An Amazing Day For News

The news today is extraordinary.

INVASION?

Ukrainian officials report a Russian armored column has crossed the boarder into Ukraine.  They say the column contains ten tanks and two armored personnel carriers.  By any other name, this would be an invasion.   Connected to the “humanitarian” convoy, the Russians sent in earlier, and a second so-called humanitarian convoy the Russians are preparing to send, and you really have to wonder what Putin is up to.  Perhaps the economic sanctions are making it a bit too hot for him back in Moscow, and he feels the threat of war with Ukraine will provide him with a diversion?  It would be a gamble for Putin, since he is not only taking on Ukraine, but the EU as well, and that means the United States, Britain and France.  It’s a very dangerous roll of the dice, and a possible indicator of how much trouble Putin may be in from those who oppose him in Russia.

RESIGNATION IN FRANCE A MIRROR FOR THE U.S.?

In France, three ministers have resigned to show their opposition to the government’s austerity program.  At the same time, in Spain, Spaniards are demonstrating in opposition to a visit by German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, a principle proponent of austerity in the EU.  While France and Spain suffer from the crush of austerity measures, Germany, is doing quite well.  This should be of interest to those of us in the United States, as the Europeans have been two to three steps ahead of us with their austerity issues.   Their austere past could be our economic prelude.  In a year or two, Americans might be marching in the streets demanding an end to austerity.  Daily Kos, posted an interesting piece on the austerity vs. progressivism battle currently underway in the U.S.  It compares red state, Wisconsin, to blue state, Minnesota, and finds Minnesota is far better off.

SHOOT-DOWN

Iran, claims to have shot down an Israeli drone over Iranian airspace.  The Iranian government believes Israel sent the drone to spy on an Iranian nuclear facility.  This comes days after Israel launched airstrikes on Gaza, destroying at least two multi-story buildings, including an apartment tower.

SYRIA WANTS HELP FROM THE WEST?

In Syria, the government has done an about-face, saying they will cooperate with any country in the fight against ISIS and the other Islamist extremists now fighting in Syria.   This will presumably open the door for western powers to conduct air-strikes against targets in Syria, if they choose to do so.  The U.S. has complained in the past that not being able to attack targets inside Syria, has been a significant problem in the ongoing war against the ISIS Army.  Syrian ally, Russia, is encouraging the United States to work with Syria in fighting ISIS, while it (Russia), is apparently invading the Ukraine.

 EGYPT AND THE UAE GO ON THE ATTACK AGAINST ISLAMISTS

Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have secretly been conducting air-strikes against Islamist fighters in Libya.   This apparently involves the use of UAE aircraft and pilots, trained by the United States.  This could complicate matters even further, as the Islamist fighters in Libya, Syria and elsewhere, have wealthy supporters in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar, all of whom, claim to be allies of the United States.  Egypt, for its part, is attempting to get Israel to return to peace talks with the Palestinians.   The UAE air force air-strikes are being launched from Egyptian soil.

What is the United States to do in a region where our allies support our enemies, where we have spent billions trying to democratize Arab states and failed, where we have tried to pull out but keep getting pulled back in and where our one true long-term ally is the State of Israel?  At least there is no doubt about who the Israelis are supporting.  If only they could reach a peace agreement  with the Palestinians.

Qatar Intervenes And An American Hostage Is Released

 

So happy to hear about the release of American journalist Peter Theo Curtis, who was taken  hostage in Syria two years ago.   An as yet unnamed terrorist faction, possibly Al Qaeda offshoot, Jabhat Al Nusra, was holding Curtis, just as ISIS recently held and then murdered another American hostage, Jim Foley, who was beheaded after his parents were unable to raise the more than $100 million in ransom ISIS was demanding.

The story is being released exclusively by Al Jazeera, which is wholly owned by the House of Thani, the ruling family of Qatar.  Al Jazeera reports that Curtis was released following an intervention of some sort by unnamed Qataris.  Which could be why Al Jazeera, got the exclusive on the release.

This is where it gets interesting.

It’s reported that wealthy Sunnis in Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, are funding the ISIS Army.

So unnamed Qataris, who may also be funding the bloodthirsty ISIS army, apparently pressured an unnamed terrorist group to release their American hostage?  They might have hit this unnamed terrorist group where they live.  The might have threatened to cut off the money, unless the terrorists released their American hostage?

It’s a strange and terrible situation, when your allies in Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, are funding an army of cut-throats, who threaten to behead all those who refuse to adopt their stringent and backward religious dogma, and it points to a central issue in the unending bloodshed in the Middle East.

It will not stop until the warring religious factions can somehow separate out their religious beliefs from their government institutions.  In other words, they need to reach an agreement on the separation of mosque and state in the Arab world.

Until they do, as in Europe, prior to the Christian reformation, it is unlikely there will be any peace at all, as the various religious factions continue fighting and our allies continue funding our enemies based not upon any belief in freedom or individual liberty, but based solely on ancient religious dogma, which they have twisted to meet their own intellectual perversions.

The wisdom of the American founders who built a separation of church and state into our baseline institutional thinking should be glaringly obvious.  Worship whatever or whomever you wish, but keep your religious dogma out of the government process.

None of this should blunt our heartfelt thanks to the people of Qatar, for assisting with the release of Peter Curtis.   Now if they could only convince the ISIS funding sources within their country, along with the Saudis and Kuwaitis, to permanently stop funding the ISIS army.   Is a push for peace rather than war in the Muslim world too much to hope for?

Thanks also to Qatar, for funding Al Jazeera, which continues doing a better job at broadcast journalism than the American networks which continue to focus more on advertiser satisfaction than on journalism.

