Monday, July 01, 2013

"Secrecy is the freedom tyrants dream of." ~Bill Moyers

Open Letter to Congressman Mike Honda

Response to the Congressman's Newsletter

Congressman Honda,

Ambivalent about the recent revelations concerning the NSA surveilling Internet and telephone communications of US citizens and non-citizens? The balance between liberty and security is delicate.

Is Edward Snowden a patriotic whistle–blower or traitor? He has done us a service by making public the flagrant 4th amendment violations, but in a way that compromises what every thinking American already knows: government's "upper management" leadership is deaf to criticism. Otherwise, Mr. Snowden would likely have explained his feelings to his superiors—and they might have been responsive.

Of course, Mr. Snowden would have been wiser to stay and face the consequences as did Daniel Ellsberg. Perhaps he is a hypocritical coward or simply looking for his 15 minutes of fame.

The White House response about metadata is patently false, its definition ambiguous. Your Silicon Valley constituents are too savvy to swallow that collecting metadata is harmless and doesn't compromise an individual's privacy. Police departments can find out exactly who is whom given a telephone number, email address, or IP address. The FISA court is so camouflaged as to be invisible, and is reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition.

#alttext# What drives this nonsense? Fear. Fear of terrorism despite the fact that an American is far more likely to be injured by a shark attack or lightning strike. And, fear can be misused by power. Herman Goering said it best:

Why of course the people don't want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don't want war neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.

As you say, we need an open public dialog about these goings on. Let's have every government official and employee read and reread 1984. They should at least see the movie. Are we to live in fear and so give up our core American principles? Fear has driven us to build a protective wall around our Constitution. But, what if that wall becomes more important than what it was designed to protect? We are past the point of mere concern.

Sincerely yours,

Padre

Thursday, December 20, 2012

"It seems to me that television is exactly like a gun. Your enjoyment of it is determined by which end of it you're on." ~Alfred Hitchcock

"Gun Deaths Set to Outstrip Car Fatalities for First Time In 2015"

Okay, okay! Americans are lousy drivers. Not as bad as Italians or Israelis, but at best distracted by every new electronic gadget in our automobiles. As bad as we are in our cars, I've never talked with a man who didn't think he was Juan Fangio. Likewise, I've never met a man owning a firearm who didn't he was a cross between Sergeant York and Dirty Harry.

Now, after the December massacre at a Connecticut elementary school, the debate has begun over how to prevent more mass shootings.

Here are some ideas for those who think they must have an AR-15 or AK-47 for protection against our despotic government or killing a bad guy. Before someone purchases a firearm, he or she:

  • Must receive professional firearm training from a police department. We're talking about more than the current abridged overviews.
  • Observe a full autopsy of a gunshot victim. Not a video. I'm talking about a live viewing no more than 10 feet from the corpse during the entire process.
  • Be taken to a murder scene to view and smell the carnage.
  • Be required to help console a shooting victim's family.
  • Experience live ammunition being fired at them 10 to 15 feet over their heads. Rapid fire from semiautomatic weapons would do, but machine guns are best.
  • Be observed by a professional law enforcement office and/or psychologist throughout this process.
  • Repeat this process every five years.

Anyone who goes through this process unfazed, displaying strange or no affects is probably a sociopathic mass murderer and not be allowed to own a firearm.

Friday, August 31, 2012

"All the President is, is a glorified public relations man who spends his time flattering, kissing and kicking people to get them to do what they are supposed to do anyway." ~Harry S Truman

Does the President of The United States Really Matter?

Presidents have far less power to make changes than we'd like to believe, the one exception being the character of the White House. Let's stop blaming presidents for everything from draught to ingrown toenails. We are not a monarchy and don't have a parliamentary system. Accordingly, presidential election promises and tirades are meaningless bull spit in the United States; the president can only suggest legislation.

A dysfunctional, polarized legislature is our problem. We're burdened with a lagging economy, decline in literacy, underfunded education, budget deficit and ridiculously high national debt, crumbling infrastructure, overpriced and inequitable healthcare, illegal immigration, partisan politics, and morally bankrupt and greedy politicians. The Senate and House are broken. Will Rogers said, "America has the best politicians money can buy." And, that's okay by the Supreme Court: money is free speech. Right?

Ultimately, the fault lies with the American voters, most of whom are undereducated, ignorant, and uninformed. "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

So, let's not blame a four-year president for our lack of good judgment.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

"Of my friend, I can only say this: of all the souls I have encountered in my travels … his was the most … human."

 

Most noble, regal, beautiful, devoted, compassionate friend,
I will miss watching you standing on a hill
with the wind in your hair.


