Archive for January, 2010

OK.  I admit it.  I was wrong.  In my defense, all I can say is that it made so much sense to me at the time.  I suppose I shouldn’t have spoken so rashly – I should have carefully considered my words and considered all sides of the argument.  I have done so now.  Indeed, not only have I given much more careful consideration to the issue; I have had an epiphany.  Not an epiphany of the type for sale on this page in the right margin. (This book is on sale at Amazon.com for a mere pittance and might provide many hours of enjoyable reading – if you have a Kindle. It is also soon to be available on Amazon as a paperback.) But an epiphany nonetheless.

My realization is this: CORPORATIONS ARE MADE OF PEOPLE!  Don’t you see?  They have inalienable rights too! Yes, yes.  I know. You might think that these people, who own the corporation, have all been granted their own right of free speech individually already, as guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.  And they have, but the insight that the supreme pontificus maximus of the U.S. Supreme Court shows us is that corporations are like super-people.  They also get to have super-rights.  They get to speak twice.  I didn’t realize that at first, but then I saw the movie Avatar, and it was then that I realized that corporations are in fact avatars themselves. They are full of little people!  That is the deep insight of our pontificus maximus of our Supreme Court and of my own individual epiphany.  All I can say is mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Let me try to make amends by perhaps pointing out a couple of things that their supreme highnesses of the Court might not have considered.  Given that the super-people we call corporations are in fact avatars and given that these avatars now have the right of freedom of speech, shouldn’t we further extend to these super-people some of the other rights that we mere, and mostly worthless, little people also enjoy?  For example, why not give corporations the right to bear arms too? Doesn’t this make sense? After all if Northrop Grumman can build nuclear powered aircraft carriers for the government, shouldn’t they be allowed to have their own nuclear-powered aircraft carriers too? And what about Boeing and Lockheed Martin, those builders of our magnificent war machines of the air? Shouldn’t they also be allowed to have their own private fleets of fighter planes, bombers, drones, and Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, just in case?

Then, of course, there is the right to assemble peacefully. Why can’t they do that? Shouldn’t we allow these corporate avatars to come together at times? Maybe in a really big field? I know it might be hard to move all the buildings for a meeting like this, but surely with the know-how of American corporations it could be done, couldn’t it? It would be like Tolkien’s ents coming from all corners of Middle Earth in times of great danger to have a meeting about what to do about the Dark Lord.  When you start to think about it, you begin to feel sorry for the long-suffering corporations (the very word corporation coming from the Latin word corpus, meaning “body”.) How long have we allowed them to suffer, devoid of their long unrecognized avatarial rights?

Then, of course, there are the issues that the Constitution does not address, but which are burning issues all the same. Take, for example, the marriage rights of corporations. We all know that they have been practicing some sort of “merging” for some time – but are these “mergers” really true and blessed marriages? And, I don’t want to go here, but I feel I must, what about the appropriateness of the partners? I mean, look.  Don’t we often see “mergers” of like or of very similar corporations? Here we must look at a long neglected issue: the sexuality of corporations. First, how do we determine whether a corporation is male or female? Or to put it a little more exactly, but crassly, what do we look under?

Clearly, there is a host of issues concerning the human rights of corporations that has been long neglected. I can only admire the deep insight of the pontificus maximus of the Supreme Court and his minions. They clearly have courage, foresight, and true patriotism.  My guess is that they probably watched Avatar as I did, and received the same glorious epiphany that I have, only recently but thankfully, received.

I am, indeed, enlightened at last. Gaudeamus igitur.

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I’m glad that the U.S. Supreme Court has come out so strongly in favor of the freedom of speech, because it is through this freedom of speech that I am able to question the motives and the integrity of the justices who recently ruled that Corporations are allowed to freely express their views in political contests. It is already well known that our Congress sold its soul long ago to these corporations, and that money, offered via lobbyists, fills the pockets of out elected representatives and senators. This money is used to buy laws that favor certain corporations. It’s the way our capitalist system works. One can only wonder whether corporate money is now finding its way to the Supreme Court.  Perhaps it is time for an investigation – but not a Congressional investigation, of course.  That would be like asking thieves to judge whether other people who were accused of thievery were guilty or not. You could never trust the result.