When You Can No Longer Identify The Enemy – It May Be Time To Stop Shooting

I’m sure you’ve heard the old axiom,  “The enemy of my enemy is my friend?”  Well, that’s just been blown to bits by the Brits, who say they will not take sides with Syrian President Assad in his fight against the ISIS Army, even though there are now more than 191-thousand dead in that particular conflict and ISIS has spread out to threaten a much broader area than Syria proper.

Okay, so we are expected to hate Assad because he is alleged to have used chemical weapons.  At the same time, we are now kinda-sorta allied with him, as, like it or not,  we are all now fighting ISIS, which threatens to attack almost everyone in sight if they refuse to convert to their particular brand of (death is good) Islam.

So the enemy of my enemy is my friend, unless that person happens to be Bashar al-Assad?   Even while ISIS decapitates American journalists?

It becomes really complicated when you consider that ISIS is being funded by wealthy Sunnis in Qatar, Kwait and perhaps Saudi Arabia, and that those countries are all alleged to be our allies in the Middle East.  Not to mention our history with Kuwait, where we sent in our troops to drive Saddam from their oil fields in the first Gulf War.  And now the Kuwaitis are funding our enemy ISIS?  How’s the United States supposed to feel about that?  We fought a war for these oil rich jokers and now they are funding our enemies?

Have we gotten hooked on a lost cause?  Is it possible that we alone cannot save the world, and expecting us to do so is simply irrational?  Is it possible the various conflicts of the Middle East can only be solved by those who live there and not by an invading or occupying force?

But back to our original (updated) premise of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend…..sometimes, but not always.”

It hasn’t always been this way.  We sided with Osama bin-Laden, setting up camps to train his recruits and supplying him with weaponry in his fight against the Russians in Afghanistan.  We also sided with Saddam Hussein, during the Iran-Iraq war.  Where do you think Saddam got the chemical weapons he eventually used on some of his own people?   The Washington Post reported in September of last year, As documented in 2002 by Washington Post reporter Michael Dobbs, the Reagan administration knew full well it was selling materials to Iraq that was being used for the manufacture of chemical weapons, and that Iraq was using such weapons, but U.S. officials were more concerned about whether Iran would win rather than how Iraq might eke out a victory.”

The United States supplies training, weapons, bandages and other assorted military equipment to freedom fighters or “nationalists” who are temporarily on our side and then turns around and buys a whole new cache of weaponry when we decide they are suddenly our latest enemy because they threaten the profits of big oil – or as our political pros like to say, our “economic interests overseas.”  And we pay for it all as our military at times, appears to be little more than a mercenary force for the new corporatocracy.

Do you really need more convincing that oil was a prime motivator for the U.S. invasion of Iraq?   As former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan writes in his memoirs, “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.” 

Then there is ISIS.  A gathering storm which appears determined to eliminate anybody who disagrees with their twisted and barbaric ideology, leaving the thinking world no real option but to fight back.

Among the troubling issues in the ISIS battle, is the degree to which ISIS terrorists have been supplied by the United States.  First, intentionally, when the U.S. sent arms to the rebel fighters opposing Syrian President Assad.  Those rebel fighters presumably included Al Qaeda and their then affiliate, ISIS.  You can be sure that possibility was known to U.S. operatives supplying the weapons.  Beyond that, the U.S. unintentionally helped arm ISIS, after ISIS split from Al Qaeda and the ISIS Army obtained even more U.S. military equipment after marching into Iraq, defeating the Iraqi Army, and taking the gear it left behind.

We arm our friends.  Our friends become our enemies, turning the weaponry we gave them, on us.  It’s happened repeatedly in the Middle East.

Things are no less complex in the ongoing “war” between Israel and tiny Gaza, particularly when dealing with the question of whether American journalists will ever address the issue of whether Netanyahu and other Israelis on the right have any real desire to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Some argue their motive is to prolong the war until what’s left of Gaza has been laid to waste, all the Gazans leave, and Israel can then push it’s borders to the sea – all the while expanding the settlements on the West Bank, until the Palestinians have been driven from that piece of land as well.

It has been suggested that for these reasons, Netanyahu, is not eager to keep his people involved in the peace negotiations in Egypt, and that it is no coincidence that this latest attack on Gaza occurred only days after Gaza had agreed to join the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank in a new “unity government” for all Palestinians.  It has been suggested that Netanyahu, might have been forced to drop the blockade of Gaza and negotiate a long-term peace, or, alternately, to give the appearance of having no interest in peace at all.

It can be charged that with the rocket fire from Hamas, Israel has no choice but  to fight back.  It can also be charged, that with their western-supplied military and “Iron Dome” defense, Israel is so vastly superior to Hamas, that it will be incumbent upon the well organized and overwhelmingly more powerful Israeli military to stand down, even if a rocket or two continues being fired from Gaza onto Israeli soil while the talks commence.  It’s not like all the fighters in Gaza, are all that well organized, right?  Or, Israel can withdraw from the negotiations every time some wild-eyed extremist fires a rocket, blame it on Hamas, and the fighting will continue forever.  Or at least until Palestine, no longer exists.

There are surely those on both sides who find war preferable to peace because it supports a particular power base, and who will do what they must to prevent peace from happening.  Again from the Washington Post, Ishaan Tharoor blogs that, ” Hamas is an institution whose raison d’etre is to resist Israeli occupation with the strength of arms. Every single time Israel has decided to “mow the grass” — as the chilling euphemism goes — in Gaza, Hamas’s main base of operations, it has hurt the militants, but the grass and weeds have always grown back.”

That being the case, is there any room at all for peace between Israel and the new “unity government” representing the Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank?  Is that even a possibility?   If not, and considering how superior the Israeli military is to the Palestinian’s relatively puny force, then what are we really talking about?  Or not talking about?  At least, not in the American media.

