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Archive for February, 2009

The Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp stands as a monument to the hypocrisy of the George Bush/Dick Cheney administration. So-called “captured enemy combatants” have been secretly transported to Guantanamo from various locations around the world, while the Bush administration denied that these people were entitled to any rights under the Geneva conventions, which governs the treatment of prisoners of war.  Only the convoluted minds of Bush, Cheney, and their gang could say with a straight face that people who were captured during the “War on Terror” are not prisoners of war.  It is the twisted minds of this gang of “patriots” who chose to deny these prisoners the basic human rights that the U.S. has sworn to uphold under the Geneva accords.  It is these people who even sanctioned the use of torture on these prisoners in order to try to gain information.  Far from being inspired by Thomas Jefferson, this President and Vice-President more legitimately owe their vision of the appropriate treatment of war prisoners to Edgar Allen Poe’s story, The Pit and the Pendulum.

Now, President Obama seems to be wrestling with George Bush’s dilemma: should we close Guantanamo and bring the prisoners to the U.S. for trial? For Bush the answer was a firm “NO”. This is because he felt that if the prisoners were brought to U.S. soil then they would be entitled to the rights of a U.S. citizen – like the right to a fair trial.  A fair trial? Yes, something that George Bush was determined that they would not have.  Wait a minute.  Just wait a minute. A fair trial is not some sort of lofty “Americans only” right. It is a human right – it is a right that every person on earth has.  It is one of those self-evident rights that everyone is born with –  it is one of those rights that Jefferson spoke so eloquently about.  The Bush/Cheney denial of a fair trial to these prisoners was not a denial of American rights; it is a denial of human rights.

None of us should be afraid of giving any captive a fair trial.  Why should we be afraid?  They are either guilty or they are not. We either have evidence of their guilt or we don’t.  And if we don’t have any evidence of their guilt then why in the world are we holding them captive?  Keeping people prisoner when you have no valid reason to believe they are guilty of a crime is lunacy – which probably begins to explain why Bush/Cheney locked these people up and threw away the key.  Oh, I know the story about classified information – you know, the evidence that condemns these people is so secret we can’t tell anyone about it.  I don’t believe it.  There are plenty of people – thousands, I’m sure – who have all sorts of security clearances who could be on a jury for these cases.  That argument doesn’t make any sense – it’s just Bush/Cheney lunacy again.

So what can Obama do? First, get these people out of Cuba and bring them to the U.S. for trial.  Now, a lot of people say they are afraid of having these “terrorists” in their local prison, and I suppose they might have a point.  Just in case these people are as dangerous as Bush/Cheney have claimed, they need to be locked up in an ultra-secure facility that is in nobody’s backyard.  What could be better than Alcatraz?  I know it is no longer an active prison – but it could be reactivated for this particular task.  There is no record of anyone ever successfully escaping from Alcatraz. So, the first step is to do a quick rehab of a section of Alcatraz, in order to make it habitable again. With enough priority, I expect this could be done in six months.  The work could be even be paid for with the economic stimulus package.  Think how many construction jobs it would create!

Then the trials would begin in the Federal courts.  Let the government make its case against each prisoner and let the courts decide innocence or guilt.  Those who are convicted of serious acts of terrorism could be sent right back to Alcatraz for a life sentence.  Those who are found “not guilty” would be returned immediately to those countries of which they are citizens.  It seems pretty straightforward to me.  People are either guilty or they are not.  This Bush/Cheney imprisonment-and-torture-forever-on-suspicion-of-guilt is as unAmerican a process as anything ever dreamt up by the leaders of the Spanish Inquisition.  It is more than unAmerican, it is a disgrace to humanity, and it is a blot on each of us until we bring it to an end.

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Can a statement be true and untrue at the same time?  Yes, it can.  Take Thomas Jefferson’s famous “self-evident” statement that “all men are created equal”.  In the context that Jefferson was referring to when he was addressing the King of England, he meant that the colonists in America did not recognize that the King or any other members of the English royalty had any right by birth to rule over them.  In that sense everyone was equal.

