Old Well: UNC Chapel Hill Campus

Monday, August 29, 2011

Crisis in the Horn of Africa

We’ve been hearing lots lately about the mass influx of Somalis into Kenya, desperately seeking help in their flight from devastating drought that threatens 3-million people with starvation, made worse by Islamic terrorism. It’s estimated that 29,000 Somali children under five have starved and that another 640,000 Somali children are severely undernourished. Though we're talking of Somalia, portions of Kenya and Ethiopia are also experiencing sustained drought, the worst since the El Nino gyrations of the 1970s.

Things are likely to get worse in the Horn of Africa. In just the last two decades, herders in Ethiopia, Sudan, and Somalia have lost 80% of their stock due to starvation and disease.

But it isn’t simply climate change that’s the culprit here. Somalia is a failed state with no functioning government, characterized by an unstinting flow of weapons, piracy, and Islamic militants. Much of its chaos draws upon its colonial past and Ethiopian aggression that swallowed up the Somali populace, dividing them into five jurisdictions. On receiving independence in 1960, only the areas under British and Italian rule were reunited, the other Somali-speaking areas incorporated into Kenya, Djiboui, and Ethiopia. In turn, Somalia became an extension of the Cold War, as the U. S. and the Soviets competed for influence. The flow of weapons began and its violent aftermath continues in Somalia.

Somalia's attempts to regain its land from Ethiopia resulted in the disastrous Ogaden conflict of the late 70s, destroying its economy. Somalia hasn’t seen a functioning government since 1991 and the legacy of Cold War arms into Somalia has made Somalia a seminal trouble spot in East Africa. Some of this weaponry has fallen into the hands of al Qaeda linked militants such as Al Shabab, which has denied a famine exists and considers Western food aid a plot.

In a subsequent post, I’ll touch on the growing refugee crisis across the world, not just Somalia, that promises to become one of humanity’s greatest challenges as global warming converges with failed economies, radical religion, and corrupt government to exact unprecedented suffering.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The truth about the Mediterranean diet

Diets come and go. Some are better than others. Some are downright dangerous. One such diet, still highly popular, and the basis for several others, is the Mediterranean diet, which draws upon French research (Lyon Diet Heart Study) centered in Cretan eating habits in the 1950s. Cretans were virtually free of heart attacks and obesity rare, despite more than 40% of their diet deriving from fat, or mostly olive oil. Otherwise, they consumed mostly fruits, veggies, beans and fish. They also worked very hard in the fields. Unfortunately, Americans got hung-up on the olive oil rather than the preponderancy of vegetables, concluding the oil was good for you.

French scientists experimented with the Cretan diet. Those on the Mediterranean diet suffered 50 to 70% fewer cardiac incidents. Now that’s pretty impressive, enough certainly to foster enthusiasm for the diet.

Today’s Mediterranean Diet, however, has little resemblance to the Cretan diet that formed the basis of the Lyon study. For many of us, it conjures up images of pasta and Italian bread, staples not friendly to your colon. There is more meat and poultry.

As for the experimental group in the study, four years after it began, 25% on the diet had died or experienced a cardiac event. As often happens, media coverage can be as shallow as it is volatile. So much for the success of the Mediterranean diet. The truth is that olive oil is one of the most calorically dense and fattening foods you can consume. On a pound for pounds basis, it’s worse than butter (3200 calories) vs olive oil (4,020). Moreover, 14 percent of olive oil is saturated fat. Since it can lead to weight increase, it can also increase LDL (the bad kind of cholesterol).

There is evidence that monounsaturated fat, found in olive oil, gives some protection from strokes. Nevertheless, because of its caloric density, only thin people should consume it, if at all. (See D. D. Blankenhorn, et al. ”The Influence of diet on the Appearance of New Lesions in Human Coronary Arteries.” Journal of the American Medical Association, Mar. 23, 1990.)

The brilliant Cornell epidemiologist who wrote the landmark, China Study, while acknowledging that the Mediterranean diets were virtually the same, commented, “I would say the absence of oil in the rural Chinese diet is the reason for their superior success“ (qtd. In Caldwell Esselstyn Jr., Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, p. 84).

The upshot in all of this? If you want to eat healthy, minimize disease, control weight, and foster longevity, then a a plant-based diet is your best bet.

