Friday, March 21, 2008

More On Poisoned Chinese Drugs

More on that Chinese contaminated Heparin that Baxter has been pedaling under their brand. Turns out it may be contaminated with a counterfeit ingredient used to make the compound cheaper. Like the Melamine contaminated pet food, the Chinese factories have found that they can add various cheap additives and still squeak past the poor quality control measures US firms have in place. With no FDA regulation or at the best very little, these firms have been getting away with cheating us for quite a while.

I have often wondered when US firms will realize that buying cheap goods from China carries a hidden cost, and that is fraud. The Chinese have regulations on paper but none in practice. Their capitalism rum amok economy is being built on a fast buck and at our expense. Until we start demanding that they actually deliver what they promise, or begin making things back here where there are a few regulations still working, the US consumer will be victim to the tainted products and outright counterfeits being foisted off on us.

It’s time to stop the flow of poor and sometimes downright poisonous Chinese goods into our country.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall - You Won't Forget This Movie!

I rarely get a chance to see movies before their commercial release, but last night was an exception. I got tickets to the new adult comedy "Forgetting Sarah Marshall". My partner and I showed up along with a few hundred others for a free sneak preview and fond seats way too close to the screen. Aside from the sore neck, the evening was a blast.

The film chronicles the plight of Peter, a 30-something Hollywood composer who has been lulled into a kind of creative and emotional enui by his success in both his career and his relationship. He dates TV star Sarah Marshall, heroine of a CSI styled crime show. To complicate things, he is the shows composer and spends his days watching preposterous scenes from the show while providing long ominous "tones". What Peter really wants to do is write a rock-opera…about Dracula…with puppets.

The story starts as Sarah tells him she is breaking up with him, and so his journey to a renewed wholeness begins as well.

Far from maudlin, his attempts to get over Sarah are met with uncomfortable encounters with her and her new boyfriend, a self-obsessed rock star, at every turn. Even escaping to Hawaii, Peter finds himself at the same resort and Sarah.

I really can’t talk about the movie without giving away too many of the hilarious bits. It is filled with sharp wit and excellent comic timing. The characters are both pitiful and engaging and the ending is satisfying both in terms of the happiness of everyone involved and as great comedy.

If you are easily shocked, this is not the movie for you. There is lots of nudity, both make and female and numerous jokes centering on sex and the problems encountered during it. If you have no problem with that, you will find yourself aching from laughter by the end of the evening.

The star, writer Jason Segel may eclipse Steve Carell as the new "everyman" of comedy. His ability to convey a bushel of emotions in a single sigh really helped make this movie work. Kristen Bell as Sarah Marshall carries off the role of vapid starlet with an endearing quality that really makes you care about her, even though she is essentially clueless.

My favorite cast member in a minor role was Jack McBrayer better known as the page in "30 Rock". He plays a hapless and naive honeymooner who cannot find a way to satisfy his over-sexed wife. His character is not too far from the one he plays on TV but still it stands out as a great comedic part.

Overall the movie is fun and sexy and smart. There are a few bawdy jokes that might leave some viewers blushing, but it’s well worth the momentary shock. Go see it!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Sting Ray Leaps Into Boat & Kills Woman

Talk about odd. A woman was killed on a boat in Florida when an Eagle Ray leapt from the warm water and struck her. She fell and was knocked unconscious and later died. One report has the ray hitting her in the neck with its poison barbed tail.

The incident is reminiscent of the tragedy in which Steve Irwin was killed by a sting ray while filming underwater in Australia.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sweded Versions Of The Classics! Home Movies Run Amok

I am not much of a maven of pop culture, but the recent craze of “Sweded” movies really resonates with me. “Sweding” comes from the quirky movie “Be Kind Rewind” with Jack Black. In it his character becomes magnetized and becomes a human death star for video tapes. When he wipes out a friends video store, they begin making their own versions of the classics with whatever they can beg borrow of steal.

The whole Sweding thing has taken on a life of its own and now people are actually doing it on YouTube with hilarious results. These budding Swedes distill the essence of a classic movie into a few minutes of home grown video. There is even a contest tied to the movie “Be Kind Rewind”. Here is one of the entrants efforts. As a Star Wars fan I got a real kick out of this one.

