensing imminent defeat at the hands of the Obama forces, has resorted to the most vile name calling and subliminal hate mongering that we've seen since, well, since the same people ran the G.W. Bush campaigns. These labels are pronounced from the podia by McPalin surrogates and by the candidates themselves. The messages: Obama is a terrorist (and a Muslim one, at that); Obama is a socialist; Obama is a communist. Media journalists interview McPalin supporters at campaign rallies and air statements such as "he's an Arab," "he's a socialist," "he's a communist," etc.

What's really going on here?

is defined by the U.S. Department of Defense as "the unlawful use of -- or threatened use of -- force or violence against individuals or property to coerce or intimidate governments or societies, often to achieve political, religious, or ideological objectives."

William Ayers was a terrorist, based on the above definition, no question. But what about abortion clinic bombers, violent protesters, and others who do similar things? According to Governor Palin - well, watch the interview yourself. And let's not forget the U.S. invasion of Iraq - "Shock and Awe" - in which the U.S. government invaded a sovereign nation without provocation and killed tens of thousands of Iraqis, including civilians. Terrorism?

Socialism is defined as any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.

So let's get this straight - Barack Obama is a socialist because he advocates increasing income taxes for wealthy folks, thereby advocating collective or government ownership of the means of production? Huh? Um, don't look now, but the U.S. government has just taken over - as majority shareholders - some of the largest insurance companies and financial institutions in this country. Both McCain and Obama voted for these takeovers (disguised as bailouts): they're both socialists, I guess.

Communism is defined as
a system of government in which the state plans and controls the economy and a single, often authoritarian party holds power, claiming to make progress toward a higher social order in which all goods are equally shared by the people.

See above re: socialism. And this is what the Bush administration has been all about, except that the definition has to be tinkered with a bit to read: "...all goods are equally shared by the (rich) people." Where is McPalin on this one? Lock step with the Bushfolk.

Here's another term of interest in this discussion: fascism.

Fascism is defined as a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.

Are we there yet? A close look at the past eight years under Cheney-Bush, using the above definition, leads one dangerously close to concluding that we've been on the road to fascism. One need only listen to the speeches of Lord Darth Cheney, look at the domestic spying authorized by Bush, the use of kidnappings and secret prisons, the suspension of habeus corpus, the labeling of anyone who does not meet the administration's definition of "patriotism" as a traitor, to get chills of a bleak future for America. And now we have McCain and Palin stirring up fears of race, Arabs, Muslims, socialists and commies....

A McPalin administration is a chilling prospect for America, a prospect founded on fear and suspicion. An Obama administration offers a prospect of hope for changing the direction of this country towards the ideal that we all believe in. Which do you choose?

I choose the Obama path, and if this makes me a terrorist, socialist, communist - well, so be it.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Monday, October 20, 2008


The myriad pundits and bloviators in the media frequently talk about the crisis on Wall Street as it is felt on Main Street. Well, what is the reality on Main Street? To answer this question, readmyopinion's roving reporter, George Poppet, talks to people on Main Street.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


If you have not heard Secretary Powell's endorsement, watch and listen to it here. This is perhaps the most powerful and comprehensive endorsement of Barack Obama yet, from a prominent Republican. What this represents is that thinking people, from all parts of the political spectrum, realize that a President Obama is our best hope and chance to put America back on track. Included in Secretary Powell's endorsement are critically important statements that someone with authority and credibility has needed to say for a long time about the Muslim-bashing going on in the McCain campaign.

Colin Powell says it all.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Son Eric's book, Marketing that Matters, now available in Chinese!


In my quest for eternal blogging, I am attempting to blog from my
mobile device (a HP iPAQ). If you are reading this post, it means I
figured it out. The next trick will be to do this from China, where I
hope to have wi-fi access from some locations. Will the Great
(fire)Wall of China allow this?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Uncle Lou coined the term "crap merchants," and used it judiciously for certain types of companies and people. The term sprang immediately to mind when this economic collapse really kicked in a few weeks ago and the politicians started arguing about what to do. And oh what a scene it was and is - lots of chickens running around with their heads cut off (which I guess is the same as a bunch of politicians running around with their hair on fire).

700,000,000,000. Seven hundred billion. Wow! Dollars. $$$

Where does all this money come from? Will it really get paid back? Is this really going to fix anything? Questions.....questions.....

People in this country are rightly angry and nervous - even frightened - about the economy falling to pieces around us. What galls many of us the most is the fact that many of the executives in charge of the failing companies have been taking home huge salaries and benefits, even as their empires collapsed. Will these people - the Crap Merchants - be punished or held accountable for the results of their unbridled greed? We'll see.

In the meantime, many Americans are or will be suffering as their retirement funds shrink, their homes are foreclosed, their jobs disappear, and the cost of living continues to escalate in the face of shrinking real income. The growing anger of the American public will surely be felt at the polls on November 4, and let's hope the result makes a difference.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


I've thought a lot about this post, and I've probably written pieces of it before. But what I want to do here is try to summarize these thoughts into something that is at least somewhat coherent. It could be long, but probably not long enough.

I think historians will see 2008 as a "perfect storm" of events in the history of the United States of America; game-changing events in the course of world history. Much has already been written along these lines by authors much more knowledgeable than I; however, this blog is my outlet to the world, my one chance to put something out there that a few people - or many - might read, thus putting my marker onto the pages of history. So here goes.