So what’s wrong with corporations expressing their views?  Well, for one thing, they don’t have a brain or a mouth. Corporations are business entities. They have no physical existence.  They are a business concept, an artifact of language that is used inexactly.  Now, there are people who are involved with corporations, people who own corporations, people who invest in corporations, people who make profit from corporations.  OK.  So maybe the Supreme Court is saying that these people have freedom of speech – but we already know that. They do have freedom of speech and they are welcome to use it. So what is wrong with giving freedom of speech to corporations?  It’s because of the money.

A lot of these rich capitalists who own or direct corporations are also very stingy people. They are not about to use millions of dollars of their own money to make a commercial or a film about some politician they don’t like or about some issue they favor.  However, if they can use the corporation’s money, i.e. the money that has been invested by the stockholders – well, that’s a different story.  This money, which does not come out of the pockets of the individual directors of the corporation, can be used to magnify the voice and opinions of these rich captains of capitalism while they don’t spend a cent of their own cash. And of course the message they promulgate will be intended to help, in some way or another, to maximize the profits of the corporation – which, of course, goes into their pockets.

So, why isn’t this fair? It’s because it’s like you went to a baseball game and you are cheering for your team and this guy next to you brings in a five megawatt amplifier and starts cheering for the other team. Who is going to hear your voice? Now suppose the guy with the big amp decides to drown you out for the entire game so no one ever hears your voice.  Is that fair?  Wouldn’t it be fairer if the other guy just had to yell out at the top of his lungs like you? Sure. That’s why I think the Supreme Court can’t be trusted any more.  They are deliberately creating a system that, instead of facilitating free speech for individuals, will destroy the free speech of individuals. The single voice of the American citizen will be drowned out by the voice of the rich capitalists who own the corporations.

We might be tempted to say that Congress should look into impeaching the Supreme Court justices who have violated the letter and spirit of the Constitution, but since most of these people are also in thrall to the corporations that is not likely to happen.  We are only left with a President who is not beholden to the corporations, and by himself he has little power.

It’s up to the American citizens now. All we can do is refuse to listen to the guys with the megaphones.  All we can do is fight back and boycott the products of corporations that seek to drown out true American individual freedom of speech.  The simple truth is that our Congress and now our Supreme Court no longer represent the best interests of the people of America, they represent the best interests of the corporations and the rich capitalists who own them.

It is a very sad day for the American people.

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Spin it as you will, there is no denying the facts.  Massachusetts, formerly the bluest of the blue states, the champion of universal health care and mandatory health insurance for all has had a change of heart.  Scott Brown a Republican state senator has won. He has done more than just win, he won on a promise that he would vote against health care if elected to the U.S. Senate.  Who knew that the people of Massachusetts were so unhappy with their own universal health care that they would repudiate the legacy of Ted Kennedy, a man they elected to the U.S. Senate for more than 40 years? Who would have expected that Massachusetts, that most Puritanical and prudish of all the states would give a rousing affirmation for a man who posed for a nude centerfold? The home of the bean and the cod has certainly come a long way, baby.

So, one must ask, what does this portend for the fortunes of the Democrats and President Obama in particular?  Will the Dems be swept from office in November? Is Obama already a lame duck? Can Obama possibly govern when his staunchest ally in the entire country has deserted him? Et tu, Massachusetts?  It is a sad and shocking day for the Democratic Party and it must be even more so for the President.  What went wrong? Should he have listened to the Tea Party wackos?  Was Sarah Palin right?  Do the American people just want to be left alone?  What is the message of Massachusetts anyway?

OK, I suppose part of it was that Coakley screwed up when she said that Curt Shilling was a Yankee fan.  That must have lost the entire Red Sox Nation for her right there.  Could that be the explanation? This was the revenge of Red Sox fans? No…. No, it had to be something else more substantive.  Mustn’t it?  Let’s remember that Brown only had one issue he was running on, he wanted to kill health care.  In the end that has to be it.  The people of Massachusetts don’t want the Obama health care bill. Hmmm…I wonder…could it be that maybe they figure they already have their own mandatory health care, thank you very much, and they don’t want to pay for health care in the other 49 states too?  Well, that sure sounds like those flinty old Yankees of Massachusetts.  Maybe that’s it. Maybe the message of Massachusetts is this: You other 49 states are on your own down there, we’re already taking care of ourselves up here with our own mandatory health insurance program. Now that sounds like a Republican message if I ever heard one.

