Saturday, January 31, 2009

Will The Latest Iraqi Elections Be Legitimate?

This weekend there is voting in Iraq to choose local leadership in 14 of 18 of Iraq's provinces. So far there are some encouraging signs that this election may be viewed as somewhat more legitimate than the past elections in Iraq where Shiite and allied militia members once dominated the balloting and left many in the smaller Sunni community feeling disenfranchised.

Despite past U.S. concerns that Nouri al-Maliki was a largely ineffective leader, he did move ahead legislation through the Iraqi parliament that helps to remove political parties that are aligned with militia groups such as the Sadrists. Maliki viewed thia as an important step in keeping "criminal gangs" from dominating the political process. These armed militia groups even managed to once replace the elected mayor of Baghdad in armed coup and replace him with their own militia candidate at one time as a demonstration of their strength. But Maliki has managed to walk a tightrope and slowly weaken the grip of the militias and their political power in Iraq.

Iraq now has over 400 political parties, many of which were only recently formed meaning much more political diversity is now possible since the power of militia groups within both the Shiite and Sunni parties has now been diminished and the dominant Shiite majority bloc in Iraqi politics has suffered a number of recent political fractures. And with the angry departure of supporters of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr from the ruling Shiite bloc in 2007, this leaves the other two large remaining Shiite parties including the Dawa Islamic Party of Nouri al-Maliki and the Islamic Supreme Council Of Iraq running on separate ballot party lists.

Nouri al-Maliki has also managed to gain widespread support for his moderate approach to rule in Iraq, where even in the Sunni community he has gained some decent popularity. This also translates into a lower level of sectarian tensions.

Another encouraging sign is that the role of women in Iraq seems to be rapidly growing despite many who follow conservative Muslim religious practices. Of the 14,431 candidates running in Jan 31 elections, 3,912 of the candidates are women. This is an all time high for any Iraqi election.

Also somewhat encouraging is that this latest election is supposed to be more democratic in nature than the past Iraqi elections which were done with something called a "closed-list" system. Voters had to choose a party, and then the parties selected the representatives to the Iraqi parliament. This latest election allows Iraqi voters to choose individual candidates from the ballot who are then elected based on the largest number of votes. This latest ballot should be much more democratic in nature as long as fraud in the vote counting is limited.

However, there still remains serious concerns that minority groups such as the Christians will not receive much representation. There was an attempt to remove Article 50 of the draft elections law that promised some representation for the Christian community by the Iraqi parliament, which resulted in violent protests and finally the UN demanding that the government of Iraq give fair proportional representation to the Christians in the government. Iraqi Christians also received some support from a Sunni Sadrist leader who believed that they should be included in the government. However, Christians are now only guaranteed just one representative in six provinces when the UN actually demanded that 12 seats be given. And three other minority groups have one seat each in the parliament as well. All of this falls far short of UN demands for fairness. Yet it is probably better than nothing.

Regardless, any new political leadership for Iraq faces a daunting task. There is a real shortage of clean drinking water. The sewer system of Iraq is only made for a population about one fourth the size of the current usage. Electrical service is still intermittent, and many in cities like Baghdad still have only 3 to 8 hours a day of electrical power, while many villages have never had electrical service. Many store-owners use their own gas powered generators to provide their own electrical service. And Iraq may have an unemployment rate of nearly 30% with little outside investment due to the violence in the country. And educational institutions have faced huge losses of teachers and professors as violence claimed many of their lives or religious militia gangs harassed females for attending school.

Iraq is a real economic basket case, and certainly ranks as as one of the poorest of oil producing nations in the world. And the recent huge decline in world oil prices has left the country largely broken and unable to pay for many vital functions. Iraq had based their government budget on oil revenues at around $80 or more dollars a barrel, not $42-43 a barrel like the current world oil prices have been.

This weekend's elections will be a real challenge. First whether these elections are really more democratic and fair than the past. And secondly, how will the new leadership deal with all of the serious economic and poverty problems in Iraq. So far only the violence problem has eased somewhat in Iraq, but a myriad of other problems remain like an ugly hydra and continue to challenge this complicated and troubled state.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Michael Steele Becomes The First African American RNC Chairman

Earlier today, the Republican National Committee made history by electing Michael Steele as their first ever elected Republican Party Chairman. Steele was the former Lt. Governor of Maryland who lost a bid for the U.S. senate in 2006 to Congressman Ben Cardin. Steele is a decent and likable man, who once spent three years in a Roman Catholic seminary in study to become a priest, but then decided to attend law school and later entered Maryland state politics.

