Sunday, December 27, 2009


When Barack Obama ran for President, he promised that reforming healthcare would be

a top priority. He asked Americans to vote for him to change the status quo, expand health

insurance to millions who don't have it, drive down costs, slow premium increases, institute

competition into the system, and improve quality of care. He campaigned in favor of a public

option to compete with private insurance companies.

The House of Representatives passed a bill which accomplished many of these goals.

However, the Senate is about to pass a bill which accomplishes few if any of the President's

stated goals. In fact, the Senate healthcare bill doesn't even leave a few crumbs for middle

America. The Senate Democrats gave away the public option. They retreated on opening

Medicare to 55 year olds. They failed to allow Americans to import cheaper prescription

drugs from nations like Canada and they dropped all language which would have made health

insurance companies subject to the same anti-trust legislation all other corporations must

adhere to. Why is this? Is competition among healthcare providers somehow the exception

to how business is done in this most capitalist of all nations?

On one hand, the bill prohibits the denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions; but

on the other allows insurance companies to charge higher premiums for a variety of problems

ranging from high blood pressure to liver spots. Remember when the President promised

that we would no longer have to fear losing our homes or going bankrupt because of illness?

The Senate bill does not prohibit insurance companies from capping annual benefits; thereby

allowing them to crush those with long-term illness by limiting their coverage, forcing them

into bankruptcy or destitution. That's a broken promise.

If you don't like that broken promise, how about this one? The President now supports

a mandate that all Americans buy health insurance. Candidate Obama specifically opposed

doing this. In plain English it means that we, the taxpayer, will be required to subsidize

premiums for poor people; and this will mean hundreds of millions of tax dollars to private

insurance companies for millions of new customers. At the same time, there will be no

subsidies for middle class families who will be required to buy insurance they cannot afford

and they will get no help doing it.

The Senate bill is a disaster for middle class America. Not only will there be no subsidies

to help defray medical costs, there will be no pressure to keep costs down. Middle class

workers will be expected to shoulder a larger and larger share of their healthcare provided

by their employers and will be forced to choose between a pay raise or higher healthcare

premiums. Small businesses will not be able to shop around for a better deal because in many

states one company will control 60-70% of the entire market. Americans lucky enough to

have union health plans will face a tax increase if the programs are too generous. All of this

is bad news and hits middle class America squarely in the pocket book.

A member of Congress recently said we have to be careful not to sacrifice the good in

search of the perfect. The problem is, the Senate bill as it now stands is neither. I have tried

to remain optimistic about the end game. I have always thought the strategy would be to get

a bill out of the House and Senate and then fix it in a conference committee. I am hopeful

this could still resolve the situation. However, to fix the Senate bill in conference would mean

essentially adopting the original House bill and that simply is not going to happen. It's time

to face reality. If the final product contains no public option, no expansion of Medicare, no

expansion of Medicaid, and has a mandate for all Americans to buy health insurance, if the

final bill does not prohibit either lifetime or annual benefit caps and allows insurance

companies to charge more for a menu of health-related problems associated with growing

older, if insurance companies are allowed to maintain and expand their monopolies, if we

cannot import cheaper drugs and the insurance companies are allowed to charge older

customers four times as much as younger customers; then the former Vermont governor and

Democratic Party Chair, Howard Dean, is right when he says the bill must be killed.

Obama is left with the worst of a bad series of choices. If no bill is passed, he and the

Democrats will be accused, correctly, of not being able to get anything done. If the Senate

version prevails, middle America will abandon him in droves and Republicans will hang every

odious provision around his neck. Passing a bill which increases taxes, lowers competition,

and doesn't reform, will cripple the President with his base.

Is the irony lost on anyone that our current President "of the people" has been able to get

Republican support to bail out Wall Street and to expand the war in Afghanistan; but failed

to get any support to fix the nation's healthcare system, pass an energy bill, or even close

down Guantanamo Bay? Are we seeing a pattern here?

Now I get to rant. How is it the Democrats get such weak, namby-pamby leadership in

the Senate? First, Tom Daschle and now Harry Reid show they cannot impose any discipline

on Democratic senators. How could Reid allow Joe Lieberman in his caucus without exacting

a promise to vote with the caucus? If the Senate bill passes as is, or has to be killed to save

middle class America, Reid needs to lose his re-election bid and be thrown into the dustbin

of history. No one has been more critical of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi than I have.

However, she got a bill passed and it's a bill which accomplishes far more than the current

Senate version. If Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman ends up being the reason a good

healthcare bill isn't passed, Democrats need to strip him of his committee chairmanship and

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, the "enforcer", who knows how to play hardball

politics, needs to let Lieberman know that no bill with his name on it will pass for the next

three years.

We were promised a good healthcare bill. A "good" bill would prohibit denial for pre-

existing conditions, create competition to drive down costs, expand coverage to millions of

Americans without insurance, and end insurance company monopolies. In relation to the

promised "good" bill, a "bad" bill would at least have expanded Medicare and Medicaid, and

helped millions of our most vulnerable Americans. But, instead, what we are offered is an

"ugly" bill; a bill that doesn't stimulate competition, ends no monopolies, shields no individual

or family from economic disaster, leaves the status quo in place, and continues to force

Americans to buy health insurance they can't afford.

There is only one slim chance left to fix this; and that is in the conference committee. If

proper repairs are not made at that time, be prepared to call or email Congresswoman Lynn

Woolsey. Tell her and the Progressive Caucus to vote against the bill. Call, write, or email

Senators Boxer, Feinstein, Widen, Schumer, Feingold, Whitehouse, Brown, and Stabenow.

Demand they kill the bill in the Senate. It will be a shameful defeat that will confirm to the

distressed citizens of this country that our politicians are no longer willing or able to tackle

major problems and fix them.

And why were we defeated? At the forefront of our defeat are the insurance companies...

the worst corporate citizens in this nation! Millions of our healthcare premium dollars, those

hard-earned dollars we assumed go directly toward our unforeseen medical expenses, were

used against us, spent on lobbying to kill the very thing we've been crying for for over seventy

years, healthcare reform. And if that were not bad enough, these nefarious lobbying costs

will be totally recovered as tax deductions...the perfectly legal and simple cost of doing

business. Taken all together, it's a rigged game. Billions of taxpayer dollars, in various ways,

are given to the multimillionaires who run the nation's private health insurance companies.