I've often said that the United States is a post-developed nation. George H.W. Bush said, when the Soviet Union collapsed, that the United States had "won the Cold War." We didn't win that geopolitical ideological conflict - the Soviet Union lost first. I believe that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the beginning of the decline of America from the world's remaining Superpower to where we are today, a crumbling power with an uncertain and uncharted future.

What are the symptoms of this decline? They are many, and I'll list only a few that quickly come to mind:
  • erosion of individual freedoms
  • a straying from the rule of law towards authoritarianism
  • outright violations of the Constitution by elected officials
  • a decline of morality - both institutional and individual
  • a decline in civility between people and between nations
  • a marked crumbling of infrastructure: bridges, roads, water and sewage treatment, etc.
  • an over-reliance on and over-extension of military resources
  • an inability to respond to and rebuild from natural disasters.
What are the causes of this decline? Again, there are many - here are a few:
  • greed, of the pure unbridled kind
  • corruption
  • hate, particularly of "the other:" immigrants, women, people of color, homosexuals
  • fear, and the use of fear by people in positions of power as a means towards their ends
  • meanness and rudeness
  • resistance to change, and unthinking clinging to the old ways
The above causes perhaps more aptly are attributed to individuals, but I think they inform the actions of our public and private sector leaders and the institutions they control. One need only examine the recent directions of our laws and courts, our foreign policies, the measures implemented in the guise of "security," the misguided and often patently illegal actions of government to understand the new directions this country has taken. Our government spends colossal sums of money on unwinable wars under the battle cry of "we won't surrender; we will fight on to victory." And "victory" is both undefined and unattainable under the present world view of our government.

The United States of America is a nation adrift in a sea of change. We are barely a united country - just look at the red and blue map of the 50 States showing the presidential voting pattern. We are increasingly a nation of camps; red and blue, left and right, native and immigrant, elite and "Joe six-pack." We are leaderless in a time when leadership is the only thing that will save us.

The world around us, the sea of nations and changing cultures upon which we are adrift has tides and currents and swells and tsunamis of change that we must understand if we have any chance of charting a new course towards the future. The present contest between political parties, being fought by John McCain and Barack Obama, represents a game-changing decision by Americans. Obama represents the recognition that America is adrift in uncharted seas; McCain represents the inability and refusal to recognize that things are different now, and we only need to maintain a steady hand on the tiller to stay the course on which we've been.

This is not to say that the election of one man over the other will change the game. The reality is that the American consciousness needs to change from a pre-twenty first century view to a view of the future. It's the old business mantra of looking through the windshield at the road ahead, instead of watching where we've been in the rear view mirror. As citizens of the United States, we need to understand, to truly internalize, that things are different now, the game has changed, the rules have been rewritten, and we are no longer guaranteed the spot at the top.

What is the United States of America of the future? Will we be a relic of global power, still trying to rule the world by throwing our military might around? Or will we be a new kind of super power in a new world? We Americans are a remarkable and strong-willed people. Our diversity strengthens us. Our founding principles underly our basic goodness, even though we often stray from it. Many, if not most people in the rest of the world want to be more like us than they want to be less like us. We have to lead by example, not brutal strength.

I'm not hopeful about this kind of paradigm shift change happening. I do think that the only slim chance we have is if a new national leadership emerges that openly and honestly confronts the state of the world and our role in it. We need a national discussion about who we are and who we want to be, a discussion that permeates the every day lives of every citizen, of all ages. And we need leaders who can articulate the terms of the discussion, draw out the threads of reason, and build the framework of a new America. It's a tall order - is anyone willing to take it on?

If you read this far - thanks. Comments are welcome.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


Nee hao, dear readers.

I went downtown a couple of days ago to do a little shopping for our pending trip to China. I bought a new pair of blue jeans and a pair of light weight cotton pants. Then I browsed three stores for some new, lightweight walking shoes. I must have been in my typical shopping haze (I hate shopping for clothes), because it was in the third store that I realized what all the clothes and shoe labels had been telling me - almost everything I was looking at is Made in China. "Duh! Why don't I just shop for these items in China?" I realize, of course, that I might not see the exact same items in China that I see here in America, a lot of items might be made just for the export market. But I'm guessing that I'll see a huge selection of clothing and shoes at prices that will amaze. (In fact, we'll be in Suzhou at the beginning of the trip, where there is a Wallmart, and several Starbucks within a few blocks of where we'll be staying.)

This trip will last about 3 weeks. A large advantage we'll have is the spare bedroom and bathroom at the home of our American cousins who are living in Suzhou, the Garden City near Shanghai. We'll stay there for the first few days of the trip to get acclimated, learn a few things about traveling in China and some cultural customs, get familiar with the money and a few helpful words, etc.

Then we'll start a journey that will have us for a few days each in Beijing, Xian, a Yangtze River cruise, and back to Suzhou. We have tour guides lined up for Beijing and Xian; not group tours, but a local guide who will take us to the places we want to go and be our informed travel companion.

I intend to post to the blog when I can during the trip. I'll have my trusty Wi-Fi enabled pocket pc, and if it works, and I can get through what our cousin calls "the Great Firewall of China," you'll see some posts from the road. I'm assuming that I can post from our cousins' computer in Suzhou.