However, in the literal sense, we are all born decidedly unequal. This is evident, more and more, as discoveries are made concerning genetic diseases.  Some of us are fortunate, and we are born, more or less healthy.  Others, less fortunate, suffer from inherited disease from the moment they are born.  Still others have inherited diseases that do not manifest themselves immediately but only appear later in life, such as certain forms of cancer.  All of these susceptibilities for particular diseases can be found in one place – our DNA.  Now, as more and more breakthroughs are made in biotech, companies like Myriad Genetics are able to create DNA tests to determine whether we are likely, or perhaps certain, to develop certain diseases as we get older.

The good thing about having the ability to analyze our DNA and see if we are likely to contract certain diseases is that some form of treatment can sometimes be started before the disease even appears.  We are about to enter a new age of medicine where newborn infants are routinely screened for a host of genetic diseases. Lifesaving steps can be taken while the disease still lies dormant in the baby’s DNA.  This, of course, is only the first step into a new realm of biology that will soon create a whole new set of questions that must be answered by those who would set our ethical bearings.

For example, it is well known that some people are born with bodies that produce mostly “fast twitch” muscle tissue in their legs, while others produce mostly “slow twitch” muscle tissue.  The fast twitch people are natural sprinters while the slow twitchers are more suited to running marathons.  Let’s suppose a child enters high school and decides to try out for the track team.  Let’s suppose the child wants to train for and run the 100 meters race; however, let’s also suppose that his DNA analysis shows that he will never be a competitive sprinter, no matter how hard he trains.  What should the track coach do?

Let’s suppose that, at some point in time, a structure in our DNA is discovered that promotes certain types of intellectual activity, such as music or art or mathematics.  It’s not impossible. There are well known cases of geniuses in the arts, like Mozart, who created magnificent music at a very early age.  Could this astonishing capability have all been taught by his father?  Maybe, but maybe not.  So, what do we do if more and more DNA research shows that we are all born with different gifts and capabilities, as well as different weaknesses.  Do we make use of such information starting from an early age or do we pretend that it isn’t real because we are all created equal?

We will soon have to contend with the fact that Jefferson’s statement was a statement of equality of rights and not literal physical or mental equality.  We have already entered the age when we can predict with high degrees of certainty which people will contract which diseases, just by examining their DNA.  The question we are about to face is this: do we hold on to “equality” with a religious fervor and refuse to go where no man has gone before, or do we boldly look at the facts encoded in our DNA, accept what is written there, and then decide to use that information for the benefit of all?

And the biggest question of all might be: Who will be the Decider?

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Is it me?  Has anyone else noticed a gradual degradation in U.S. television news over the years?  Maybe it’s my imagination, but I seem to recall that when CNN started out with their continuous news coverage channel they really had lots of news to report. Didn’t they used to have reporters all around the world, from Tokyo to Sydney to Rio de Janeiro, sending in reports of the latest news from even the remotest parts of the planet? Now, if you watch CNN, you seldom see a report from one of their reporters from some exotic locale.  When was the last time we had a CNN report from Mumbai or Shanghai?  How about Brussels or Manila?  What about Auckland or Toronto? Doesn’t news happen in those places anymore?

I suppose budgets being what they are, the news people have had to cut back on their major expenses – you know things like covering the news.  Today, if you turn on CNN you have a 50/50 chance at best of getting coverage of a news event. You are just as likely (if not more likely) of getting one of their staff “experts” commenting on the economy and what you should do with your money or another CNN “expert” commenting on politics and whether Barack Obama has a chance of being reelected in 2012. This is news?

Lest it appear that this is an anti-CNN rant only, let me assure you that I find Fox News equally, if not more so, vapid.  Besides Fax’s vapidity, I find I also have to contend with what seems to be a slight right-wing spin on their reporting. Has anyone else noticed that? I have to wonder if they are trying to influence my opinion rather than just reporting the news as it happens.  The result is that I seldom watch Fox. It’s just my opinion, but they seem to be just a little too, how shall I say it? Foxy. Yes, that’s it, a little too foxy.