Republicans are chuckling all the way to the ballot box and Democrats have no toes left to

shoot off. They win. We lose.

This national problem goes much deeper than the inability of our political leaders to

enact much needed healthcare reform. When the people are promised the good but are

offered the ugly, exactly who do "they" think "we" are? It would seem they've come to think

we are stupid. I happen to feel that's a big mistake on their part. Wouldn't you agree?

What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Simple "Thank You" Would Be Nice

American parents have been told from the birth of our republic that one of the most

patriotic actions they can perform is to encourage their children to join one of the armed

services. Having a child choose to serve their country likewise reflects honor on the parents.

No greater honor can an American parent make than to support a child in the service of our

country;and no higher sacrifice can be asked than for those parents to lose their child in service

to their nation. Unfortunately, this sacred trust of American parent's greatest treasure is not

shared by their Commander-In-Chief, the President of the United States.

Some parents recently found that the President does not send a letter of condolence if

their child, while serving in the armed services, dies by suicide. It turns out this practice of

denying comfort to grieving parents and spouses dates back to the Clinton administration,

possibly further. According to one Pentagon source, suicide is not an "honorable" way to die;

and therefore does not deserve condolence. It would not matter even if the soldier was at

the war front at the time of death. Since death by suicide is not defined as "honorable"; their

commander, the President, will not express even a minimal amount of official sorrow to

those whose loss is inexpressible. Families whose child's life was lost in the very performance

of a soldier's duty are now tragically and forever disrupted without so much as an official

"Thank You".

I have opposed U.S. military adventurism my entire life. From my point of view, a

soldier who participates in an immoral war is not acting honorably. However, in addition to

the lack of "ethics" involved in U.S. wars, I'm constantly amazed at how this country turns

it's back on the returning veterans who do the dirty work of our political leaders. Take

Vietnam: Returning veterans, whose lives were ruined by exposure to agent orange, had

to fight Dupont, corporate America, and the Pentagon to try and get adequate healthcare.

Veterans of the first Gulf War came back with a nervous system disorder called Gulf War

Syndrome; which the White House, Congress, and the Pentagon denied ever existed and

denied veterans disability claims and medical assistance. Many veterans of Iraq and

Afghanistan are homeless, suffer from post-traumatic stress, have limbs blown off by IED's;

and yet the Pentagon and Congress continue to avoid fully funding the programs designed

to help our returning vets. When our children come home broken by war they quickly become

an inconvenient and embarrassing reminder of the failed hopes and the long-term human costs

of warfare. How can you ask someone to put their life on the line and then abandon them

when they come home?

Our sons and daughters dressed proudly in their military uniforms will now be sent to

Afghanistan to carry out President Obama's new war strategy. This could be their fifth or

sixth tour of duty. In many cases, they will not be home for at least a year, as Pentagon

policy requires; and many are showing adverse effects because of these deployments. The

Veteran's Administration estimates one in four returning soldiers require mental health

services. Many of these same returning veterans will also need marriage counseling and

therapy to help them deal with post-traumatic stress. Compounding a bad situation, reports

have surfaced that the Pentagon is prescribing anti-depressants for front-line soldiers rather

than sending them to a hospital or home. Other reports catalog decisions of field commanders

to keep soldiers who are showing signs of mental illness in theater rather than sending them

to medical facilities for help. After the recent shooting at Fort Hood, the Pentagon admitted

it simply does not have enough mental health professionals to meet the needs of returning

soldiers. More to the point, statistics show the suicide rate for American soldiers is at an

all-time high.

Let's get this straight: The Commander-In-Chief orders soldiers into combat. He doesn't

just order them to the front once, but rather two, three, four, or more times. If these soldiers

have mental difficulties, depression, excess anger, or post-traumatic stress, they aren't sent

home; instead, they are medicated or taken out of duty for a few days to lie in their bunk in

their barracks or tent. When they do return from deployment, they don't get the help they

need to cope with the experience of being in combat and frightened and tense 24 hours a day.

After not getting any help, they are sent back to the place which is the source of all their

problems. Catch 22!

It is a perfect mental health storm. Your child is sent to war. It is a guerilla war where

you can't tell the good guys from the bad guys. You live with fear every day. A comrade is

killed; so now you live with rage. You are approached by villagers and don't know if they

could be the enemy. You open fire and kill women and children and at some point, when

the cloud of delusion clears, you have to live with the horror of your actions for the rest of

your life.

At the end of the day, some can't cope. They find themselves in such a dark valley they

see no way out but suicide. A soldier kills himself. Parents are notified of their child's death.

They had noticed the change in their child, but the system didn't help them; and now that

their child is dead, the President will not offer condolences for the sacrifice they made, not

to mention the pain and sorrow they will have to endure forever. And somehow this soldier's

death is not honorable? This is a disgrace!

For a President to refuse to acknowledge such a profound loss, the very man who put

their child in harms way, is simply wrong. A person would have to be morally and spiritually

bankrupt to suggest that suicide somehow negates the sacrifice of a soldier's life to their


I suspect some of this current attitude toward suicide stems from religions that define

the act of killing yourself as a mortal sin; or the view by others that it is a sign of weakness.

I say no matter the roots, if a soldier dies while serving their country, the least the man who

sent them can do is offer some sort of condolence and compassion. There should be great

compassion for the soldier, for the parents of the soldier, and for the memory of the beloved

child who in the final analysis, and in God's eyes, lost his will to live because of what he was

asked to do.

If Obama continues this practice after sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, he

will verify the view of many that he is no different than his predecessor and lacks the basic

humanity and compassion that a Commander-In-Chief needs if our Republic is to continue

to be worthy of men's praise and God's continuing grace.