For those of you of a certain age, I'm looking at this trip as a Bob Hope - Bing Crosby "Road to China" trip. I'll have a pocket-size camcorder with me (is everything I own pocket-size?), so look for a feature length film (maybe a musical?) soon after we return.


Thursday, October 09, 2008


Blogger's note: O.K., I have to admit that I've had a lot of fun making fun of Senator Jon McCain and Governor Sarah Palin. I think that the Republican ticket for President and Vice-President of the United States is, well, bizarre. But I need to stop the joking and get serious, because this truly is the most important election in the United States in my life of 6+ decades. So from now until the election, when I write about the election, I'll focus on the issues.

But first, there is something I have to say - and this is serious. In the past few days, I've heard and read news reports about the behavior of some people at Palin rallies. People have shouted out remarks about Senator Obama being a terrorist, about him being treasonous, have shouted racist slurs, and have even reportedly shouted out "kill him," perhaps in reference to the former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers. The fact that Sarah Palin did not stop her speeches and chastise these hecklers, the fact that the McCain-Palin campaign has not denounced such behavior, the fact that the campaign appears to be purposefully whipping up these emotions in crowds at their rallies - these facts are reason enough for all Americans to reject the idea of McCain and Palin in the White House.

In these final days of the campaign, as the economy of the United States free-falls to who-knows-where; as U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan increasingly say that the war there is being lost; as more Americans lose their jobs, their homes, and their retirement funds; we voters need to pay attention to one thing - the issues. Where does each candidate stand on the critical issues of our country and the rest of the world? Ask that question. Look for the answers. Make an informed decision.

And then VOTE.

Friday, October 03, 2008


Gimme a G, Please!!
Janitors at Washington University in St. Louis spent all night after the Biden-Palin debate sweeping up thousands of letter g's dropped by Governor Palin.

Genealogist Reviews Alaska Governor's Name
A leading genealogist has determined that following their relocation to Wasilla, Alaska the Governor's parents changed the family name from Paling to Palin in order to better fit into the Alaskan "hockey mom" dialect.

Subsets of GOP Base Express Displeasure at Exclusion
Several subgroups of the traditional GOP base have expressed their dismay at being left out of Governor Palin's speeches. Republican wine drinkers, or "Jon 750ml" feel slighted by Palin's repeated references to "Joe Sixpack." And soccer dads are upset by the V.P. candidate only referring to hockey moms; "Golly gosh" one soccer dad said. "we soccer dads are helpin' McCain in winnin' this election, too!"

Medical Experts at Loss to Explain Palin Twitch
Medical experts who have reviewed the medical records of Governor Sarah Palin cannot find any pathological reason for her annoying eye twitch evident during the recent Biden-Palin debate. "There does not seem to be any neurological cause" stated one of the experts. Some experts hypothesized that the Governor might have had an irritant in her left eye - perhaps a small piece of mascara. The cause of the twitch remains a mystery.


John McCain is a maverick. Sarah Palin is a maverick. Palin told us this at least a dozen or more times - again - during the V.P. debate last night. So what the heck is a maverick, anyway?

Well luckily I have access to the internet, and I can look up the definitions of words.


Definition 1. "An unbranded range animal, especially a calf that has become separated from its mother, traditionally considered the property of the first person who brands it." politically speaking, John McCain and Sarah Palin don't have a political family, and can basically be claimed and branded by the first "person" (or special interest?) who lays claim on them. A recent in-depth article in the New York Times reveals the very close ties between the gambling industry and John McCain and his staff - so I guess we'd expect to see the brands of various casinos on Senator McCains skin (on top of the old Savings and Loan and various lobbying firms' brands) if we could peek under the clothing.

Definition 2. " One that refuses to abide by the dictates of or resists adherence to a group; a dissenter."

O.K. - so John and Sarah are dissenters who refuse to do what the group wants. Do we want a pair of Executives in the White House who refuse to go along with what the American voters want? Does this mean that every bill passed by Congress will be vetoed by a President McCain because he will refuse to go along with Congress?

Definition 3. " Being independent in thought and action or exhibiting such independence."

This perhaps is what McPalin mean when they define themselves as mavericks. But so far in this campaign, we haven't seen anything independent in thought and action from this duo - in fact, what we've consistently heard is that they will continue the policies of President George Duya Bush. So much for independent thought.

So yippee-yi-ki-yaaa y'all, I suggest we let McCain and Palin continue to be mavericks and put them out to pasture where they can roam independently, looking for more brands they can accumulate. Meanwhile, Obama-Biden will be working hard to bring this country back from the brink.

Monday, September 29, 2008


In my opinion, all the evidence points to the wheels coming off the McCain-Palin Express.

John McCain seems to not have a clue about the economic crisis or anything else about reality in the world today. (And need I mention that neither does George Dubya Bush?) McCain tried to use the economic meltdown as an excuse to suspend his campaign and cancel the first debate with Barak Obama, using the excuse that the economic crisis demands his full attention. Obama correctly pointed out that the President typically needs to do more than one thing at a time!

The McCain position on the military situation in Iraq and Afghanistan - essentially to stay the Bush course - is a failed position as we watch U.S.-led actions on Afghanistan increasingly give ground to resurgent terrorists and extremists. And now U.S. and Pakistani forces are shooting at each other across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

And where is Sarah Palin? She seems to be under wraps except for - and as a result of - her two forays into talking to the press. (Have you watched her interview with Katie Couric?? Scary!) Right-wing Republicans are calling for her to step down from the ticket, and some campaign inside sources are saying that she's "clueless."