Iraq 5 Years Later - An Insider's View

I read a blog by an Iraqi dentist on a fairly regular basis. He gives a very clear picture of what life in Iraq is like now. Many times he has blogged that he is afraid for the safety of his family and himself. Today he posted a look at the 5 year anniversary of the war.

It is a long a sometimes hard to read account and throughout the post I can feel his anguish and longing for life to return to normal. He says as he finishes, he doesn’t want the US to pull out immediately, but he does want things to be as good as they were when we invaded. In the 5 years since the invasion, power is still an occasional luxury in Baghdad. Prior to the war it was something to take for granted. Same for clean water and available food. Now all that is a fond memory.

From his blog:

“During these 5 years I have experienced everything, two of my relatives kidnapped, 6 of the people I know closely including relatives and close friends have been killed, I can't count the number of people that I know who were murdered, my niece who is 7 years old girl died in an explosion, most of my friends and relatives have left the country, I watched my teachers and college professors being killed or kidnapped one after the other, I have been near an explosion countless times, I have witnessed uncountable number of dead bodies and crying families taking their dead beloved from the forensic medicine building, I have seen 3 men at different times being shot to death in front of me, I have been through militias checkpoints several times, Me and my wife have been targeted by a national guard sniper for a reason I didn't know till this moment, I have seen dead bodies left on the side walk and no dares to bury them, my family have been threatened and forced to leave the country and I joined them and stayed in Jordan/Amman for about a year and then had to return back despite the horrible situation and the extra danger on me being threatened, but what can I do, I tried desperately to find a job there but like most of Iraqis, I couldn't. I'm just one Iraqi and I have such loses, imagine 28 million one like me, how much looses does the Iraqis have?”

Imagine indeed. Let’s work together and end this international nightmare. Stop the war!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke Dies At 90 - Author Of 2001 Space Odyssey

Last week my partner and I watched “2001, A Space Odyssey” in Hi Def and we were blown away by the accuracy of the space experience portrayed by Stanley Kubrick . His interpretation of Arthur C. Clarke’s story still holds up with the glaring exception of the brand names such as Pan Am and Bell Telephone that have since ceased to exist. As we watched we discussed Clarke and his wonderful story telling abilities.

Today that talent ceased. Clarke died at the age of 90 in his home in Sri Lanka. His abilities to predict the impact of technology will live on. In fact we all enjoy his intellect in the form of geosynchronous communications satellites. Clarke first proposed them in a paper titled "Extra-Terrestrial Relays — Can Rocket Stations Give Worldwide Radio Coverage?", published in Wireless World in 1945.

Clarke was the author of dozens of novels and many short science fiction short stories. He will be missed in a world with far too little vision of what could be.

Barack Obama's Speech On Race - Transcript & Video

I found a transcript of Barack Obama's speech on the country's racial divide and the current election. It is classic Obama, both inspiring and frank. I would encourage you to read it if you didn't get to hear it live. it will be snipped and cut into convenient sound-bites by the news services, but in its entirity, it is a great speech. I think it will stand the test of history as one of the best on race relations in the US ever.


"We the people, in order to form a more perfect union."

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America's improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation's original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution - a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part - through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk - to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.

This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign - to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together - unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction - towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.

This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people. But it also comes from my own American story. I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton's Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I've gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world's poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slave owners - an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

It's a story that hasn't made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts - that out of many, we are truly one.

Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans.

This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either "too black" or "not black enough." We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.

And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn.

On one end of the spectrum, we've heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it's based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we've heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely - just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial. They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country - a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems - two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all. Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way.

But the truth is, that isn't all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God's work here on Earth - by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:

"People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend's voice up into the rafters….And in that single note - hope! - I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion's den, Ezekiel's field of dry bones. Those stories - of survival, and freedom, and hope - became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn't need to feel shame about…memories that all people might study and cherish - and with which we could start to rebuild."

That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety - the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity's services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions - the good and the bad - of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother - a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America - to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we've never really worked through - a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, "The past isn't dead and buried. In fact, it isn't even past." We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven't fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today's black and white students.