In the 2008 general election, only a mere 4% of African American voted for John McCain. And the conservative views of Steele are unlikely to sway many more votes from this community. However, Steele is a great communicator and certainly puts a polished image on some tired old Republicans ideas such as individual health insurance bank accounts or other old retreaded traditionally Republican ideas. However in other areas, such as affirmative action, Steele seems to recognize that some level of government action is needed to address inequality and to equalize the playing field.

The election of Steele is probably the most positive event for the GOP since their 2008 election drubbing by the voters. However, it is not really clear whether Steele is as effective of a manager as the party really needs right now or whether he can help to move the party towards a more centrist stance on some issues to attract more voters or not. Steele certainly has a major challenge ahead of him. Steele is also going to have to quickly decide if the role of the Republican congressional opposition against the economic stimulus legislation is harmful to the party's image or not. To many voters angry about job losses or other economic losses, such actions look merely as political.

Michael Steele now leads a party suffering from both public image problems as well politically unpopular stances on many issues only complicated by the bad aftertaste of George Bush. Steele certainly has some major work to do to rebuild his party.

USPS Wasted Money Promoting Religion & Politics. Now Ponders Mail Service Cutbacks

As much as I admire many of the postal workers for the great job that they do, I'm appalled that the management of the USPS has squandered away too much time and money engaging in purely religious and political activities during the Bush Administration years, and is now pondering mail service cutbacks as an effort to help balance their budget mistakes after wasting so much money on some activities not at all related to better mail delivery service.

As a former rock singer and songwriter, who has performed many shows including a show with Frank Zappa's Band among other national acts, I'm always outraged at any story that involves government attempting to police the music, film or artist community.

But where this story really starts is back with George Bush who appointed one of the most right wing and conservative Salt Lake City Mormons you could find, Brent D. Ward, to head the FBI's Anti-obscenity Task Force. In his native Utah, Ward was a member of a local wacko censorship organization, Citizens For Positive Community Values, that attacked strip clubs, and Ward's disturbed and prudish politics were so far out that he couldn't even get the conservative Republican controlled legislature in his own home state to pass legislation he endorsed to essentially ban strip clubs in his state or at least force the dancers to wear at least a bikini bathing suit, although very few such tavern establishments even exist in this far right conservative religious state with very low alcohol consumption.

Religious wacko Ward also was a major force that was involved in the firing of federal prosecutors scandal under Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. A number of federal prosecutors thought it was simply crazy for the federal government to waste time and money surfing the thousands of adult entertainment oriented websites on the Internet looking for some example of some adult content that just might be considered to be legally obscene in some conservative local community somewhere because the screwy 1973 Supreme Court ruling with the Nixon appointed Warren Burger court allowed local communities the right to make local ordinances to ban certain obscene free speech. Unlike most nations of the world, the level of free expression tolerated by government is determined city by city, town by town. There is no national standard of what is acceptable or not. And a number of states such as Oregon, Maine and Alaska have no laws dealing with obscenity. Only some states or local governments have some obscenity law on the books.

When Ward and Gonzales got rid of a number of federal prosecutors who wanted to use the federal justice system to actually combat real crime such as terrorism, drugs, violence or fraud, then they had a freer hand to use federal agencies to pursue religious and political activities such as surfing the Internet looking for porn that offended their own religious values and might just be considered obscene in some conservative or religious district.

Partisan Mormon Brent Ward also found some postal inspectors with plenty of time on their hands to look for Internet merchandise items they could order by mail order from the Internet to lure into some conservative local community to set up some legal entrapment schemes for the prosecution of adult entertainment distributors who ran lawful businesses. This was despite clearly posted legal disclaimers on their websites that their materials were not to be ordered or viewed in some conservative communities where local laws may forbid their sale. The fact of the matter is that some DVD that is perfectly legal for sale throughout most of the U.S., especially in larger cities, could possibly violate some local city ordinance somewhere in some jerkwater Southern town or some similar small town place. There is no way the World Wide Web can be regulated city by city, or town by town, and there is no way for some merchandise distributor to know if some DVD or sex toy like a vibrator violates some local town ordinance. Merchandise distributors simply are in the business of selling such goods to consenting and willing customers and don't have the means to set up huge legal departments of numerous teams of lawyers to know what every local city ordinance might just be. The World Wide Web is simply too large of an entity for this.