I find it painful to watch the McPalin machine disintegrate, even though it makes me happy. We need real leadership and vision next year, and McCain-Palin represents everything but.

Monday, September 22, 2008


As the U.S. financial crisis rolls on, we're doing two things: 1) keeping our fingers crossed that we don't lose our shorts, and 2) trying to figure out what the heck is going on. I read a lot of articles in the business sections of newspapers, and also columns by various "experts" and those who are "not-so-expert-but-with-an-opinion." I understand some of the basics of what's happening; but I also understand that the stock market, and the investment industry in general, is really legalized gambling.

Here are some example, ripped from the business section of the New York Times today:

" Short-selling has been blamed by banking executives for contributing to the decline in financial stocks...." So, what is short-selling? " Short-sellers borrow shares of companies' stocks and sell them, hoping to later repurchase them at lower prices and profit from the spread." So part of the federal strategy to fix the crisis is a temporary ban on short sales of 800 financial stocks.

"The shorting rule on Friday made it more expensive to purchase put options on stocks, which are bets that the stock's price will fall." Hmmm...kind of like a game of blackjack....

"Some of the investing strategies that are in flux because of the rule changes include index futures arbitrage [?] and merger arbitrage [?]. For instance, traders who want to make a bet on whether the merger involving the Bank of America and Merrill Lynch will go through will not be able to use short-selling this week to do so." Kind of like picking horses at the race track, I guess.

Finally, the Chief Investment Officer of a "giant bond firm" said of the federal plan: "This is a revolutionary move where we now expect and the market expects a transformation of wild, wild west capitalism to hopefully the benevolent fist of government."

Now, let me be clear here; I understand that nobody is forcing me to invest money in stocks and bonds - my wife and I could simply keep all of our cash under the mattress. But we've been told that our money is secure in banks, and insured up to $100,000 - great, but what if we have more than that? We understand that investing in the market has risks; fine. What bothers us is that the investment markets seem to be ruled by a bunch of high-stakes gamblers who are largely unregulated and whose greed for personal wealth overrides any concerns for the regular folks like us who trust them with our hard-earned money.

It bothers me when I get to an understanding that the investment industry is legalized gambling with little or no oversight. It bothers me when an industry leader says that government regulation is a "revolutionary move."

So yes, like John McCain, I don't really understand economics. But unlike John McCain, I want to end the big tax breaks for the guys and gals of Wall Street who make huge profits by gambling with my money, and I do want government to be Big Brother with eyes on Wall Street making sure that the investment and banking and insurance industries are playing by a set of rules that protect my investments in their poker party.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Front page headline, New York Times, Sunday September 14, 2008: "With Push from White House, U.S. Arms Sales Rise Sharply." The U.S. A. has, for a long time, been the world leader in selling and supplying weapons of destruction for the masses (WDMs). The Times article explains that so far this year, U.S. sales and transfers of instruments of war (probably spun by the neocons as "instruments of peace") is at just above $32 billion, compared to $12 billion in all of 2005.

The pie chart below, from the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, tells the tale:

The U.S. is - by far - the largest arms dealer in the world, and has been for a long time. Of course, these sales and transfers, mostly to the Middle East, but also to Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe and Canada, are - of course - "...about building a more secure world."

The Bush years have shown several consistent themes to the rest of the world. One of them, the Mysterious "Bush Doctrine" that possibly-presumptive V.P. Palin wasn't aware of, has shown the world that the U.S. can and will pre-emptively use our military might against anyone we even suspect might threaten our security. We can get away with this because our military might is basically unchallenged in the world - in terms of the number and caliber of our weapons.

The McPaign-Palin junta embodies this militant style of government - we'll challenge anyone who even thinks about challenging us or our allies, like Russia vs. Georgia or Iran vs. Israel. And our foreign policy will be to shoot first and ask questions later, as exemplified in Iraq.

In 2006 the U.S. sold $16.9 billion ($16,900,000,000) worth of weapons. I don't know if all of this is made in the U.S.A., where it represents American jobs, but think about how we could transform this large sector of the economy into something more productive and sustainable for ourselves and the rest of the world. What if U.S. foreign policy focused on waging peace with words and deeds, backed by a strong but sub-dominant military, instead of waging war with weapons and threats?

I'm not comfortable knowing that my country is the largest weapon dealer in the world. I see this as a losing game, one that ignores the realities of the planet and the people on it. What do you think?

Friday, September 12, 2008


The McCain campaign, what I call McPaign, is about what we expected from the Republicans - again. This time, however, they've modified their tactics to include a darker shade of Palin. What a combination they make - the old warrior-maverick, loyal Bush-voting, lobbyist-favoring, richer than your 1,000 closest friends combined, S&L scandal-laden Senator, and the young and perky, shotgun-toting, moose-gutting, uber-mother, Jesus-loving, take-no-prisoners, thanks but no thanks, came out of nowhere, presidential candidate arm-candy, trophy V.P. puppet.(see note 1) Whew - beat that combo, Obamabiden!!

No matter that everything this duo says is total bull-moose. No matter that they each contradict everything they say. No matter that even the lies they tell, the ones the media has overwhelmingly exposed, just keep getting told. But if you believe the media (a real stretch most of the time), these two are more popular than vanilla ice cream on mom's apple pie. Why? What gives?

