One Sanity Rally Won’t Get The Job Done

  Watched the last 90 minutes or so of Jon Stewart’s sanity rally on the mall.  It was a slam against the sensationalism,  fear mongering and outright disinformation – the lack of perspective and context being generated by political campaigns and a news media which continues to grovel for ratings rather than seeking the truth.

Or, as Stewart put it, “If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.”

Any generation gap that might have existed was blown away when Tony Bennet  stepped onto the stage to belt out “America the Beautiful.”  There was also a terrific closing monologue from Jon Stewart.  Those were the high points for me as I’m no big fan of Stewart or Colbert.   However, the rally left me with a feeling of how much the country could be if our politicos would stop focusing on themselves and their parties, and start working for their constituents.   Going for optimism instead of negativity and moving the people of the United States forward.

Again, in Stewart’s words, “We work together to get things done every damn day.  The only place we don’t, is here (Washington, D.C.), or on cable tv.”

Remember optimism?  Can you recall feeling good about the future?

That, of course, would require statesmanship.  Not sure that’s still possible with a system that been bought off by corporate lobbyists.

It’s doubtful Stewart’s rally will impact the midterms.   Those who attended and most of those who were watching on tv were already in his corner.

People have stopped reading newspapers, so they don’t really know what’s going on.  Many are simply in denial with regard to the way the government has been hijacked by high-rollers.  We’re so far gone that one rally won’t get it done.  It’s full-blown shock treatment the nation needs and without a major course correction that’s exactly where we’re headed.

Meantime, a little sanity can go a long way.  It’s nice to know that somebody is at least, trying.

Some TV Worth Watching

 Sherlock Holmes on PBS

Benedict Cumberbatch as the new Sherlock Holmes

A couple of new entertainment shows to recommend.  Both are British.   One is entitled “Doc Martin.”  It’s about a big city surgeon who is forced to give up surgery and become a general practitioner in a small seaside town.  He has no choice in the matter, as he reaches a point in his career where the sight of blood makes him nauseous after being struck by the realization that the patient under his knife is somebody’s mother.   And so, the former big shot surgeon elitist snob,  is left in a position where he has no choice but to deal with the plain speaking provincial ways of small town folk.  Funny stuff.  KCET, is running it in Los Angeles.  Not sure about other locales.

The other, released by BBC Worldwide and PBS,  is a new offering from Masterpiece Mystery featuring yet another incarnation of Sherlock Holmes.  The twist, and it’s a goody, is that world’s most famous consulting detective and his sidekick Dr. Watson are now in the 21st Century.   Watson, is just back from Afghanistan and is doing battle with PTSD.  Holmes, brilliant as ever, has gone hi-tech.  The amazing thing is that it works.  So often, an effort to contemporize a period piece falls flat.  This really does work.  Smart writing.  Great acting.  This too, is being offered by KCET here in Los Angeles.

Both these shows are refreshingly entertaining without insulting your intelligence.  Something most American television seems increasingly incapable of doing.

Bad Call, Mr. Obama

 President Obama  Big mistake for Mr. Obama to make an appearance on Jon Stewart’s show.  It’s Comedy Central, for God’s sake.  Is anyone at the White House considering the dignity of the office or the necessity of maintaining the power of the presidential image?

There’s an old axiom here in Hollywood that “image is more powerful than reality.”  Anybody who doesn’t believe Ronald Reagan’s success in the oval office wasn’t directly linked to his training as an actor needs to come back down to earth with the rest of us.

This is the most powerful man in the world?  We need a President, not just another regular guy doing a guest shot on a comedy show.

How desperate.  How sad.

Bureaucrats Attend Harvard At The Public’s Expense

  I was just getting over the fact (minor palpitations) that the guys from the Fed, the people who were supposed to prevent the nation from falling off an economic cliff,  were off to a trendy Jackson Hole  lodge for their annual “economic symposium.”   Guess all the hotels in Kansas City were booked?   Here’s part of a statement released by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke.