Oh, about the Cretans, they now eat like most of us and, like most of us, now suffer similar rates of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, colon and breast cancer.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Backdoor amnesty granted by Obama administration

On Thursday, with the Congress out on vacation and the media and public preoccupied with the dismal economy and an approaching weekend, the White House announced a new immigration policy. It had been rumored to be coming down the pike several months ago by conservative adversaries. Then the shoe dropped, Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, announcing that “non-dangerous” immigrants will be allowed to remain in the U. S., the priority shifting to deporting criminals. Some 300,000 pending cases involving illegals will be reviewed and those absolved allowed to apply for work permits. Certainly this change represents a political plus for an embattled president, who has been losing voter support and could use the shoring up of the Latino vote as he heads towards next year’s elections. For the nation, I believe the policy does an injury with ongoing consequences.

1. Immigration reform should be legislated by the Congress. Yes, the Congress has been reluctant to act and just recently voted down the Dream Act. That doesn’t justify the administration circumventing the Congress to get its way. Had the Congress not acted at the last hour to lift the debt ceiling, it’s conceivable the President might have invoked the 14th Amendment to get around Congress. I think you see where I’m going. Where does it end? Policy shouldn’t be made by fiat.

2. Some argue in favor of this change. Principally, why should young people who have come here early, some serving in our military; others now in college, be sent out of the only country they really know? Truth is, not all illegals came here as youngsters. Anyway, if illegals are inconvenienced, then this is their fault for jumping the queue. We do have an immigration process that allows some 500,000 Mexicans, for example, to enter our country legally each year. It’s unfair, as some of them have said, to let those who’ve jumped the line now stay.

3. And then there’s our unsettling economy, possibly about to go back into recession. Even when legal immigrants come here, a third end up on public support. Many choose to reside in states like California and New York, states riddled with huge public debt. Recently, California governor, Jerry Brown granted in-state tuition rights to illegals, this in the most financially troubled state in the country. The story repeats itself elsewhere amidst the political pandering, the public be damned.

4. Some argue that immigration reform is what the public wants. Thus, this is a good move on the part of the Obama administration. Yes, most of us do want immigration reform, but one not involving massive amnesty for an estimated 11 to 20 million undocumented. Think about the discrepancy in those numbers. We don’t even know how many illegals are in our country. I fault the Republicans as well as Democrats, however, as several years ago there was a bill in Congress to lower the number of immigrants admitted and employ criteria resembling Canada’s point system in exchange for amnesty. Borders would be enforced. Then again, maybe the Republicans were on to something—that administration promises were simply no more than means to an end. Enforce the borders now, and we’ll talk of reform. As is, the promised wall has yet to be completed, employers who hire illegals aren’t scrutinized or are granted minimal fines for violations if caught, and the government has steered away from mandating the very reliable E-Verify procedure to ascertain eligibility for employment.

5. The fundamental flaw in the administration’s new backdoor amnesty approach is that it’s likely to exacerbate the flow of illegals from all over the world into the U.S. After all, unless you get into serious trouble with the law, you’re safe. Hey, bring the family! By the way, when we talk of amnesty, we forget that family members can then come too. 11 million, the lesser figure, suddenly swells to 40 million residents at the very least, and you want to give these people work permits as well when millions of own people can’t find work? Suddenly people who don’t belong here are their competitors. 9.1 percent of our working population is currently out-of-work; more so our Black brothers and sisters at 16 percent. I tell you, we’re playing with social dynamite.

6. By the way, our biggest problem isn’t with Latin Americans wading across the Rio Grande. It’s with those overstaying their visas. The tenth anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy will soon be upon us. 18 of its 19 perpetrators had overstayed their visas. Ten years later, we still don’t have a handle on overstayed visas as I reported in an earlier post. But then, who the hell cares? Certainly not the Obama administration.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Libraries: an endangered species?

“What is more important in a library than anything else is the fact that it exists."
--Archibald MacLeish

Growing up in waterfront Philly in the 1950s, I didn’t have many of the prerequisites of today’s youth: giant screen HD TVs, DVDs, video game consoles, laptops, cellular phone messaging, and Facebook. At best, there were two venues open to most of us boys: the local show or playing stickball against brick factory walls. Movies were just a dime then, and Pa would cough up the change so I could find relief from Philly’s steamy asphalt and blanket humidity invading our upstairs flat . Otherwise, I played stick ball by the hours, half a tennis ball and a broom stick more than ample other than when I relied on a third option not resorted to by most of my fellow urchins—the local library.

