Fletcher Leaving NBC

 Martin Fletcher

NBC News correspondent and Tel Aviv Bureau Chief, Martin Fletcher, is leaving the network.   According to “TVNEWSER” Fletcher says it was his idea and not the networks.   Be interesting to know the man’s age but there’s nothing about it in the article.   They do say that Fletcher has been with NBC for 32 years.

Lousy Decade, Some Great Pictures

 George W. Bush Pardons Turkey

The NY Times is featuring an interesting page entitled “Documenting the Decade”  with photos its readers sent in.  Great photos even if the decade was pretty much a bust.

The LA Times has a similar feature covering the past year called, “2009 in Focus.”

The Washington Post has a photo feature looking back at the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

The Boston Globe’s photo offering is entitled “The Big Picture.”

“The Decade in Pictures” from MSNBC can be found here.

The Times of London has its “Pictures of the Year” gallery.

The Toronto Star’s lookback features fashion, with “Fashion Trends 2009.”

And finally, for a bit of comedic relief, “The 100 Funniest Political Pictures of the Decade.”

Thousands Protest In Iran

A massive civil uprising continues in Iran with some news and pictures getting out despite the efforts of that country’s theocracy to shut down communications.   Websites that oppose Iran’s recent and highly disputed presidential election are reporting that police have opened fire and goon squads of Basij Militia have gone on the attack with thousands of people flooding the streets and at least 4 and possibly as many as 9 dead.  The New York Times reports “the protests, taking place on the holiday marking the death of Shiite Islam’s holiest martyr, were the bloodiest — and among the largest — since the uprisings that followed Iran’s disputed presidential election last June, with hundreds of thousands of people thronging Tehran alone, witnesses said. There were reports of hundreds of injured people and numerous arrests.”     Click here for a story from the BBC with video of what appear to be Basij motorcycles on fire.   Click on the image below for some recent video from YouTube-

Dutch Film Director Hero Of Flight 253

Passengers on board Northwest Flight 253 are being credited with averting an attempt to blow up the plane as it came in on approach to Detroit.    One passenger above all the others it appears, snapped into a go mode to restrain the would-be bomber.   Jasper Schuringa, apparently climbed over several other passengers after hearing popping sounds and seeing smoke.  The film director then burned his hands as he both restrained the bomber and tried to put out the fire.

“I was thinking, Oh, he’s trying to blow up the plane. I was trying to search his body for any explosive. I took some kind of object that was already melting and smoking, and I tried to put out the fire and when I did that I was also restraining the suspect.” -Jasper Schuringa in the NY Times

According to the Justice Department “23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had a device containing a high explosive attached to his body on Flight 253 from Amsterdam. As the flight neared Detroit’s airport on Friday, Abdulmutallab set it off — but it sparked a fire instead of an explosion.” -AP

Stop Assisting Kim Jong-il

 Kim Jong-il

photo: wiki commons  

Five months ago, former president Bill Clinton had to travel to North Korea to obtain the release of two American journalists that had apparently “strayed over” into enemy territory.  Apparently, they had made a mistake.  A bad one, but a mistake nonetheless.

Now comes word that another American, this one apparently motivated by religious zeal, has intentionally and illegally crossed over into North Korea to “call attention to tens of thousands of political prisoners believed held in the communist state.”  Oh really?  There are political prisoners being held by a fascist regime?  Do ya think?

Did this young “missionary” carrying a letter for Kim Jong-il really think he could have a positive impact?   This naive 28 year old Korean-American has done nothing that will impede the power of the communist regime in North Korea.   His only accomplishment is that he has given Kim another bargaining chip, another hostage to use in his ongoing battle of wits with the west.

Note to rookie reporters, Christian zealots and others trying to advance their careers or prove their faith –  Stay the hell away from the North Korean border.

Avatar – A Morality Play For The 21st Century?