And so it all comes down to opinions about honor. Such a sad little word when it stands

alone. And it does stand alone when a nation's leaders fail to respect the humanity of it's

people. When compassion and comfort are withheld from the parents of soldiers who in

good faith joined the military, and for a thousand possible reasons found themselves drowning

in a physical or emotional nightmare. Who are we, from the comfort of our homes, to judge

why they chose to end their lives? Being a soldier is not easy. Life is not easy. Yes, suicide

is sad beyond the ability of words to say; but death is death, and these brave souls are fallen

warriors just the same. The battlefield may not have taken them; but they suffered isolation

as fragile human beings, as God well knows. But more importantly, they suffered as members

of the United States armed services. Their lives are forfeit, lost to themselves, their parents,

their spouses, their children, the nation, the world, and possibly even to God. With this in

mind, it seems a small thing to ask that these soldiers be honored; but, as things now stand,

a simple letter of condolence or a "Thank You" is simply too much to ask from our impossibly

righteous leaders in Washington. What do you think? I welcome your comments and

rebuttals. Please send them to

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Links (...well, sort of)

Our Lion wants to share the links to the following websites with all his followers. However,

for the time being at least what we are posting are the addresses of his favorite websites

which will have to be manually copied and pasted into your browser's(i.e., Internet Explorer,

Firefox, Safari, etc.) address bar. I'm working on making these links active; but

has limited functionality and seems to allow only the posting of plain text:

Monday, December 14, 2009


Every year around this time we can expect a number of stories to resurface in the media.

Someone will try to put a nativity scene in a public place and someone else will be offended

at having to look at it. This can lead to protests and from there, full-blown court battles.

Bill O"Reilly will rant and rave about if this is the Christmas season or merely a generic holiday

season. A new theory will surface about what the Star of Bethlehem could have been and Israel

will beef up its security to protect their tourist trade in Bethlehem. In other words, welcome

to another Christmas season as we've come to know it in America.

Christmas, the most widely known and told story in Western lore, is the celebration of

the birth of Joshua bin Joseph, son of Mary and Joseph of Nazareth. It is a holiday with

layers of tradition and meaning. However, in this country, much of its religious significance

has been lost, drained away to be replaced by jolly old Santa and his elves, Christmas trees,

holly, egg nog, and presents--lots of presents! Yet, the story surrounding the birth of Jesus,

in its truest sense, is a celebration. A celebration of the seminal moment in the relationship

between us and God. A moment of such inspiration and grace that two evangelists

memorialized it in a dramatic story complete with good guys, villains, kings, and choirs

of angels.

Matthew and Luke felt it important to include infancy narratives at the beginning of

their gospels; whereas the gospels of Mark and John simply introduce the adult Jesus as

He starts His public ministry. Why did Mark and John ignore the event? More importantly,

why did Matthew and Luke feel the need to write about it? As they were writing in about

70CE(70A.D.), what message did they want to convey? Matthew and Luke are two of the

three synoptic gospels. Mark was the third. "Synoptic" means coming from one or a similar

view. Most scholars believe both Matthew and Luke had Mark's gospel already. It is also

believed that there was another source of Jesus stories known as "Q" (Quelle) which predates

even Mark's account and to which Mark, Matthew, and Luke each referred in their writings.

No one has ever found "Q", but scholars believe it existed.

Matthew and Luke are writing for different audiences and this affects the way they tell

the infancy story. Matthew is writing for Jews. He wants to emphasize Jesus as the Messiah

prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures. For Matthew, Jesus is the new Moses who brings a

new law and covenant to the Jews. This is why he includes a genealogy, or family tree, which

traces Jesus's roots back to David. Jesus is a descendent of David; and Matthew wants to

reinforce Jesus's family returning to Bethlehem, the city of David, to respond to a world-wide

census. It is Matthew's gospel which includes the story of the three wise men, a story which

allows Matthew to proclaim Jesus a new king. It also has Jesus's life in jeopardy from Herod

and his order to kill all first-born male children. (Sounds similar to Passover, doesn't it?)

The family flees to Egypt only to return later. For Matthew, Jesus, like Moses, miraculously

escapes death as a child due to God's intervention and comes out of Egypt to lead his people

to a new promised land.

Luke, however, is writing for Gentiles. Luke's infancy story emphasizes a different Jesus,

one who is for everyone, not just Jews. Luke stresses the poverty Jesus is born into and

stresses His ministry to the poor; thus Luke includes the lack of inn space, the birth of this

extraordinary person in a barn, and His divine cradle as a mere feed trough. While Matthew

writes about a star and kings and valuable presents; Luke writes about poor shepherds

tending their flocks, hearing choirs of angels and being directed to a manger to worship

the one who brings glad tidings of peace on earth and good will towards all.

Are these stories intended to be taken literally as eyewitness reports about the events

surrounding the birth of Jesus and mankind? Or, should the unified story be used to relate

important beliefs about the nature of God, Jesus, and us? Is this a classic example of a

hopeful story being more important than historical fact?

As you may have already noticed, the classic Christmas story is an amalgam of both

Matthew's and Luke's gospels. Both evangelists have structured their "truths" within a

construction of mythic elements. With this in mind, scholars have found no evidence of

a census in the Roman Empire around the time of Tiberius. There is no evidence of a

slaughter of innocents around the time Herod was tetrarch of Judea. Astronomers have

tried for 2000 years to explain the star with little success. The wise men might have been

Persian magicians (thus the word magi). Then there is also the matter of Christ's birthday.

It's clear if shepherds were in their fields tending their flocks, this could not have been

winter. The reason Christmas is on December 25th is due to a combination of the politics

of religion, the politics of nations, and a calendar adjustment. When Christianity supplanted

pagan religions in the Roman Empire around 300CE (300A.D.), one of the biggest religious

celebrations was the Winter Equinox. It was the shortest day of he year on December 21st.

Among pagans, it was called the"Feast of the Unconquerable Sun". Christian leaders

appropriated the holiday and it became the "Feast of the Unconquerable Son". Later,

because of a calendar adjustment, December 21st became December 25th, and thus the day

we celebrate as the birthday of Jesus.

With this said, the "facts" might not seem to add up; but the "truths" Matthew and Luke

offer us stand out clearly. Over and above all this awkward contradiction remains that

simple question. What were the evangelists ultimately trying to say about the Jesus event

with their infancy stories? Why did they call Him Emmanuel (God with us)? How is the

world different before and after the birth of Jesus? How is God different after the birth of

Jesus? One of my favorite questions is: How is God plus Jesus different from God alone?