When I look back upon it now, the library option may well have been the most pivotal shaping element of my childhood. Later I would go on to university study, complete a Ph. D., and teach English in college for more than 30-years, but it all began here. Roaming the shelves, I’d make these fabulous finds, whether the Dr. Dolittle books (my version of Harry Potter), or inspired by Classic Comics, the unabridged works of Hugo, Dickens, Poe, Hawthorne and others. Now mind you, it was something that didn't come easily as the branch library was a good half hour walk each way.

These days, hard times have fallen upon our libraries, and I grieve for them as I would for a beleaguered friend. I am troubled for their future and the impoverishment their loss would bring. Libraries are either closing or becoming so short-changed by state and local budgets that they gasp for life.

In Lexington, KY, my beautiful urban neighbor, the library budget has undergone a substantial decrease in revenue over the last two years, resulting in an elimination of 30 full-time positions, a reduction in part-time positions, and frozen wages. The 2012 budget promises more of the same, with the loss of three more people and no pay raise yet again. Much of the crisis is fueled by the excessive demands for pension and health care outlays by local police and fire personnel to whom the city is now in hock for 200-million. Meanwhile, the mayor’s budget allocates new funding for a lacrosse field and minigolf course. Hey, let’s get our priorities straight.

The dark clouds over our libraries loom nation-wide, threatening their very existence:

1. In Massachusetts, local communities have cut their funding below state minimum funding levels.

2. In California, San Diego’s mayor recently proposed cutting back sharply on library hours, virtually shutting them down in calling for a 2-day work week and alternate Sundays.

3. In Texas, Dallas has cut library hours from 44 to 24 weekly.

A similar wasteland scenario extends to college campuses. Here are two examples:

1. The Univ. of California (San Diego) has reduced its library budget by 16% over the last two years. In an attempt to cope, it has made cuts in supplies and equipment, decreased class and instructor support, slashed its hours, reduced digitalization, even maintenance, and eliminated 52 positions.

2. The University of Virginia has undergone 23.6 million in cuts. To cope, it’s not renewing nearly 1200 journals, reducing hours, cutting back on its collection budgeting, and not filling staff vacancies.

Libraries go back to the genesis of our great country, with John Harvard bequeathing his 400-book library in 1636 to the young college that would ultimately bear his name.

Benjamin Franklin founded the Library Company of Philadelphia in 1731, now recognized as the first lending library and precursor of the free public library that has made America the envy of the world.

Andrew Carnegie valued libraries so highly that he donated 56 million for the construction of more than 2500 of them.

I think back gain to my Philly childhood and its material poverty; we lacked hot water, and sometimes we had little food or even heat in winter. But always there was the Montgomery Avenue Library, a long walk worth every step to a kingdom that hinted dreams could become palpable. To grow up poor isn’t the worst fate. To grow-up without a library, for government to impoverish a mind—that’s not easily forgivable.

As Barbara Kingsolver put it in Animal Dreams, “Libraries are the one American institution you shouldn’t ripoff.”

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Apple Corporation: Too big for its britches?

Back in 2007, frustrated with my PC that was down to crawl speed, I bought my first Apple product, a MacBook Pro laptop. In computer time, it’s now old, going on ancient. For my purposes, however, it still works fine, though I should add more RAM to help things along when I download the new Lion operating system. My history with PCs had basically been three years and time for a new computer. And then the omnipresent battle against viruses. Four years into the MacBook and I still don’t employ anti-virus software.

Later I turned to the iPod for my music, with great satisfaction.

Last year, like so many, I got myself an iPad. This gadget has revolutionized my on-line habits. Now I use my laptop only for productivity needs such as on-line banking and word processing and, of course, synching my iPad. By October, the synching will itself be relegated to the trash heap, as Apple converts to the Cloud that will automatically store your data, no matter the Apple device. Apple technology is truly a beautiful thing.

There are things about Apple that irritate me. I never liked it that they initially entered into liaison with AT&T when coming out with the iPhone. Like most consumers I suspect, I prefer to choose from the wider market place, whether a car, a phone, a bank, etc. Currently, because of increased competition, Apple is expanding to include other carriers such as Verizon for the iPhone; Target and Best Buy for the iPad. Formerly, you had to buy directly from Apple online or an Apple store. While prices aren’t negotiable no matter where you buy, I purchased a Christmas iPad at Best Buy for my wife under a no interest agreement for three years. Ultimately, increased competition may lead to competitive pricing as well.