When and why did peace become so unpopular?  Was it that night in 1980 when David Chapman shot John Lennon?  Is that when we all decided we would no longer “give peace a chance?”  Was it when George W. Bush declared himself to be our “wartime president,” naively committing to democratize all of the Middle East?  Or is it because elected political leaders and tyrants alike have a much easier time acquiring and then holding power by selling war and the fear it generates?

If mindset matters, and you can be sure that it does, then perhaps we need to get back to thinking and talking about peace as opposed to what feels like an ongoing promotion of war?   Regardless of what our children are being taught through the media, war is not a good thing, it’s bad.  We need to get back to seeing it as something we need to avoid rather than promote and celebrate.  It’s something we can all do, and it is at the very least, a start.

Maybe The LAPD Can Help?

It just keeps getting worse.  The police in Ferguson have now arrested two German reporters while the St. Louis cops scooped up a 90 year-old Holocaust survivor, putting her in restraints.

Why not?  Why limit the madness to journalists from the U.S.?  Bust um all and let God sort it out.  Is that what they’re doing?  Think of what this latest move will do to improve our profile overseas.

You have to wonder how long it’ll take these guys to throw Eric Holder in the slammer?  That’ll be choice.  Remember the words of that fat cigar-chomping southern sheriff in that old Dodge commercial?  “You in a heap o’ trouble now boy!”  I wonder if they’ll have that guy meeting Holder at the airport?

With apparent thanks to Missouri Governor, Jay Nixon (I say “apparent,” because it’s impossible to tell just who is in charge of what in Ferguson), a lone African-American Highway Patrol Captain  has been forced to take the point and make everything work out for the best.  A Highway Patrol Captain?  Why?  Because he happens to be a black man who was raised in Ferguson?   So they are putting the whole thing on his shoulders?  That one officer?  How sad and ridiculous.  You’ve gotta feel for the guy.

They need to borrow a few command-level officers from the LAPD Metro Division to handle tactics.  They could also bring in former LAPD Lt. Tony Alba, one of the best press relations officers I know of from my more than 40 years in the news biz,  to interface with the media.

While nobody’s perfect, I had no idea just how good the LAPD is until I started watching the coverage of the Keystone Cops in Ferguson.

If this keeps up we’ll all be in a heap of trouble.

The High Cost Of Hi-Tech – (Are You Tired Of Being Treated Like A Boob?)

The good people who give me a place to park my website and blog decided to upgrade their system.  They decided to move their clients to new servers to provide better and presumably faster service.  Because of their upgrade, I have lost the ability to determine how many people are hitting my website each day, week and month.  I haven’t been able to access the “analytics” of my website since May.  I have also lost the ability to email their support team or to change my password.  All because of their “upgrade.”   It’s better living through technology.  Everything was working fine before they “upgraded.”

For you geeks out there who are lining up to tell me what an idiot I am, that it’s all my fault for not moving my website to a different hosting company, take a pill, or slam down an energy drink, or whatever it is you guys are doing to stay wired.   There are mitigating issues that are none of your business.  Maybe I will move it, but not right now.   Anyway, I’m going somewhere with this.

I had a similar problem when I tried contacting the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.   The automated phone menu message tells you that you may face a wait of up to 30 minutes.  I called at various times over a period of two days and got the very same message.  If they regularly have a 30 minute backup, why don’t they hire enough people to handle the calls on a timely basis?

I was calling the DWP because I need to know our account number to apply for a rebate on three low-flow toilets we just installed.  I went to the internet to try and find our account number, but you can’t get into the DWP website without your account number which of course, I did not have, and calling the DWP means a wait of up to 30 minutes.  A quick search online provided horror stories of people who waited the full 30 minutes, only to have the DWP’s automated system hang up on them.   I know that’s true, because it hung up on me a couple of times before I gave up and went away, but I’m sure that providing lousy service is far more cost-effective for the City of Los Angeles, than hiring enough people to get the job done properly.  So good for them.

So I can’t get my account number from the DWP website because it won’t let me in without the account number I don’t have and they won’t answer the phone to talk to me about it.  Maybe they need an upgrade?

None of this would bother me so much if it weren’t for the upgraded billing system at the UCLA Medical Center.  Every time we ask them to process a bill through our insurance carrier, there’s a problem.  I’ve spent hours on the phone with our doctor’s office, the billing center at UCLA, and our health insurance carrier in New York.  The problem, it seems, is that the new computer system at UCLA, can’t differentiate between patients and whomever is guaranteeing that the patient’s bills will be paid.   It gets the semantics of who is doing what all screwed around and our insurance is denied, even though we are fully insured.  The technical term for it, is that the system goes all “kaflooie.”  There was no problem prior to the upgrade.

I had this very same problem repeatedly when I was in the tv news business.    Every two to three years the station would upgrade the computerized news-making system and every time they did, we all had to take a class to learn how to use the new and “improved” system.  “Improved,” means that the company had been convinced that the new system would eventually give them the ability to do more with less.  In other words, they would be able to save money by cutting their staff.  Firing people for fun and profit through newer and better technology.  But better for who?  Surely not for the people being fired and maybe not for the company they had once worked for, an enterprise that gave them the ability to earn a living wage so that they could contribute to a stronger American middle class, thereby helping to prove that Capitalism actually works?

I doubt anybody actually sat down and calculated the cumulative cost to the company in terms of lost productivity as dozens of us repeatedly tried to get up to speed on the latest “upgrade.”   And I’m not even including regular upgrades to your basic operating system.

How much time have you spent at  your computer, waiting for the weekly Microsoft updates to download and then install themselves? Days?  Weeks?   Are you at the point of wishing you had switched to Apple rather than sticking with Microsoft?   This isn’t so much of a problem at work, where some MIS guy located in another building does this for you in the middle of the night, but if you have your very own PC, then you know exactly what I mean.

