Saturday, December 22, 2007

Goldman Sacks CEO Bags $67.9 Million Holiday Bonus!

If there was any wonder why the rich are getting richer in America, here is a great example. Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sacks will be celebrating Christmas this year with a tidy $67.9 million dollar bonus. That’s $67,900,000 comprised of cash and some restricted stock. Exorbitant? Maybe but Goldman Sacks seems to have avoided the sub-prime mortgage debacle and perhaps that is the reason for the wad of cash?

Of course there is no evidence that Blankfein actually was instrumental in making GS a %5 gain this year, but who know? Personally I think it’s bonuses like this that are turning our country back to the gilded age where there was very little middle class, just fabulously wealthy and the working poor. Wonder if he is planing to build another Vanderbilt Mansion?

Kansas Churches Move Toward The Left

This morning I read an article by a BBC columnist who visited Kansas recently and noticed a change. He saw the face of Evangelical Christianity looking very different than the one he previously knew. The Fred Phelps and their wacko ilk are still around, but at one large mega-church the congregation opted for a less dogmatic leader. In fact they opted to kick out the former "hell fire and brimstone" pastor and get one who was more concerned about the environment and the poor.

It’s obvious from the tone of the piece that the columnist has only been exposed to the radical form of Christianity in the US, but it still is an encouraging sign when a church turns from bashing gays to feeding the poor.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Diebold Stock Tumbles Amid Department of Justice Investigation Rumors

Well looks like Diebold may be the latest Enron. The company that brought your those buggy electronic voting machines has been finagling their balance sheets with a practice known as “bill and hold”. Under bill and hold, ownership of a product contractually passes to a customer and revenue shows up on the balance sheets prior to delivery of the product to the customer. In other words they show the income before the check clears. As a freelance writer I can tell you that really won’t work for long.

Thanks to for the news. That little tidbit as their stock hits a 5-year low and the company seems destined to continue sinking as the SEC and the DOJ are now investigating it. Add that to the fact that study after study shows that their electronic voting machines are easily hackable and I really don’t see them recovering. Couldn’t happen to a nice group of Bush supporters!

Borat & Ali G are Retired

Today Sasha Baron Cohen announced that he is officially retiring his character Borat and Ali G. In memory of Borat I present a real television commercial for his beloved country.

Girl Dies After Insurance Company Denies Transplant! Now Murder Charges Discussed.

Anyone wondering about the quality of health care in the US should read this and shudder. A 17 years old girl had been battling leukemia and received a bone marrow transplant from her brother. She developed a complication, however, that caused her liver to fail. Doctors at UCLA Medical Center sent a letter to her insurance company CIGNA saying she needed a liver transplant on December 11. The company responded with a denial of payment for the operation.
Here is the kicker, the girl died Thursday, just hours after the fine folks at CIGNA reversed their decision under pressure. It is a clear case of "wealth = life, poverty = death." Had her family had lots of cash or connections with the hospital she might be alive today.

That kind of system is wrong, for our country and morally wrong for anyone. We must have a single-payer national health insurance to cover these kinds of things. It’s time we admit that health care should be part of your rights as a citizen of a developed country.

Next time anyone says to you that the USA has the best health care in the world, remind them we only rank 37th against other countries. And who is first in the world for quality of health care? France! Mon Dieu!

UPDATE: Now the families attorney is talking about pressing manslaughter charges against the insurance company. ABC News.

No Proof Airport Screening Works

As I long suspected and numerous news reporters have anecdotally proven, "airport security" is an oxymoron. Reuters reports that a team at the Harvard School of Public Health could not find any studies showing whether the time-consuming process of X-raying carry-on luggage prevents hijackings or attacks.

In other words, there has been no quantitative study done on how effective the measures such as having passengers remove shoes actually is. The response from the Us Transportation Security Administration? The TSA told research teams requesting information their need for quick new security measures trumped the usefulness of evaluating them. Huh?

Basically, the team found that screening measures were implemented after news reports of threats leading me to the conclusion that they are mainly cosmetic measures meant to assure the traveling public. Additionally, I get the feeling the screening is meant to keep the traveling public scared. People who live and travel in fear are more easily controlled by government agencies. Conspiracy? Probably not, but still it’s easier to get more intrusive security measures passed through Congress when the public is afraid. Roosevelt’s quote was never more poignant than today. "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."

The "Governator" Sues The Government - Give 'Em Hell Arnold!