When it comes to iPad applications, Apple stands alone with currently some 400,000! Nonetheless, I remain partial to Amazon’s Kindle, both the device and the iPad application. This is doubtless because of the policy quirks of the Apple corporation. Initially they ventured into an agreement with book publishers, resulting in higher prices for e-books in their iBook application. Apple gets a 30% cut in the deal. The net result has been that Amazon was forced to raise their prices from the usual $9.99 to $11.99 or face publisher boycott. In the last several weeks, Apple has mandated Amazon, Barnes & Noble and others strip bookstore excess from their iPad applications to augment their iBook sales. In short, the buck is the bottom line, not the consumer, for this corporation that now rivals Exxon has the wealthiest corporation in America.

You can imagine how happy I was when Amazon announced it had gotten around the store prohibition by adopting a Clouds strategy. You can simply download Amazon's Cloud reading application on your computer, then create a URL icon on your iPad. Further, you don’t need the iPad at all, as you have universal access on any tablet device and any computer anywhere in the world! The only drawback that I can see so far is that I can’t highlight passages, and this is a real bummer to a guy like me who can’t read without marking up a text. Thus I still do my Ipad reading with the old Kindle application, but have to switch to the Cloud icon when ordering. Hopefully, Amazon will remedy this drawback.

Still, Apple can be both ruthless and arbitrary. How do we know they won't ultimately ban rival book applications from iPad altogether. Consider:

It doesn’t allow Adobe Flash.

It censors application content

Up to now, it hasn’t permitted newspaper and journal subscriptions in its iBook app. (This may be about to give way because of the competition.)

In sum, though Apple operates in the free market place, it does everything in its power to bend it to its supremely pecuniary interests.

Remedy, however, is fast-approaching as competition increases in the marketplace with ever improving product quality and, unlike Apple, consumer rather than proprietary interest propels its appeal.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Gloria Steinem: righting the hierarchy

There's a great interview by Marianne Schnall in this morning's Huffington Post Steinem Interview featuring feminist emissary, Gloria Steinem, still going strong at 77. On Monday, August 15, HBO will broadcast a biographical piece, "In Her Own Words." While in our household we do have satellite TV, we're unfortunately not signed up for HBO.

But back to the interview, which summarizes many goals still eluding one half of the human race:

1. Men sharing equally in child-raising.

2. Greater participation of women in the political process. (The U. S. ranks 70th.)

3. Ending domestic violence, sex trafficking, rape, serial killing, aborting female fetuses, female genital mutilation, child marriage, denying female children progtein, health care and education.

Where the interview misses crucially is its omission of the salient catalyst to affording balance to the gender hierarchy: the need to humanize men. In fairness, while Steinem does talk of the need to redefine gender roles, the crux is that men, the still entrenched power brokers, have to change to significantly improve women's lot in life. I remember this poll taken several years back in which women were asked what they desired most in a male partner. It wasn't looks, intelligence, even success. It was sensitivity. I'd go for empathy. Think about it, men: put yourself into women's shoes and you'd change your ways on the quick.

The best psychology reading I've done over the years has been Carl Jung's notion of anima and animus--that there exist countering social selves at the unconscious level, female and masculine dispositions if you will, that demand acknowledgement if we're to find psychological wholeness.

Only as men give expression to their repressed anima can they find integration and well-being. Finding balance, it surely would make for a better world.

In liberating women, men ultimately liberate themselves.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Kudos to Rise of the Planet of the Apes

On Sunday morning last, my wife and I took in the new movie, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. When it comes to animals, I've a marshmallow heart. Where does this come from, this pull on my heartstrings? I only know that even as a boy roaming the waterfront streets of Philly's tough Kensington I wanted desperately to take in every stray dog I'd come across. All my life I've owned pets, whether dogs, cats, mice, chickens, sheep--even lizards. I know that in 1996 I made a decision and never looked back in foregoing a meat-based diet as an ethical commitment not to inflict suffering on another sentient being. Apart from a few, our world doesn't get it, wrapped as it is in its own comfort zone.