Legalized discrimination - where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments - meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today's urban and rural communities.

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one's family, contributed to the erosion of black families - a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods - parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement - all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What's remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.
But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn't make it - those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination.

That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations - those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright's generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician's own failings.

And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright's sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience - as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren't always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze - a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns - this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

This is where we are right now. It's a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy - particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

But I have asserted a firm conviction - a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people - that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice is we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances - for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs - to the larger aspirations of all Americans -- the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives - by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

Ironically, this quintessentially American - and yes, conservative - notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright's sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change.

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright's sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It's that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country - a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know -- what we have seen - is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope - the audacity to hope - for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination - and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past - are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds - by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world's great religions demand - that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother's keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister's keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle - as we did in the OJ trial - or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright's sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she's playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we'll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, "Not this time." This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can't learn; that those kids who don't look like us are somebody else's problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don't have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.
This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you might take your job; it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should've been authorized and never should've been waged, and we want to talk about how we'll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

I would not be running for President if I didn't believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation - the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.

There is one story in particularly that I'd like to leave you with today - a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King's birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that's when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother's problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn't. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they're supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who's been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he's there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, "I am here because of Ashley."

"I'm here because of Ashley." By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.

Ending Our Affair With Oil

As I filled up my truck this morning, and moaned as the pump went over $60 before stopping, I thought about the real problem of petroleum in this country. We rely on it!

Let me elaborate. Since I was a child I was taught that petroleum reserves are not bottomless and that some day they would run out. Since then I have heard little about finding other power sources and conserving the rare petroleum for its beneficial uses instead of just burning it. I guess it’s easier to just keep looking for more oil and pumping it out than to realistically approach the problem and find a renewable source of energy.

I remember driving through West Texas a few months ago and seeing the rows of beautiful wind turbines dotting the landscape. These graceful machines turned slowly in the persistent Texas wind generating power for much of the area. Though I have heard complaints that some birds and bats are killed when they run into the turbines, I remember the occasional bodies of birds that died running into skyscrapers and even my backyard window. Though I do not advocate cruelty to animals, I think the argument is pretty weak against wind power from a humane standpoint. Would birds falling from the sky from pollution be better?

As I walk in my backyard, I look up at the bright Texas sun and wonder, why isn’t every square foot of rooftop in our city covered with solar collectors or solar cells? Photo-voltaics have come a long way and it would be a significant investment but one that would pay off in both power and cleaner air. Why is it not being done?

I suspect most people see these alternatives as something “in the future” and with the help of the oil and coal companies they will always remain there. What is needed is a voice that will say these things are possible now. They work and the can eliminate much of the problem with petroleum.

In the Western US proposals for geothermal power are gathering dust because the government has put them on a slow track when it comes to the Bureau of Land Management and the environmental impact studies that are needed. Why? Big oil and coal bought and paid for the current administration along with the defense industry and they want to get every penny of their investment back before they will allow anything to interfere. Clean inexhaustible geothermal works very well in other countries, yet in the US it’s still a pipe dream.

So what is to be done? First the next president has to take the matter seriously. That means turning a blind eye toward the big money from oil that will try to sway him or her into inaction. It means a Manhattan Project for energy independence for the US and that will cost a lot of money. Where can they get it? Consider the cost of the Iraq War. That war, which we all know is to protect oil and gas interests, could be ended and the money turned toward fast tracking alternative energy solutions. It would not only get us out of Iraq, but would wean us from our dependence on the Middle East and in turn get us out of their politics. It’s a win-win situation.

Most of the terrorists are upset with our meddling in Middle Eastern affairs. We do that strictly because of the oil, no matter what the politicians claim. We stop meddling and they might stop seeing us as the Great Satan. Again we all win.

So how can you or I help? First as soon as practical I am dumping my truck in favor of a hybrid. My partner already has one and his gas bills are negligible. Second I can support candidates who believe energy independence is not just a slogan but an achievable goal. Third, I can educate my friends about the reality of the situation and get them enthused into action as well.