Some genius number cruncher needs to determine how much time we waste attempting to correct the difficulties regularly created by system upgrades, what it’s costing us, and to what degree these same problems would be eliminated if only we would go back to using more human and less electronic brainpower.

Better living through technology?   I’ve got a feeling we’ve turned the corner on hitting a point of negative returns.

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Update:  I have moved my website and blog to a new website hosting company, Greengeeks.   They actually have people who answer their phones.  It’s wonderful.   Should have done this long ago.

People Who Offer Solutions

 

A couple of thoughts for a Sunday morning.  One, is a point of information that provides hope rather than fear.   The other, is a Frontline investigation you may find interesting.  Both are about people who offer viable solutions to what may appear to be otherwise insurmountable problems.

First, the point of information.

I had pretty much given up on nuclear power being a force for anything other than greed and the eventual extermination of the human race until I watched Fareed Zakaria’s show on CNN this morning.  I now have hope that nuclear power could be a solution to our energy issues.   It also makes me feel really, really good about the brainpower of young America.

Zakaria, reported on two young scholars at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Leslie Dewan, and Mark Massie.  They had passed their entrance exams for a program at MIT and decided that their heads might never again be so filled with knowledge.  Rather than wasting all that stored cranial data, they used it to design a cleaner, more efficient process to derive energy from nuclear power.   And it appears that they did.  Big time.

I’m not qualified to judge, but according to the information on their website, Transatomic Power’s advanced molten salt reactor consumes spent nuclear fuel cleanly and completely, unlocking vast amounts of cheap, carbon-free energy. It solves four of the most pressing problems facing the nuclear industry: ecological stewardship, public safety, non-proliferation, and cost-efficiency. Only an advanced reactor that meets all four goals at once can truly change the game and allow for broad adoption of nuclear power.”

One can only hope that an industry that seems resistant to change, sometimes to the point of intransigence, will work with Dewan and Massie, to get this nuclear ball rolling before another Fukushima or Three Mile Island event takes place.

It sounds hopeful, no?  And now, onto the Frontline documentary.  It’s called “Secrets of the Vatican.”   “Inside the end of the Benedict Papacy and Pope Francis’ battle to set the church on a new path.”  It’s an excellent look at the depth of the issues troubling the Vatican, and the enormity of the job facing Pope Francis, and possibly why Benedict threw in the towel.

I now see Francis as possibly being in the same category as Martin Luther King, John Lennon, Gandhi, Buddha and (dare I say it?) Jesus of Nazareth.  “Blessed are the peacemakers.”  I only hope he survives.  And I’m not even Roman Catholic.  But I like Pope Frankie.

“Secrets of the Vatican” is available on DVD, or you can watch it via streaming video by clicking here. 

American Police Resemble A Military Force

The following is from the californiawatch.org website in March of 2012.  I’m re-posting it here, because it is informative with regard to the degree to which American police departments have become militarized, with free, surplus gear from the U.S. military, as the troops come home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

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“The Department of Defense’s equipment bazaar is another sign of how aggressively some police departments increasingly resemble small armies. Civilian law enforcement have equipped themselves with assault-style weapons and even tanks, first as part of the war on drugs and later in the name of fighting terrorism. 

California police accumulated more equipment during 2011 than any other year in the equipment-transfer program’s two-decade history, according to a California Watch analysis of U.S. Department of Defense data. 

A total of 163,344 new and used items valued at $26.2 million – from bath mats acquired by the sheriff of Sonoma County to a full-tracked tank for rural San Joaquin County – were transferred last year to state and local agencies.

Police nationwide sought $498 million worth of equipment, including 60 aircraft and thousands more weapons than in 2010. Listed dollar amounts are based on what the military initially paid for the equipment. 

More than 17,000 public agencies across the country – mostly police and sheriff, but some fire departments – have taken advantage of the equipment giveaway of an estimated $2.8 billion since Congress enacted laws in the 1990s that created the program. ”  -californiawatch.org

I Have Seen The Enemy…

 

I know that both political parties have their faults, that both rely upon big money contributions to get re-elected and that we need to get money out of politics, but for the life of me I can’t imagine why anyone other than a CEO, a corporate board member or someone who lives off of their Wall Street investments would vote Republican in the upcoming elections.

For average folks, voting Republican is like refusing to pay taxes for the fire department and then blaming the government when your house burns down because nobody showed up to put out the fire.

Which is what a “good” Republican, would do.

Don’t be fooled. These guys will say anything.

What If Baghdad Falls?

 

With Iraq spinning out of control, and the outcome of the new Iraqi coalition government uncertain, the United States and it allies might be arming the Kurds in anticipation of losing Baghdad to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as “ISIS.”

It’s just a guess.  I don’t have any special information, but so far only the Kurds have had any success in fighting the ISIS army on the ground.  Consequently, if Baghdad falls to ISIS, the Sunni dominated ISIS army might then face a war on at least three fronts, with the freshly armed Kurds, possibly assisted by U.S. and EU air-power from the north, Shiite Iraqis to the south, assisted by the Shiite Iranian military from the east.  Elements of the Iranian military are are reportedly already in Iraq and have been there for some time.

ISIS, would face a war on at least three fronts.  Four, if you consider that the fight against ISIS and other rebel groups has been going on in Syria for months and that Iran has been sending military aid to Syria through Iraq.  Syria’s leader, Bashar al-Assad, subscribes to the religion of Alawite Islam, which is different from but aligned with the Shiites – which is why Iran, has been sending him military aid, and why he might be eager to join Iraq and Iran in a combined fight against the Sunni-dominated ISIS.

It might be the end of ISIS, but leaving what?  A new giant Iranian/Iraqi/Syrian Shiite-Alawite alliance in the south and a rebuilt Kurdistan in the north, supported by the U.S. and the EU, with the Sunnis left to pick up whatever they can in the middle once the shooting stops?

