Old Well: UNC Chapel Hill Campus

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Finally, someone I can vote for

"The Green Party is no longer the alternative; the Green Party is the imperative." (Rosa Clemente)

Hey, I'm only one individual, but isn't that where we begin--ourselves? The light just popped on. Me, I'm voting Dr. Jill Stein on Tuesday!

I wanted to vote Green Party here in KY back in 2008, but it wasn't a ballot option then, so I voted Nader. This time, I've the option to pull the lever for a better nation and a greener world. I'm voting for transparency, economic equity, corporate and banking scrutiny, alternative energy, single payer health reform, a more peaceful world.

Lincoln famously spoke at Gettysburg of a government "of the people, by the people, for the people." Come Tuesday, I'm voting not for oil, corporations, hedge funders or banks. I'm voting for the people.

Vote for Obama? Don't bet he'll deliver. If you ask why I say this, just scroll down to my September 12 post that gives instances of 500 promises he made in 2008, but didn't keep.

Romney? Let's not get silly. This guy's worth $250 million, yet paid an effective tax rate of only 14% on his 2010 and 2011 income. By the way, Romney owns several luxurious homes, including a $10 million New Hampshire retreat on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee along with a La Jolla $12 million residence he wants to replace with an 11,000 square foot version, replete with an elevator garage costing 50,000K. But, oh, he cares about you!

The shame of these four debates has been the absence of humanity's greatest challenge posed not by a nuclear Iran or an expansionist China, but climate change. Excuse the oxymoron, but it's a silence that echoes a continuing callousness to what is already eroding our future. Meanwhile, hurricane Sandy portends still more to come.

And just who is Jill Stein? You can, of course, go to her website JillStein, but just a few biography tidbits:

Age 62, she hails from Illinois, but has resided in Massachusetts since graduating from Harvard University (magnum cum laude) and Harvard Medical School. A long time instructor in internal medicine and mother of two grown sons, she lives with her husband, Richard Roher, also a physician, in historic Lexington. Dr. Stein first entered into politics when she ran for governor in 2002. She's authored two well-received medical reports, one of them translated into several languages. Active as a citizen, Dr. Stein has been twice elected to Lexington's Town Meeting and been in the forefront of health and environment reform efforts. She's appeared on TV shoes such as Today and <>Fox.

Some would argue a vote for Stein is a vote for Romney, since it's likely one less vote for Obama. I beg to differ. In some states already in the electoral column for Romney, like Kentucky where I live, casting a Green Party ballot isn't going to supplant destiny. It does, however, allow me a voice. What it helps assure as well, should we Greens poll 5% nationally, is the infusion of $20 million in federal funding that will help build momentum for building the party and setting the agenda for meaningful social and economic justice. In this year's tedious march to the election, Greens have been left out of the conversation. A vote for Stein voices our demand for a seat at the table.

Additionally, third parties have their place in the political arena, even though they don't win. The most recent example was Ross Perot, who gleaned enough of the vote to put Bill Clinton into the White House in '92. The same again in '96, when Perot captured 18% of the vote. By the way, Clinton never achieved a 50% majority in either election. On the other hand, Bush, the son, won because there wasn't any substantive third party opposition, resulting in an election thrown into the Supreme Court in 2000.

Third parties help us draw distinctions. If you took away the party and candidate labels in the recent debates, could you really discern the differences between the candidates?

Third parties, in close elections, teach losers not to play the expediency card. Had Gore tweaked his positions just a bit more to the Left in 2000, he would have conceivably nullified Ralph Nader's 1%, winning the election outright. Iran? Afghanistan? Conversely, Nader with just that one percent may have altered history. This year's election doesn't pose a serious challenge to Obama's reelection. While the ballot numbers may be dead even, Obama leads in nearly all of the battleground states and will likely achieve a plurality of at least 20 electoral votes beyond the required 271. Rest assured, your vote won't be wasted in its underscoring of the salient issues.

Let me close with a quote from Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Chris Hedges:

The November election is not a battle between Republicans and Democrats. It is not a battle between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. It is a battle between the corporate state and us. And if we do not immediately engage in this battle we are finished, as climate scientists have made clear. I will defy corporate power in small and large ways. I will invest my energy now solely in acts of resistance, in civil disobedience and in defiance. Those who rebel are our only hope. And for this reason I will vote next month for Jill Stein.


Update: Police arrested Dr. Stein Wednesday evening in Texas when she brought food and supplies to protestors at the Keystone XL pipeline construction site in Wood County. In a later statement, Stein said that Obama and Romney were only talking of the symptoms, not the causes of disasters like Sandy.

Note: For specific Green Party goals, see Jill Stein

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Assets and liabilities of the candidates

The NYT is reporting that the Labor Department will release its October jobs report, on time, tomorrow morning. The last before the election, it could influence any undecided voters that may still be out there. I know I'll be giving it close scrutiny. Yes, I'm one of the undecided, as I find it a stalemate when it comes down to weighing the assets and liabilities of each candidate.

I've pursued this election campaign daily, watched the debates, scrutinized the media feedback. Using a ledger approach, I find the issues, pro and con, come down to mainly those I list here:

Obama assets:

Environmentally aware

Clean energy proponent

Economic stimuli

Health care reform

Tax equity

Return to 1967 borders for Israel

Banking reform efforts

Pro choice

Obama liabilities

Big government

Failure to initiate immigration reform

Apologist for America

Possible Administration cover-ups

May allow Iran the bomb

Supports the Employees Free Choice Act

May appoint additional activist Supreme Court members

Less business friendly

Romney assets

Small business advocate

Strong military

Would appoint constructionist Supreme Court members

Balanced budgets

Opposed to The Employee Free Choice Act

Less government intrusion

Strong on non-nuclear Iran

Romney liabilities:

Pro life

Less compassion for the poor

Would replace current social security index

Beholden to Israeli lobby

Insensitivity to global warming

More dirty coal and oil advocacy

While economy analysts are anticipating tomorrow's report will indicate continuing gains in jobs, manufacturing, and housing, this may not help me get past my stalemate as a voter caught in an eclectic mix of liberal and conservative purviews, in keeping with my mindset that truth usually falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.

In 2008, I voted for a third party candidate. I may do so again.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Gone with the Wind? Sandy's election impact

"The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, Gang aft agley." (Robert Burns)
The October surprise arrived this evening in Sandy's windy assault on the Northeast. How it factors into next week's election is anybody's guess, and you can work varying good or bad scenarios for either candidate. Provided he doesn't make any mistakes, the President can be seen being presidential. It's also a safe bet that most folks on the receiving end are likely to be grateful. The storm, moreover, relieves Obama from the incessant focus on a still languishing economy along with the emerging reality of the government's grievous misfire in preempting the Benghazi debacle.

As I write, the Labor Department may delay Friday's crucial job report until after the election. Probably no conspiracy here, since we don't know how the report would break in favoring Obama or Romney, though you'd think the Administration would push for its release we're it favorable, come hell or high water. After all, the economy has been showing inklings of improvement in several sectors, ie., housing and employment.

Perhaps the most potent advantage for the President is that the storm may corral the incipient surge towards Romney even in battleground states like Ohio, now rated a toss-up.

You might argue that Sandy has handed Obama the election on a silver platter. But hold on: there's one thing the speculative press may be missing that favors Romney. Vast as Sandy is, with winds extending 175 miles from its center, it mainly impacts those states, apart from Virginia, that are foremost in the Democratic column anyway.

Whatever happens, the media will have plenty to chew on following next Tuesday's voting results.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Why I'm an Independent!

As I write, monster storm Sandra plows its way towards its projected target. In like manner, our rancorous politics will soon funnel into Election Day. I wish I could say November 6 will, like refreshing rain, bring our national rancor to its close, but I know better, and so do you.