Let me put it as delicately as I can: the American voting public has demonstrated twice in the last two presidential elections that they are, um, well - idiots. There; I said it in print. And you know what they say: the third time is the charm. The Republican base loves these two, and maybe the simple fact is that those of us who don't think electing McPaign is a good idea are in the minority. I can't tell you how many friends and relatives are saying - half seriously - that if McPaign is elected, they're leaving the country for someplace where sanity prevails.

The McPaign ticket is based on nationalistic jingoism, loyalty to the wounded warrior, and enthrallment with a tough-talking and folksy female. Forget the facts here - that the economy is beyond the toilet and in the sewer, American jobs are disappearing faster than snickerdoodles at a kids birthday party, the global climate is on a crash course with a world we don't want to live on, the "global war on terror" is a tremendous failure and has put America in a much more dangerous place than ever, and that the ideals and morals - not to mention a little thing like our Constitution itself - have been turned upside down for the benefit of the profit-above-all-else corporations and their puppets. Hey - who cares?? We'll get a President and a V.P. we want to drink a beer with!!

So hang on folks, it's a wild ride that will become even scarier with time. Good luck to all of us!

(Note 1 - a woman friend of mine is responsible for the arm-candy-trophy designations; I would never risk my life by uttering such overt sexist remarks!)

Thursday, September 04, 2008


While watching Governor Sarah Palin speaking at the Republican National Convention, I began taking notes every time she said something that just didn't seem to be correct. This post is an example of political chicanery at its best, using one of the items from Palin's speech.

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin talked about the big pipeline that will be built from Alaska to the lower 48 states:

That pipeline, when the last section is laid and its valves are opened, will lead America one step farther away from dependence on dangerous foreign powers that do not have our interests at heart.


Here's the real story. The oil companies that have been pumping oil from the North Slope of Alaska are coming to the end of the oil that is easily recovered in those fields. There is a lot more oil there, but it is much more difficult, and expensive, to recover. Those oil fields contain a lot of natural gas; however, there is no way to get the natural gas to the lower 48 United States, where there is a market demand for the gas.

The solution? The big oil companies will build a big pipeline from the Alaska North Slope to the lower 48 in order to deliver that gas to a welcoming market. The profits from the sale of the natural gas will finance the more expensive extraction of oil from the North Slope oil fields. And, of course, the State of Alaska and Alaskan citizens get a big share of the profits.

So what about leading us away from "dependence on dangerous foreign powers?" A few facts:
  • In 2007 the United States imported 4,607,582 million cubic feet (mcf) of natural gas (add six zeros for the number of cubic feet)
  • Of that total, 3,836,770 mcf were imported via pipeline, and 770,812 as liquefied natural gas (LNG) aboard ships
  • of the total gas imported via pipeline, 98.6 percent was from Canada and the remainder from Mexico
  • of the total LNG imported to the U.S., 58.5 percent was from Trinidad, 14.8 percent from Egypt, and 12.3 percent was from Nigeria.
Unless I've missed something in the news lately, I don't think that Canada, Mexico, Trinidad, Egypt and Nigeria are "dangerous foreign powers."

There's another interesting piece to this tale. There are presently exports of natural gas from Alaska; 60,765 mcf in 2006 (the latest year for which numbers are available). All of this natural gas is exported to one country - Japan - and I assume that it is shipped as LNG. So why not ship the natural gas from the North Slope to the lower 48 states as LNG? Because people in the lower 48 states don't want LNG terminals built in their back yards.

So here's the real story:
  1. the Palin Pipeline will have nothing to do with leading "America one step farther away from dependence on dangerous foreign powers that do not have our interests at heart."
  2. the Palin Pipeline has nothing to do with our dependence on foreign oil.
  3. the Palin Pipeline is being built for one reason - profits for the oil companies and the State of Alaska, some of which will be invested into recovering more oil from the North Slope oil fields as the existing easily-produced oil runs out - which might be a zero sum game in terms of the amount of oil shipped to the lower 48 states.
The tale of Palin's Pipeline was a well-written piece of fiction for a cynical speech given by an unknown pit bull with lipstick. I hope the American voters see through this Republican spin and look at the real issues.

Information sources:
- Alaska Business Magazine
- Energy Information Administration (official energy statistics by the U.S. government)

Friday, August 29, 2008


China maiden,
Anaemic hind,
a China mined,
a maiden chin.

Machine and I,
China named I,
chain maiden,
a machine din.

Chained man I,
Acid Man he in,
can aim end hi?
manic head in.

Naiad inch me,
Niacin had me,
maniac end hi,
Iceman had in.

Canine am hid,
China dame in,
aha - nice mind!
idea man Chin.

by Ana Gram


I was looking around at the many stories on the net today about John McCain's pick of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential candidate. I found this video of the Palin acceptance speech on CNN, which you should watch - and then watch it again, this time focusing on John McCain. Um, is it me, or does he look like a guy who is very uncomfortable and doesn't know what he's doing? He fiddles with his wedding ring, he picks his finger nails, and he doesn't smile. He hugs Gov. Palin very stiffly, then goes back into a trance-like state. And also, um, what does he keep looking at? He keeps staring at something - you decide what.

In any event, this will be interesting and exciting political theater for the next 2 months. The McCain pick of Palin makes one wonder how the Republicans are going to continue to use their "Obama doesn't have the experience to be President of the United States." Palin is smart, tough and young, but has very little political experience for someone who will literally be a heart beat away from the U.S. presidency. (Can you imagine the anguish Hillary would go through if Palin became President?)