The "Governator" Arnold Schwarzenegger is sounding more and more like what Paul Krugman calls an "Eisenhower Republican". Those were the Republicans I grew up with in the 1950’s. They were fiscally conservative and socially moderate and not too much different from the Democrats. Arnold is turning out to be a much more moderate conservative than many in the GOP expected and that is a good thing.

California has tried to lower emissions faster than the federal standard. Schwarzenegger understands that the regulations from the feds are not nearly strong enough to do any good in the foreseeable future. Therefore California tired to do it alone. Not so fast said the EPA. Environmental Protection Agency chief Stephen Johnson announced the decision Wednesday, refusing the state's request for a waiver that would have allowed it to cut emissions faster than a new federal plan the president signed into law Wednesday.

No the "Governator" is threatening to sue the federal government. Good for him! I sincerely hope the suit goes through if for nothing else to bring to light the ineffective plan proposed by the EPA. It’s time to get serious about this stuff and Arnold knows it.

White House Implicated In Illegal Phone Jamming Scheme - And Still No Impeachment Hearings?

As I have long suspected the White House is the real control behind the GOP, and now the pigeons are coming home to roost. Seems the phone jamming scheme that was being used in New Hampshire to shut down the phone lines of the Democratic Party during the run up to the 2002 primary belonged to the GOP. Now news comes that it was directed by top party operatives in the White House.

So the White House is now implicated in another potentially criminal act and still the Democrats are sitting on their hands and refusing to hold impeachment hearings. Here’s a special word to the Democrats.

A real impeachment doesn’t look like the sideshow put on by the GOP during the Clinton years. A real impeachment is about breaking the law of the land and holding our officials responsible when they do. To let Cheney and Bush sit safely in the White House and not even call into question their activities which very well may have broken the laws that govern our country, not to mention international laws is unconscionable. Not holding impeachment hearings may well be a sign that the Congress was complicit in that illegal activity, otherwise why would they not want to uphold the law of the land?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Peace On Earth Video

An organization I support, Hope for Peace and Justice just released this latest video on YouTube. I sincerely hope you find it carries a message for all people this holiday season.

Bear Stearns Looses Big - Turns To China For Help

Yesterday it was Morgan Stanley who lost money and today its Bear Stearns. The sub prime mortgage market is part of the problem, and no doubt there are a dozen Harvard MBA’s right now trying to figure out how to blame the loss on anyone but themselves.

The losses of these two financial giants is disturbing enough, but the biggest red flag I see is to who they have turned to patch their leaky financial ships. Both companies went to the Chinese to shore up their stocks. Bear Stearns swapped stock with Citic Securities and Morgan Stanley got a $5 billion cash infusion from government-controlled China Investment Corp.

The stakes are pretty high in this game, and right now it looks like China is getting a bigger and bigger share of American debt. Not only do we buy cheap goods from China, we borrow the money to do it! This whole thing sounds like the beginning of a collapsing house of cards. I am reminded of the dot com bust and have to wonder what new scandals will be on the horizon.

Glad I am not in the financial sector right now.

Archbishop of Canterbury Dispels 3 King Legend

Glad to see clergy finally weighing in on the "Christmas Story". As a Christian, I have always loved the story of the 3 wise men and the snow and the shepherds, but I always knew there was a problem with it. First of all the date of Jesus’ birth was not December 25. That date was superimposed on it by the early church to coincide with an existing celebration. Not surprising since it was easier to get people to observe a holiday at the time they already were used to, and it was a ingrain the religious traditions of Christianity with those of the Romans.

Now the Archbishop of Canterbury has done an interview where he not only clears up the Christmas date, but dispels the 3 king story as well. In the Gospel of Matthew wise men from the East are mentioned, but they are not Kings nor are there any numbers. The number was extrapolated from the 3 gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold. I suspect the song "We Three Kings" helped that legend as well.

His interview will undoubtedly attract the ire of the folks who believe there is some sort of "war on Christmas". Personally, I am glad to see these traditions put in the correct light. They are legends than have become traditional stories and that’s fine. They are not in the Bible, just as the "Rapture" is not mentioned in the Bible either.

Now how long will it take for the fundamentalists to start flaming me?

More Resignations at Oral Roberts University

Things at ORU are heating up again. This week a second regent resigned. Televangelist Jesse Duplantis steps down from the board following the resignation of Creflo Dollar last week and Benny Hinn previously. The school is steadily separating itself from the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association following the resignation of Richard Roberts as President.