Whatever the result, our ills are likely to continue and may even worsen: a sluggish economy; soaring deficits; the shrapnel of sequestration in January. Abroad, a tiltering Europe; an Arab Spring gone wrong; the progressive materializing of Iranian nuclear capability. Perhaps we should lament the winner's fate.

As it stands right now, I'm not tethered to either candidate. Both have proven themselves masters of solipsism masquerading as wisdom. Not wanting to be manipulated by party interests, I registered as an independent several years ago. Wary of the dangers inherent in political partisanship, I found unanticipated support one day in coming upon George Washington's remarkably visionary Farewell Address (1796), warning of the destructive capacity of political parties to vest themselves in parochial partisanship rather than the national interest:.

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.

My father was a life-long Democrat, despite admiring Teddy Roosevelt. I think he'd have liked Reagan as well had he lived, though probably wouldn't have voted for him. I married into a family much the same way, for whom "Republican" probably came close to a dirty word. And obviously there are Republicans who have never opted to vote Democratic. All of this just tells me how much we're shackled by the culture we're embedded into, beginning with family, rather than filtering the debris through that best teacher, experience.

Political rancor isn't anything new, of course, but then you'd think in the digital age we'd have our wits about us and not fall prey to demonization and snake oil promises.

In closing, let me quote another distinguished American, Walt Whitman, on the corruptive legacy of partisanship:

America, if eligible at all to downfall and ruin, is eligible within herself, not without; for I see clearly that the combined foreign world could not beat her down. But these savage, wolfish parties alarm me. Owning no law but their will, more and more combative, less and less tolerant of the idea of ensemble and of equal brotherhood, the perfect equality of the States, the ever-overarching American Ideas, it behooves you to convey yourself implicitly to no party, nor submit blindly to their dictators, but steadily hold yourself judge and master over all of them" (Democratic Vistas, 1870).

And that's why I'm an Independent. I'm just not going to drink the snake oil!

Be well,


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Zarkaria's GPS: must viewing

I always enjoy tuning into Fareed Zakaria's GPS. Zakaria, who also writes for the Washington Post and Time, strikes me as a man largely free of assumptions, or political bias. Last week, for example, he provided helpful explanation of Mitt Romney's all over the map positions, motivating Republicans, whether liberal or conservative, to be wary. Romney's shifts lie behind retired general and former Bush secretary of state Colin Powell's endorsement on Thursday of Obama for reelection.

Zakaria offers that Romney's protean shifts are due to Tea Party elements within the Republican Party. It's stratagem entirely, though one could argue this reenforces the widely-held notion Romney's deceitful. According to Zakaria, Romney's surge in the polls is due to his moving over to more moderate positions on key issues. In short, this is the real Romney who can now return to the middle that characterized his tenure as Massachusetts's governor. After all, Obamacare is modeled after Romney's historic health insurance legislation in Massachusetts. While it doesn't get Romney off the hook, it's analysis like this that can provide another purview.

I also enjoy the broad spectrum of GPS' panel feature with its participants drawn from neo-con to far left. Again, cool-headed analysis to extract the factual and reasonable governs Zakaria's show.

One of my favorite, can't wait show elements comes at very end when Zakaris gives his weekly book recommendation. I've actually taken him up on several of his recommended reads such as Charles Murphy's Coming Apart: the State of White America, 1960-2010, a book by the way that supports Romney's off-the-cuff notion of the 47% who pay no taxes and not necessarily from need. I intend to pursue this week's recommendation of Nate Silver's The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail--but Some Don't.

For me, Zakaria provides a refreshing change from the pervasive mortar shelling of the current political scene, whether at MSNBC or Fox News, or among the partisans of the print media and social networks at large. After all, I like finding the truth for myself as best we humans can get at it to someone's imposing her notion of the truth on me.

You can dismiss me as quixotic, but I find the probing almost as much fun as the finding.

Thank you, Fareed!

Be well,


Thursday, October 25, 2012

The dismal failure of the debates

It's just a hop, skip, and a jump and Election Day will be upon us. Although debates possess potential to help us view candidates more fully, and even to shift momentum as seems to have occurred after the first debate, they can frequently run as shallow as a drought stream in August. More likely we remember them for their gaffes, or their generating new memes such as President Obama's "bayonet" analogy of the last debate, the likeability of the proponents, their apparent command of facts, etc.

Alas, the casualty is more likely to be substance. Whatever happened to seismic suffering and its inveterate challenge? From these debates you would gather poverty--think the likes of Bangladesh, Haiti, Somalia--has been solved. And global warming? While we may debate its causes, we cannot deny its consequences, already upon us and mapping our future. Think about it: three debates (four, if you include the veep debate) and not one question on global warming! I hold that we define ourselves not only by what we say, but by what we omit.

In all the debates, moderators have played a big share in their failure by not asking the sizzling questions on issues such as nuclear proliferation. If nothing else, these debates have mirrored a colossal absorption with ourselves in their shocking indifference to the plight of our earth and its increasingly beleaguered populace, not just the American middle class.

Must all moderators derive from the press, often with their own hidden biases? We would do better with the likes of someone like Fareed Zakaria, whose mainstay is to sound out the truth rather than adumbrate ideology. Or perhaps a panel approach of disparate moderators to provide for balance, scope, and substance would offer us better vistas.

In so many ways, these debates have failed all of us in their platitudes and cliches. Consider the matter of economics, rightly a center piece for focus in the Great Recession. To promise more jobs and balanced budgets should not be conflated with result. We must get at the devil in the details. Two unacknowledged integral factors posing destabilization of the middle class with no easy, if any, resolutions are vested in globalization and the digital revolution. Third world workers can now compete in a global market place at lower cost. Meanwhile, the digital revolution means more jobs going through the shredder. Increased stimulus spending is unlikely to dent their effects and may ultimately even complicate our morass.

At the worst, we can take the ostrich approach and bury our heads in the sand. (Our debates show we have a talent for this.) At the best, we can at least probe for solutions.

More than ever, we need to preempt the political capacity for glibness rather than substance. In an elbow-touching world menaced with the damocles sword of marginalized income and hammer blows to Nature's resiliency, it behooves us to hold our candidates' feet to the fire.

Anything less subjects ourselves to further political manipulation and erosion of trust, complicating our future.

Be well,


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Doesn't get better than this

Karen and I saw Argo yesterday, the film about the ingenuous CIA-Canadian rescue of the six Americans holed up in the Canadian ambassador's Tehran residence in the aftermath of the seizure by Iranian militant students of 52 of their fellows at the American embassy in November,1979.

You may already have seen it, and even if you haven't, I'd be doing you a considerable disservice to give you any details.  Now don't cheat by googling and miss all the fun. I promise you this film will keep you glued to your theater seat from beginning to end.

Of course, a lot of the film's tension is orchestrated, since one of the six has recently shared that everything actually went like clock work.  By the way, the hostages had three plans to work with, but chose this one, the film production guise, as the most likely to succeed and embraced it immediately. Not so in the film.

Other inaccuracies occur as well; for example, the Shah's full name isn't correct. Also, Premier Mossadegh was appointed by the Shah, not elected. Free elections haven't been part of Iran's history.

The primary roles of Britain and New Zealand in helping the Americans are ignored.

At the end of the movie, former President Carter says, "Eventually we got them all out." I seem to remember an aborted rescue attempt somewhere. The truth is the Iranians spitefully released the hostages on January 20, 1981, or on Inauguration Day when Reagan took office.

But the movie overcomes its exaggerations, just maybe because it's more fiction than fact, thus enabling its transformation into an intense, well-performed thriller that will surely catapult it into Oscar consideration. Ben Afleck, who directed the film, plays CIA agent Tony Mendez, with understated brilliance, replete with a 70s' shag-carpet beard.