They say that all politics is local and it looks like Massachusetts has proven the truth of this axiom.  The question we now must ask is this: what next? Can the other 49 states go it alone on health care and write off Massachusetts?  Will President Obama decide to actually lead this country, or will he remain content to let Congress try to figure out how to proceed?  Will this Congress ever be able to get anything done at all and why is it that George Bush had no problem passing the legislation he wanted with far fewer Republican seats in the Congress than the Democrats have now?  Is this Massachusetts election result, at least in part, due to a failure of President Obama?

It sure is. It is due to a failure to lead.  The President seems to strongly favor ruling by consensus, by a majority vote. This was never one of George Bush’s failings. He just did what he wanted to do.  Illegal wiretaps? No problem. Torture prisoners? Sure. Stonewall the Congress? Why not? Lie to the U.N. about Iraq? Certainly.  Ignore the people of New Orleans while they drowned? Naturally. Turn his back on the people who were inundated by the Southeast Asain Tsunami? Absolutely. George Bush was a leader and he done got done what he wanted to git done.

So what should President Obama do about health care now? He should study George Bush. He should decide what he wants to do and then lead the fight to get it – just like George Bush. Remember George Bush was elected  (sort of ) twice. The time has come for this President to lead as a President must.  That is what the country elected him to do.  That is the real message of Massachusetts.

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A week ago the island nation of Haiti was subjected to a very strong earthquake.  We have all seen the devastation that has resulted. Thousands of buildings collapsed, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people have died.  President Obama immediately pledged a massive assistance effort. Many other countries have also responded to the catastrophe. The U.S. has pledged nearly $155 billion in aid – more than any other country in the world.  Other major contributors (more than $10 billion) are the UK, Sweden, Brazil, France, Germany and China. The U.S. has responded with elements of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and the Coast Guard, yet it is all too obvious that the assistance is not enough and it has not been fast enough.

People are still being pulled out from under the rubble of collapsed buildings, but who knows how many people are still trapped and how many will die without being rescued? Now we see that people who have been rescued are dying from infected wounds because there is insufficient capability in the medical aid units. There are not enough doctors, medicine, or equipment.  There is a shortage of food. There is a shortage of water. There is a lack of organization. Haiti is not only the scene of a disaster that occurred a week ago; it is the scene of a continuing human disaster.

One would have thought that we might have learned our lesson from Katrina, or maybe from the Southeast Asian tsunami. But we didn’t. We continue to go on believing that in the event of a major catastrophe our military will save us. After all, aren’t they capable of anything? The sad answer is “no”.  The U.S. military is not the fire department. They are not the ambulance service.  They are not a rescue organization.  While well-intentioned, the U.S. military does not have the right tools, training, or organization to be an effective first responder to disasters.  For one thing, they just take too long to respond.  How many days did it take before the Hospital ship Comfort to arrive?  How many days before the Marines arrived? How many MASH-type of Army field hospitals have been deployed?

Despite the massive movement of military people and equipment, the U.S. aid arrived too late and with the wrong capabilities. Was it better than nothing? Of course it was.  However, the lesson from all of this is obvious: we need an organized Emergency Response Organization – an organization than can provide the right kind of help immediately when natural or man-made disasters strike.  The simple fact is that the surface of our planet is a dangerous place to live.  We are always under the threat of earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, volcanoes, meteors, and man-made explosions.  Why is it that we have the foresight to realize that we need a vast military capability to protect us in the event we are attacked but we don’t seem to realize that we are always in danger from all sorts of other disasters, and we have no effective rapid response capability? One might say that we have fire departments and police departments for that. And it is true, we do.  But these agencies would be overwhelmed by an event like the earthquake in Haiti. We need a national capability that can respond rapidly to truly major emergencies.

The remarkable thing is that no one in our government seems to understand this. There are no calls to establish such a capability, even though the evidence is right before us. It could have just as easily been us, “but for the grace of God”.  Haiti is a disaster of immense proportions, but it is also a message to anyone who cares to listen.  We are not prepared, and while we may never be attacked by another of the world’s nuclear powers, one thing is certain – it is only a matter of time before a catastrophic event like the one that destroyed Haiti’s capital strikes the U.S. too.  That is the message and lesson of Haiti that we need to think about.