When I saw the movie with its colossal battle royal between angry apes and human culprits atop the Golden Gate, I wondered if it were just possible this film might help some among its millions of viewers to finally get it, too. If not to change their diets--custom's hard for most of us to break--at least to make them aware of the inevitable cruelty that comes with meat-raising, animal experiments, trapping, bow-hunting, circuses, even horse racing in which 10,000 thoroughbreds are trucked to Canada or Mexico slaughterhouses. The long cortege of animal victims slips below the horizon.

Kudos then to producer and director Rupert Wyatt and 20th Century Fox. Amazingly, they didn't use a single primate for their blockbuster, eliminating, stress, cages, and perhaps the pain we saw low-life handlers in the film dishing out to their charges. Relying instead on the latest savvy in computer generated, digital FX imaging, they were able to create an in-your-face simulation. As Wylie put it: "Personally, I had moral problems with the idea of using chimps."

In this movie, we get the animal take on things. More than a popcorn movie, we see our cousins endowed with intelligence and, above all, the capacity to feel.

By movie end it's evident we're being set up for a sequel. They're just animals, after all. As lords of the creation, we're going to have to kick-ass.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Reflections on Democrat defeat in Wisconsin recall

Despite large scale union efforts and a tsunami of out-of state money, Wisconsin Democrats fell short in their bid to unseat six Republican state senate incumbents in yesterday's recall election, with Republicans winning four of the six contests. Democrats, irate at Gov. Scott Walker and his allies whom they view as short-changing the collective bargaining rights of state workers, sought to even the score in an election some have viewed as a bellwether of public sentiment before the November 2012 national election. Democrats had wanted to go after the governor as well, but were preempted by a state law that mandates a governor serve at least one year.

While not taking sides, I am happy with the outcome. For me, the issue of political stability is what's at stake in such recall elections. Think about the chaos resulting from special interest groups petitioning for recall elections whenever they disagree with their political leadership. Think about the wasted millions in costs. After all, there is a process for change. We call it the ballot box, a right open to citizens every two years. In the interim, we also have the courts. In this instance, the state court upheld the Republican decision-making process.

As is, twelve senate Democrats chose to abandon the decision process by leaving the state in order to prevent a quorum. Again, whatever happened to this thing we call democracy? If I can't have my way, I'm going to pick-up my marbles and go home.

California's been dealing with similar gridlock in its state assembly for many years. They also had a recall election, this one successful, in which they got rid of Governor Pete Wilson. His successor? A B-film actor and former body builder without a lick of political experience. Nothing changed. Some might argue things got worse.

Imagine if we acted this way at the federal level. We don't like a president, so we decide on a recall, never mind waiting another four years.

Soon it will be the turn of Wisconsin Democrats to twist in the wind. Next Tuesday, recall elections for two senate democrats will take place. Where does the retribution end? I am sick of factional politics. Talk to a politician and you won't get a straight answer. As the Indians had it,"White man speak with forked tongue."

If you think about it, recall elections have the stuff of lynch-mob mentality behind them. No fair trial. Act on impulse. String 'em up.

I'm starting to think banana republic. Hey, would the last one out get the lights?

Monday, August 8, 2011

And they say baseball's boring?

This weekend saw the renewal of baseball's fiercest rivalry in the clash of two perennial powers, the Yankees and Red Sox. On Friday, night the two teams of the American League East were tied for first. Living up to its billing, the first game ended up in a hard fought pitching dual that saw the Yankees eking out a 3-2 win.

That made for a bleak outlook for the Sox in Saturday's contest, when they would be pitching lack-luster John Lackey against 16-game winner CC Sabathia. Why show up?

But as often occurs when these gargantuans wrestle, anything can happen, and Lackey, supported by Boston's famed hitting machine, pitched well enough in his six innings to set up a Red Sox win, 10-4.

The teams again deadlocked for first, momentum now favored the Sox in the rubber game, with ace Josh Beckett taking the mound against Freddy Garcia, a dismal 0-2 and 10.13 era this season against the Sox. But Garcia pitched well, allowing just 1 run in 5 innings.

In the 7th, the score tied at 1-1, veteran Sox reliever Matt Albers let one slip, serving up a homer to Gardner, the Yankees now taking the lead, 2-1.

At this late stage, the lights were beginning to dim for Red Sox Nation with baseball's best reliever, Mariano Rivera, in the wings.

Having been through this before, I opted to go to bed. Minutes later, I heard my wife from the other room shouting,"Tied game!" Scutaro had scored from third in the 9th on Pedroia's sacrifice fly. Rivera had blown the save! Once again, we had the future Hall of Famer's number.