It’s an interesting possibility, in that it would leave the region divided into three regions defined by religious beliefs, which is what those who understood the region’s history said would happen when they advised the United States not to go to war in Iraq, way back in late 2002 and early 2003.  The United States should have listened.   British officials should have listened as  well, when T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia”) told them the very same thing in 1918.

If you don’t care to read, you can always rent the movie.  Peter O’Toole, is terrific as Lawrence.

Time To Give Mr. Obama A Little Credit

 

It’s nice to have a bit of good news now and then, and that’s what we’ve just received from President Obama, who tells us the U.S. effort to rescue Yezidi Kurds trapped on a mountaintop by the ISIS army, has been a success.   The American military air-dropped food and water to the refugees, while American fighter jets paved a way for them to escape down the mountain.  News accounts (European news sources)  indicate that the CIA, France, Germany and England, will now be supplying the Kurds with both humanitarian and military aid so that they can try and deal with the ISIS fighters themselves.  Germany says, “It will not stand by while people are being slaughtered.”  Score another point  for the President, for bringing in American allies to assist in the effort, rather than trying to go it alone.

So we saved some people.  And we did it without sending in ground troops.  Chalk one up for the U.S. and Obama.  Chalk up one more, in that the President has apparently helped engineer the removal of Nouri al-Maliki as PM of Iraq, possibly opening the door for a coalition Shia/Sunni and possibly Kurdish government, to push back against the ISIS army, again without the necessity of the United States sending combat troops back into Iraq.

In Israel and Gaza, the shooting has stopped.  I have no idea to what degree the White House may have had an impact on this, but the United States is not without influence in the region and the two sides are at least talking once again.  Another good thing.

And finally, kudos to Mr. Obama, for his statement on the standoff between police and demonstrators in Jefferson, Missouri.  His words and leadership undoubtedly helped promote a peaceful settlement to what was a very bad situation.  It appears Mr. Obama teamed up with Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, to tamp down the fires of anger and mistrust in a divided community badly in need of civic resolution.

I disagree with Mr. Obama on any number of issues, but this time I feel he deserves credit for successfully juggling both geopolitical and domestic concerns, and making it all work.  And all while he was on “vacation,” where he was forced to make nicey, nicey with Hillary Clinton, who decided to open her 2016 campaign for president with a little back-stabbing by attacking Obama’s Syria policy, which once again, as with the Kurds and the Iraqis in general,  kept the United States from becoming entangled in yet another ground war.  Not sure what Hillary has to complain about?  Benghazi, maybe?   Suppose that next she’ll be blaming President Obama for that?

Truthout Headline:  “Congress Takes Summer Break From Doing Nothing For Years”

Actually, on balance, Mr. Obama’s done pretty well for a President who is up against a Republican House that’s determined to let the nation fall into ruin before they’ll agree to even one piece of legislation that’s good for America, because it might give the appearance that something was accomplished during the administration of Barack Obama, who most of these Republican troglodytes refuse to even refer to as “the President,” or “Mr. Obama,” or God forbid, “President Obama.”  No, they simply call him “Obama,” or a “liar” or “that one.”  Nobody was that disrespectful to the intellectually challenged George W. Bush, who told us, “I have a different vision of leadership.  A leadership is someone who brings people together.”  Good for you, Dubya.  Good for you.   You probably thought long and hard over that one.

We always referred to him as “President Bush,” or “Mr. Bush,” even after he got into the White House by stealing two elections.  But Dubya, is white, and Mr. Obama, is black.   Stop pretending race isn’t a factor in American politics.  An “intellectually lazy” but likable fellow from Texas, who was busted for cocaine use and who skipped out on his National Guard duty even while it kept him away from the Vietnam War vs. an intellectually superior Harvard educated lawyer, and the right-wing talk-radio set has more respect for the dummy.  Makes sense I guess, as he’s the guy they’d identify with, but it doesn’t bode well for the nation’s future.

I do hope Mr. Obama enjoys what’s left of his vacation.  This time I really feel for the guy.  He’s getting things done in spite of the do-nothing Republican House, and it shows.  And he’s taking fewer vacation days than his predecessor.   If you’re keeping score, as of 8-22-14, Mr. Obama had taken 138 days vacation.  At this same point in his administration, George W. Bush had taken 407. 

Now They’re Arresting Reporters

 

Police in Ferguson, Mo., arrested and then released two reporters who were attempting to cover a street protest over the police shooting of 18 year old Michael Brown. 

According to an account on MSNBC, the two reporters, one who works for the Washington Post,  were arrested when they were “too slow” in leaving a McDonalds, where they had been sitting, filing their stories. One, says he was intentionally slammed into a door by an officer.  According to MSNBC, a reporter for the LA Times saw what was happening, called the Chief of Police and asked if he knew his cops were arresting reporters.  Minutes later the two reporters were released. 

The Ferguson, Mo. police, apparently “assisted” by the St. Louis County Police, are giving the appearance of going from bad to worse. Whoever these guys are, they’re acting like a small town cop shop that was given way too much surplus military gear, too much tear gas (they apparently lobbed gas at an Al Jazeera crew for no reason at all), and way too little training in crowd control.   They don’t appear to have any idea what they’re doing.  By one account, their Chief has admitted that they’ve had no training in dealing with a crowd of protesters.  But they’ve got lots of heavy military hardware and a seemingly endless supply of gas, which, eyewitnesses say, they are throwing at homeowners who have the unmitigated gall to stand in their front yards.

There is video of cops taking down the lights and other equipment belonging to broadcast journalists.

When did “protect and serve” become “gas and attack?”   Was it about the same time the Jefferson PD and (or) the county police were militarized by being given camo fatigues, armored personnel carriers and assault rifles?