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There’s a word for this: bureaucracy.  The U.S. narrowly escaped a devastating airborne disaster on Christmas Day and today President Obama unveiled his plan to assure us that such things won’t happen again. Unfortunately, his plan is a plan “of bureaucrats for bureaucrats”.  It preserves the holy pecking order of the government civil service.  Information gleaned by operatives in the field is passed up the chain to be reviewed and analyzed by experts.  Judgments are made or not made.  Alerts are issued or not issued. Nothing has fundamentally changed.  The bureaucrats are happy. Order in the office has been preserved.

Consider a hypothetical case: you are in a public building and you see a fire in a corridor.  You look around for a fire alarm, but there are none.  You look for a fire extinguisher, but there are none. You run to a nearby office to tell someone about the fire, but you are told you have to stand in line if you want to make a report.  Fortunately, our real world isn’t like that.  Buildings have fire alarms and anyone can pull a fire alarm.  The first person who sees a fire can warn everyone and call the fire department at the same time. In the world of the CIA, DIA, DHS, and the unending list of government acronyms and abbreviations, there are no fire alarms. A CIA agent can’t pull one and warn the world about anything. It has to go through the system – a system that demonstrably does not work.

President Obama has issued a stern order: make the bureaucracy work better.  Right.  This isn’t going to work.

The President said the buck stops with him. That does not help.  It might sound good, like in the old Hollywood movies. But it doesn’t help.  No organization can be victorious with incompetent people manning critical positions.  Imagine that the New York Yankees lost the World Series last year and their manager said, “The buck stops with me. We are not planning to trade anyone. We’ll keep the same team, same positions for next year. I take full responsibility.” Right.  That’ll work.

Here is one simple piece of evidence: the father of the man who tried to blow up the plane told the CIA that his son had become radicalized and that he was a threat to the U.S. The CIA person who received this information should have been able to pull the fire alarm.  He should have been able to put this man on the Do Not Fly list in a heartbeat – maybe two heartbeats.  He should have been able to put this man on a bunch of other lists too, but he couldn’t.  That’s because our anti-terrorism system is a gigantic bureaucracy.  It can never be successful fighting an agile enemy like Al Qaeda. President Obama does not understand that. Neither does anyone else in the self-sustaining bureaucracy of the bloated U.S. government.

Meanwhile, it seems that the facts surrounding the whole underpants bomber incident are morphing as the government bureaucracy passes the papers back and forth from desk to desk.  Take a look at the official accounting of what happened on the plane. This was published today, just a few hours ago. It says that after the terrorist failed to set off the bomb that he was restrained by the flight crew until the plane landed.  Gee, that’s odd.  I thought I had heard that this Dutch guy had leaped over four seats and tackled the terrorist and put out the fire with his bare hands  and that everyone on the plane was cheering for him and calling him a hero. At least that’s what it said in the Washington Post a couple of days after the incident. So what ever happened to good old Jasper Schuringa, the guy who saved everyone? Why has President Obama studiously ignored him? No medals for heroism? No key to the city of Detroit from the Mayor? Nothing?  Not even a thank you?  Are we too embarrassed to admit that the plane was saved by a Dutch passenger and that if it wasn’t for him almost 300 people would have died?  So, officially, Jasper doesn’t exist anymore and it was the flight crew (the stewardesses?) who saved everyone?

The problem with the President’s approach is that it is the approach of a politician and a bureaucrat to a practical issue.  The bigger problem is that the President doesn’t realize that that is a problem.  The thing is this: the system in place is horribly flawed. It didn’t work. The system did not work and the people in the system who might have tried to override the system did not do so. These people are at fault. These people are the only ones who could have saved the day because the system, demonstrably, does not work. They failed. They should be replaced with people who are not afraid of taking decisive action. Instead the President has chosen to protect these failures in our system. He says the buck stops with him.  He doesn’t want to blame anyone.  Fair enough, President Obama, if that is the best you can do then maybe it is time for you to step down.  We don’t need a manager who can’t make the tough decisions, we don’t need Generals who deal in warmth and platitudes.  We need a hero who can cut the Gordian knot of our vast, and hamstrung, homeland security system and get the job done.  Many of us thought that you were that hero.  Now, I’m not so sure. My sword-wielding hero is looking more and more like an average politician. (Let’s not even get into the health thing.)