This all happens at the same time that both Benny Hinn and Creflo Dollar are under investigation by the Senate into their spending of tax exempt funds. I have to wonder if there may not be a relation seeing how Richard Roberts spending habits are what lead to his ouster?

Queen Elizabeth II Outlives Victoria Today

Queen Elizabeth II has been the only monarch of the UK that I have ever known. Today she passes the milestone set by Victoria and becomes the oldest reigning monarch in Britain’s history. At 81, Elizabeth II looks like she may reign for several more years and might just surpass Victoria’s record as longest reigning monarch as well.

I feel a special attachment to Queen Elizabeth. Aside from the catty comments some of my friends might make about "queens" I actually have a connection to her. My father was good friends with a Sir Lionel Whitby, one of the Queen’s physicians. Sir Lionel was a Hematologist like my father and they both served as Presidents of the International Society of Hematology for a time.

As a child I remember visiting Lady Whitby, Sir Lionel’s wife at Hampton Court several years after his death. She was a gracious and delightful woman. Due to Whitby’s influence, I was even once considering attending Downing College in Cambridge, however that never happened. My only legacy from that time are a few Christmas cards from Lady Whitby with the Royal address on them.

Long live Queen Elizabeth II and congratulations on another milestone in her reign.

To Pelosi and Reid - Start Acting Like Democrats!

Just because someone wears the Democrat label, it doesn’t mean they are either liberal or progressive. The problem with many of the senior Democratic leadership in Congress is their attempt to masquerade as reformers. People like Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are simply Republican "lite". Either that, or they are so entrenched in the politics of Washington that they have little stomach for real change and a real fight. I give as a case in point the pitiful showing on the war funding bill.

The Democratic majority was sent to Washington with a clear message, "end the war". So far what we have is more funding and a general caving-in every time the GOP steps up their pressure. The Democrats are behaving as though they are still the minority and that may very well kill their advantage. Americans have very short attention spans and should the Republicans or someone else come along with a reasonable sounding plan to end the war the public just might vote for them.

Republicans have shown an ability to close ranks and really resist change. It’s time the Democrats tried the same tactic. Democrats have to realize that the GOP is not going to share power or submit to any sort of coalition building. They are adversaries and they play their hand like one. Democrats are still stuck in the 1950’s when both parties could agree on what was best for the country. Unfortunately, the Republicans could care less, their taskmasters are the rich and big business. Their ranks may include the radical religious right, but only so long as they are convenient. The minute that faction should turn against business or the rich and they will be dropped like a hot potato.

So why are the Democrats afraid? I suspect they have been victim or the same PR that made "liberal" a dirty word. They are laboring under the illusion that the country wants "centrist" politicians when in fact the countries views are liberal, even though they won’t call themselves such.

So to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and the rest of the spineless Democrats who caved in to the GOP, I would say this. Get your act together or get out of the way. There are many more progressive politicians out there who could actually move this country towards a read democracy and away from the autocratic GOP rule. Start acting like Democrats. Start doing the job you were elected to do!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"Obama is Not Black Enough" and Other GOP Myths

Shelby Steele, right wing author and fellow of the conservative Hoover Institute was on our local Public Radio station today promoting his new book. “A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win" (Free Press, 2007) is the title and the host of the show failed to really describe the Hoover Institute in her interview. This was another of the old, “Obama is not black enough” propaganda that the right has been spewing now for months.

Steele divides successful black people into two groups, “bargainers” and “challengers”.

“Challengers never give whites the benefit of the doubt. They assume whites are racist until they prove otherwise.”

“Bargainers make a deal with white Americans that gives whites the benefit of the doubt: I will not rub America's history of racism in your face, if you will not hold my race against me.”

Though there may be some truth to these groupings, his rethoric is still the same argument that Obama won’t fly with black voters. This is part of the Republican disinformation campaign that is cranking up early just in case Obama gets the nomination. Republicans are afraid of him, since he defies the racial stereotypes and is not conveniently pigeonholed like some African American leaders. The author even brings up Hillary Clinton as being “more black than Obama”.

The bottom line is who cares? Black or white or grey, Obama is a reasonable and astute politician as well as something rare in this day and age, a statesman. That is what scares the Republicans and so they must try everything they can to “diss” him. So they have to attack his race. It’s still racism, and that is the strong suit of the GOP. Without it, they have nothing but a legacy of bolstering the rich at the expense of the poor.