Wednesday, November 02, 2011

"Why can't the Jews and the Arabs just sit down together and settle this like good Christians?" ~Warren Austin, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations 1948

Palestinians Voted Full Membership in UNESCO

I recently received an e–mail from the Simon Wiesenthal Center informing me that "Palestine" (their quotation marks) was voted in as a member of UNESCO. The SWC asked that I sign a letter of protest to UNESCO's Director–General Irina Bokova.

I contacted no one.

Ask yourself this question: in the 44–year conflict between the Palestinians and Israel, have the fundamentally unchanging Israeli policies towards the territories brought about even a modicum of long–term peace and stability?

Israel now has an opportunity to be what she should be: a light unto the nations. Let her take the high road by setting an example for all.

Face it, Israel is disliked by nearly all the world's nations. She receives American support in large part because of the political power exerted on Washington by the self–interested, hypocritical, capricious, evangelical–Christian ignoramuses.

Similarly, nobody in the Middle East trusts the Palestinians. They've been booted out of every Arab nation in which they've lived and are considered the hillbillies of the Mideast. Nobody will have them, but Arab governments cynically use them for their own political gain.

Given this situation and some political will, Israel could make the Palestinians a generous offer of statehood they can't refuse. If the Palestinians do reject the offer—thereby revealing their motive being the destruction of the Jewish state—Israel has won the PR war. The Palestinians would be seen as the miscreants. If they accept the offer, the Palestinian government would be held to the same criteria as other civilized nations, responsible for the well–being and defense of their citizens. That's a full–time job in the Mideast. Other Arab governments wouldn't militarily intervene knowing they'd be tangling with a country with approximately 300 tactical nuclear warheads. Palestine would become the Arab League's headache.

To paraphrase Abba Eban, the best thing that ever happened to Israel was the 1967 war, and the worst thing that ever happened to Israel was the 1967 war. Israel now has the biggest ratio of defense spending to GDP and as a percentage of the budget of all developed countries: $2,300 per person, a burden that's already causing domestic demonstrations and unrest in Israel. So long as the Israeli government continues to let inflexible, ultra–religious zealots and unbridled capitalists guide her future, she is doomed.

The threadbare arguments from both sides are redundant and unproductive. Albert Einstein said, "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Let's see something new, daring, and different.

It might work.

Monday, September 12, 2011

"Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft." ~ Winston Churchill

Lessons from The Great Depression

#alttext#

Took the weekend to research The Great Depression to see whether there were any parallels to our current economic mess. Below are a few, but it's best to read this page.

  • Saving financial institutions from defaulting was critical. Still is.
  • Unemployment is the always the last to recover.
  • We were coming out of the depression in early 1937 when the Republicans insisted on the budget being balanced resulting in a recession inside of the depression. Roosevelt caved, and unemployment rose, and production fell.
  • The vast majority of economists believe that the New Deal policies "either caused or accelerated the recovery, although his policies were never aggressive enough to bring the economy completely out of recession."

Not aggressive enough! It seems the current collection of Republicans/Tea Partiers "don't know history are destined to repeat it."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"The whole trouble with the Republicans is their fear of an increase in income tax, especially on higher incomes." ~Will Rogers

Moderate Republicans, Where Art Thou?

Fareed Zakaria is correct ("right" is a loaded term) about the Republican Party.

"Watching the extraordinary polarization in Washington today, many people have pointed the finger at the Tea Party. It's ideologically extreme, refuses to compromise, and cares more about purity than problem solving."

David McCullough, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian having known seven American presidents, was asked what made a great president. "The capacity to move the country to do better than it thinks it can with the use of the English language." And, "The power of the written word, the spoken word, very, very important. An ability to stick to your principles, an ability to work with people with whom you disagree and may dislike."

That's true of every great leader. Sadly, the Republicans have no one in the queue who fits McCullough's portrait. Gone are the moderate Rockefeller Republicans like John Danforth, Arlen Specter, Theodore Roosevelt, Nelson Rockefeller, Dwight Eisenhower, Charles Percy, and Mark Hatfield.

Republican Senator John Danforth from Missouri, wrote in the New York Times that “Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians…” and, “The problem is not with people or churches that are politically active. It is with a party that has gone so far in adopting a sectarian agenda that it has become the political extension of a religious movement." Danforth is an ordained Episcopal minister.

All very sad to see the Party of Lincoln in self-inflicted tatters, pulling our country down their true-believer rabbit hole.

What Ever Happened to Moderate Republicans?

Monday, July 11, 2011

"Engineers are all basically high-functioning autistics who have no idea how normal people do stuff." ~Cory Doctorow

Open Letter to Aaron Forth

Dear Mr. Forth,

I received an e-mail from Quicken.com regarding the status of Quicken and Mac OS 10.7. There isn't a satisfactory option listed. I think you know this.