It seems that the old, established networks like NBC, CBS, and ABC still put together a nightly version of the news that is fairly straightforward. However, I still feel they are provincial, if not myopic, in their coverage of important news in the today’s world.  There is still a great emphasis on happenings in the U.S.  Perhaps too much.  Remember the global economy?  Remember multinational corporations? Remember the United Nations? The world today is not the same world we had  twenty or thirty years ago.  Everything is interconnected and whenever we pull on a string here, or someone on the other side of the world pulls a string there, the effects are felt everywhere.  We are caught up in a giant web of interconnectedness. The world economic collapse is a very good, but not the only, example of this. So shouldn’t we have news reported to us that is much more global in scale? Don’t the U.S. news organizations realize that the world really is round and that as a result something very important is happening somewhere in the world 24 hours a day?  So why don’t they tell us about it instead of inundating us with hour upon hour of vapid opinions by their staff commentators? Could it be because they are running low budget operations and can’t actually afford to cover the world news as they should?  I don’t know.  Maybe.

But, just for the sake of comparison, take a look at how other countries cover the news on television. Check out how the news is covered in England on the BBC. This is their website, of course, but their televised news is similar.  You can even see it in many parts of the U.S. on your local PBS network.  Their coverage of the world is infinitely superior to the U.S. news media. Of course the BBC is well known for that, but they are not alone in this regard. Check out Radio Telefis Eireann in Ireland at this link. Once again, it’s a website, but their broadcast world news is very complete also.

But wait!  There’s more.  The Germans, perhaps not as famous for their world news coverage, also do a very good job of providing real information via their Deutche Welle broadcast.  This is also available in parts of the U.S. via the Public Broadcasting Network. The good thing is that the news is broadcast in English so that we monolingual Americans can actually understand what they are saying.  Check out Deutche Welle at this link and see what I mean.  Finally, one of my favorites for keeping up with events of the day throughout the world, is a French (yes, French – I know) network news program called France 24. Their website is worth looking at and so is their broadcast. Although I have yet to find it in the U.S., even on PBS, I am hopeful that someday it will show up here.  Maybe the answer is the internet.

Which means that I think it’s time our U.S. news media took a look around at the competition.  With the advances in broadband and the capability to view television programs on the internet, it may not be too long before we will be able to watch internet-based news broadcasts from around the world,  maybe even on our own television sets.  It seems clear to me that these two media are bound to merge in the not too distant future. When that happens CNN, FOX, NBC, ABC, CBS, and the other U.S. news media will find they are competing directly for audience share with the BBC, RTE, Deutche Welle, France 24, and many, many more.  I don’t think our news networks realize this, and because they don’t, they may find themselves in the not too distant future going the way of a few other U.S companies that ignored their foreign competition for far too long, companies like GM, Chrysler, and Ford.

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It’s not bad enough that the stock market is collapsing, the banks are going under, and unemployment is skyrocketing. Now we have this.  The print publishing industry is about to go belly up.  It seems that almost all the major newspapers have created online editions that are available free to anyone who wants to sign up.  Those newspapers that still publish hard copies are trying to figure out how to stay in business at a time when sales are down, and advertising revenues are down, while the internet versions of the papers are not only free to readers, but they are also undated hourly so they provide much more up to the minute coverage of the news than any print edition possibly could.

Now, the same sort of thing is happening to the book industry.  With the successful launch of Amazon’s Kindle people can download a bestseller for a fraction of the price of a hard copy.  Yet, at the same time, Amazon can make money on these low priced editions.  That is because the cost to publish is negligible compared to printing hard copies of books, distributing them, and so forth, only to find out that the publisher guessed wrong about the demand for the book and they printed way too many copies that will never be sold.  It is clear that online publishing and distribution is far more cost effective than hard copy book publishing. However, there are other advantages that will also ensure that the print media will soon disappear.

Take Amazon’s Kindle for example.  There are other electronic book readers, but this seems to be the most popular at the moment.  It can store over 200 books in a small handheld device that is as easy to read and as easy on the eyes as a paper book.  Imagine if students could have all their textbooks stored in their Kindle.  No more lugging around a backpack with 40 pounds of books. Also, if you haven’t bought a textbook recently, you might be startled to see how expensive they are, some cost well over $100 each. However, without the need to print copies and guess how many might be sold, it would be expected that electronic textbooks will provide a great cost savings to students (and their parents).