That last scene--a lumbering Swiss jet lifting its wheels, heavy trigger-finger revolutionaries in hot pursuit--Oh, my God!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Foreign vote monitors in this year's election

When the polls open this upcoming Election Day, you may be seeing UN affiliated monitors at your local voting place, particularly in places like cities with large minorities. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), for example, will be sending 44 observers.

This comes at the request of leading liberal groups such as ACLU, NAACP, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Conservatives are outraged, although monitors have been present since 2002 and a number of states directly allow for it. In what augurs to be a close election, every vote matters, and thus a wave of conservative attempts to ensure voting fraud is minimized. Civil rights organizations, on the other hand, worry about the disenfranchisement of minority votes, who are likely to vote for Obama.

Such groups are sending up to 15,000 monitors of their own, concentrating on 80 cities, to counter scores of conservative ones. Meanwhile, the courts have been consistently ruling against conservatives' implementing specific eligibility requirements.

As I see it, both sides are justified in their concerns. We only have to recall the closely contested 1960 election of John Kennedy to the presidency with its large scale fraud in Illinois that altered the outcome. Fresher in our minds is the Florida debacle of 2000, decided only by Supreme Court intervention.

Elections shouldn't come down to getting our guy (or gal) in by hook or crook. Voting lies at the heart of what we're all about and should be free of intimidation and fraud.

How widespread is fraud? I think it substantial, given the worst in human passions that exist when it comes to politics. We live in a nation of an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants. You can't question their citizenship when they register at the local court house. And then there's the problem of double voting among those who reside in two states over the course of a year, which includes many with winter homes or out-of-state students. Unfortunately, and ironically, we don't have a national computer tracking system in place. As I pointed out in an earlier post, we can’t even track those who over stay their visas--and this after 9/11!

Personally, I favor a national ID card. While, yes, you'd have to provide proof of citizenship, I don't grasp how opponents may consider this intimidation. After all, we require documentation for benefits such as Medicare and Social Security. And, yes, we require photos on passports. No honor system here! Drivers licenses aren't sufficient, as an increasing number of states grant them to undocumented residents. ID cards are successfully employed by countries such as Germany.

Since both liberals and conservatives believe elections should be fair, surely both could find a better way to ensure the ballot is accessible and fair. Unfortunately, mistrust and rancor have so far preempted their bridging the impasse, exacerbating narrow self-interest.

I propose a non-partisan commission to study the problem and make recommendations to the Congress. This commission needs to take a look at the Electoral College with its winner take all approach as well.

Your thoughts?


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Twitter's wrong move

Twitter today did the unprecedented. It shut down a neo-Nazi site, @hannoverticker, though only in Germany at the request of the German government. Earlier in the year Twitter announced it would close down sites in conflict with local law while leaving them open internationally. I wonder if this policy is really nothing more than appeasement of religious conservatives in Islamic counties such as Iran or Pakistan. Whatever, today they exercised that option for the first time. We''ll have to see where this thing ultimately goes. Despotic governments will probably become even more adamant in demanding the same be done for them when they find their power threatened.

Think about it: Twitter has proven a catalyst for change in such countries, a jungle drums scenario that dispenses what ideologues would snuff out, the yearning of the oppressed to undo their shackles. It's inconceivable to think of an Arab spring without the social media's advocacy; the phenomenon of the Occupy Wall Street Movement that spread to other countries; the daily revelations of otherwise sequestered Syrian government atrocities against its own people.

Twitter, what you've done is a grievous wrong. I can't really speak for your motives, but the end doesn't justify the means.

In Turkey, world-renowned pianist Faxil Say's trial has begun. He's been arrested for alleged defamation of the prophet Mohammed. Ironically, the charges stem from several of his tweets. "I am not sure if you realize it, but if there is a louse, a non-entity, a lowlife, a thief or fool, it's always an Islamist." So much for Turkey's aspirations to join the European Union. Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey, must be turning over in his grave.

In our own land, the threat to harness our right to free speech remains under continuous attack in the current reign of political correctness and the narrow confines of political and religious ideologues bent on imposing their own views, not through better arguments, but by shutting now those who oppose them. This afternoon, In Ocala, Florida, as Republican veep nominee Paul Ryan gave a campaign speech, malingers gathered nearby, bent on disrupting the rally.

Back to Twitter. Why not protect the speech rights of tweeters like prominent African-American actress, Stacey Dash ("Clueless"), who recently urged her 200,000 followers to vote for Romney. Almost immediately, scores of threats on her life. Hey, Twitter, these are the people you need to use your broom on.

Censorship has its place against those who sanction violence, or like those just mentioned. Otherwise, as I've said, fight a bad idea with a better one.

John Stuart Mill was spot on when in he wrote in On Liberty, that "if all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.

I suspect the roots of Twitter's action is money. Nicholas Kulish, writing in the New York Times, takes us back to last summer's Olympics when Twitter blocked the account of a British journalist who heavily criticized NBC's reporting of the Games. (NBC is one of Twitter's corporate sponsors.) Twitter later apologized and reinstated the account.

Twitter may have opened up a Pandora's box for itself. So far, six governments have made requests for site closures.

Be well,


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

No knockout blows

I don't know how you saw it last night, but I found the debate between the President and Romney riveting, with no real knock out punch delivered by either candidate. Romney was just as smiling, confident and nimble as in the first debate, which most observers have conceded to him. On the other hand, Obama couldn't afford another lack-luster performance, and last night he didn't disappoint his fans, aggressive, yet never compromising his characteristic graciousness, delivering dextrous rejoinders to his challenger. I thought his great moment occurred when he summarily said, "Governor Romney says he's got a five-point plan. And that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules."

For me, the ex-governor was at his best when he repeatedly asked if licenses and permits for energy on federal land had been reduced. When earlier Obama had maintained that energy permits and licenses increased during his tenure, Romney came back that those increases occurred on private, not Fed land, where they suffered a 14% decline.

Two very positive moments occurred in the debate that made me feel good about both contenders. The first was when Romney was addressing the immigration concerns of a Latina in the audience. Unlike many office-seekers, Romney didn't pull any punches.
Four million would-be immigrants are standing in line, but are hindered by the large number of illegals.

At the close, I liked Obama's graciousness in remarking that Romney is a "good man," despite the heated, in the grill aspect of this debate and his campaign's unrelenting demonizing of Romney as a liar immediately following the first debate.

My most negative impression is of the moderator's (Candy Crowley) blatant interference in the debate, correcting Romney in his charge that Obama went days before declaring the Benghazi violence a terrorist act, initiating audience applause. It turns out that Crowley didn't get it right. While Obama did use the word "terrorism" in his White House Rose Garden statement, he spoke only of his resolve to combat terrorism rather than specifically dubbing the violence as terrorist. (Most of the press continues to pass on Crowley's imprecision.) Romney missed a golden opportunity to set the record straight.

Anyway, I dislike when a moderator deliberately sets out to circumvent the previously established ground game for this town-meeting format by raising her own questions, which in running the clock also ironically stop gaps other audience members from asking more questions. I think of, say, baseball, where an umpire can sometimes make himself bigger than the game by an obviously wrong call.

Will this debate prove decisive? I don't think so. At this late stage, I would venture most voters have made-up their minds. Each candidate, in any event, did what he had to do. Obama showed-up for this debate and Romney held his ground. Neither candidate committed a serious gaffe. Partisans will find fodder for declaring their candidate the winner.