They also apparently declared a curfew to be in effect on little more than a moment’s notice and without City approval.    They apparently think they can create law on the one hand and ignore it on the other.  Even if it happens to be constitutional law.  A local tv reporter says the cops were going around telling photojournalists to turn off their cameras and leave the area.  

City leaders all appear to be ducking for cover. Or maybe they’re invisible. It’s difficult to imagine that this is a suburb of St. Louis, and a sad fact that we still have police officers in any metro area with such an excess of attitude and an obvious absence of adequate training.    But don’t blame the coppers out on the street or the Governor.  Blame the Mayor,  the City Council and the Chief of Police.  They’re running this show.  They, are directly responsible and need to be held to account.

You don’t suppose any of this might be a result of our current national push for economic austerity do you?   We get what we’re willing to pay for, and from one coast to the other the budgets of police and fire departments have been cut to the bone.  Except for all that nifty surplus military gear they’ve been getting, which has the potential for making our city streets look more like Gaza and Beirut than Los Angeles, Chicago or Ferguson, Mo.

This is what you get from a federal government that has nearly unlimited funding for making war, but less than nothing for building and maintaining infrastructure on American soil.  Lots of surplus military killing gear, but no money for maintaining police and fire departments in the U.S.  If you house catches fire or you’re attacked by thugs, call the Pentagon.  I’m  sure they’ll be able to help.

Late unconfirmed reports indicate a St. Louis City Alderman and one state lawmaker were also arrested by the Jefferson Police during what reportedly began as a peaceful demonstration.  Later still, Governor Nixon, is sending in the State Police to patrol the streets of Jefferson.  The local cops have been told to stand down.

A Different Road But The Same Old Trip

 

The movie came out in the Summer of 1969.   A year after Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were murdered.  Kennedy, was 42.  King, was 39.

The Democratic convention had boiled over in Chicago, as the nation’s youthful mantra became “The Whole World’s Watching.”  Richard Nixon, was in the White House, promising to end the war in Vietnam with “honor.”  Instead, he escalated the fighting, until Congress finally shut it down by cutting off funding in 1973.  At one point more than 500 Americans were being sent home in body bags each week while the government assured us we were winning the war because their body count was higher than ours.   Seldom mentioned is the fact that a disproportionate number of the American dead were African-American.  Or that our intention was not to  win the war in any traditional sense, but to wear the Vietnamese down by attrition, even though the Chinese and the French had tried the same thing before us and failed.  It’s important to know the history of your enemy before going to war.  The Vietnamese, had been fighting off foreign invaders since at least 938 A.D.  LBJ, had no idea.

Those who could, avoided the war by signing up for a six year hitch in the National Guard or obtaining a II-S college deferment.   This was back when the Guard was still used only as a force to protect and serve on U.S.  soil, an idea that went away with the Bush/Cheney Administration.  They needed more soldiers you see, and they knew that America wouldn’t put up with another round of military conscription (100,000 men per year were drafted during the Vietnam War), so they very cleverly turned everyone into a hero and sent the Guard overseas.  I’m still surprised that they got away with it.  But then I remember that people forget. They had forgotten Vietnam, where nearly 17,000 Americans died in just one year with no exit strategy.

And so the path to war was once again open  for an entire generation of Americans that answered their nation’s call not to defend U.S. soil, but to act as a mercenary force for the Kuwaitis and the Saudis and big oil, to push Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.

Eventually, the lessons of Vietnam were lost.

At war’s end, more than 58,000 Americans and between 900,000 and 1.1 million Vietnamese had been killed, and nobody was sure exactly why.  Some said it was to stop the spread of Communism.  Others thought it was wrongheaded and without justification because the Vietnamese never had represented a threat to the United States and Ho Chi Minh had no intention of letting either the Soviet Union or the Communist Chinese march in a take over his country.

There was however, oil in the South China Sea, and untold mineral riches in the jungles of Vietnam.  Some of us wondered about that, as the United States was locked down between two opposite poles, those who favored the war and thought it was winnable, and those who did not.  “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” we all said.  And most of us meant it.  Later we worried, as the Bush dynasty took us into Afghanistan and then Iraq, once again without an exit strategy.

In August of 1969, Richie Havens opened the Woodstock Music Festival with his driving rendition of “Freedom.”  How much of it we had was up for grabs, as we were old enough to die in combat, but too young to vote or buy a beer.   There were the Hippies and the Yippies, the Black Panthers, the Weather Underground, Students for a Democratic Society, the Young Republicans and a new feminist movement.  We were millions of lost souls in search of personal and collective salvation.

As the nation reached absolute polarization, “Easy Rider” appeared.  A movie about two young dope dealers on chopped Harleys, hitting the open road in search of America.  It  spoke to the frustrations of my generation in ways that were both real and symbolic.

A lot of us bought bikes.  Steve Heitke, picked up a used Harley and turned it into a chopper with straight pipes rising high into the air off the rear wheel.  It was loud.  Like rapidly repeating artillery fire.  I got my hands on an old Matchless, stripped off the front fender, and gave it a deep metallic purple with silver feathering paint job.   Second gear had been ground out of the gearbox, but I kept riding it anyway by pretending second gear had never been there and shifting directly from first into third.  It rattled a little as I shifted past second but you can get by without second gear if you really have to.