“Notwithstanding some important steps forward, however, as we return once again to Jackson Hole I think we would all agree that, for much of the world, the task of economic recovery and repair remains far from complete.”-Ben S. Bernanke

Gee, do ya think?  I thought everything was okay…

Adding injury to injury,  the AP is reporting that some government executives are being sent to Harvard every year for a four week Executive Fellows Program, at a cost of $18,300 each.  According to the AP, they are spending “millions” of our tax dollars on it.

First Jackson Hole and now it’s Harvard University for executive refresher courses.

Here’s an idea:  Hire people who are already trained.  If they want extra training, let them pay for it themselves.  If they absolutely must receive additional training at the taxpayer’s expense, then shop around for something less expensive than Harvard.  While you’re at it, tell Bernanke and the guys at the Fed to schedule their annual economic soiree at the local Hilton.  If they want to go to a high end spot like Jackson Hole, let them do it on their own dime.

A million here, a million there.  It all adds up.  Easy to forget when you’re playing around with somebody else’s money.  Beyond that, it just looks bad for federal employees to be doing this sort of thing when two and one-half million homes are in foreclosure, millions of Americans remain unemployed and the country continues to teeter on the edge of another economic disaster.

The guys in D.C. really should stop acting like we’re still the richest country in the world.  A little congressional oversight might be nice?

Afghanistan Turns Into A Comedy Of Errors

Our puppet, or perhaps I should say former puppet, Afghan “leader” Hamid Karzai, who would have been out on his fanny long ago without U.S. support, is now admitting that he accepts “bags of money” from our enemies the Iranians.  Apparently one to two million, every other month.

Building up your private account in the Caymans, Mr. Karzai?

This comedy of errors is growing by the moment.

I have to keep reminding myself that we had the Taliban by the throat and were apparently close to capturing Osama bin Hiden, when the Bush Administration pulled the plug on Afghanistan and decided to focus on an unwinnable war in Iraq instead because Saddam Hussein had threatened Dubya’s daddy.   So don’t buy it when they blame it on Mr. Obama.  He was handed this mess by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, Inc.

U.S. Declared To Be Officially Corrupt

  The House and Senate have been bought off by corporate lobbyists.  The Republican Party in particular, appears to have set a new low by repeatedly and unashamedly putting their power grab as the “party of no” ahead of the nation’s best interest.  The Supreme Court has given corporations the same rights as individuals, rocking our one-time Jeffersonian Democracy even further back on its heels.

We’re invading sovereign nations without coming under attack,  while our government raids the federal treasury to pay off failed bankers and then refuses to adequately regulate the banking industry or control and contain health care costs as average Americans lose their homes to foreclosure.   All this, while big business sends millions of jobs offshore to take advantage of conditions approaching slave labor in third world countries which is leading to the demise of the American middle class and the feeling among some that our best days may be over.

Not bad enough?

According to Transparency International, America, is now officially corrupt.  That is to say, that for the first time, the United States has fallen out of the world’s top-20 least corrupt nations.   The U.S. fell to #22, behind Chile and Barbados. The study points to financial scandals and the influence of money on politics playing a role in America’s decline.

Somalia, is judged to the be the most corrupt nation in the world.  The least corrupt are Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore.

“Financiers, bankers and industrialists make cities the cesspools of corruption, and should be avoided.“-Wikipedia (description of the principles of Jeffersonian Democracy)

Great Country – Lousy Health Care System

   A new study points to the United States ranking 49th in life expectancy for both men and women.  The reason, appears to have less to do with smoking, obesity, or any of the common factors you might imagine, and more to do with a poor health care system.