Obama's Speech, The Right Stuff

I just watched Barack Obama’s speech in Philadelphia that was touted to be a major speech. It was. He addressed every one of the criticisms that have been leveled against him the past few weeks, from the remarks of his preacher to the attacks by Clinton and McCain.

The real strength of the speech was his demeanor and candor. He showed why he would be a great president even under fire. Attacks from Hillary and McCain would have out another candidate into a high energy retaliation mode, but Obama was cool and collected and sounded about as honest as I could have ever expected from a politician.

I know the critics will be dissecting this speech for a while, but taken as a whole it showed the kind of stuff he was made of, and it is the right stuff for America.

Bear Stearns Employees Facing Uncertain Future

The cries and wringing of hands at Bear Stearns is understandable. Some employees were left with retirement accounts near worthless at a $2 per share price. Employees of the near- failed financial house invested heavily in their company, and much like Enron employees they are now facing not only job insecurity but a future with little savings.

How could a company that was chugging along one year become a boat anchor the next? I am not an economist, but I would have to say the real root cause is greed. The sub-prime market was a way to make a lot of money but it carried big risks. On paper analysts looked at the growth curves and projections without ever going out into the real world and seeking out the actual people taking out mortgages. If they had, they would have considered that the economy was not going anywhere and most people who could only qualify for sub-prime mortgages, were ill equipped to handle the escalating payments in the future. I believe the term for their existence was “fools paradise”.

Now the employees and stockholders of Bear Stearns are left holding paper that might be better used to recycle than valuable shares of stock. Though there has been much press about the buyout by JP Morgan, the move has yet to be approved by shareholders, so the jury is out on the future of the company.

The Federal Government is trying to aid the process, but there is only so much they can do. In the meantime bankers at the firm are hoping that other Wall Street giants like Lehman do not follow suit, otherwise there will be a glut of bankers looking for work. Perhaps Burger King can use some more cashiers? It would be a sad but educational awakening for these over paid money changers to spend a little time in the real world where American’s live from paycheck to paycheck. Maybe some brave firm will even lend them money at a special introductory rate?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Another 1.5 Million Poison Toys From China! Yippie!

Once again the toy marketer Mattel is issuing a massive recall. This time it’s for 1.5 million toys believed to contain high levels of lead in the paint. And where were these toys made? CHINA of course.

You won’t get much on this recall in the media, after all they are bored with the story. I wonder how many other recalls have gone unnoticed in the past year, simply because it is “old news”?

I also wonder when Mattel and others will lose so much money that they will consider either closer monitoring of their suppliers, or bringing the manufacture back home to the US? China is incapable of monitoring its regulations on toxic ingredients, be it toys or pharmaceuticals. Our country needs to do some serious soul searching and decide whether trade with such a dangerous supplier is worth the risks.

I understand there is a move in the US Congress to demand some action on the part of manufacturers. We’ll see.

Strolling Through Baghdad With Cheney & McCain

So Cheney and McCain are once again “strolling” around Baghdad creating photo-ops that are designed to make us suckers here in the US that things are going according to plan in Iraq. That leads me to question just what that plan was?

Dick Cheney persists in his affirmation that Iraq and Al Qaida were somehow in cahoots, despite the Pentagon reports that in the past 5 years they can find no evidence of it. Cheney said i9n a press conference today in Iraq that while there was no “operational link” there was still a link. His parsing of words sounds like a legal defense maneuver rather than something I would expect from a Vice President of the United States. Perhaps Cheney is expecting to be prosecuted for his crimes at some time in the future and is trying to build a defense?

Meanwhile in the real Iraq, a suicide bomber in Karbala killed 39 people and wounded 54 and an unconfirmed rocket attack was made on the Green Zone. Now that’s progress?

Is Lehman Next?

I am watching the financial news, and the name Lehman Brothers keeps being dropped. I personally think they will disappear this week, either failing outright or being gobbled up by a big guy like the Bear Stearns fire sale to JP Morgan.

Asia is really in control of it now and if they continue to pull money out of Lehman, its hours are numbered. Just my opinion and I am not a banker or investor, just a schmuck watching from the sidelines.

UPDATE: Moody's has downgraded Lehman from "positive" to "stable" and current buzzis not good.