I'll write another post about the Democratic national convention, which I thought was absolutely boffo! And I might tune into the Republican convention to see what the other side is going to do.

This election cycle has been the most interesting I can remember in the 43 years I've been of voting age, and it is only going to get better! Stay tuned folks, the fun has just begun.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


I've always liked Senator Joe Biden; he seemed like a level-headed, straight-talking guy, for a senator. During the debates between the Democratic Party candidates for president, it was Joe Biden who impressed me the most as a very solid candidate with deep roots in government and foreign policy. His statements about the Bush administration taking their eyes off the ball (Afghanistan) to invade Iraq, and the continuing debates about Iraq keeping us diverted from the real issue - Iran - were right-on. I was sorry to see Biden drop out of the race.

Barak Obama's selection of Joe Biden makes a lot of sense politically and electorally. Biden has the length and depth of experience that John McCain claims, without all the baggage clattering along behind McCain. This will certainly add to the Obama candidacy as the election gets into high gear. And Vice President Biden will be a valuable asset to an Obama administration.

This election contest will be heating up very soon, following the two national conventions. I think we're in for some entertaining debates, and if things continue on their present course, some real mud slingin, too.

And so I say: "gObama! jObama!

Friday, August 15, 2008


My wife and I took our almost-ten year old grandson Max to see WALL*E yesterday (his second time, our first - so maybe he took us?). What a good movie! We had a great conversation afterward about the movie, and Max was particularly interested in discussing the concept of people ruining the Earth with too much garbage and pollution. In my discussions with all four of our grandchildren, I've learned that kids these days are very much tuned into environmental problems, and think about ways to solve them. I don't sense fear in these young minds, the kind that my generation was taught regarding the imminent A-bomb sent by the Soviet Union. Instead there is thoughtfulness and a willingness to be part of "fixing it."

I think the film WALL*E is more than a cautionary environmental tale combined with a robot love story (is it OK to have a few tears about robots holding hands?). The root of the global environmental disaster in the film is consumerism on steroids, a superstore (Buy n Large, or B n L) gone wild that became everything - store, government, media, etc. The garbage produced by overachieving consumerism becomes unmanageable, and people leave WALL*E and his robot cleanup comrades behind to clean up the mess while humans cruise the universe on luxury B n L space liners.

The premise seems kind of silly, or does it? This post is not a Walmart bash, but Walmart is the obvious model that the film might have had in mind (I certainly walked away from the film thinking WALL*E - Wal*Mart). I've written previously (see November 25, 2006) about the U.S. consumer demand for home electronics resulting in more factories being built in China fueled by more coal-fired power plants producing a huge plume of air pollutants that drifts across the Pacific Ocean to the west coast of the U.S. As consumers, we are trained to buy whatever gadgets and gizmos we see, and throw them away when they break or become obsolete (often within a year or two). If you've ever visited a landfill, you can picture the mountains of trash that we ship out of our cities. From cradle to grave, most consumer products leave behind a trail of environmental harm, including a changing climate, polluted air and water, and mountains of trash.

Will we ever have cute little WALL*E robots cleaning up our messes? Will we get to the point where leaving the planet is the best option? Will robots save humanity by re-creating life on Earth? Likely not. I'm unhappy about the mess my generation is leaving our grandkids, but their understanding and excitement to change the world gives me hope.

Thanks Pixar for a wonderful film that is so much more than entertainment.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


If you've read my recent posts, you know that I think this gasoline price crisis has been orchestrated by the oil industry and large commodity speculators. Think about it this way: gasoline is what we would consider a staple in our society, kind of like milk, eggs, flour, sugar. We all rely on it, either for our private vehicles, the public buses we ride, air travel, and, in some areas, generating electricity. Have you ever seen the price of milk, eggs, flour, sugar go up and down to such an extent, and in such a short period of time, as we have recently seen with gasoline? No. So why is this happening?

How do our political leaders respond to this situation? John McCain wants to drill the hell out of our coastal waters; Barack Obama now wants to open the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to put more gasoline on the market and get some price relief. Although I shake my head in dismay watching Obama cave in to political and election pressure, at least I know that he frames the discussion with the need for a comprehensive energy policy. (Note: the Bush policy was developed behind closed doors by Lord Darth Cheney; it seems to have been: invade Iraq and get their oil - oops.)

Where is the leader, or presumptive leader, who is truth-telling about petroleum? Where is the leader who is telling us exactly why the price of gasoline at the pump is jumping around like a drop of water on a hot skillet? Does anyone get it that the petro companies are raking in the largest profits ever (I call it obscene)?

Note to presidential candidates (Barack, are you reading this?) - tell The People why the price of gas is so high and so volatile; tell us what your plan is to fix this once and for all. And by the way, drilling for more oil, or developing coal shale deposits (a costly environmental disaster) is not the correct answer. For me, something like "let's accelerate alternative fuel technologies; let's build a great mas transit system, including fast trains, let's nationalize the oil industry (oops, can't do that - it's socialism)" is getting close to where we need to be - but I won't hold my breath.