There  is also another characteristic of electronic books that will completely revolutionize the publishing industry.  Suppose you want to be a novelist.  OK, well you have to write your entire novel first.  Then you have to get a literary agent interested, based upon sending them a couple of sample chapters.  If they don’t resonate with your book, then their answer is “no”.  If you are one of the very, very few who actually gets an agent, then your agent has to find a publisher who also likes the book. This is not a sure thing.  Remember the book business is a business. They don’t publish good books, they publish books that they think will sell a lot of copies.  After all, that’s how they make money. So today, someone like Sarah Palin can get a $10 million book deal without having written a single page, because she is famous and the publishers figure a lot of people will buy her book regardless of what she says in it.  On the other hand an unknown scientist could solve Einstein’s perplexing problem of the Grand Unified Field Theory and not get published at all because the publishing industry didn’t understand what he was talking about and besides not more than ten people will buy it anyway.

The new electronic book industry will be, in some ways, like the new world of blogs and You Tube and Facebook. There will be opportunities for many people to publish their books and get discovered and maybe even make money. The land of the electronic publishing is a land of opportunity for publishers and readers alike. It will offer low cost books to everyone and a thousand (a million?) times more titles and topics that we ever could have with the print industry.  I suppose we will need something like Digg to help people decide which books to consider, but overall, it will be a much more democratic system that will enable people to write about and read about even the most arcane topics in an inexpensive way. It will lead to an explosion of knowledge and the potential of entirely new types of books, for example, books that have embedded video. It will also lead to interactive books, massively collaborative books, and who knows what else.

Get ready. Change is coming; no it’s already here and growing fast right now at Amazon.  This is just the beginning for a new generation of reading devices that will cause printed books to soon go the way of papyrus scrolls.  It is an exciting time for anyone who is an author or a reader of books.  It will revolutionize how we communicate and how we learn.  The ebook will soon be seen as the greatest thing since Gutenberg invented the printing press.

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The news for Bank of America and Citibank  today is grim. Their stock values are tanking, investors have lost confidence, and many fear nationalization.  I guess they think that nationalization would cause them to lose all of the value of their investments in these banks. Wait a minute. In the last five years Bank of America stock has dropped about 92% and Citi has dropped about 96%. How much more is there left to lose? These two banks, and others too, are on life support.  They are being fed on an I-V of our tax dollars, otherwise known as the Great Bank Bailout.  It’s time to take a step back and review the patients’ prognosis.

They are suffering from massive infections.  Their circulatory systems are infected with toxins for which we have no cure.  It’s like bank-eating bacteria.  These patients are going to die without more truly massive transfusions, but no one wants to donate any more blood. And why should they? What have the banks done for us lately? Aren’t they largely responsible for this massive infection that has crept around the world, destroying the economies of country after country?  Can massive blood infusions even save the patients? They not only need new blood, they also need some sort of antibiotic to kill the infection and to prevent future infections. But the banks say they’ll take the blood, but their religion prevents them from taking antibiotics.  No medicine for them; just blood please.

It’s time for the doctor to tell these poor infected banks the truth.  They’re going to die.

OK. So now what do we surviving relatives do? Should we immediately take over the banks, i.e. nationalize them, before they die? And if we do that, what to we do about the infected, toxic tissues in their vaults?  And what about hidden toxins we may not even know about yet? Does it make sense to pour new blood into these son-to-be dead banks and then get the infection ourselves? No, it doesn’t. It’s like there’s plague on Wall Street.  We can’t help them anymore.  Let them and their investors go and meet their maker.

Meanwhile, while the banks take their last, gasping breaths, we (meaning the government – remember government of the people, by the people, and for the people?  That’s us.) start our own National Banks. We start fresh with new blood, that is to say: money.  Sure, it’s our tax dollars, same as in the bailout thing.  But this time we are not buying toxic waste or flushing money down the toilet. We are creating our own banks with no toxic assets, nothing hiding in the closet, nothing lurking in the dark corners. Just a brand new, government-operated set of banks that will meet all of our banking requirements in a completely honest way while the sick banks dissolve into pools of coagulated ooze.  Thankfully, unless we are investors in those pathetic banks ourselves, its not our problem.

Now here’s the real beauty of my plan: the Republican Party has to wholeheartedly endorse it because it is founded on two of their fundamental guiding principles: 1) You Are On Your Own 2) We are not paying to get you out of a mess you got yourself into.

Imagine that. I kind of always thought of myself as a Democrat, but now that I look at it this way, maybe I have some Republican values too.  Maybe I’m actually more like President Obama: I think I have found a truly bipartisan solution to the banking crisis.  President Obama, are you listening? I think the Republicans will go along with us on this one. No, really. How could they say no?

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