I had just turned 21 when the movie was released, and a bunch of us went to see “Rider” in Minneapolis.  I remember my old friend and fraternity brother Warner “Shorty” Smithers was there.  Shorty was only about 5 feet 6 inches tall, but he was a former wrestler for Edina High School, and one of the toughest guys I’ve ever known.  We used to hang out at various watering holes in the Minneapolis area.  I can recall the Triangle Bar over near the University of Minnesota, on the “West Bank.”  It was a sometime hangout for local Hells Angels.  According to the Angels website, their Minneapolis chapter wasn’t formed until 1982, but I’m here to tell you that bikers wearing the Angels colors were hanging out at the Triangle Bar in the late 60’s.  I know.  I was there.  Maybe they were just passing through.  Legend had it  that Bob Dylan had played the Triangle once or twice.  We kept hoping he’d show, but he never did.  Dylan, was in the area for a time, I was told he’d lived in an apartment above the Baskin Robbins ice cream parlor near Territorial Hall, but by then he’d probably left Minnesota for New York.  There was also “The Depot,” an old bus depot that had been converted into a bar with a enormous dance floor downtown.  Shorty, eventually got a degree from the University of Minnesota and moved to Nevada, where he managed one of those restaurant/casino operations out on the highway before you get into Vegas.  It was Shorty, who took me bar-hopping the night before I was to be inducted into the military.

I had been drafted.   The government had done away with college deferments and set up a lottery system.  They drew numbers based upon birth dates.  The lower your number, the better your chance of being called up for the Army or the Marines and being sent off to the human meat grinder in “The Nam.”   My number was 28, so basically, I was toast.   They put us up in a cheap hotel the night before induction and made me the “group leader.”  I had to sign a piece of paper saying I would be responsible to see to it that all the inductees in the group showed up for their physicals the next morning.  I figured the group could take care of itself, as I left the hotel to hook up with Shorty to slam down a few beers at one of the Twin Cities finer strip clubs.  I had never been in a strip club before, but I figured I was probably going to die within the next two years anyway, so why not.

The thought of buying a used VW Microbus and heading to Canada, had crossed my mind.  But it just wasn’t something  I was intellectually wired to do.  Not at that time of my life.  I was young and still clinging to the hope that it wasn’t all for naught.  That it wasn’t all just happenstance.  That somewhere, someone might actually know what he was doing.  We were all young then.  As young as Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, on those big, beautiful choppers, symbols of freedom rolling across the open highways of America.

I hadn’t thought about “Easy Rider” in years, and then it came on tonight, on the country music channel, of all places.  As I watched, I wondered what happened to the motorcycles Fonda and Hopper rode in the picture.    According to a piece in the New York Times, four bikes were built for the movie, two “Captain America” choppers for Fonda, and two somewhat less conspicuous red and yellow bikes for Dennis Hopper.

One of the “Captain America” bikes crashed and burned at the end of the movie.   It was totally trashed.  You can see it happen if you watch the film.  The other three, the paper says, were stolen.   Gone, until the late, great and legendary newspaper publisher Otis Chandler, master journalist at the Los Angeles Times, and auto and motorcycle collector, hired Ojai bike builder Glenn Bator, to build two replicas of the Fonda and Hopper bikes from scratch, starting with Florida police motorcycles for a base, just as they did for the bikes built for the movie at a reputed cost of $500 each.

Bator, says he charged Chandler $15-thousand each for the replica cycles which Chandler then turned around and sold to the Guggenheim Museum in New York for $200 thousand.   I don’t know if that’s true.  It could be.  The three stolen and still missing bikes are more interesting to  me.  You have to wonder who has them, and how he (or she) feels, being forced to hold secret the location of three  of the most famous motorcycles in the world.  Icons of 1960’s America.  A time of intense dissent, anger, turmoil, repression, growth and joy.  You pretty much needed to be there to understand it. Not to mention the ongoing struggle of trying to understand how we traveled from our certainty of changing the world so that we couldn’t “be fooled again” to arrive at our current locale, with the United States fueling military conflicts across the globe and our own government setting aside due process and spying on us daily while our trusted news anchors salute an ongoing parade of American heroes returning from the latest war.

Gaza: Stop The Insanity

The third United Nations school in ten days has come under fire in Gaza.  Some of the estimated 240,000 Gazans who are currently displaced were using it for shelter.  Ten were killed.   UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, is calling it a “criminal act.”  UN officials say they have repeatedly supplied Israel with the GPS coordinates of their schools in Gaza.

The Gazans are trapped.  There is no place for them to go.  They are being slaughtered.

1,700 have now been killed in Gaza.  Thousands are injured.  Most of the dead, according to NGO’s, are civilians.  On the other side, 64 soldiers and 3 civilians have been killed in Israel.

It’s reported that of the last 13 rockets Hamas fired into Israel, one was intercepted by the “Iron Dome” anti-missile defense system.  Twelve others landed in open fields.   For its part, Israel strikes back with one of the largest and most modern nuclear-armed military forces in the world, supported by the United States.

Israeli officials complain Hamas is using populated areas for launching rockets.   Where do they expect them to go?  In the middle of an open field where they can be easily picked off by Israeli jets?

Israel’s first stated objective was to stop the rockets.  Their objective then changed, to blowing up the tunnels, but they said nothing about the dozens of tunnels running into Egypt,  or the fact that Gaza is a what?  A nation?  No, it’s not that.  Okay, it’s an area, an area some call the world’s largest “open air prison” that’s been under siege for years, leaving its people tunneling out to obtain what they need to support their lives, and yes, to fight back against Israel.  But the Israelis didn’t stick with that objective.  No, they changed it again, saying they would stop their offensive once the threat from Hamas had been eliminated.  Is that even possible?

The Israelis are beginning to sound like the Bush Administration when it went into Iraq.   They started out by saying they were going after weapons of mass destruction,  then switching to regime change and finally ending up with a claim of needing to democratize all of the Middle East.  There might have been one or two other objectives I’m missing.   The Bushies kept changing their reason for the invasion of Iraq so often that it’s difficult to keep track of their reason for invasion at any given moment, a trick Netanyahu now seems to be employing.