In the 10th, after Sox reliever Bard's return to form, the Yankees countered with starter John Hughes. With one out and two on, rookie Josh Reddick, 0 for 4, lined a ball into the left field corner, sending substitute runner Darnell McDonald home from 2nd base. Game over!

Whew, what a game!

And some people say baseball's boring?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Hiroshima & Nagasaki: Reflections

Tomorrow, August 6, marks the occasion of the dropping of the A-bomb 66-years ago on Hiroshima, initiating the nuclear age, with the final chapter yet to be written. Truman gave permission, believing it would shorten the war and spare substantial American troop losses in fighting an entrenched enemy on their homeland. A few days later, it was Nagasaki's turn. These cities had been spared up to then from the intense aerial bombing of other Japanese cities. There were some advisors who wanted to go after Kyoto, Japan's cultural and historic centerpiece.

All my life I was led to believe in the Truman scenario. Less naive in my older years, I know now that the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki constitute crimes against humanity. I have met survivors of the Tokyo and Dresden fire-bombings. My sister-in-law survived the nightly Frankfurt bombings.

It wasn't the first time American militarists committed such acts in WWII:

July 24-29, 1943, Hamburg was firebombed, killing 50,000 and producing 1 million refugees.

February, 1945, 2700 American and British bombers attacked Dresden, Germany, killing 35,000 civilians. Dresden made china and dolls, not armaments.

March 9-10,1945, fire-bombing killed 100,000 in Tokyo, with 100,000 wounded and 1 million refugees.

A month later, just several weeks before the end of hostilities in Europe, the medieval city of Wurzburg was bombed from the face of the earth.

We are good at decrying the crimes of our enemies. Unfortunately, the victors are the ones who write the official history. One of the sad things about war is how easy it becomes for humans to regress into savagery, losing their sense of fellow humanity.

As early as December, 1944, the Japanese were making peace overtures. Admiral William Leahy, chief of staff to both Roosevelt and Truman, wrote that "by the beginning of September [1944], Japan was almost completely defeated through a practically complete sea and air blockade" (I Was There, p. 259). In June, 1945, the Japanese were using the Soviets as intermediaries, offering peace to the Allies in exchange for retaining the Emperor. It was a dreadful mistake. The Soviets were planning to enter the war to pick up the spoils.

On July 27, 1945, the Potsdam Proclamation was broadcast in Japanese to the Japanese government, demanding unconditional surrender. The Japanese were willing to do so, Truman, however, deleted the Emperor provision from the Proclamation. In fact, the Proclamation called for criminal trials for those associated with the war. Truman had been advised by Secretary of War Stimson to allow for a constitutional monarchy. Stimson even made 11th hour pleas. Unfortunately, Truman was under the sway of hard liners such as Byrnes (Secretary of State) and Acheson (Under Secretary of State), men with no appreciation or exposure to the Japanese way of life.

With the dropping of the second bomb three days later on Nagasaki, the Russians entered the war. There are some who believe the bombs were dropped to impress the Soviets, now perceived as a potential adversary. (See Gar Alpervovitz. The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb.)

Ironically, in the final peace terms, Japan was allowed to retain its emperor, who was also exempted from a war trial. It would make for a smooth occupational presence. More tragically, it came too late and thousands of civilians were vaporized, burned, or relegated to slow deaths from radiation. (66,000 died in Hiroshima; 39,000 in Nagasaki. These figures do not include the thousands who died later.)

The best contemporary book on these horrific bombings happens to be by a Japanese, Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan. He offers compelling evidence that the bombs were dropped to preempt Russia's entrance into the war.

Postscript: Comments of Note:

"These two specific bombing sorties cannot properly be treated in isolation from the whole system of obliteration attacks...We are mindful of incendiary raids on Tokyo, and of the saturation bombings of Hamburg, Dresden, and Berlin...the policy of obliteration bombing as actually practiced in World War II, culminating in the use of atomic bombs against Japan, is not defensible on Christian premises."(Atomic Warfare and the Christian Faith: Federal Council of Churches, March 1946)

"We were. . .twice guilty. We dropped the bomb at a time when Japan already was negotiating for an end of the war but before those negotiations could come to fruition. We demanded unconditional surrender, then dropped the bomb and accepted conditional surrender....The Japanese would have surrendered, even if the Bomb had not been dropped, had the Potsdam Declaration included our promise to permit the emperor to remain on his imperial throne." (Hanson W. Baldwin [Former Naval officer, military analyst and journalist], Great Mistakes of the War).