Up until Roger Bannister ran a mile in under four minutes, the experts, coaches, and

scientists didn't believe it could be done. After he broke that barrier, many others came

along and broke it again and again. Today, high school students have run a sub-four-minute

mile. Up until Joan Benoit ran and won the first women's marathon, it was accepted wisdom

that women couldn't run distances of that length without harming themselves. Most felt

women's bodies were not built for the stress and that their reproductive capabilities would

suffer. She ran that marathon in 1976, not in some ancient time; and today women are

running 100-mile ultra marathons as fast as men in many cases.

When Sir Edmund Hillary ascended to the top of Mt. Everest, it was considered

impossible and news of his achievement rocked the world. Since then, hundreds of men

and women have made the same climb. The breaking of a barrier, the conquering of the

unconquerable, the act of achieving something new somehow convinced or allowed or

encouraged others to have a new relationship to time, effort, or their presumed physical


We call Jesus Emmanuel. We celebrate Christmas and talk about the incarnation

(God uniting with our humanity in a whole new way). This is why Christmas is such an

incredible day. It celebrates something new, and because of this a barrier has been broken!

It reminds us things were not always like this and because of Jesus things are changed forever.

Scripture is the chronicle of the saga of God revealing and humans seeing. It is the story

of revelation and epiphany. The insight of Abraham, that Yahweh is knowable and wants

to relate to us; is played out in Scripture from the Patriarchs through Moses and the prophets.

God continuously tries to draw us into a relationship. However, some of us choose to place

distance between God and ourselves and those choices are often understood as sin. But

despite rejection, disobedience, rebellion, and infidelity, God continues to try to be more

and more intimate with Her creation.

Imagine being a parent estranged from your children. Friends, I speak of what I know.

Just being far away from my wife and children is painful beyond words. have them

choose to be separate from me would be unbearable. God created us for one reason. God

created us in a relationship of love. But love is a two-way relationship. No relationship can

exist in only one direction. It's a mutual giving. From the dawn of creation, God's desire was

to know and love Her creation. God wanted to relate in an intimate way; but despite moments

of transcendence and glimpses of imminence, we continued to fall short. And as much as we

longed to have God with us in what is often a dark, lonely, and dispiriting world; it simply

was not possible...until the birth of Jesus.

The birth of Jesus opened up a new relationship, a new intimacy with God. Jesus

actually chose to love God and His neighbor. He turned the other cheek, forgave an infinite

number of times, served the least of His brothers and sisters, and in the process drew so close

to God and God to Him; the only way He could describe the relationship was to call God

"Abba". In this name everything became clear. The word "Abba" stands for the most

affectionate, loving, and trusting name you could come up with to call a parent, Daddy, Pop,

or whatever pet/intimate name you have for a parent.

Because Jesus chose to be as close to God as possible, because He had eyes to see and

ears to hear, because He never chose to have any distance between Himself and God; Jesus

achieved an intimacy with God never before realized in the world. As Matthew and Luke

looked at the Jesus event through the prism of His short life, death, and resurrection; they

saw the incarnation. They understood something new had occurred. Something was open

and available that hadn't existed before. Light had conquered darkness! The good news

needed to be proclaimed. So, they created the most powerful vehicle they could to convey

this most unique and liberating insight: The Christmas story! A story of God becoming man,

of choirs of angels, of stars pointing out His location, and of kings that bowed to a baby.

It is a message intended for the rich and poor, the powerful and weak, the kings and the


So, this year, as you put your Christmas tree up and hang the ornaments with their

Santas and reindeer, reflect on the moment when light conquered darkness and love overcame

fear. And when you see the candles and hear the bells and sing the hymns, take time to

marvel at the greatest gift mankind has ever received: The birth of the first baby, the living

link between God and the future hope of God's kingdom on earth. A kingdom founded on

love. A kingdom that transcends nations. A kingdom that promises peace on earth and

goodwill toward all. For on this day Emmanuel was born...God's gift of love. Now it's our

turn, don't you think? Merry Christmas! I welcome your comments. Please send them to

Sunday, December 13, 2009

We Have to Destroy the Village To Save It

He looked like he was waiting for an unpleasant dentist appointment. President Obama

gave a speech at West Point which secured his place in history right next to Lyndon Johnson,

and he seemed none too pleased about it. Obama announced an expansion of the war in

Afghanistan by adding 30,000 more troops. His rationale appears to be we have to expand

the war in order to begin to end it in eighteen months. At a time when unemployment is

over 10%, his healthcare reform bill is being debated in the Senate, his energy bill is stalled,

and many Democrats are calling for another round of economic stimulus to create jobs;

the President told the American people he is going to spend at least $30 billion more

treasure and who knows how much blood to continue America's role in a civil war for which

there is no definition of victory.

Obama's speech left more questions than answers. He did not explain how he will pay

for the additional commitments. Will he support a war tax? Will he add more to the deficit?

He did not explain why it is so difficult to get the Afghan people to defend their own country

from insurgents. He did not explain why he is sending 30,000 troops to Afghanistan when

he acknowledges the real enemy is in Pakistan. He did not explain how a corrupt government

under Hamid Karzai is going to morph into an effective partner with public support. He did

not explain how fighting in Afghanistan will protect us here in this country.

Just as Johnson watched his Great Society programs dwindle and fade as the cost of

Vietnam grew, Obama expands America's military presence in Afghanistan while our own

nation is reeling from an economic disaster which continues to add layers of pain and

uncertainty to most American's lives with no end in sight.

Cindy Sheehan asked President Bush what her son fought and died for in Iraq. He was

never able to answer her question. Can Obama answer it now? According to our President,

we are in Afghanistan because we were attacked on September 11th. However, the people

who attacked us are in Pakistan. Al Qaeda has virtually ceased to exist in Afghanistan. We

are fighting in Afghanistan to prevent a return of the Taliban to power while at the same time

the Karzai government is inviting disgruntled Taliban to join his government. We are in

Afghanistan because of terror attacks in England, Bali, and Turkey; yet these attacks, along

with plots uncovered in this country, were hatched in the border regions of Pakistan. The

President says we have to fight the Taliban; and yet the Taliban in Pakistan are very different

than those in Afghanistan, with different goals and objectives. In effect, the President said,

we are sending 30,000 troops to stand up the Afghans so we can stand down eighteen

months from now. Sound familiar?