 Avatar Movie Poster  Sat through all 2 hours and 40 minutes of “Avatar” the other day and was initially struck by the same attributes the critics are praising.   It’s a wonderful combination of amazing hi-tech visuals coupled with an entertaining story.  It wasn’t until I was driving home that it hit me.   James Cameron has done much more than make a movie that entertains by setting a new standard for marrying live actors with animation.  He’s put together a film that teaches, much like the movies I saw as a kid in the 50’s and 60’s.

The motion pictures of my youth, starring Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Audie Murphy and the rest carried a message.  It was always pretty much the same.  Given half a chance and a lot of courage, good, will triumph over evil.   Gene, never drew his gun without good reason.  He and his contemporary good guy heroes pulled their weapons only after being threatened and never because of hubris, avarice or any other generally disgusting human trait.   They drew their  weapons only to defend themselves or others, and even then, only when justice absolutely demanded the use of deadly force.

They were on the side of right, fighting bad guys who often represented greedy people out to impose their will through the use of violence because, well, somebody had to do the right thing.   The strong were supposed to look out for the weak, not take advantage of them.   Our heroes up there on the big screen were the good guys.  They exemplified the American way.  Parents could give their kids money to go to the movies knowing their youngsters would be entertained and get a lesson in decency all in the same package.  Right was might, not the other way around.  You didn’t do something just because you could, you did it because it was the right thing to do.

I was also reminded of Robert Mitchum portraying Brigadier General Norman Cota,  a fearless giant of a man walking the sands of Normandy in “The Longest Day.”  Nazi bullets whizzed by his head as he barked out to his men who had taken cover, “There are only two types of people that are going to stay on this beach, those already dead and those who are yet to die.”   Taking heart from his display of courage, his men grabbed their weapons, got back up, and got back into the fight.  A fight the good guys would eventually win.

Thousands would die in World War II, but America and its allies would save the world from the Nazi threat.  We were the good guys, and that’s what we did.  And this wasn’t fiction.  This had all actually happened.  Our troops were out to do the right thing come hell or high water and they were our real life heroes.  They had walked the walk.  Many had died with their boots on and a gun in their hands to preserve the America we were all continuing to enjoy.  They did it not because there would be economic payback.  They did it because they were confronted by an overwhelming evil and it was the right thing to do.  They did it because it was their duty.  And we learned about it from the movies.

All of it tied into Avatar for me as I was driving home.  Like the cowboy films of the 50’s,  it’s a classic struggle of good vs. evil.  It’s also a love story.  It’s also about the equality of male and female.  Equality between those with physical disabilities and those who are not physically disabled.   The top scientist in the movie is a woman.  The movie’s protagonist is a paraplegic.  Cameron’s got a lot going on here.

The struggle between good an evil is represented by a multi-planetary corporation backed by a mercenary army of former soldiers, out to steal the mineral rights of a people who want the invaders to go away and leave them alone.  Sound vaguely familiar?   But the filmmaker goes way beyond corporate greed driven lust for profit and the obvious parallel between the minerals on a distant moon named “Pandora” and oil lying beneath the sands of the Middle East.

The native humanoid creatures on this moon aren’t just living there.  The entire moon is connected by one big nervous system.   The humanoids, the plants, the trees, the animals.  It’s all one big interconnected organic system with a culture the corporate invaders can’t understand and don’t really care to.  Not when there’s money to be made by stealing the wealth that lies beneath the ground.  Better to blow them all away in the cause of short-term profits than to try and understand the wonders of their moon (opening Pandora’s box)  that could turn out to be far more valuable over the long haul.   Kinda like the short term profits vs. the long term problems of…global warming?

And so the evil mercenaries backed by corporate sponsorship go on the attack with helicopter gunships in the air and robotic armor on the ground.  The Avatar people,  armed only with bows and arrows don’t have a chance.  Or do they?   Will the might of the mercenary army driven by corporate greed overcome right, or will a hero come along to lead the fight to prove that right makes might?