Of course, there can always be the occurrence of some late moment anomaly such as a global crisis or a glowing or dismal end-of-the-quarter economic report a few days before the election to tip the scales in what appears to be a dead heat


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Verbal misdeeds: the Biden-Ryan debate

Politicians are known to bend the truth, so always be careful before you buy into their claims. Consider the recent Biden-Ryan debate. Both men proved themselves Pinnochios repeatedly. Let's take the issue of abortion, for example.

According to Ryan, Biden went to China and said he sympathized and wouldn't second-guess their one-child policy of forced abortions and serializations."

Not true! Yes, Biden did visit Sechuan University in 2011 and in response to a student question as to how the U.S. planned to reduce its deficit, replied by reforming entitlement programs such as Medicare. He then used a cost analogy that China also faces with regard to its social programming, given its one child policy. "As I was talking to some of your leaders, you share a similar concern here in China. You have no safety net. Your policy has been one which I fully understand -- I’m not second-guessing -- of one child per family. The result being that you’re in a position where one wage earner will be taking care of four retired people. Not sustainable."

Surely there's no endorsement of, or sympathy for, abortion going on here, and forced abortions happen to be illegal in China anyway, though it occasionally occurs. Of course, you can argue Biden missed an opportunity of criticizing China's one child policy, but his purpose was to indicate that on the matter of debt China faces similar problems in sustaining entitlement programs.

But let me play fair and point out how Biden also sometimes blurred the truth in the debate. At the outset, moderator Martha Raddatz asked Biden if what happened at the American consulate in Benghazi constituted a breakdown in intelligence sources. Biden largely skirted the question, saying that the administration simply relied on what it was first told. When pressed by Raddatz's assumption that the consulate "wanted more security there," Biden responded, "Well, we weren't told they wanted more security there."

This is false, as the subsequent House hearing indicated when Eric Norstrom, a state department employee, testified he had informed his superiors on two occasions that the Libyan mission needed more security. More specifically, as the regional security office for Libya, he had made a cable request for twelve guards, along with military trainers. His testimony was confirmed by Charlene Lamb, a deputy assistant secretary at the State Department.

Nordstrom went on to say, "It's not the hardships. It's not the gunfire. It's not the threats. It's dealing and fighting against the people, programs, and personnel who are supposed to be supporting me."

You can argue, of course, that Biden meant that the White House itself wasn't aware of any such requests, but then again, isn't the State Department an integral component of White House policy?

I could point out other flagrant abuses of the truth on both sides, but you get my point, I hope, that when it comes to politicians, check and double check

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick.
Jack jump over the fibber's stick.

Aside from the recent debate, I get annoyed with the myriad campaign ads that attempt to manipulate through fear: Re-elect Obama and Iran will get the bomb. Or Romney will destroy Medicare. Et cetera ad infinitum.

Politicians are astute in appealing to fear seeded with falsehood to obtain or keep themselves in power. By being vigilant, you and I can avoid becoming their victims.

By the way, I'd be interested in hearing what annoys you most about politicians.

Be well,


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Wake-up call for Pakistan?

"I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taliban. I have had such dreams since the launch of the military operation in Swat. I was afraid [of] going to school because the Taliban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools. Only 11 students attended the class out of 27. The number decreased because of Taliban's edict. On my way from school to home I heard a man saying 'I will kill you'. I hastened my pace... to my utter relief he was talking on his mobile and must have been threatening someone else over the phone." (Malawa Yousufzai's blog, 3 October 2009)

Finally, it seems volatile Pakistan is united by a heinous Taliban act, the October 9th shooting of 14-year old schoolgirl, Malala Yousufzai, along with two of her school mates. Malala's offense? Her brave, public criticisms of Taliban restrictions on girls' having access to education. Calls for more aggressive action against Taliban insurgents in Pakistan are now widespread, embracing even conservative Muslim factions.

Up to now, little has been done against the Taliban, who have concentrated their presence in remote northwestern Pakistan, including the Swat Valley where Malala lives. As I write, Malala appears to be making a slow recovery after a bullet pierced her neck and traveled to her spine. While she's now able to move her hands and legs, following a reduction in sedatives, her prognosis for full recovery remains uncertain.

In a horrid compromise, Islamabad in 2007 agreed to the Talban occupation. After taking-over the Valley, the Taliban forced men to wear beards, blew up schools, many of them for girls, and forbade women access to the market place.

Pakistan's army entered the valley in 2009 following these outrages, causing Taliban leaders to flee into Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the Taliban remain a formidable presence.

Malala's ordeal isn't an isolated incident. It's happened in multiples, both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Not long ago, it made headlines when Taliban gassed a school for girls in Afghanistan. In Pakistan, they recently beat-up a girl who wanted to go to school.

It saddens me that in the recent Biden-Ryan debate Malala's horrid fate never received mention, even when our Afghanistan policy entered into the debate and a woman reporter served as moderator. The unrepentant Taliban leadership meanwhile promises they'll try again, should Malala survive.

Surely such silence bodes ill for women in Afghanistan when coalition forces leave Afghanistan in 2014. Unless Islamabad opts for a decisive policy change towards its insurgent presence, the duress of women seeking self-realization through the liberation education provides is likely to continue. Up to now, Pakistan has sent mixed signals, more concerned with negating Indian influence in Afghanistan via destabilization than negotiated reconciliation with its neighbor that would also ameliorate life for many of Pakistan's own beleaguered women.

While presently Pakistan's military and political elite beat a path to her bedside, it's probable they'll re-clothe themselves in silence, unless Pakistanis continue to speak out.

One final thought: What's happened to Malala again reveals the horrid calumny of doctrinaire ideology, whether religious or political, when polemic turns into hate and spills over into intolerance.


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Getting the monkey off your back

Take a moment, in a quiet spot, and close your eyes. Visualize a scene from the past that gave you a sense of peace or relief from daily anxiety. For me, it's hiking the trail up lofty Ben Nevis in Scotland with my wife several years ago. I can still see the narrow trail's steep ascent, slate gray limestone fences dividing a retreating green tapestry below, snow-flaked with sheep; hear a babbling brook; feel the day's exhilarating coolness. I find again the shepherd psalmist's quiet waters and renewal.

Such moments are rarer now for many of us, given the frenetic pace of modern life with its myriad stresses. The poet Auden knew this when he famously dubbed our era "the age of anxiety." We pop our pills, vegetate before our TVs, seeking relief from deadlines to meet or places to go.

It isn't really cancer, heart disease or the like that are killing us. It's stress, and much of our morbidity is its result. We eat more, worry more, hurry more. Twenty percent of us suffer from acute anxiety disorder requiring professional intervention, while our media proclaims daily the social violence of those who "just can't take it anymore."

Here are some suggestions that have helped me and may help you ease up and enjoy your life more fully, ways of coping that may even help you live longer:

1. Change your reactions: A lot of our stress derives not from what happens, but how we respond. We can choose to adapt like that Robert Frost birch bending with the wind, rather than arching its boughs, or remain brittle like a Bradford pear, its limbs severed by the storm. Substitute a positive alternative for a negative one. What we think fosters our emotions, and emotions often generate our distress. Instead of dwelling on how awful the economy is, think of how it's likely to ultimately get better. It's not "that sob, he cut me off"! Instead, drivers can be rude, but most aren't. It's not, "What's going to happen?, but "Let's take it just one day at a time.

2. Get a hobby: Like birds, learn to identify them. Fond of the outdoors, join a hiking group. Enjoy games? Try contact bridge. Cooking? Attempt new recipes. Want something new? How about learning another language?

3. Take-up meditation: Clearing the mind's clutter goes back several thousand years.
It endures because it works. Don't know how? Check your local resources. They're abundant now. Stress reduces the brain's white matter (the wired area of the consisting largely of nerve fibers). The good news is that according to a published report in the Proceedings of the National Academy, just 30 minutes of meditation over a two week period showed measurable changes in the white matter, indicating that meditation facilitates healthy brain function.