Clinton Trying To Derail Texas Delegate Selection

If you ever needed proof that Hillary Clinton is just one more of the same “Washington As Usual” crowd, consider this. She is considering suing the State of Texas to postpone the Senatorial District Conventions to select delegates. Her lawyers are wanting to reconfirm that all the delegates on March 4 were valid before continuing to the March 29 convention.

It is a stalling tactic and will avail her campaign nothing but the ire of al the delegates who were selected using Texas funky process. It is the same process that Texas has used before and will probably use again and she refuses to admit that she just might have lost in the overall delegate count.

Now hear me out on this. I saw a couple of emails from the Clinton organization here in Texas to the GLBT community to make sure there were plenty of Clinton supporters at every precinct convention. These letters encourages Clinton supporters to not only attend but to try to gain control of the meetings so they could sway things a little their way. They didn’t encourage anything unlawful, but they were intent on firing up the “zeal” factor in order to make sure Clinton delegates were firmly in her camp.

Guess what? Despite the fervor, she lost Dallas County and several other big cities in Texas, and that pissed her campaign off. Now they want to make Texans lives miserable in any way they can in hopes of squeezing a few more delegates out and narrowing her gap with Senator Obama. She also wants to delay the conventions until after Pennsylvania in hopes of a win there causing some Obama delegates to stay home and change the results.

It won’t work. She is looking more and more like a voracious Washington politician who wants to win at any cost. If she kills off any enthusiasm in the Democratic Party or kills the party itself, she doesn’t care. She is exactly the kind of politician that has brought the country to where it is now. Divisive, greedy and self-serving. She is wrong for the Democratic Party and wrong for America.

Financial Crisis, What Next? Bush Will Lie & Things Will Get Worse

I don’t usually comment on the economy, but today’s evens promise to be pretty drastic, so here goes.

Bush will speak to the nation regarding the economy sometime today and you can expect the same kind of lies that have lulled the country in to a numbness that allowed this crisis to happen. Though the stock market swings will not affect the average Joe immediately, eventually the effects will seep into our daily lives.

We can expect higher gas and food prices, for both are tied since our food moves on gasoline powered transport. We can expect layoffs in jobs in some sectors, and we can expect everything to start costing more. Dire predictions? Yup, but they are not new. Consider that we have sacrificed our production capabilities to the bags of $2 socks at Wal-Mart and have been buying our cheap oil with the lives of American soldiers and you have a pretty grim picture for a while now.

Who is going to be hurt by all this? You and me. The rich who own stakes in the multi-national companies will feel some pain, but their reserves will cushion any real bump, but the millions of American’s who live from paycheck to paycheck will suffer and that is the problem. As we have blindly strolled down the lane of globalism, and sold our country to foreign interests we have had a good time, but it was whistling in the dark.

The only way I feel our country can survive this latest downturn and the one that is coming is to reestablish our sense of community. We will have to help each other, and that counts for companies too. Corporate America is going to have to reexamine their business practices and think of what is good for the country as well as for stockholders.

The term “Stakeholders” will have to become part of their vocabulary. Consumers, workers and affiliated companies are the stakeholders and their interests are really as important as the stockholders. Without consumers and workers, all the money in the world will produce no profit for anyone.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Bear Stearns - Fire Sale to JP Morgan! Monday May Be Bleak

Buckle you seat belts it’s going to be a bumpy ride! That’s what Monday looks like following news that Bear Stearns has sold out to JP Morgan for $2 a share. That is a fire sale price and a 93% discount. Follow that with the former Fed chief Alan Greenspan stating in a piece for Financial Times that the current financial crisis is likely the worst since WWII and the stock market should be a fun train wreck to watch . Fun if you are standing on the sidelines, a disaster if you are in it.

It’s times like these that I am almost grateful that I am broke.

Meanwhile the current Fed chief has announced efforts to infuse the financial boys with more cash at a lending rate of 3.25%. This will hopefully help matters as the housing mess continues to affect the markets.

If you are like me and heavily invested in the empty pockets market, grab a cold one and pull up a chair. Might keep an umbrella handy to keep the tears of bankers from getting on you.