“The U.S. doesn’t stand out as doing any worse in these areas than any of the other countries we studied, leading us to believe that failings in the U.S. health care system, such as costly specialized and fragmented care, are likely playing a large role in this relatively poor performance on improvements in life expectancy.”-Peter Muennig, Columbia University

According to the study, the U.S. is less healthy than countries with universal health care even though the cost of health care in America, continues to rise.  According to Kaiser, premiums for employer-sponsored health care coverage have increased 131 percent since 1999.   Those costs are expected to keep rising, going up 9.5 percent this year, and another 9 percent in 2011.

Why?  A lack of real competition may have something to do with it.

 “A 2006 study by the AMA found that health insurance is “highly concentrated” in 94 percent of the states, and in a majority of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas a single insurer controlled more than half the business. A 2007 study by Health Care for America Now found that in 38 states, the top two insurers control 57 percent or more of the market, and in 15 states one insurer controlled 60 percent or more of the market.” -Counterpunch

This would seem to indicate that more health care reform is needed as opposed to repealing those few meager reforms the Congress has been able to pass to date?   Like getting the “public option” back on the table?

Something to think about when you go to the polls.  Unless you think ability to pay should determine whether someone is allowed to live or forced to die.

American Media Reports Only Half The Story On French Pensions

   Just watched Fareed Zakaria, on CNN.  He reported, as have others in the American media, that the French are protesting a move to bump up their retirement age from 60 to 62.    He also reported that here in the U.S., the retirement age was 65 and that it is rising to 67.

Zakaria, like so many others, is reporting only half the story.

The French proposal is to raise the minimum age to receive a partial pension from 60 to 62.  However, they also want to raise the age for receiving a full pension from 65 to 67.

Here in the U.S.,  the age for early (partial) retirement benefits (Social Security) is 62.  The age for full benefits is being raised from 65 to 67.

So the French government, it appears,  is attempting to duplicate the ages for both partial and full retirement benefits (Social Security) here in the United States.

It is about more than simply bumping up benefits from 60 to 62 in France.   The French, according to some reports, are worried about the “Americanization” of their system.

I’d be worried too.  Worried the French government might get ideas about taking the cutbacks beyond pensions and into other areas like health care.

For the record, I am a fan of Fareed Zakaria.  I think he does a terrific job.  It’s possible that in this case, his researchers have simply failed him.   If he still has any.  With budget cuts and whatnot, he may be short-staffed.  Something the French government is apparently trying to emulate.

At this point, it appears French pension reform will take effect in  mid-November.

Spy vs. Spy

   A real world Clive Cussler adventure, involving the CIA, the Soviets, Howard Hughes and nukes on the ocean floor northwest of Hawaii.  Annie Jacobsen’s story, “What Lies Beneath,” can be found in the October issue of the LA Time’s Magazine.

Here’s a taste-

 “Three years earlier, in March 1968, an undersea drama began when a Soviet K-129 submarine carrying three one-megaton thermonuclear warheads—enough firepower to flatten Los Angeles—sank in the Pacific Ocean 1,560 miles northwest of Hawaii. “The Soviets had no idea where their sub was, but we did,” Pendleton explains.”-LA Times Magazine

And so, the CIA, assisted by Howard Hughes, sets out to retrieve the Soviet sub.  Great read.

P.S. – The LA Times Magazine, is now a monthly publication, so don’t run out to your newsstand expecting to find it tucked away in the Sunday paper.  Unless it is the first Sunday of the month.  Here’s what the LA Times website has to say about who now receives the Magazine and when:  The magazine, published on the first Sunday of each month, is delivered to targeted zips among Los Angeles Times subscribers.  Their median household income is $95,188, and 79% of them are college educated.” -Los Angeles Times Media Group

Guess I should be flattered it’s still being delivered to my door.  For those of us who do most of our reading online it can be a little confusing.  Meantime, Annie Jacobsen’s story can still be found online.

Apoliticial Clothing Optional

A couple of interesting political notes-

One, comes from my former colleague at KTLA, Eric Spillman, who blogs about a guy who was fired from his job for wearing a Bush sweatshirt while working on a stage for the Obama rally.   Turns out the “Bush” emblem on the back of his shirt represented the aircraft carrier his son is serving on.   Still, it might have been a good idea to wear something else, being that he was heading out to an Obama rally…..