4. Try biofeedback: Many find the device Resperate useful for teaching them precise breath control that produces a relaxation effect. Dividend, it reduces blood pressure. Resperate gets a thumbs up from a number of leading medical resources, including Mayo Clinic.

5. Say no! You've only so much time in a day. Take time for yourself. Give yourself a special treat each week. Go for that dessert! See that movie! If you can, set one day aside for yourself.

6. Read! This means shutting off that TV. Television, mostly a mind-numbing activity, doesn't generally relieve our stress. It may even add to it. Reading expands the mind and relaxes at the same time. At bedtime, it can help you get a good night's sleep.

7. Blog! I can speak first hand about what it does for me. When I'm writing, it seems I've hurled my anxieties into the deepest sea. Writing not only opens a window on the world, it brings me into touch with myself, clarifies and cleanses, while providing perspective.

8. Drink green tea:. It works because of its i-theanine content, which you can also find in pill supplements at your local health stores or at Whole Foods. Drink it several times daily, especially when you feel uptight. Taking about 30-minutes to kick-in, it's super just before bedtime and will help you sleep like a rock.

8. Exercise: Nothing really new about this life essential, along with good nutrition, for promoting health. But exercise also relieves stress. The trick is to schedule it into your day. The preferred form should be aerobic, and the cardinal rule remains 5-days a week, 30 minutes minimal.

9. Tablets: I 'm not thinking pills here, but of those popular devices such as the iPad. I've become fond of the mind-stretching game apps in particular like Sudoku. Talk about time out, diversion comes easily with a tablet. It doesn't have to be confined to games. Tablets provide apps for virtually any interest. How far away troubles seem when you find a riveting app.

10. Turn on the music! Shakespeare rightly said, "Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast." Obviously, it works, or it wouldn't be so popular. To promote relaxation, however, stay away from the frenzied kind. I like classical Indian music for this purpose. You might also find Enya very soothing. She works for me. Sometimes I just go for the sounds of nature: waves washing up on the shore, a murmuring brook, birds in early morning revelry, the soft pitter-patter of falling rain, etc.

Yes, you can get that monkey, stress, off your back, and in doing so, wake with joy each morning, eager to seize the day.

Be well,


Monday, October 1, 2012

The myth about cholesterol

For years I’ve believed all the hype that high cholesterol sharply increases your risk for heart disease. I’m dubious about that now. Did you know that people with low cholesterol get heart attacks, too? Are you aware that nearly half of those with atherosclerosis have low cholesterol? Or that half of those with high LDL never suffer any complications? Something else seems to be going on.

I’ve suspected this for some time, but I didn’t know the mechanism behind it until now. Not all LDL is the same. A variant type exists, often hereditary, where the LDL type is smaller and denser, increasing your risk for heart attack or stroke. It isn't LDL per se, but the kind of LDL you have. This kind puts you at greater risk, since small LDL particles can more easily infiltrate the arteries and cause blockage. You can get a good reading at your doc’s on your cholesterol levels, LDL and HDL, be thin as a rail, exercise daily, yet still be at risk. You can even pass an EKG stress test and drop dead several days later. You come across this story often.

There are two things you should do, whether you agree or not with my particles hypothesis.

1. The next time you go for a blood check, which should be annually at the very least, ask for a particles check to determine the type of LDL you have. An added dividend is it will show whether you’re insulin resistant, a precursor to diabetes. Your test will even categorize your risk for heart attack or stroke: minimal, moderate, high, highest.

2. If you do have small particles, there are ways to improve, or transition, to large particles, the healthier kind; namely, cutting carbohydrates, especially from unrefined sources such as processed foods and sweets and exercising vigorously at least 150 minutes weekly, i.e., 30-minutes daily.

Be warned that eating fats, especially the saturated kind, has its own dangers, but in the end, unrefined carbohydrates are the primary threat to a healthy heart. If you think about it, carbohydrates are turned into blood sugar (glucose). If there's one insidious source of disease, not just coronary, it's sugar!

Let me close with my own experience. Last May I was found to have high small particle lipids. Over the last three months, I’ve practiced my own counsel. Result, my August lab showed a 25% drop in small particle total.

As always, sound nutrition is your key to good health and longevity.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The patient succumbed to complications....

In following a news story about someone's demise, we often come across something like, "He succumbed to complications following routine surgery." The truth is that anyone undergoing surgery of any kind faces at the very least a one percent risk of never making it home again.

One percent might not seem much of a risk, but then we tend to think such things happen to the other guy, not us. Unfortunately, life is replete with the improbable and unanticipated every morning we get out of bed, and death has its way of cornering us in unexpected places.

I still remember a chance conversation I had many years ago with a custodian at Harvard who told me of the loss of her child during tonsillectomy. As I was very young, I don't think I took in its resonance as to the freakish nature of life itself, contributing not only to its mystery, but underscoring its frequent tragedy. I think it was Thomas Wolfe who wrote that a young man at 25 thinks himself immortal. (Say that to Keats, who knew better.) In my case, I was just 22.

A little more than a year ago, model and actress Mia Amber Davis died following knee surgery. She was 36. Dying from knee surgery? Yup, it happens.

There was also the unanticipated death of author Olivia Goldsmith, 54, whose Wives' Club became a popular movie. Following plastic surgery, she went into cardiac arrest, possibly induced by anesthesia. For me, the latter has always been the spookiest element in any surgery I've undergone. To borrow a phrase from poet William Carlos Williams, "so much depends on" an anesthesiologist.

Then there was the widely reported death of prominent Congressman John Murtha, 77, during "minimally invasive surgery" to remove his gall bladder. A close source told CNN that doctors accidentally "hit his intestines."

While natural causes such as a weak heart or allergic reaction to medication may often be factors in surgical mortality, the human capacity for error through misjudgment or negligence always looms, increasing the risk. Even good doctors make mistakes. The quandary is the more you do something well, the more the law of averages kicks in. Let's hope your surgeon is having a good day.

The bottom line is that our bodies treat any surgery as invasive, and human error compounds the danger. Surgery may be necessary, but it's never really "routine." Consider the case of Jenny Olenick, 17, who died of hypoxia (deficient oxygen to the brain) while undergoing anesthesia to have her wisdom teeth removed. While very rare, it's not unknown.

Of course, you can help lessen your risk by choosing your doctors well or considering a non-surgical alternative.

Unfortunately, we seldom get the choice as to the anesthesiologist. They just happen to be there, often rushing in from a previous procedure, and know precious little about us.

Next to death, surgery may be the ultimate in loss of control.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Time for a new toy

I've just learned Target and Walmart have locked out the Kindle, including Amazon's most recent and innovative offering, the Kindle Fire HD. Some speculate these chains are clearing inventory to make way for both the hot selling iPhone 5 and the much anticipated mini iPad, though Apple remains mum on the latter.

Probably what's really happening has to deal with profit margins. With Amazon promoting its Kindles via low profit margins, there's little left over to entice the box stores. No evidence yet, however, that BestBuy and Radio Shack will follow suit.

As for a mini, rumored to be released in time for Christmas sales, it's not improbable. I wonder, though, if it would mean the demise of the larger screen version, which I prefer. One thing I have to admire is Apple's uncommon ability to keep a secret. Seems our government could learn a thing or two.

In the meantime, I've finally thrown in the towel and am upgrading to the iPhone 5 with its wondrously fast camera, enlarged screen, retina sharpness (18% more pixels to play with), vastly improved saturation, 4G LTE access, and alluring svelte slimness. I hear the improved Siri will even open up your applications. Hey, how good is that!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

English is still number one

We hear a lot these days that we're transitioning from the American Century to a Chinese one. In my own lifetime I never anticipated the current groundswell for Chinese language classes. I grew up with the emphasis in schools and colleges on Spanish, French, and German. I hadn't thought about it until just now, but my high school didn't even offer Spanish, let alone an Asian language, though it did offer four years of Latin. The times certainly are a-changing.