Maybe I just long for the simpler movies of days gone by, before they turned Batman into a psychotic.  Or perhaps James Cameron has gone beyond the norm and there’s a lot more to this film than is generally being recognized.   Avatar’s numbers at the box office would seem to indicated the American people approve.  Even if this film is a tad on the long side and I wish they could have taken the cigarette out of Sigourney Weaver’s mouth.  I think Gene and Roy would have approved.  Not of the cigarette, but of pretty much everything else.

Happy trails to you….

Healthcare Passes, Madoff Beaten, Iranian’s Continue Their Fight For Freedom

The Senate has passed its healthcare reform bill, which, if you believe what the President has to say, is much better than the Republicans think it is.   You may want to listen to Mr. Obama’s interview on NPR.

It’ll be interesting to see what’s still there when the bill emerges from conference committee.   It’s a safe bet the public option will be gone.  And forget about expanding Medicare to cover a greater number of the nation’s elderly.  The 60-39 vote makes one wonder if everything these people do in the foreseeable future will encounter the same kind of gridlock along party lines with a few moderates and smilin’ Joe Lieberman in the middle, holding the country hostage while they play the game for all it’s worth.   So many of our esteemed senators have been bought off by the insurance and pharma industries, and the lies and innuendo have been so numerous and thick, that it’s difficult to get a real handle on what’s actually happening and who the winners and losers will be once this thing is signed by the President.

In Iraq, 26 people have been killed in explosions at various locations.  Weren’t we recently told things were getting better,  that the country was becoming more stable?

Just next door, the fascist regime in Iran has banned demonstrations honoring recently deceased Grand Ayatollah  Hossein Ali Montazeri, after days of memorials/demonstrations that have both honored the Grand Ayatollah and protested the recent re-election of  Iranian President  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.   Iran’s ruling theocracy pronounced Ahmadinejad the winner before all the votes had been tallied.  Cute trick.  When you’ve got a theocracy,  you don’t need a Supreme Court to shut down the vote count to seal (steal) the deal for you.   Sounds like things remain very nasty with gangs of government backed Basij militia zooming around on motorbikes beating the hell of women and kids.  

“In another sign that Tehran is trying to stamp out dissent, a former Iranian government spokesman who joined the opposition movement was sentenced to six years in prison, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

Abdullah Ramezanzadeh, who backed opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi in the disputed presidential vote in June, was charged with fomenting unrest. He was found guilty of “acts against national security, propagating against the Islamic establishment and keeping classified documents”, according to Fars.

The trial of Ramezanzadeh, who served until 2004 as spokesman under reformist President Mohammad Khatami, was part of mass proceedings under way against more than 100 leading moderates, opposition figures and supporters who have challenged President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad‘s disputed re-election in June.

More than 50 people were arrested earlier this week in a mosque in Isfahan, Iran‘s second biggest city, reformist websites reported, as police fired pepper spray and teargas at mourners paying their respects to Montazeri, who died on Sunday.”  -The Guardian

It’s difficult for our diminished media to keep track of what’s going on with the Iranian people’s struggle for freedom as most of the major media in the U.S. have shuttered their overseas bureaus in recent years and journalists who can remember the Shah and the revolution have been fired or retired.  Joe Stalin would have loved the current Iranian regime. 

Reuters is reporting that 71 year old Bernard Madoff has been badly beaten.  According to a North Carolina tv station, the disgraced financier was admitted to the hospital ward of the prison he’s visiting for the next 150 years (or until he expires) with injuries to his face, ribs and a collapsed lung.

Oh Please, Not That Again

Thank God, the meaningless, pointless and seemingly endless story about the balloon boy is back.   Something the nation’s news consumers can really get their heads around as opposed to all this babble, chatter and backbiting about healthcare reform, global warming and bankers ripping off the country.

I think I’ll become a Republican.  They seem to think everything will be all right if Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and the “C Streeters” just pray hard enough as opposed to that California woman, Pelosi, and the rest of those Godless Democrats, who favor teen sex, abortion, death panels and a healthcare reform bill that would have killed Jesus.