We are told this will not be another Vietnam, yet the similarities are striking. The

dispute in Afghanistan is a civil war between the majority Pashtun Taliban and other ethnic

groups. The government of Afghanistan is weak and propped up by American power as was

the government of Vietnam. Karzai does not have widespread support due to a fraudulent

election and rampant corruption. As in Vietnam, the Afghans themselves don't seem to want

to fight for their own nation. Just as we tried to train an effective Vietnamese army, and

failed; now we are asking Afghans, many of them Pashtuns, to fight and kill their countrymen.

What's more, this war does not have popular support here at home with the latest polling

showing 53% of Americans want us out of the country. As in Vietnam, we are foreigners

fighting an enemy on their home turf.

In his speech, the President did not even hint at the question of India vs. Pakistan.

The Taliban was created and supported by the Pakistan military and intelligence services

to destabilize, disrupt, and take over Afghanistan in order to reduce or eliminate Indian

influence. The dirty little secret is India and Pakistan have been using Afghanistan for a

proxy war. There appear to be strong elements in Pakistan who still want the Afghan

Taliban to succeed; so how do 30,000 additional troops address this problem?

Obama appears to have agreed to expand the war in Afghanistan for the same reason

Johnson expanded the Vietnam war...domestic politics! Tapes of Johnson talking to aids

reveal he did not believe the war could be won; but he was afraid of being accused of being

soft on communism by Republicans if he did not add more troops. Obama has been told by

his political advisors if he withdraws troops or does not appear to be aggressively prosecuting

a war against the Taliban/al Qaeda and there is another terrorist attack in this country; he

will be savaged by the neo-cons and regressives and his re-election will be in serious doubt.

The irony here is delicious. Obama is President today because Hillary Clinton, John Edwards,

and Joe Biden made a political calculation to support the use of force in Iraq in order to

advance their campaigns for President. Obama opposed the war in Iraq and he is President

today because of it. Now he is expanding the war in Afghanistan using similar political

calculations; so where does that leave us, the voter?

The President says this is not a blank check or an open-ended commitment to

Afghanistan. The reality is eighteen months from now, as he is gearing up his Presidential

re-election campaign, Obama will be under intense pressure to continue the war and even

expand it. Eighteen months from now, if our casualties are continuing, if their government

is shaky, if popular support has eroded even more, if the situation in Pakistan is deteriorating,

and if Regressives are attacking Obama for being soft on terrorism; there is not the slightest

chance our President will begin to draw down troop levels. It's a simple fact of American

politics. Eighteen months from now we will still be no closer to a definition of victory

than we are today.

Eighteen months from now America's military machine will still be broken. Soldiers

will be on their forth or fifth tours of duty. Equipment will still not have been replaced

to make up for all that was lost, destroyed, or simply worn out from all our previous years

of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The costs to the American taxpayer to care for damaged

veterans will continue to skyrocket; and should disaster or conflict arise here at home or

anywhere else on the globe, our ability to respond will be perfectly impotent. How's that

for national security? It's called no national security at all!

Mark Twain was right when he said, "...history may not repeat itself, but it rhymes".

Obama is ignoring what happened to President Johnson. He is walking into an unwinnable

situation with his eyes open and hasn't learned anything from his predecessors. He says

this war is in our national interest when we at home lack jobs and are losing our homes.

When our states are close to bankruptcy and the economy shows few signs of recovery,

can't this somehow be defined as "national interest" to those in Washington? Isn't an

economically strong America better for our national security than control of the poppy

fields of Afghanistan?

Obama ran for President promising to bring about change. He was going to be different

than George Bush. He promised to think outside the box by proposing new ways to improve

the health of this nation. But, at West Point there wasn't any significant difference between

Obama and Bush. And that is where we stand today with those that call the shots in

Washington. Don't think I don't wish it were otherwise. What do you think? I welcome

your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Deja Bush

After a week or so of members of the Obama Administration explaining why the

President is expanding the war in Afghanistan, I could swear I had heard some of this before.

Phrases and slogans sounded familiar. At first I resisted the feeling. This is a new President.

He was elected under a mantle of change. He was the un-Bush and this was going to be an

administration which won't make the same mistakes as his predecessor. Besides, Cheney was

gone, Rove gone, Wolfowitz, Feith, and Rumsfeld gone; this was the dawning of a new day.

However, denial is not just a river in Egypt. Taking my head out of the sand and staring

reality in the face means admitting President Obama is channeling Bushisms and it's disturbing.

We are sending 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan and expanding the war because

there is a "clear and present danger" to the national security of the United States. Thinking

back to Iraq, the clear and present danger then was proved non-existent. The weapons of

mass destruction which a non-existent al Qaeda in Iraq might have accessed, didn't exist.

Now United Nation's Ambassador Susan Rice says we need to expand the war in

Afghanistan to stop al Qaeda from setting up bases. The only problem is that al Qaeda isn't

in Afghanistan! Bin Laden, Dr. Zawahiri, and the rest are in Pakistan and we aren't going to

invade there. So, we are told, we need more troops to fight an enemy in Afghanistan who is

in Pakistan. This new "clear and present danger", according to Rice, is the possible terrorist

plots being hatched by al Qaeda in Pakistan. Our troops in Afghanistan can't prevent al Qaeda

plots in Pakistan, but we can keep al Qaeda from developing new plots in Afghanistan. I am

not making this up. She might as well have said "we are fighting them there so we don't have

to fight them here"; except, that too wouldn't make any sense because we aren't going to fight

"them" anyway with our new soldiers since "they" aren't in Afghanistan, but...might...someday in Afghanistan, etc. Sound familiar?

As more and more troops were sent to Iraq, we were told their main mission would

be to train the Iraqi military and police so that "...they could stand up and we could stand

down". There were no al Qaeda in Iraq. All WMD's proved to be non-existent. There was no

Iraqi program for nuclear weapons research; and after the fact, Iraq was proven indisputably

innocent. Spilt milk to the tune of trillions of dollars wasted and untold human suffering.

Obama says a large portion of the new troops will be used to expand the Afghan army and

police so "...after eighteen months we can begin to transition control from American forces

to Afghan forces and begin reducing troop levels". In other words, we are expanding the war

in Afghanistan so the Afghans will stand up and we can stand down. But, there's a problem.