While I'm strongly for learning another language in a world of shrinking distances and expanding global interchange, I still think English will remain the closest we have to an international lingua franca for some time to come. Even in China, English is seen as "the ticket."

Language domination does shift over the centuries with the wax and wane of primary empires and modern nations. Before the rise of Latin, the language which defined linguistic universalism in the Western world was Greek, so much so that the New Testament was rendered in Greek to promote the new faith. Its antecedent was the Septuagint rendering of the Hebrew scriptures into Greek.

We all know about the spectacular spread of Latin with the rise of Rome and its shaping several of Europe's primary languages, including English.

With the reign of France's Louis IV in the 17th century and the nascence of the Enlightenment, French began its ascendency as the language of diplomacy until English began its challenge with the birth of the Industrial Revolution in England and the growth of its Empire. English received a further boost with America's emergence as a superpower in the 20th century.

While Chinese may have far more speakers than English, its users are primarily geographically confined, unlike those speaking English, a truly international tongue based on geography alone--UK, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Guiana, former African colonies, and much of the West Indies. We tend to forget that more than 300 million Indians use English daily.

In all of this, that so many opt for English as their second language doesn't mean they like us anglophones, but that they find it the most useful for world communication.

What principally inhibits Chinese is its notorious difficulty as a tonal medium, despite a relatively simple grammar, and the virtual impossibility of mastering its written language. The Chinese, along with the Japanese, would do themselves a huge favor by transitioning to the Latin alphabet, as did Turkey in the last century, but they aren't going to do that.

English musters a terrific advantage in its being largely inflection free, unlike German or Russian with their formidable declensions. While English features some irregular verbs, a vestige of its Germanic origin, it doesn't exhibit the complexity of verb conjugations found in the Romance languages. Nonetheless, I've always maintained that while English is easy to learn, it's hard to speak well. Only a relative few native speakers know how to distinguish lie and lay, farther and further, amount and number, etc. Then there is the challenge of its non-phonetic spelling. Imagine the challenge this poses for non-native speakers. Still more, there are all those nasty homonyms: horse vs hoarse, and the infamous to, too, two, etc.

Nevertheless, English remains relatively easy to speak, with only the Scandinavian languages approaching it in leveled or near absent inflection. Their speakers, however, are too few for it to matter. In fact, English has become so dominant in Sweden that a new language law was recently enacted (2009) to protect Swedish. In Sweden, virtually everyone speaks English well and you'll find it abundantly in public ads and English language television and movies, which are seldom dubbed. Many young Swedes prefer English as more expressive and practical. If this is Sweden, can you just imagine the consternation of the French?

So despite what you may be hearing, English is still number one and likely to remain so for a long time to come. But do the language a favor by learning it well. After all, it's the language of Shakespeare.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Promises to keep

In 2008, an intelligent, compassionate, and eloquent Barack Obama was swept into the Presidency, becoming the nation's first Black president, auguring a new day and "promises to keep" (Frost) for a better America.

Unfortunately, our president made some 500 promises he hasn't kept . Here's a composite of the better known ones:

Create a tax credit of $500 for workers

Repeal the Bush tax cuts for higher incomes

Train and equip the Afghan armed forces

End the use of torture

Close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center

Restrict warrantless wiretaps

Seek verifiable reductions in nuclear stockpiles

Centralize ethics and lobbying information for voters

Require more disclosure and a waiting period for earmarks

Tougher rules against revolving door for lobbyists and former officials

Secure the borders

Provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants

Reform mandatory minimum sentences

Secure nuclear weapons materials in four years

Strengthen antitrust enforcement

Create new financial regulations

Sign a "universal" health care bill

Create 5 million "green" jobs

Reduce oil consumption by 35 percent by 2030

Create cap and trade system with interim goals to reduce global warming

Cut the cost of a typical family's health insurance premium by up to $2,500 a year

Now our President wants a second term. He'll probably get it, considering the power of incumbency, with more broken promises to follow.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

When Elephants Weep

I have always had this love affair with elephants, these gray, wrinkled, lumbering mastodons, survivors of a primordial past, trunks swaying, gentle creatures, yet fearsome when provoked.

Among animals, they're probably the most attached to one another. What surprises many is the social sophistication of their matriarchal society characterized by close relationships with all herd members, many of them related. Herds, sometimes numbering up to a hundred, are headed by the oldest female and calves are raised and protected by the entire matriarchal herd. (Males generally leave the herd at about 15 years and live apart.)

Elephants are found in Africa and Asia and it's easy to tell them apart, as the Asian species is smaller. When I see the large ears, I know at once it's an African elephant.

Both male and female African elephants have tusks, to their own undoing. In contrast, only the Asian male has them.

Highly intelligent, elephants can communicate messages over long distances with their feet.

They are also endowed with prodigious memory, as I think most of us know.

Elephants have the longest noses of any animal, for that's what their trunks really are. Some sport trunks up to seven feet in length, yet they never get in the way, as they're used to grasp as well as feed. With this tool, they've been known to assist calves to stand or pull them up over an embankment.

Their ivory tusks are actually teeth that never stop growing.

Lesser known is the elephant's capacity to mourn their dead.

Population growth has reduced its habitat inexorably, resulting in elephants invading villages in search for food, in turn, leading to hunting parties. Immense poverty has triggered poachers to seek quick Asian money for ivory. Even reserves, dedicated to wildlife safety, are violated and any elephant, mother or calf, is gunned down for its tusks. African governments lack the financial resources needed to upgrade security. Reserves themselves are a last ditch effort to provide sanctuary but, unfortunately, often conspire against elephant interests, blocking off migration routes when they need to mate or find new food resources.

Just over a century ago, several million elephants roamed Western and Central Africa's savannahs and dense jungles; today, about 300,000 remain. In Asia, their numbers have dwindled from 100,000 to 35,000, all of them domesticated.

Often weighing up to seven tons, their sole predator is Man. In Cameroon, 300 elephants were recently slaughtered, their bodies left to rot. Such slaughters are likely to define their future, given the nature of Man's capacity for ruthlessness for the sake of coin.

To fully appreciate elephants, I highly recommend Jeffrey Moussaleff Masson's moving book, When Elephants Weep, an exploration of their capacity, along with other animals, for emotion.

Conrad had it right about the ignominy of Man, his ruthless capacity, hidden behind his civilized veneer, for retrogression to a latent savagery taking many hues.

When elephants weep, I weep with them. I weep for a vanishing legacy that our grandchildren may never know: the cry of elephants, the thunder of their feet, the mystery of their dark eyes.

I weep most for a declining vestige of a once garden world distanced from Man's malevolence, a fall from grace into the heart of darkness.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

I find it horrendous....

I find it horrendous that we continue to rely upon coal as a primary energy resource. Here in Kentucky, a major coal producing state, those who protest dirty power plants and the state's reliance on coal are treated as alarmists, if not environmental extremists, who will take away jobs and inflate energy prices for consumers. As such, they constitute "an attack on Kentucky's way of life" (D-Keith Hall). Kentucky, by the way, subsidizes coal to the tune of $115 million annually.

In Kentucky, coal is king and a driving political force as shown in the $40,000 contribution the industry has made to Andy Barr's renewed efforts to unseat 6th District Congressman, Ben Chandler. Lexington, the heart of the district, just happens to be the home of the Kentucky Coal Association and several mining companies.