Thank God the balloon boy is back.   Probably at, or near the top of every newscast, as they continue to complain about declining ratings and the incursion of the Internet.   At least it’s something the Palin/Bachmann/Chuck Norris crowd can understand.

“In a situation like this, I always ask myself, what would my hero Edward R. Murrow
think? And I think that Ed would think that this was censorship. Then I think about what
my other hero, General George Patton, would think, and I think George would think that
radio and television ought to be cleaned up, and if he were alive today, he’d take two
armored cavalry divisions into Hollywood and knock all those liberal pinheads into the
Pacific! So as you can see, I’m a very confused man. And when I get confused, I watch TV.
Television is never confusing. It’s all so simple somehow.” -Les Nessman, WKRP Radio

Nurses Association Criticizes Reform Bill

The nation’s largest association of registered nurses, “National Nurses United”  representing 150,000 RN’s, has some heavy criticisim for the healthcare reform bill now moving through the congressional meat grinder.    Here’s some of what the NNU has to say-

“Sadly, we have ended up with legislation that fails to meet the test of true healthcare reform, guaranteeing high quality, cost effective care for all Americans, and instead are further locking into place a system that entrenches the chokehold of the profit-making insurance giants on our health.  If this bill passes, the industry will become more powerful and could be beyond the reach of reform for generations.”   -Karen Higgens, NNU Co-President

Lobbyists Dump Record Amount Of Cash On Congress

Politico reports that D.C. Lobbyists are heading for a record in 09,  shattering last year’s record of $3.3 billion, and guess who is leading the pack?   In the first 9 months of the year, PhRMA (the drug companies) forked over $20.2 million while lobbyists for the health insurance industry delivered $6.3 million in their effort to shoot down healthcare reform.  Oh, and there are 1,500 fewer lobbyist than last year.

Don’t wonder why the Senate didn’t cut a better deal for America on it’s healthcare reform legislation.    Most of them have been bought off.  The numbers speak for themselves.   These people are both sad and disgusting.  Al Franken must go home every night and vomit.

The Good,The Bad, And The Bankers

It’s being reported that sales of existing homes are at their highest level in nearly 3 years in the U.S.  Sounds pretty good doesn’t it?  Sounds like the economy may be turning around.

Before you get too excited, it should be noted that home mortgage foreclosures are also rising.  Here in Los Angeles, homeless people are showing up in relatively affluent parts of the San Fernando Valley, where not that long ago there were no homeless to be found.    About  90,000 of Los Angeles County’s residents are currently homeless.  Unemployment in the City of Los Angeles is running around 12.4%.

While it’s wonderful that some can afford to buy homes, it’s far worse that many others are being thrown out on the street.  You could say the bad outweighs the good?  Maybe I’m being too pessimistic?  Seeing a mother with her three young kids hoping for a handout while gathered around a shopping cart that holds their worldly possessions will do that to you.

What’s the average salary for an employee at Goldman Sachs?  Was the average pay package expected to hit $900,000?  Is that possible?

“Goldman’s second-quarter earnings, which amounted to $38m per day, were up 65% on 2008 and confirmed the US bank’s status as one of the stand-out winners from the credit crunch which paralysed the financial industry for much of last year.

The firm’s revenue of $13.76bn was the highest in its 140-year history. Its success on the trading floor is likely to translate into record bonuses, to the dismay of critics who view runaway compensation as a key factor contributing to the global economic meltdown.” -The Guardian

So the big bankers are bouncing back after the bailout?  How?   Experts say they are making many of the same risky investments that got us into the biggest financial mess since the Great Depression.   And it appears that without new and serious regulation they might take us there again.  Only this time it could be worse.  Much worse.

Before this is over it could be someone you know standing out there in a supermarket parking lot with nothing more than a shopping cart holding their dreams and aspirations.

California Shortchanged On Healthcare Reform

The following editorial appeared in today’s San Franciso Chronicle.