Newest Japanese Robot Demonstration - Asimo Is Back!

I have to admit I am a techo-geek. I love new technological gadgets and especially the ones that emulate my childhood science fiction favorites. Just a few days ago the folks at Honda held a press conference and showed off their newest version of ASIMO, the friendly little robot featured in their TV ads. In this latest version, Asimo interacts with other Asimos and does tasks such as serving lattes. The spooky thing is he even bows politely as he does it.

I certainly hope they have read "I Robot" and know the laws of robotics, otherwise we are doomed.

Democratic Victories in Ft. Worth Elections!

Texas is slowly turning blue. Last night election results were encouraging for Democrats in Tarrant County. Joel Burns won the runoff election in Ft. Worth City Council District 9 to become the first openly gay man elected in Ft. Worth history! Additionally Dan Barrett, was elected as State Representative for House District 97 taking the seat form his Republican challenger, a seat that has traditionally been Republican.

City Council-District 9
Joel Burns 1,796 votes 54.08%
Juan Rangel 1,525 votes 45.92%

House District 97
Dan Barrett (D) 5,365 votes 52.20%
Mark Shelton (R) 4,913 votes 47.80

Fire In Executive Office Building - Across From The White House

This morning there was a fire in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building just across from the White House. It is the building where the President’s staff and other executive operations are housed. Luckily there are no injuries reported and damage has yet to be assessed.

Wouldn’t it be convenient if records were destroyed relating to the CIA tape destruction. After all, VP Cheney’s office is in that building, although it is a ceremonial one.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Even The FBI Saw The CIA Acts As Torture

So it seems that even the FBI thought the CIA was way out of line in their torture of suspects during interrogation. Things were so bad that FBI Director Robert S. Mueller ordered agents to withdraw from the interrogations. One of the agents threatened to arrest the CIA operatives for illegal activities.

It’s pretty bad when our own law enforcement folks find that the activities of the CIA are so abhorrent that they cannot stand by and watch anymore. Personally I wish they had arrested them in order to bring this to a head before now. If they had, we would not be having the investigation of why the CIA destroyed tapes of the interrogations, they would already be on trial and the people authorizing the torture would be out of jobs.

Now we get to wade through months of hearings and tap dancing by Bush and his henchmen as they try to explain away the torture. The way I look at it is, if it was bad enough for the FBI to seek intervention, it’s probably pretty bad!

Bush Logic - Iran Makes Uranium = Bad, Iran Buys Uranium = Good

In a development that seems to have gone unnoticed by most media, our glorious leader gave a speech to the Rotary Club yesterday in which he noted that Russia was selling enriched uranium to Iran. Somehow he managed to find a convoluted logic in this and the silver lining.

“…today Russia sent some enriched -- or in the process of sending enriched uranium to Iran to help on their civilian nuclear reactor. If that's the case, if the Russians are willing to do that -- which I support -- then the Iranians do not need to learn how to enrich. If the Iranians accept that uranium for a civilian nuclear power plant, then there's no need for them to learn how to enrich.”

So what is the difference if the Iranians learn to enrich uranium or they buy it? They still end up with uranium and prior to this odd logic, that is why we were afraid of them building a bomb. Last time I checked, enriched uranium was needed to build an atomic bomb. Now I suppose the real reason it’s OK now is that they bought it. You see PROFIT always trumps national interests.

Sometimes I feel like we have the Ferengi running the country.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Bush Thinks American Health Care System is "Fabulous"! For Who?

As further proof that Bush is delusional, he made the patently false statement that America’s health care system is "fabulous" when compared to others around the world. Now normally I would give the Commander in Chief props for using the term "fabulous" but today not so much.

In reality, our health care system ranks 37th out of 191 countries ranked by the World Health Organization. That puts us just below Costa Rica and just above Slovenia and Cuba. This in spite of the fact that the US spends more than anyone on health care. And remember this comment is coming from a man who has free government health care!

So Mr. Bush, I am one of those folks who can’t get insurance privately. Now tell me just how frigging great the system we have is!

Insider's Account of CIA Torture at "Black Sites"

After reading the article in about the captivity of a man from Yemen who was never charged with any crimes and held at a secret CIA "Black Site" for 19 months I am physically sick. The interview with the former prisoner includes a detailed drawing of his cell and descriptions of his daily routines. The thought that his captivity was done in my country’s name makes me nauseous.

Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah was imprisoned ni a series of cells, most no bigger than 7 X10 feet, often with only a bucket as a toilet and a constant barrage of rap music and white noise. After several months of this confinement he slashed his wrists and tried to kill himself. The thoughtful folks at the CIA patched him up and tossed him back in his cell. When he went on a hunger strike, they force fed him.

Finally his mental state deteriorated so much that they turned him over to psychiatrists who brought him back from the edge of insanity only to be interrogated even more. His torture is detailed in the article which I can assure you is not easy to read at one sitting.

What sickens me most is that it is Americans who are doing this to prisoners. We have recreated the Inquisition and many folks like Bashmilah got rounded up by accident. Though he is free today, he still suffers the debilitating effects of the torture and mental illness he developed while incarcerated. His life was turned inside out by my country and that makes me angry and sick.

Read the article if you can stomach it, then call your Senator and Congressperson and demand that this kind of madness stop. And while you are at it, encourage the impeachment of Dick Cheney. It is his policies that have lead to this kind of inhumane acts by our country and it must be stopped.

New Jersey Repeals Death Penalty

This morning as I was driving and listening to NPR, I heard a story that gives me hope for our country. The state of New Jersey has decided to repeal the death penalty and instead opt for a life without parole sentence.

New Jersey becomes the first state in a decade to repeal the death penalty and in the words of the governor of New Jersey, John Corzine, "Today New Jersey is truly evolving. I believe society first must determine if its endorsement of violence begets violence, and if violence undermines our commitment to the sanctity of life. To these questions, I answer yes."

It is heartening to see that a few people understand how damaging to society the death penalty really is. State sponsored killing affects everyone, and study after study show that executions rarely serve as a deterrent. Now if we could just get Texas to take that step.

Heterosexual Sex Predator - Another High School Teacher!

Another heterosexual sex predator! These dangerous heterosexuals must be prevented from abusing our children, yet school districts all across America insist on hiring them despite the fact that they are the most likely to engage in child sexual abuse.

Now comes the case of Darcie Esson, 33, a former teacher at Elizabeth High School in Colorado. After spending several hours knocking back drinks with other adult supporters of the high school football team, Ms Esson returned to her room and had sex with one of the team’s players. The problem, he was 17 and legally a minor. I believe that is still a crime even in Colorado.

Why do I bother blogging about this? Well, because any time a gay man or woman is accused of any sexual impropriety, it blows up into a big stink and the right-wing fanatics try to use a broad brush to pain all GLBT people as sexual predators. The truth? Well statistically there are more straight child molesters than gay ones, so I am just trying to level the playing field a little.

Wexler Joins the Move For Cheney Impeachment

Now Representative Robert Wexler is calling for the impeachment of Dick Cheney. He jumps on the impeachment bandwagon with Dennis Kucinich and Tammy Baldwin and Luis Gutierrez all of whom feel that the levels of possible criminal activity of the Vice President has risen to a point where it can no longer be ignored.

The Congressman writes in the Huffington Post:

"First, impeachment hearings are only proper when significant allegations exist that the President or Vice-President, or others civil officers, committed actions - within their official duties - that constitute 'High Crimes and Misdemeanors.' The allegations against Clinton - involving a personal affair - never reached this threshold. The serious charges against Cheney involve alleged crimes that are central to his duties of Vice-President; namely war and peace, the widespread violations of civil liberties, and the security of the United States and our covert agents."
Show your support for seeing justice done, join the drive for impeachment now.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Rich Are Getting Richer Faster Than Ever

It’s a great time to be rich in America. People with incomes in the top 1% of Americans from 2003 to 2005 exceeded the total income of the poorest 20%. The rich are getting richer, faster than ever.

We are living in the new Gilded Age as corporate CEO’s regularly make hundreds of times the salary of the average worker and the stock market delivers more and more into the pockets of the already wealthy. We even have analogs to the robber barons of the first Gilded Age back in the 1870’s through the 1890’s. Now instead of owning vast railroad and steel empires, they sit in board rooms and manipulate the mass media and outsource jobs away from the least able to protest.

I have no problem with wealth, I do have a problem with the idea of a ruling elite populated by billionaires and their cronies. Right now that’s what we have in this country. Gone is the democracy of equality and fairness, replaced by capitalism run amuck. It’s time someone leveled the playing field a little. That’s why we need a congress and Presidency that will take a long hard look at the tax holiday the rich have been taking at everyone else’s expense.