(Full disclosure: I actually think gasoline should cost $5.00 per gallon to get us off the habit - with provisions to help those who really can't afford it and need to drive to get to work, etc. Also, my wife and I own some Royal Dutch Shell stock, and last time I looked, our return on that buy is 40-some percent - nice. But I can live without that kind of profit IF it means a more rational energy policy.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


If you're like me, you've gotten into the habit of looking at the price of gasoline as you travel through town. About a week ago or so, the price of a gallon of regular gasoline was about $4.50; then it started to drop, at least 5 cents per day, so now the price is just under $4.00 per gallon. What's going on?

Let's ask the experts.

From an article in the newspaper business section, under the headline "Falling prices reduce anxiety over energy costs" the byNew York Times News Service:
- "oil has fallen more than $23 a barrel, or 16 percent, since peaking July 3..."
- "this helped spur a broad rally in the stock market...."
- "The declines in energy costs come after an equally sharp correction in the prices of many agricultural commodities...."
- "These moves suggest to economists that global markets, in a near panic early this year to find prices high enough to allocate scarce supplies, overshot the mark and bid prices too high."
- "...many traders have begun to believe demand for oil and other commodities will soften worldwide."
- "The market went out of control on the upside...."
- "...participants realized there was much more demand destruction...."
- "As a result of looser market fundamentals, many analysts believe energy prices could keep falling...."

Ummmmm....I don't know about you, but I have no idea what all this jargon means. I do know that, according to the same article, gasoline demand fell sharply in the U.S. over the past few months, with American driving 9.6 billion (yes, billion) fewer miles in May, compared to last year. That means billions of dollars less to the oil industry in one month than last year.

So it sounds to me like the price of gasoline is the result of a bunch of gaming by commodity traders, and when we consumers stop buying as much, the price goes down to bring us back into their game.

Doesn't that make us feel good?

Monday, July 21, 2008


I recommend reading a short op-ed by Glenn L. Carle, a retired 23-year member of the CIA's Clandestine Service. In the article, Carle debunks the "Global War on Terror," and the state of fear created in the U.S. by the Bush regime. This "war on Terror" has been the excuse for many serious transgressions of U.S. and international law by the Bush cabal, as well as led the U.S. down a wrong road based on fear. The Politics of Fear has been a hallmark of the rovian Bush -Cheney years, and a reason for all U.S. voters to seriously look at the two presumptive candidates for President in terms of their positions on terrorism and how to counter it.

I've always been of the opinion that terrorism is, and should be treated as, criminal activity, not "war." We've seen many examples, particularly in Europe but also here in the U.S., of potential terrorist acts being thwarted by good police work. The "Global War on Terror" was the drum beat for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, one of the biggest foreign policy blunders in our history. This cowboy diplomacy in Iraq has strengthened the criminals in and connected to al-Qaida, and those with no relationship to that band of thugs.

We in the United States live in a new and fearful state of being: yellow-orange-red terrorism alerts; a jihadist lurking around every corner, ridiculous shake-downs to get onto an airplane, and etc. Yes, there are terrorists out there, but not the uncounted hordes the Bush-Cheney machine would have us believe, and only a handful who have an interest in, and pose any threat to the United States.

Read the article - it's important. Be an informed citizen.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Of course! I was just dozing off for an afternoon nap, while listening to an interview of a John McCain strategist on NPR, and I bolted upright on the couch with the following realization: the gasoline price crisis in this country is a manufactured strategy of the Bush administration and it's big industry supporters.

Think about it - what kinds of news stories are we hearing these days in terms of government solutions to the gasoline crisis? Here are two that are prominent in the news, and as really well-produced TV and other media advertisements: 1) we need to build more nuclear-powered electricity generating plants; 2) we need to drill for oil off the coasts of the United States, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

Major political battles were fought and won in this country decades ago to stop or severely limit off-shore oil drilling and building new nuclear energy plants. But the oil and nuclear industries have been trying to find the right handle on this one; the handle that will push the American public in the direction of new drilling and new nukes. Well, there's nothing like a gasoline crisis - prices climbing towards $5 per gallon (remember when $4 per gallon scared us?) to get the public in the mood for something to ease the pain.

Lily Tomlin once said "No matter how cynical I get, I just can't keep up." Call me cynical, but the most logical reason I can think of for the suddenly high price of gasoline is a strategy by government and industry to gin up a big scare and a lot of economic pain as a way of softening us up for what they really want. And that goal is even bigger profits.

Now I can go back to sleep.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


I've posted before about my concerns with the Medical-Industrial Complex (search for "medical" using the search window at the top left). Sadly, I have to report another victim of the M-IC; the pharmacies at New Seasons Market.

New Seasons Market is a Portland, Oregon company that presently has 10 markets in the Portland area. This is no ordinary supermarket chain; New Seasons Market is a community-based company that has taken community, sustainability, and supporting local agriculture beyond any other market company I'm familiar with. We received a letter the other day from New Seasons Market announcing the closure of the three in-store pharmacies they have operated for the past four years. The reason - New Seasons Market cannot compete with the big discount chains that offer hundreds of generic drugs for $3 or $4 per monthly supply. New Seasons is not a large enough buyer to match these prices. This is a shame, and a loss for the New Seasons Market communities.

I recently brought my Lipitor prescription to the New Seasons Market pharmacy after using the health insurance company prescription service for some time. The reason for my switch is not important, but I felt strongly that I would rather support a local company than a huge mail order prescription mill. I knew that the insurance company rules, established to favor their preferred prescription service, would result in my paying more at New Seasons Market. Using the insurance -sponsored Express-Scrips service, I could get a 3-month supply of my drug for $40. The insurance company rules do not allow another pharmacy to sell me more than a 30-day supply, for a $20 co-pay. Why is this legal?