The answer to the murderous terrorism of Al Qaeda will never, ever be found in protecting incompetent civil servants or in papering over the byzantine workings of Washington bureaucrats. Don’t we all know that?  Mr. President, don’t you know that?

I know, Mr. President, that you are fond of quoting President Truman when you say: “The buck stops here”, but Mr. President, you need to make major structural changes in our homeland security system.   The system does not work well enough.  Surely, you can see that.  If you would just rather not get entangled in such a messy affair, perhaps you might also ponder another one of President Truman’s quotes: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”.

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Suppose you were going out to dinner and you called a babysitter to take care of your children. Then, after you made the arrangements for the sitter, a friend tells you that your babysitter has been exposed to bubonic plague.  Would you still let this person babysit your children? But wait – what if they didn’t show any symptoms of bubonic plague; wouldn’t it be alright then?

Today, the U.S. Terrorist Screening Center (administered by the FBI) has over 1,300,000 names on its Terror Watch List. Two sets of names are extracted from this ever-growing list. One set of names is the No Fly list.  The other set of names is the Selectee list.  The Selectee List is the list of names of people who must receive extra screening of some sort.  The No Fly (the name is self-explanatory) list is much, much shorter than the Terror Watch List.  Since the underwear bomber incident, the No Fly list has been growing longer. Even so, the are still a lot more names on the watch list than on the no fly list.

Here are a couple of things to think about:

1. We have pretty much proven that a terrorist can sneak through our security screeners with either box cutters or underwear bombs.  There are probably lots of other ways to sneak through security too.  The simple fact is that a really clever person can probably outsmart the system.

2 The 1.3 million people on the Terror Watch list make up about 0.014% of the world’s population. (The current world population is about 6.7 billion people.)

So, taking item # 2 first, we need to ask ourselves this question: in the larger scheme of things, how important are these 1.3 million people to our nation’s economy?  How important are these people to us, as a nation, in any way at all? All we really know is that we think they might want to kill us – but we aren’t sure. It’s sort of like the babysitter we hired. There are, of course, plenty of other babysitters we could hire. There are also plenty of other people who we might like to visit our country, besides these 1.3 million people we’re not too sure of.

Secondly, let’s remember the guy with the bomb in his underpants.  There must be a lot of other creative ways to disguise a bomb – after all drug smugglers even carry little amulets of their product in their intestines sometimes.  My point is that you really can’t be sure you are going to detect the guy’s bomb, or maybe some other dastardly weapon, he might be carrying.  Who knows, maybe he’s some sort of Al Qaeda Ninja and he can fabricate a deadly weapon out of his paperback book or something.

The sensible thing to do is to simply ban everyone whose name is on the FBI Watch List from entering the U.S., and if they are already in the U.S. (because they are U.S. citizens) they should be banned completely from flying.  That, of course, doesn’t make us 100% safe – you can never be that, but it makes us a lot safer than we are now. As for the 1.3 million people on the Watch List who can’t come here because we don’t trust them – well, it’s just too bad. They can either clear their name by presenting evidence to the FBI demonstrating that the FBI is all wrong about them, or they can just stay where they are and we’ll work with the other 6,698,000,000 people in the world.

Oh. And one other thing. Janet Napolitano has to go. She was one of President Obama’s political appointees, but as the head of Homeland Security she is clearly in way over her head.  When she said that the “system worked” that was a clue.  Unless, of course, airline passengers are now a key part of the Homeland Security System – could that be what she meant?  Homeland Security has been plagued with political hacks since its inception.  That needs to change.  The President needs to appoint a brilliant non-politician to this job.  It is one of the most important jobs in America and it cannot be entrusted to politicians or to people who are simply being repaid for some political favor.

If there is one message we should take from the underwear bomber it is this: it is time for this country to finally – finally – take homeland security seriously.  We were lucky this time.  The next time a terrorist sneaks through our “system” the results could be far, far worse.

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