At the same time, Israel refuses to engage in peace talks.  Why?  Really.  How do you settle your differences without some form of communication?   By elimination of the enemy?

When an Israeli solider goes missing, the Israelis claim he has been “kidnapped.”   But when they attack Gaza, they call it “war.”   Soldiers are not kidnapped during a time of war.  They are captured.

This insanity needs to stop.  Israel is in danger of becoming that which it most detests.  Concerns about being called “anti semitic” will no longer matter, as the number of dead and wounded so clearly and terribly, speaks for itself – and Israeli officials give the appearance of being more interested in maintaining the status quo than in reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

The Bush Administration failed in its misguided attempt at using the U.S. military to democratize the Middle East.  Netanyahu and his hard-liners are also sure to fail as they attempt to reach a military solution to a political problem in Gaza and the West Bank.  Sooner or later they are going to have to meet with the Palestinians, representatives for all of the Palestinians, not the Palestinian Authority minus Hamas, and talk this out.  Again.  Hopefully this time they can arrive at a formula for a lasting peace, possibly based at least in part on what they agreed to in earlier talks and then reneged on.  Or, they can settle for the non-solution of ongoing carnage and never-ending war.

As in the past, whatever happens, you can be sure it will be the other guy’s fault.

It’s Not Al Jazeera They Fear, It’s The Truth

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, is threatening to shut down Al Jazeera in areas controlled by Israel, comparing the Doha-based network to a Nazi newspaper published in Germany during World War II?   Possibly motivated by the Foreign Minister’s words, someone opened fire on Al Jazeera’s office in Gaza.  Last night, the Al Jazeera reporter filed from the AP office next door.  As of yet, to the best of my knowledge, no one has opened fire on the AP.

I’ve been watching all the news networks I normally watch, Euronews, France 24, the BBC and Al Jazeera.  Rarely do I bother with American broadcast news with the exception of Amy Goodman and “Democracy Now!”  It’s just too much of a disappointment.    Anyway, if I want to see one of America’s journalistic guiding lights like Brian Williams, I can always tune in one of his comedy bits from Saturday Night Live,” or catch the newest video of him rapping (through the use of clever editing) on what now passes for the Tonight Show on NBC.  How does that line from the song “Dirty Laundry” go?  “I could have been an actor, but I wound up here.”

For those of you who aren’t old enough to know, tv news in America used to be pretty good.   It was news-driven as opposed to being personality-driven and weighted in favor of journalism rather than doing whatever might be necessary to increase a show’s ratings.    But then, in the 1960’s, the consultants came along, convincing station (and network) owners and managers that newsrooms could be profit centers.  And with that, we were off to the infotainment races.  Millions of dollars were on the line, as once serious newscasts became happy, chatty and entertainment driven.  If meaningless crime stories and Hollywood gossip drew an audience, then that’s what the nation’s tv news moguls would provide.  Meaning, American broadcast journalism, for the most part, went right down the crapper,  which is why I watch the European news channels and Amy Goodman.  Because they continue to put journalism ahead of entertainment.

Al Jazeera, is right there, putting journalism first, and being slammed by the Israeli Foreign Minister, for doing so.  Perhaps that should be expected?   Some in the United States were doing exactly the same thing when U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq.   Reporters from the U.S. news outlets were “embedded” with the troops, which meant they were contained, controlled and limited in their ability to gather  information.  It was a brilliant PR move by the Pentagon.  Of course you could say they were working for their side in the conflict.   If you think that’s okay, then you know nothing about objectivity.   Or free speech.  Or supporting a democracy.  It’s an admittedly fine line.  American journalists shouldn’t do anything to put American lives in jeopardy but they also have an obligation to their viewers and readers to present a full and legitimate picture of war.  It’s a call that must remain in the hands of journalists, not generals or foreign ministers or the guys and gals in the sales department.

Al Jazeera, is funded by the ruling family of Qatar, the House of Thani.  They are a monarchy backed by proven oil reserves of 15-billion barrels.  Their oil wealth means they don’t need Monsanto, Pfizer, General Motors, AT&T, Walmart, or any of the other advertisers to survive.  And that makes Al Jazeera, a threat.  At the same time, under the time-honored “don’t bite the hand that feeds you” rule, I don’t expect them to do much real reporting on the Royal Family or the Qatari government.   That aside, AJ appears to have greater freedom to report what they want without having to worry about losing advertisers.

Another threat to those who would use the media for their own purposes, is the British newspaper, The Guardian, which is funded by a trust “which aimed to ensure the paper’s editorial independence in perpetuity, maintaining its financial health to ensure it did not become vulnerable to take overs by for-profit media groups.”  Like Al Jazeera, The Guardian, has been criticized for its coverage of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

U.S. officials didn’t care for Al Jazeera’s reporting during the Gulf War, because their reporters weren’t embedded with U.S. troops, which meant they were showing what was happening, warts and all, the actual horrors of war, while the U.S. outlets broadcast sanitized video-game images handed out by the Defense Department and standups (selfies) of reporters riding with the troops.  No blood, no bodies, just targets going boom and being eliminated in  little puff of smoke while the reporter did his voiceover from the bank of a tank.  Just like a computer game.  At the same time, Al Jazeera was criticized and called biased because they were covering the news.  I watched both, the U.S. networks and Al Jazeera through both U.S. invasions.  The difference was both dramatic and enlightening as to the human tragedy, the actual horrors of war being  caused by a vastly superior American force.  It’s no wonder American officials wanted to hide visuals of children, women and the elderly being torn to bits by artillery fire.  It wouldn’t have played well with the folks back home.  It was a lesson they had learned from Vietnam.  A mistake they weren’t going to make again.

And now Israeli officials are having these same problems.  And once again, similar to American officials during the Gulf War, it’s not Al Jazeera they fear.  It’s the truth.