In Iraq, the military and security forces have proven to be inept and ineffective. Being judged

inept and ineffective is not a small thing, it's absolutely fatal! Their ranks are full of people

with mixed loyalties in which tribe is far more important than any illusion or promise of

national identity. Just recently, terrorists set off bombs in a popular market place in the

center of Baghdad where the bomber had to get through numerous check points staffed by

Iraqi security forces. At least sixty of them have now been arrested for what was clearly an

inside job. This is inept and ineffective by any definition!

Our experience in Afghanistan is no different. Over the last eight years, the police

and military have been enlarged to no effect. Afghan police are said to be corrupt and have

no support among the people. Afghan military units cannot operate independent of American

help. As in Iraq, except more so, there is little national identity among Afghans where tribal

affiliations are historically the key connections between people. Our American soldiers will

train, and possibly die, trying to convince Pashtuns to kill other Pashtuns, and to serve with

non-Pashtun colleagues for the purpose of killing fellow tribesmen.

As for standing down, Secretary of War Gates testified the day after Obama's speech

that in December 2010 the administration will review how well the Afghans have stood up

and then determine if we can begin to stand down. In other words, the eighteen month end

date isn't worth the video it was expressed on; if the past, as we've experienced it, proves to

be a valid predictor of the future.

The President says it will cost $30 billion to fund the expansion of the Afghan war.

He says the budget process will be transparent and he will work with Congress. However,

he has yet to explain where the money will come from or what he will do if Congress balks.

Money? No problem. As with President Bush, Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid

will vote to give the President the money. If they were un-willing to take on Bush, why do you

think they will stand up to Obama? Will the President use emergency authorizations or go

off-budget to fund this war? The magic of money and the smoke and mirrors of politics.

In a recent speech at West Point, ex-President Bush claimed America has the right

to "pre-empt" threats before they materialize. He used the "Bush Doctrine" to justify the

invasion of Iraq even though Iraq had not done anything to us. By comparison, President

Obama, in his West Point speech said we must expand the war in Afghanistan to "prevent"

a return of al Qaeda. The weakness in what our President is saying is simply that Afghanistan

currently does not represent any threat to our national security. Obama's people will admit

al Qaeda has almost no presence in the country; but claim we have to send more soldiers just

in case the Taliban gain control and in case they allow al Qaeda back in. Would the President

support an invasion of Yemen or Somalia if al Qaeda were to somehow gain an increased

presence there?

President Bush was fond of referring to the "coalition of the willing", the group of

nations who were providing the United States with military support in Iraq. Despite the fact

the United States provided 90% of the troops, Bush claimed our cause in Iraq enjoyed multi-

national support. Interestingly, in his speech at West Point, President Obama made the claim

that our presence in Afghanistan enjoys international support and our allies will step up and

shoulder some of the burden. However, once again, we will have over 100,000 troops, more

than 90% of the force. In this latest expansion, we are sending 30,000 soldiers and Obama

hopes NATO allies will add an additional 5,000. If preventing the expansion of al Qaeda back

into Afghanistan is a matter of international security, why do American soldiers have to fight

and die in so much larger numbers? Once again, the facts and the logic contradict the political


Like his predecessor, President Obama professed his support and admiration for

the troops. Yet, his decision to expand the Afghan war will require soldiers to serve their fifth,

sixth, or seventh tours of duty. The Iraq and Afghan wars seriously overextended the men

and material of our military. Equipment is failing and our expanded commitment means

our ability to respond to new conflicts or hot spots in the world is and will continue to be

severely limited. Aware of the problem, Obama has proposed no solution to either problem.

Suicides in the military have increased to previously unseen rates. In response, the Pentagon

admits they do not have enough mental health professionals to deal with numbers of returning

veterans incapacitated by their war experiences. Again, Obama has not made any proposal

to deal with this very human aspect of war.

It is both scary and disheartening to see Obama engaging in "Bush par-deux". We

were led to believe we would get a more nuanced foreign policy when Obama replaced Bush.

In some ways Obama has delivered. He seeks multi-national support for pressure and

sanctions against Iran. He is trying to get China to pressure North Korea to stop nuclear arms

development. He has shown a willingness to let diplomacy work it's magic. However, our

current administration's decision on Afghanistan is in the worst traditions of the Bush era;

and just as it was a disaster for Bush, it will not work out any better for Obama. Vietnam,

Iraq, and now Afghanistan...the signposts on this road are looking way too familiar; and once

again I feel caged with a knawing sensation of dread. What do you think? I welcome your

comments and rebuttals. Please send them to

Caveat Emptor

Most of us have no idea how the financial world works or where to invest our money.

As more and more companies move away from defined benefits and pension systems (where

you combine years worked with salary level and know exactly how much you will get when you

retire), they are moving toward 401K plans and various other schemes where your personal

investment choices will determine how much money you will have upon retirement.

Conventional reasoning says that the stock market is the place to invest for the long

term. We were told over a thirty year period that stocks will outperform any other form of

investment. We were told a diversified portfolio, not dependent on any one type of stock or

other investments, was the key to good investing. In the last two years experts now admit

neither of these approaches protected investors from our current economic meltdown. It

would seem we need a new investment model. So, where do we turn?

Every day I watch CNBC for a few minutes. They interview and question and tap

into the top experts in business and economics. Every day they invite analysts to tell us what

the market is doing in order to guide us in making sound investment decisions. I have never

trusted any of them. It seemed to me if anyone really knew how to play the stock market,

if anyone really knew when to buy and when to sell, if they really, really knew; wouldn't they

keep that information secret and rake in the dough for themselves? Why would they share

the secret of unlimited wealth with the whole world? Would you? Yet, every day, CNBC,

CNN, the Wall Street Journal, and an entire industry of "experts" continue to be paid for

telling us how to make money and protect our investments. Is it possible the system is rigged?

Now comes the story of Brian Kennedy. Kennedy worked for a Wall Street firm advising

clients on which stocks to buy and sell. It is also a firm which engages in investment banking.

It needs corporate clients. Kennedy researched a company called Cardionet. According to

the Wall Street Journal, Kennedy concluded the company was about to lose a lot of money, so

he issued a "sell" recommendation on the company's stock. This is what you pay for, right?