With the exception of upgrading, and I use that phrase loosely, to Quicken Essentials for Mac, the other alternatives provided are far too costly for personal-finance software. Quicken Essentials will work, but its truncated functionality forces a customer to enter the same transaction twice: first in Quicken and then online. Considering the terrible user interface Quicken has always had, the quirky workarounds for split transactions and other functions, why offer new software without the major convenience of online compatibility?

Intuit has had well over a year to fix these problems and has made promise after promise to do so, but there's been nothing. When Mac owners heard that Intuit had bought Mint and you were taking over development of Intuit's personal-finance software, we thought it was the end of a terrible nightmare. But, we've seen nothing.

If you haven't heard from Steve Jobs, you will: Quicken's foot dragging will affect Apple new hardware sales. Having worked with Steve, I can tell you that he's probably not thrilled.

Quicken has a de facto monopoly in the personal-finance software market. That alone should terrify Intuit's "suits." For God's sake, do something for your customers. Please.

Sincerely yours,

 

 

--

Monday, June 13, 2011

"Government is too big and too important to be left to the politicians." ~Chester Bowles

"Get all the fools on your side and you can be elected to anything." ~Frank Dane

There's a delicate balance when crafting state or federal budgets. All politicians promise lower taxes or more social programs, sometimes both. Promise anything to one end: get elected.

Here's the truth: costs can be reduced, but that affects the future of America beyond a politician's time in office. Spend less on education, and 10 years later our workforce is untrained and unable to compete in the global market; oh, be sure to blame the teachers. Cut funds for infrastructure, and five years later we have choppy roads, collapsing bridges, a failing power grid, and (again) an America less able to compete in a global market.

Overspending increases the national debt, places the dollar's value at risk, increases the cost of goods, makes the United States unattractive to investors, and more. The results: America will be less able to compete in a global market.

Not investing in education and the health of our youth is altogether harebrained. In might garner votes in the next election, but the cost is catastrophic: America's future–near future. Cutting military costs is a more logical approach. It might even keep us from unwinnable military adventurism.

Like a partial list of military failures involving American money and blood? There's the Chinese Civil War, Greek Civil War, First Indochina War (Vietnam), Vietnam (after the French got the boot), the Congo Crisis, Bay of Pigs Invasion, Invasion of the Dominican Republic, Angolan Civil War, Soviet War in Afghanistan (we suppled and advised the Taliban), Nicaraguan Civil War, Invasion of Grenada, Invasion of Panama, Lebanese Civil War, 1981 Gulf of Sidra incident (Libya), Action in the Gulf of Sidra (Libya), Bombing of Libya, Iran-Iraq War, 1989 Gulf of Sidra incident (Libya), Persian Gulf War (Iraq), Somali Civil War, and our latest Iraq invasion. These all have occurred in my lifetime. Let's not forget the 1953 coup in Iran, the CIA's first successful overthrow of a foreign government, a democratically elected government; that ended well. There are plenty more.

Assuming we need all our weaponry, the GAO said in a recent report that $70 billion can be attributed to poor management or execution problems. That would pay for a few healthy school lunches that Republicans find too costly. Might even be some loose change to help rebuild for educational systems.

Americans watch the bitter, asinine ideological bickering in Washington and wonder why are schools are failing, our heavy industry (what's left of it) is leaving the United States, our poor are becoming more so, the middle-class is shrinking, medical costs are stratospheric, we're still heavily dependent on overseas oil, and our infrastructure is falling apart.

The political parties want to win—whatever the cost—by annihilating any opposition; there's no productive work being done in Congress. What the hell ever happened to compromise‽

Remember that we voters are ultimately responsible for the financial quagmire we're in. Politicians are no better or worse than the people who elected them.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

"Am I my brother's keeper?" ~Genesis 4:9

Letter to House Speaker Boehner

Our health care system is broken. It might be the best healthcare in the world. If so, it's the best healthcare only for those who can afford it. For most Americans, good healthcare is an unobtainable extravagance. Luxuries aren't objectionable, but when the few have much and the many haven't even life's necessities, our elected representatives, all Americans, must stand up for those who cannot themselves stand.

Mr. Speaker, comprehensive healthcare for all Americans is not a political issue. Clearly, the current national healthcare plan needs polishing, but not elimination. The profit motive has no place in medicine. In the wealthiest nation on earth, it's reprehensible that anyone is denied respectable medical care.

At the heart of any healthcare discussion is whether the American people have compassion for their fellow countrymen. We can afford a comprehensive national healthcare plan if we have the moral will to do so. Every American must ask themselves the eternal question, "Am I my brother's keeper?" If the answer is no, what have we become?