One of coal's biggest friends in the state is the University of Kentucky, which recently accepted $20 million from coal interests to build a lodge facility for its basketball players. Money, in short, has defined the issue for the University, not public health or global warming. The University even has a Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration. The University might learn a thing or two from many of its students who have called for transitioning its power plant to a more efficient energy source.

One Kentuckian, noted author Wendell Berry, stood tall in all of this, resigning his teaching position at the University and taking his papers with him, which he has donated this week to the Kentucky Historical Association. I wish there were more like him.

All of this reminds me of the days in Kentucky when tobacco was also a power broker, with government and higher education aligned with its interests. Despite evidence slapping one in the face, for years they denied tobacco's heavy toll on the public's health.

Coal won't be losing its clout anytime soon, at least in Kentucky, given the just announced $7 billion deal made with India for 9 million tons of Kentucky and West Virginia coal, a deal principally involving a Kentucky lawmaker from Pike County, D-Rep Keith Hall. Like many developers, coal advocates often seek elective office to further their business interests. Hall sits on the board of FJCS Energy, the New Jersey company that signed the agreement.

While the U. S. as a whole is making its slow transition to cleaner fuels, the coal company again resembles the tobacco industry in its emphasis on exports to shore up its sagging profits at home. The hell with what happens to the health of those in developing nations.

Worse, is the industry's blatant indifference to global warming and its consequences to all life. What matters is profit. How many more mountains will be leveled and how many streams contaminated? How many toxins belched into the atmosphere?

As they have it, coal is very much a part of our future. Land reclamation has brought benefits such as creation of new forests, recreational areas, housing development, and facilities such as hospitals, nursing homes, and even airports. It's cheaper to store coal than alternative fuels such as wind or solar, geothermal or nuclear. New technology has improved the efficiency of coal fired power plants in reducing carbon emissions. Alternative sources, moreover, can't keep pace with projections of a future doubling of worldwide energy needs. As is, coal is one of the most regulated industries, providing the public with ample protection.

The real story is that we've seen 300 mountaintops leveled, 600,000 acres of hardwood forests permanently decimated. As for reclamation, only 4% of any post-mining productivity has been confirmed (EcoWatch). Mining violations and watershed violations are in the thousands, with little state enforcement. Instead of the promise of diversification to remedy Appalachia's enmeshed poverty, the region faces a future of moving to the forefront in black lung disease and no appreciable amelioration in chronic unemployment, where 60% of mining jobs have been lost to mechanization, not EPA regulation.

Meanwhile, the National Resources Defense Council recently designated Kentucky as the most polluted state in the nation from coal field fuel plants, largely because of the state government's failure to clean-up the industry. As with Keith Hall, Kentucky government continues to be dominated by coal interests. Hall, by the way, is co- chair of the National Resources and Environment Committee. He has said, "I 'm not just a friend of coal, I'm coal's best friend."

As Hall puts it, "I believe in states' rights." Me thinks we've heard all this before and that the Confederacy is alive and well. As with slavery, tobacco, and now coal, Kentucky needs to disengage from an economy that exacts profits from human misery.

Instead of the ubiquitous Friends of Coal bumper stickers, Kentucky would do better with say, Friends of People replacements, and in green, not black, the color of death.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

i want to follow-up....

I want to follow-up on my last post dealing with our economic prospects in the coming year, exacerbated by Sequestration, or mandatory across-the-board budget cuts, beginning in January, 2013.

Things to ponder:

Whatever one's politics, the Obama administration, in its doubtless sincere efforts to stimulate the economy, may have actually done it harm by adding $4 trillion to our national debt, now over a staggering $15 trillion. Nearly a trillion was spent on bailing out the banks, largely responsible for our economic meltdown.

These increases average a trillion dollars per year since this administration has been in office, with little to show for it. In fact, our stagnant economy may well plunge again. Last month's economic figures, while showing a 180,000 job increase, did not alter the grim unemployment fallout, which remains at 8.2 percent. With more than 5 million unemployed, we have to do much better to make this sorry mess go away.

Certainly, this present recession, perhaps a euphemism, invites comparison with the Great Depression of the 1930s. While the latter was the mother of all depressions, with unemployment reaching a 26% level, making our present crisis seem puny, it does resemble our situation in its stubbornness, despite the Roosevelt's fervent efforts, to yield results. What most people don't know is that unemployment had actually increased under Roosevelt when he ran for reelection in 1936. It would take a world war to purge our economic woes.

I must confess I don't think anyone has a definitive solution to what ails us, despite the heated rhetoric in an election year. Simple answers won't do more than sugar coat a complex problem.

What's more, our fate in a global economy isn't entirely within our hands.

What if Israel attacks Iran?

Or if the economic malaise in Europe has no bottom and nations like Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal default? Like the tsunami debris from Japan now washing-up on our West coast shores, we can't escape the tidal impact of a European collapse resulting in reduced imports of American goods.

Back to our own shores again, if automatic cuts affecting defense go into effect next year it's estimated that a million jobs will be lost. That's more than all the projected jobs created in the American economy this year!

It seems a given that without confidence in the private sector, which is our primary catalyst for job creation, we're doomed to a tortoise pace in achieving remedy.

And there are yet other mitigating factors that may compromise economic recovery. Although the health care reform measure has several desirable features, it may be the wrong time for it in a down economy. A recent survey indicates many employers anticipate costs increases with its implementation, so add this to the mix. If I were an employer, I'd certainly opt for caution when it comes to hiring or expanding inventory.

To be sure, economics has rightly been called "the dismal science," except I'd underscore "dismal," and eliminate "science," since that implies probability corroborated by empirical data. Again, no one has the definitive answer, so be wary of snake oil formulas in this election year.

It's all like some devastating disease that, despite our best efforts, defies our remedies. Much as we'd like, there's no quick fix.


Sunday, August 5, 2012

A day of financial reckoning will soon come....

A day of financial reckoning will soon come to America, resulting in a substantial redistribution of income and entitlement payouts. It will see its genesis early in 2013, or shortly after this fall's election.

We've already witnessed the opening skirmish of this inevitable transition to a more restricted access to America's economic pie, beginning with the recommendations of the Congressional appointed Joint Selection Committee on Deficit Reduction, more commonly known as the "Super Committee". The Committee, however, failed in its mandate to reduce the federal deficit by 1.5 trillion over the next decade, triggering automatic cuts (sequestration) to the tune of 1.2 trillion to be divided between Defense and other programs. Partisan politics had intervened, denting courage, and the chasm between Democrats and Republicans couldn't be bridged.

The truth is that the economic meltdown we see in Europe is theater for what's coming here. Thus far we've been able to either borrow or print money to shore up our stagnant economy. We've even cut taxes.

We've become like irresponsible credit card users, postponing tomorrow's reckoning, to meet insatiable wants. Ultimately, we'll have to pay our bills or close up shop. Presently, our national deb stands at a staggering $15 trillion and we pay $200 billion interest on that debt annually.

In January, the cuts will go into effect. When you take defense and entitlement programs into consideration, you've only got $600 billion left in the kitty to spend elsewhere.

Do we really want to cut our defense budget in an unsafe world or Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid?

The social and political ramifications promise to be enormous and tax revenues will need to be raised. Ultimately, the poor and low wage earner will be sheltered, and while the rich will see higher taxes, the declining middle class will continue to bear the brunt.

Actually, things have been eroding for several decades. As a serviceman, I was once guaranteed health benefits. Today, a sliding wage scale applies, ruling out the middle class.

Each year, a retiree's costs for Medicare increases, ultimately compromising monthly Social Security checks.

As for Social Security, after payroll deductions for over forty years, I pay out several hundred dollars in taxes on the rather paltry sum I receive.

And more is coming. Social Security outlays will be reconfigured. Age eligibility for full benefits will advance to 67.

You will pay more for Medicare while getting less coverage.