If you had hired Kennedy's firm, you would want the best market expertise to protect your

investment. If you were Kennedy's boss, you would want him to analyze the data and make

recommendations, wouldn't you?

When Kennedy issued his "sell" advice, he immediately came under pressure from

his colleagues and the firm's legal department. He was attacked by Cardionet's CEO. He was

attacked in public and even had a complaint filed against him with the SEC; and shortly after

his "sell" recommendation, he quit his job. Oh, did I mention Kennedy was absolutely right?

Had any of his firm's clients listened to Kennedy, they would have avoided big losses as the

stock's value dropped 75%. He was attacked, criticized, investigated, and pressured even

though he was right.

It turns out Wall Street doesn't like to be told to sell anything. Only 7% of analyst's

recommendations in North America were to sell while almost 50% were to buy. The rest of

the recommendations were to do nothing at the moment.

While Kennedy was telling clients to sell, most other analysts were rating the stock

a "buy". Coincidentally, many of those same analysts worked for underwriters of Cardionet's

initial public offering. Kennedy quit his job because he grew tired of defending his "correct"

analysis. He was viewed as a trouble-maker. He wasn't a team player. This is a conflict of

interest; and as of today, Cardionet can no longer function as a stand-alone company.

Every day on CNBC you can watch experts from the trading floor, brokerage houses,

and investment firms. You can turn on CNN or listen to the radio and get even more advice.

You can subscribe to newsletters and monthly updates. You can pay others for "secrets", but

at some point have to ask exactly what it is you are buying.

On the Daily Show, Jon Stewart took on CNBC's Jim Cramer and excoriated him for

being nothing more than a glorified cheerleader who missed the market meltdown. Missed

it completely! In fact, almost all the pundits and experts and analysts missed the largest

economic downturn since the Great Depression. Ironically, Goldman Sachs, who created and

sold the financial instruments which led to the meltdown; actually saw the coming storm

and instead of telling anyone, secretly adjusted their investments and made a killing.

Brian Kennedy, who committed the unspeakable crime of telling the truth, is now

out of a job. But not a single expert, pundit, prognosticator, or analyst on any media outlet

or major Wall Street firm was terminated for being wrong. So, we are left with a series of

questions. If you know a sure-fire way to make money, would you tell everyone about it or

keep it to yourself? Why are the "experts" so eager to share their insights with us? Could

there be conflicts of interest in the financial services industry? Analysts analyze companies

they underwrite. Rating services rate companies who pay them for their services. Media

channels tout stocks and give advice to sell advertising to the same industry they scrutinize

and are owned by corporate masters who never want the markets shaken up. No wonder

Kennedy had to quit. He was a dangerous man.

Right now in Congress our political leaders are trying once again to re-regulate

Wall Street in the hopes of preventing a future disaster. The firms on Wall Street are fighting

them tooth and nail, as usual. Who do you think will win?

I know this is a lot of disturbing information to process all at once, stories of good,

honest people being lied to and their government not caring; so now that I have your attention,

calm down and relax for I have something to share with you. Friend, it seems I've found myself

with unexpected time on my hands, but I haven't been idle. No, not me! It just so happens

that in writing this little article and others, I invested months studying trends and analyzing

financial data; and by sheer providence discovered a truly fool-proof system which will

guarantee every stock you buy will increase in value. All you have to do is subscribe to my

newsletter and for a slight additional fee you will receive a set of recommendations tailored

to your every hope and dream. I'm offering that one chance at financial independence.

Friend, what have you got to lose? Step right up. Trust me. What do you think? I welcome

your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to

Blowing In the Wind

When Barack Obama ran for President, one of the promises he made was to create

millions of new jobs for emerging green industries. Auto makers would offer hybrids and

electric cars. New companies would hire Americans to make solar panels. Still more jobs

would be created by companies attempting to harness wind power. These are jobs which

couldn't be outsourced. This would be home-grown technology we could export to the rest

of the world.

A Chinese company, with the help of the Chinese government, has finalized a deal

to supply wind turbines to one of the largest wind farm developments in the United States.

The company will sell 240 of it's turbines to the developers and will receive more than one

billion dollars from the Chinese government to pull the deal off. It turns out that since the

beginning of the 1990's, manufacturing of wind turbines has shifted to Europe and China.

By 2005, less than 25% of the parts going into wind turbines were still made in this country.

Is this an example of Obama failing to keep his promise? Yes and no. Obama got

legislation which earmarked as much as $10 billion for alternative energy exploration

including wind turbines. However, at the same time, China is pumping as much as $100 billion

into the same technology. Spain created special pricing for renewable power. Of the 2800

jobs created worldwide by this "wind farm" development, only 15% will be in the U.S.

While the rest of the world was and is spending time and money on emerging

technologies and alternative fuel sources, what has the United States been doing? We have

been cutting taxes for the rich, running huge deficits, cutting back on research grants, and,

oh yes, fighting unnecessary and unwinnable wars. While the Germans, Chinese, and Spanish

are spending money creating new jobs in new industries; the United States will spend over

one trillion dollars to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. While our competitors, some would say

enemies, are pouring money into ways to create jobs for their people; we are pouring money

into the insatiable pit of our Military-Industrial Complex. While China finances our debt

and takes our jobs, we pour money into the historically least productive portion of our

economy and we continue to gloss over past mistakes. A dollar spent on the military has

almost no multiplier effect on the economy. In contrast, spend a dollar on education and

experts say it will return as much as $7 in benefit. While other nations aim their economies

toward the future, we spend more in our war department than the next five nations combined.

It gets worse. Even if the U.S. has companies that can compete with global competition

and create jobs here at home, they are having trouble getting financing. Why? Because of

the tight credit markets brought on by the global financial meltdown brought to you by

Wall Street and the Bush Administration. If George Bush had been an enemy agent he could

not have caused more damage to this nation. One trillion dollars spent on unnecessary wars,

$1.2 trillion spent on tax cuts for the rich, and presiding over an economic disaster of epic

proportions are just some of the accomplishments directly attributable to the Bush dynasty.

Just this week, the announcement that the University of California system was

raising tuition 34% sparked riots on various campuses. The community college association

says overcrowding will cause students to be turned away. So, while we make education more

expensive and turn away more American students; our competition in Europe, India, and China

provide university education to all who qualify and in many cases for free.