Interestingly, within a week of having my prescription filled at New Seasons Market, I received a letter from Express-Scrips telling me that I could save $80 per year by switching my prescription to them instead of New Seasons (that's right, they know what pharmacy I used). This brazen marketing ploy made me decide to spend the $80 a year more as my principled stand against the Medical-Industrial Complex (boy, that's really going to hurt them!!).

Well, the big boys won after all - they've put my local pharmacy put of business, and I'll go back to Express-Scrips with my virtual tail between my legs. But I think I'll look for a charity to which I can donate that saved $80 a year to help people who can't afford their medications.

Wouldn't it be great to live in a society that supported local businesses?


Like Chief Engineer Scottie on Star Trek, Scott McClellan followed the orders of his Captain without question. Unlike Scottie, Worf, Bones and others, however, Scottie McC did not question his captain's orders when he thought they violated the rule of law. In Star Trek, the outcome was always good, nobody got hurt, and the Starship Enterprise went on it's merry way to go where no-one had gone before. In real life, unfortunately, the Bush starship went on to wreck havoc and destruction throughout the world, with a great toll in lives, families, economies and honor.

I haven't read Scott McClellans new, much ballyhood book What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception. I will not read this sordid little tale of guilt and hurt feelings (oh poor, poor Scott - he was (gasp) lied to). In my book of life, Scott McClellan deserves no pity, no sympathetic ear, and certainly no compensation for his after-the-fact confessions. Any good script writer would have had Scott, at some point, stand up to his Captain and say: "Sir, I respectfully disagree with your orders because I think they are a violation of everything this country holds dear and true - not to mention a whole bunch of laws, Sir." But no, Scott played the good yes-man. He trotted out to the press secretary podium and spewed the lies, maligned those who dared to question the motives and modes of the President, stood his ground against truth and reality.

The only way Scott McClellan can even begin to make amends to the rest of us is to donate all proceeds from his book and speaking engagements to worthy causes - like health care and education assistance for returning vets of the Iraq Debacle and their families, aide for displaced Iraqis, and similar causes. Only then will we begin to accept any form of apology from Scott.

So Scott, beam yourself out of the limelight, and do something worthy - for once.

Sunday, June 01, 2008


As if this way-too-long election season hasn't been long enough, the Hillary Clinton campaign now plans to take their nomination fight to the Democratic Party convention in Denver, if necessary. Against a background of Hillary supporters chanting: "count those votes" "Denver. Denver." "We'll vote for McCain!" the Hillary folks are unhappy with the decision of their party that gives Florida and Michigan delegates one-half vote each.

The claims of citizen's votes not being counted, democracy subverted, and Floridians being cheated are too reminiscent of the general election of 2000. In that election, if you need to be reminded, Al Gore had more popular votes than George W. Bush, and the Gore campaign cried foul concerning the apparent problems with the Florida voting and ballot counting. Both sides brought in the attorneys, the strategists, the big political guns - in the end, the Republicans fended off a recount, and got a favorable nod from the Supreme Court of the United States. To his credit, Al Gore decided to concede, apparently deciding that the good of the country was the most important factor.

Nobody can say how this down-and-dirty wrestling match between Democrats will affect the general election in November. Will the Democrats shoot themselves in more than the foot? Will disgruntled Hillaryites vote for John McCain, thus ensuring his victory? Will there be a mass exodus from the Democratic Party to some other party?

But the question is begged: should Hillary Clinton be more like Al Gore and gracefully concede the nomination to Barak Obama? Does it come down to a question of personal ambition vs. the good of the country? This is certainly a tough decision for any candidate, particularly one who has started as the presumed victor and ended up having to fight as if her political life depends on winning. It's a tough choice for a tough politician, but one that needs to be carefully and thoughtfully considered.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Eeek...look out, it's a gay cheeseburger!

Yes, it must be true, based on this Action Alert from the Family Research Council:

Action Alert: McDonald's is funding homosexual activism - and I'm NOT lovin' it!

That's right, it's right there on the opening page of the FRC website: Apparently, serving McFlurries and Big Macs to the public is no longer enough to satisfy the hunger of McDonald's to make a cultural impact on the United States. Sadly, McDonald's is now financing attacks on marriage and the family as a new Corporate Partner of the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC).

Well, I would only say to the FRC what the hamburger would say: "BITE ME!"

The banner headline on the FRC site today is, of course: CA Supreme Court Imposes Same Sex Marriage. How dare the California Supreme Court majority (mostly Republicans, by the way) attack the holy sanctity of marriage, which is and can only be between one man and one woman? How dare they say that denying marriage to any couple is a violation of the California Constitution? They must all be gay (or maybe Communists, or something)!

The California Supreme Court ruling is a landmark decision that will help turn the legal tide in favor of constitutional rights for all Americans. To those people who find same sex marriage an attack on marriage, I can only say that they need to find something important to focus on, like world poverty, or war, or hunger, or something that is actually harming people. I don't have a problem with a churches declaring that only heterosexual couple can be married in the church - that's up to the members of the congregation. But when it comes to public services, provided by local or state government, the prohibition of same sex couples marriage is a violation of the constitution. Period.