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Wise words from George Washington on government spending

Just moments ago I finished reading George Washington's Farewell Address (1796), and I'm glad I did. While its language may be steeped in 18th century formality, it remains a sobering speech in its prescient wisdom. Had Congress over the years heeded our first president's wise admonitions, we'd have avoided the divisive partisan rancor that imperils our financial solvency and our future. Make no mistake about it: We haven't solved our financial dilemma in raising the debt ceiling. The truth is we spend too much while wanting more. If you spend, you must have revenue, today's euphemism for taxes. To avoid raising taxes, you must cut your spending. Unfortunately, we've gotten ourselves into such a corner that we need to balance the equation, spending less and increasing revenue. The words below are Washington's; the underlined passages, my own:

1. On political factions:

All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests.

I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally. Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It [party faction] serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions.

2. On Federal deficits:

As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible, avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it, avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertion in time of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs to your representatives, but it is necessary that public opinion should co-operate. To facilitate to them the performance of their duty, it is essential that you should practically bear in mind that towards the payment of debts there must be revenue; that to have revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant; that the intrinsic embarrassment, inseparable from the selection of the proper objects (which is always a choice of difficulties), ought to be a decisive motive for a candid construction of the conduct of the government in making it, and for a spirit of acquiescence in the measures for obtaining revenue, which the public exigencies may at any time dictate.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The kidnapping of a nation

Many are doubtless giving a sigh of relief at the apparent compromise in DC, resulting in the lifting of the deficit ceiling and avoidance of the first-time ever debacle of a U. S. unable to honor its debts. The terms of this deal, however, may turn out worse than insolvency, the cure worse than the disease.

1. Who are the winners?

Clearly this is a victory for the Tea Party wing of the Republican party, with its insistence on a balanced budget, meaning spending cuts, and no increase in taxes. While they had also resisted raising the deficit ceiling, it represents their only instance of compromise.

2. Who are the losers?

President Obama: Americans may not perceive it this way, but it's the President, who blinked, despite initially insisting on a package that would raise taxes for those earning more than $250,000 a year. We should have gotten wind of this pattern when at the end of 2010 he caved in to Tea Party demands of not raising tax revenue in exchange for extending unemployment compensation.

Democrats: This agreement curtails the New Deal/Great Society mandates foundational to the Party's outreach to the indigent, working poor, and middle class. Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security, social mainstays for many, will see cuts, even as inflation increases and medical costs escalate. Cuts will affect our National Parks, environmental safeguards, education, etc. The costs in lost revenue to the States is yet to be reckoned in. As Steven Cohen, Director of Columbia University's Earth Institute, has it: "All of President Obama's brainpower, charisma and speaking skills have not translated into clear, crisp, leadership. Instead, I see just another calculating, poll-driven politico. His re-election campaign dominates his Presidency." Huffington Post Politics, Aug.1, 2011.

Republicans: The GOP will be the primary recipient of public rage in the 2012 elections for their subservience to their Tea Party wing. Ironically, the GOP faces a high probability of the Tea Party running as a third party in 2012, should Republicans nominate a more moderate conservative such as Romney.

The average American: Ironically, our down economy, now into its third year, requires more cash infusion, not less, as a temporary means to stimulating the market place. Had the present legislation been in effect at the outset of the Great Recession in 2008, a hand-cuffed president would not have been able to bail out Chrysler and General Motors, for example. Three years later, these companies have paid back their loans and added 150,000 workers. Making spending cuts are likely to put out whatever blue embers there are, plunging us this time into world depression on a scale paralleling the 1930s.

3. Are there other consequences?

The worst is yet to come. As you're probably aware, this agreement calls for a Super Committee composed of six Republicans and six Democrats to suggest further budget areas for cutting. If the Committee stalemates or the Congress balks, automatic cuts will ensue. Not only will entitlement programs be targeted as major areas for cutting, but the Defense Department as well, potentially hazarding our national security. What we lose is our flexibility to respond to crisis, whether economic or military.

This imbroglio hasn't really been about cutting spending. It's been ideological, a small core of die-hard conservatives operating as an insurgency to overthrow big government. Holding our country hostage, they have been quite willing to shove Americans over the cliff unless their ransom gets paid.