President Obama is in the middle of a perfect storm. The economy is in shambles;

so he's forced to borrow $750 billion, appropriated by Congress, to bail out Wall Street. He

touts $10 billion for alternative energy projects while our competitors are spending ten times

that amount. And if that wasn't enough, Obama is expected to make a decision on Afghanistan

soon. If he chooses to expand our presence there, it will require even more hundreds of

billions of dollars, money spent at the expense of future prosperity. We have choices. Ask

yourself, which is a greater danger to our national security: a 10% or higher unemployment

rate, falling behind on new energy technologies and the jobs created by them, an education

system available to fewer American students, or the future of Afghanistan and Iraq?

In a world of real changes, here's one we will soon be forced to live with. They are

going to build the world's biggest wind farm in Texas using Chinese workers and technology.

That's a fact! How is that possible? China says it will continue to fund new renewable energy

projects in the U.S. to create markets for it's technology and create new jobs in the U.S. and

in China. Pardon me, but who does the U.S. belong to? Do "We the people" still own the U.S.?

Simply put, we have to get out of the war business. We have to expand educational

opportunities, not limit them. We have to pour money into basic research to stimulate new

technology and innovation. We have to rebuild our infrastructure, expand high speed data

transmission, upgrade our energy grid, and revolutionize our transportation systems. If all

we can do is fight wars, we guarantee our children a future which is out of their control and

we hand over the levers of power to our competitors and enemies both at home and abroad.

A wise man I knew once said all freedom is economic. Do you feel free? What do

you think? I welcome comments and rebuttals. Please send them to

...and Justice For All

What do the movies "Twelve Angry Men", "The Verdict", and "A Few Good Men"

have in common? Each movie is about courtroom drama and about justice. In all three

movies the system works, good wins out over evil, truth is revealed, and injustice prevented.

I love these movies because "once upon a time", sometimes naively, I truly felt the American

system of jurisprudence was designed to seek justice and prevent injustice. I hate being naive

especially when I am wrong.

The New York State Legislature is deciding whether or not to pass a bill that would

allow a judge to overturn a conviction when evidence "conclusively establishes" innocence,

Why would such a law be necessary? In America, can a person go to jail even if there is

conclusive evidence of innocence? Wouldn't that violate every concept of justice we have

grown to believe in? The answer is: Not only can YOU go to jail even if there is conclusive

evidence you are innocent, YOU can be kept in jail even after innocence is proven, and YOU

can even be executed. I'm not kidding. In America, a person (YOU!) can be executed even

if there is conclusive evidence that you are innocent. Think about it.

The key to this extraordinary situation is a legal technicality. It's all about when

evidence is discovered and how it is discovered. Once someone has been convicted in a trial,

the only way to overturn the conviction is if there is new evidence or if constitutional rights

were violated. So what's the problem? The problem is new evidence must be determined

to be information which couldn't be found during the trial. If a judge rules it could have been

found, the "new" evidence is ruled out and the guilty conviction stands. Once a conviction is

established, there can be a video of the true culprit committing the crime, even his signed

confession and DNA evidence; but the innocent person cannot be freed unless some procedural

error has been made. It may be wrong, but it's business as usual in the federal courts.

In federal courts, actual innocence is not recognized as grounds for overturning a

conviction. The fact that the person didn't do the crime is not relevant to federal judges.

This even extends to the death penalty. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia stated:

"This court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant

who had a full and fair trial, but is later able to convince a "habeas corpus" court that he is

actually innocent." Scalia sees no injustice in executing someone who didn't commit the

crime. When I read this it seemed to turn the whole concept of justice upside down. Yes,

you heard me correctly, an innocent person can be kept in prison, and even executed in spite

of evidence proving innocence. Once a trial is over, even if it can be proved conclusively

that someone else did the crime, you're still guilty. This seems like something straight out

of a "Kafka" nightmare or the Siberian Gulag or "Red" China. But America?

In America today, if you are in jail and file a petition asking for your conviction to be

overturned based on the fact you are "actually innocent", most states and the federal courts

will deny your petition. Now you can understand why some are pushing for a new law in

New York which would allow a judge to set people free who are "actually innocent".

I am having a hard time conceiving of any possible reason why society would want

a person kept in jail or executed who was innocent. How can it be just? What better purpose

is served? Is there a blood lust in this country I am not aware of? Opponents of the "actual

innocence" concept (yes, there are opponents to setting innocent people free) stress the need

for finality in the criminal justice system. They say allowing people to be freed who are

actually innocent could result in a flood of frivolous claims by desperate prisoners. They say

it's more important to stop frivolous lawsuits than it is to make sure someone's freedom or

life has not been unjustly taken from them. And I say, I'm not buying it!

In Texas, there is an on-going controversy over the execution of a man convicted of

setting his home on fire and killing his family. Internationally acclaimed arson experts

concluded the fire was not arson. They concluded the State Fire Marshall was incompetent

and did not understand the science of how fires start. The Governor of Texas ignored this

new evidence and allowed the execution to proceed. It is considered the most blatant example

of the execution of an innocent man in recent times! However, even if the governor had

commuted the death sentence to life in prison, the convicted father would have had to stay

in prison because Texas doesn't recognize the doctrine that actual innocence of a crime is

a reason to overturn a conviction. But Texas is not alone in this travesty.

The American system of criminal justice is broken. The scales of justice pamper

the wealthy, the powerful, and the politically connected; while the poor and weak are

brutalized and made examples of. It is a system where the color of your skin can have a

direct effect on the type of justice you receive. Elected prosecutors use convictions for

political gain and police lie and cover up because of economic benefits they receive.

Until recently, I would have said ours was the best judicial system on earth; but

how is it possible that innocence, under any circumstance, wouldn't be an acceptable argument

for freedom? It's not. So what are we to do? Every state needs to have a law allowing a

conviction to be overturned if a person is "actually innocent". Congress must pass legislation

prohibiting any American from being held in prison or put to death who is "actually innocent".

Until this is done, no American can honestly say the Pledge of Allegiance because, right now,

as you read my words, "liberty and justice for all" doesn't exist in America. What do you

think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to