Let's take some specific examples of the potential fallout for education, based upon current sequestration projections by the Congressional Budget Office (CPO):

ESEA Title I,Part A):: Funding cut: $17,958,000 affecting 27,660,000 students. Potential job losses: 280,000.

Special Education Grants to States (IDEA-B-611): $14,316,000 affecting 5,900,000 students. Potential layoffs: 230,000.

Head Start (HSA, section 639): $9,841,000 affecting 1,340,000 students. Potential job losses: 440,000.

Even for the financially marginalized, the slice of the pie is getting smaller, particularly at the state level, where budgets have imitated the faulty federal model, forcing cuts in Medicaid and welfare outlays.

At the state level, too, an ominous trend has begun of cities declaring bankruptcy, three in California this year alone. Much of this comes from budgets overburdened with generous retirement obligations to public workers.

The times are a-changing and we may find ourselves entering into an era of social rancor not seen since the Vietnam debacle. The battle will spill over into the streets,
and all, all will be utterly changed. It all comes down to who will pay and how much. (Most people think it's ok for the neighbor to pay more, but not themselves.)

The great challenge is mustering cuts without dampening the economy. That's been what's gone wrong in Europe: austerity without stimulus.

Yet like your credit card balance, the bills will have to be paid.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

I hadn't realized until recently....

I hadn't realized until recently just how much politics has intruded into medical  funding. And I'm not writing about the controversial "Obamacare," recently validated by the Supreme Court and set to go into full implementation in 2014.  This intrusion has its genesis through several administrations, going all the way back to the early 80s. Consider that current government bio-medical allocations by the National Institutes of Health include the following 2012 funding:
Heart disease: 2.2 billion (Deaths annually: 771,100; expenditure per patient: $27).
Diabetes: 1 billion (Deaths annually: 70,611; expenditure per person: $42).
Breast cancer: 778 million (Deaths annually: 41,049; expenditure per patient: $3,721).
Prostate cancer:  337 million  (Deaths annually: 28,517;  expenditure per patient: $177).
Obviously, men are being short-changed. But that's not the worst of it. Both sexes suffer dismal funding when you take HIV/AIDS funding into account:
HIV/AIDS: 3.2 billion (Deaths annually: 10,295; expenditure per patient: $3,047).
I find this shocking. But there is more to this egregious funding for a disease that pales when it comes to the mortality rates for our primary illnesses.
In addition to research allocations for HIV/AIDS, 15.6 billion has been designated for housing and cash assistance to HIV/AIDS patients. All of this pales when you consider our government, beginning with the recent Bush administration, has pledged itself to spending 50 billion on global AIDS.
Since1981, we've spent 170 billion on AIDS and continue to spend 20 billion annually on it, not including 24 billion in last year's budget.
Currently, there are about 81 million Americans with heart disease, according to the AHA.
The CDC's National Vital Statistics Report says that there are 24 million of us with diabetes, not including a larger number who are pre-diabetic.
Presently, some 1,200,000 of us have cancer.
It should be obvious that our health budget is out-of-wack when it comes to AIDs and blatantly unfair to the vast majority of us threatened with diseases vastly more dangerous.  
How did it get this way? When AIDS first became prominent in the early 80s it was, indeed, a hideous disease growing exponentially. Since then, mortality rates have declined nearly 18% and new medications have made HIV manageable.

At present, government health allocations are skewered and blatantly unfair, as well as injurious to the vast majority of us.  
Can anything be done? Unlikely, for it would be deemed PC, or anti-gay.  
One way out might be doubling the allocations for the 16 diseases with higher incident rates of occurrence and mortality than AIDS such as hepatitis and Alzheimer's. Not likely in a nation still reeling from a stagnant economy and its future enormously compromised with an ever increasing national debt.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Lately, I've taken a strong interest in....

Lately I've taken a strong interest in meditation to escape stress and feel more relaxed.  From the medical sources I've read, I'm convinced it has a lot going for it. If you're depressed or anxiety prone, meditation may be more helpful than Zoloft or Valium and the like. In his book, When Panic Strikes, noted psychiatrist David Burns, argues that the new research isn't gung-ho anymore on the assumption of chemical imbalance in the brain, resulting in serotonin deficiency.  What success SSRI's seem to have may really be the placebo effect in action.  Control groups in which placebos have been given have shown virtually the same results. Of course, this is bad news for the pharmaceuticals, who keep pumping out their propaganda across the media and offering perks to physicians.  Alas, there are even those in the FDA who have had strong links with the drug companies. One thing we do know:  while meds can be necessary for many, they all have potential side-effects that can do great harm.
Burns eschews the psych meds, favoring the cognitive approach with its advocacy of getting rid of emotional distress by adopting alternative, more positive thoughts in handling stress. It takes work to reprogram your responses, but it can be done. Cognitive therapy now dominates counseling, replacing traditional talk therapy. I agree that it can be helpful.
In the hard scenarios, something more is needed.  (Here I'm writing about anxiety, not depression.)  That something may well be meditation. In the last several months I've been trying out what's called restorative yoga, which consists of simple breathing, visualization, and meditation exercises. I'm not a champ at this kind of endeavor. I can't even say I've got the breath thing down right. Books and videos can help, but ultimately, at least initially, you need a good teacher.
Clumsy as I may be, I know that when I retreat to my sunroom hideaway, unroll my mat, and lie down, beginning with breathing from the stomach up through the nose, four seconds in, six seconds out, I sense my body unwinding from its tightness. I follow with body visualization, letting each limb "fall through" into the mat. Then I transport myself mentally into bliss, a scene that brings pleasure. For me, it's usually my wife and I walking up the steep, narrow pathway of rugged Ben Nevis, the valley below a dense green, splattered by the white wooly sheep grazing contentedly in a rolling landscape fenced by stone walls. I am there again in Scotland, that dear country of green mountains, twisting by-ways, lakes and bubbling brooks, and friendly people. I am at peace.
I follow with actual meditation, or at least the attempt, with the aid of my mantra, the psalmist's "lead me by the still waters," emptying the mind, though it keeps insisting it's the boss.  Whatever my failed attempts, I feel relaxed.
Recently I was virtually mesmerized in reading Tim Park's Teach Us to Sit Still: A Skeptic's Search for Health and Healing.  He could have been writing about me. Both of us have been profs, working with language and literature. Both of us are into the mind thing, analytical and suspicious, reserved in our allegiances.  Both of us were raised in a religious context, which we've now abandoned. Both of us have suffered the same physical ailment with its ubiquitous fall out, always there, seemingly beyond remedy.
 Parks, in his desperation, suspends his cerebral dissonance, to try meditation.  It comes hard.  It's all about breathing.  Though the mind resists emptying, Parks knows there's something to it. He attends a five day retreat.  On the fourth day, it happens. He feels the breath flow across his upper lip.  Heat radiates through his body. And the pain? There is no pain.
Of course the conscious world will bring back the pain with its culminating anxiety. You're not there in a day. But Parks knows now, though he may not understand it fully, that mind isn't separate from the body. The mind and body are one.
The seed has been sown and Parks persists, each attempt in overcoming the chattering mind becoming easier.  
Parks finds his way ultimately to permanent relief from his physical pain.
Nonetheless, as a rationalist, he still finds it paradoxical,  He's a writer with twenty books published, and on one occasion, short-listed for the Booker Award, Britain's highest award for literary achievement.  Words, after all, not only give him employ, they are the essence of what make us human.
And yet there is that world beyond words, vast and ineffable, removed from the mind's ceaseless chatter, bringing us in to touch with our full selves.  Integrated, mind and body become amalgam, and reconciliation grants equanimity.  No longer two selves, in our found wholeness comes peace transcending time and space, circumstance and pain.
Teach us to be still.