Editorial: High cost of politics

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

At last, the U.S. Senate is within reach of health care reform. Over the weekend, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., nailed down the last few votes he needed to begin a round of voting on the plan. President Obama’s wish for a Christmas health reform package appears to be coming true.

Regrettably, the deals that Reid had to cut may leave Californians clutching a lump of coal. California was already receiving the lowest federal match for Medicaid dollars in the nation – a 50-50 split – a large part of the reason our state’s provider reimbursement rates are also among the lowest. Experts estimate that the low federal match rate costs California about $2.3 billion every year.

Under the new health care reform package, states with recalcitrant senators will receive especially large subsidies to expand their Medicaid programs, or, in the case of Nebraska – whose Democratic senator, Ben Nelson, was a key holdout – Uncle Sam will pick up the entire tab. In sum, California will be subsidizing health care reform in other states, and we won’t even be able to pay our own bills.

If there was ever a moment for California’s congressional delegation to step in and insist on equity for California, this is it.

The state budget won’t be getting any healthier for many years. If we’re to expand the Medicaid population – as is required by both the House and Senate health care bills – we’ll have no choice but to increase our provider reimbursement rates. (There aren’t enough providers who are willing to accept the Medicaid patients we have now, because the reimbursement rates are so low. It will be impossible for us to add more patients to the Medicaid rolls without adding more providers, too.) But we simply don’t have the money to do that, and it’s unfair that we should have to shoulder so much more of that burden than other states.

Most outrageously, it seems that California is being punished for not playing political extortion on the issue. Its top leaders in Washington – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer – have been adamant about getting health care reform all along. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has spoken up in support of reform. Because California’s votes – and voters – could be counted on to support health care reform, we’ve gotten far less than states with “moderates,” who are able to bully Congress into handing over more and more treats for their constituents.

Of the two bills, the House version is more generous to California. Feinstein and Boxer must push for its provisions in conference. And in the long run, all of California’s congressional leaders must push for an end to the inequities in federal funding that contribute to California’s budget shortfalls.

A Train To Nowhere?

 It Takes A Pillage  Nomi Prins, the author of “It Takes A Pillage” and former Managing Director at Golman Sachs,  just put in an appearance on CNN to say “we’re sitting on a pile of subsidized public risk” that’s only going to get worse.   Prins says the amount of risk being taken by Wall Street has increased and so have their profits. That’s why the price-per-share value of the Wall Street firms has been rising.  At the same time all the indicators on main street she says, point to things getting worse, with more people falling behind in their mortgage payments and an increased number of foreclosures.   The situation out on main street she says, is worse now than it was before the feds forked over all that cash to bail out the banking industry.

” The Second Great Bank Depression has spawned so many lies, it’s hard to keep track of which is the biggest. Possibly the most irksome class of lies, usually spouted by Wall Street hacks and conservative pundits, is that we’re all victims to a bunch of poor people who bought McMansions, or at least homes they had no business living in. If that was really what this crisis was all about, we could have solved it much more cheaply in a couple of days in late 2008, by simply providing borrowers with additional capital to reduce their loan principals. It would have cost about 3 percent of what the entire bailout wound up costing, with comparatively similar risk.”  -From “It Takes A Pillage”

Most troubling perhaps, is that according to Prins the government hasn’t done much to bring the situation under control.

Kinda sounds like a runaway train, doesn’t it?  What a shock.   Could it be there has been no meaningful legislation to control the financial industry because lobbyists for the bankers have sent truckloads of cash over to the hill?   You know, the same thing the insurance and pharmaceutical companies have been doing to shoot down meaningful health care legislation?  In any other environment it would be called exactly what it is.  Bribe money.

Time for a reality check.    This is now a nation of, by and for investment and commercial bankers, insurance companies, multi-national pharmaceutical manufacturers and anybody else with millions to throw at the House and Senate.  The rest of us are basically screwed.   And the greed driven train wreck it would seem, is on the way.