The other, from, paints Meg Whitman’s two sons in a less than favorable light.

Meg Whitman‘s sons, Griff and Will Harsh, have been kicked out of prep schools, an eating club, dormitories, and Princeton’s class of 2008, say people who know them. One incident involving the n-word is already internet famous.”

The election’s close.  Looks like the gloves are coming off.

Iraqi Civilian Deaths Understated – Are You Surprised?

 More “Wikileaks” documents are out, showing that as many as 15,000 civilian deaths went unreported during the “years of sectarian bloodletting and criminal violence unleashed by the American invasion in 2003.” -AP

Also unreported was a failure to follow up on credible evidence that Iraqi forces tortured or killed their captives.

I doubt that anyone who lived through the Vietnam experience is the least bit surprised.

Do you really want to give the House back to the Republican Party?   Do you even remember who took us into Iraq and why?  Mushroom clouds?  Remember?

Also from the leaky secrets file, comes a report that those automated Google “Street View” cars that were being driven around “accidentally” collected personal data on people, including email and passwords.   Several countries have opened investigations.   Apparently not the U.S. though.  Our people at homeland security are probably tripping over one another trying to buy as many Google spymobiles as they can to gather up as much info as possible on our civilian population.  I guarantee you, the thought has at least crossed their minds.

I keep wondering if we’re really better of with “Homeland Security.”  Back when we had just the good old CIA, the FBI, the INS and whatnot, we at least knew who was trying to do what out there.  Now there’s this vast and somewhat undefined network of both federal and private operators sneaking around spying on people.   Since we don’t know what’s going on, there’s really no way for us to know how well it is, or isn’t working.  Funny kind of system in a country where those at the top gain their power from the consent of the governed.

How is that possible, if we don’t know what we’re consenting to?

True, there have been no more terrorist attacks, but who’s to say there would have been any regardless of the creation of Homeland Security and it’s vast web of private contractors?   By one count, they have more private contractors on their (our) payroll than federal employees.

“The department estimates it employs 200,000 contractors and roughly 188,000 federal employees, a total that does not include uniformed members of the Coast Guard.” -Washington Post

With so many private companies making so much public money working on homeland “security,” one gets the uncomfortable feeling that things may be out of control.

Privatization, is not always a good thing.  It gave us a mercenary force in Afghanistan and Iraq, which permitted the Bush Administration to avoid reinstituting the draft, which might have led to a very different outcome – such as, no invasion of Iraq at all, and a shorter duration in Afghanistan.

It also would have meant keeping billions of tax dollars out of the hands of private contractors, which seems to be the goal of the Republican Party going back to the “Reagan Revolution” and the death of unionism in America  – privatizing everything they can to get their hands on as much public money as possible.  Transferring wealth from the many to the few.

Do you really want to give the House back to the Republicans?

Los Angeles Survives Obama Visit

 Denying various prophets of doom their day of darkness, the President of the United States, Barack Obama, made it from the airport to not one, but two engagements, and then back to another airport without causing any earthquakes, floods, fires or riots, in spite of dire warnings from the local media which made it sound as though Armageddon was on the way.  Apparently, there weren’t even any major traffic tie-ups, as was predicted by some on local tv, whose reportage bordered on the irrational.

Way to go, folks.  Hype it to the max to get those numbers up.

I’m reminded of a personally horrifying experience here in Los Angeles a few years ago.  My cameraman and I were standing by, about to do a live report on a political issue, when the following message bored itself into my brain via the telex in my ear:  “Ron, we’re in a book, so sex it up!”   The message was coming from a neophyte producer who shouldn’t have been allowed near a tv news operation without more supervision.  The “book” she was talking about, was a rating book.  We were in a rating period and I guess she wanted me to drop my pants and do a little dance?

Anything to get the numbers up.  American journalism – RIP.