The fact of the matter is that some like religious partisan Mormon Brent D. Ward want to impose their own religious views on the entire nation. And Brent Ward helped to fill both the FBI as well as the federal prosecutors with more like himself that who believed that the promotion of his own religious agenda was the proper role for government. Whoever knew that the major role of government should be the promotion of the personal Mormon religion of Brent D. Ward?

According to a major retailing organization, AVN, John Stagliano, an HIV positive former Chippendale's dancer who runs Evil Angel Productions is one of the largest adult entertainment DVD distributors in the nation. And his company has a huge catalog of films. According to Wikipedia, Stagliano, who also nicknames himself "Buttman", makes offbeat adult films seem to have a curious, if not juvenile preoccupation with the subject of women's behinds. Stagliano has operated his California based business legally and lawfully for many years, and even fully complies with every California insurance for the film production rules and other state regulations for a legitimate film production company. However a large film producer like this has become a major target of some like Brent Ward and his other right wing religious allies in the Justice Department, FBI and the United States Postal Service.

Recently, Brent Ward helped to arrange a postal entrapment scheme to order several of the more controversial titles from Stagliano's catalog of many films available on his Internet website and then indicted Stagliaqno on eight counts of sending obscene material via the public mail service to a local community where the content of the films might just violate some local obscenity ordinance. Strangely, even though it is actually a possible violation of some local city or county ordinance that is really at issue here, the federal government can actually bring federal charges against a defendant who is thought to be in violation of some local ordinance. And by bringing more than one federal charge, the federal government can also charge a person with racketeering if it can convict a person on just any two of any of the charges, thereby allowing a government seizure of all business related assets, property and bank accounts, and levy huge fines that can run into the millions of dollars and allow the imprisonment of up to twenty years in a federal prison. It is a perfect way for a fascist legal system to silence controversial artists and filmmakers. It is a power equal to the death penalty to silence a controversial artist in America.

In another case, a film producer, Paul Little who produces films as the character "Max Hardcore", surrendered himself to federal authorities in Los Angeles today to serve a long 46 month sentence in a California federal prison for sending some claimed obscene DVDs into a conservative Florida community. What was interesting about this illegal trial is that it was actually a film distributor who mailed the DVDs to California, and not Little himself. Little was merely the film producer. However, the distributor was given immunity against prosecution in exchange for testimony against Little. And the judge in the case only allowed small portions of the films to be viewed as excerpts in court, whereby any legal obscenity prosecution is supposed to be based on taking a "work as a whole" according to the 1973 Supreme Court decision. But this is type of justice to be expected in George Bush's America. Illegal trials and long prison sentences for persons who did not actually commit claimed "political" crimes against the state have become common place. America has it's own political prisoners and Guantanamo Bay type prisons for artists and filmmakers right here. Little's films are perfectly legal for sale throughout California and much of the rest of the country. But because he was caught up in a federal and postal inspector entrapment scheme and convicted in an illegal trial, then he has to serve a long prison sentence to keep him from making any more films by the government.

This is the type of politically repressive legal environment in which writers, musicians, artists, filmmakers and others who create cultural works must operate in since the days of George Bush and his administration's total disregard for the Bill Of Rights and the rule of law. And some of the management of the United States Postal Service has also worked to advance this repressive religious-political agenda and environment as well. Now these cultural fascists claim that they need to cut back on the mail service because they are losing money. Well, screw 'em. They had no business wasting time and money putting people who make controversial entertainment in federal prisons or policing the entertainment industry. Normal persons are intelligent enough to decide whether they want to watch a Disney film or SAW V, or whatever. It's not the job of the government to pick and choose which movie, book or record album you may decide to enjoy.

The fact of the matter is that normal everyday persons count on the mail service to pay bills or to get their Social Security checks. Business people count on the mail to stay in business. Lawyers count on the mail to mail probate related materials to their clients. Six day mail service is vital to the public good and welfare. Instead some postal managers abused postal service funds to pay some people to promote some religious-political agenda for the sake of someone like a Brent D. Ward. Now the public is being threatened with postal service cutbacks to help pay for all this waste of funds and cultural meddling.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Capitol Hill Republicans: Painting Themselves Into A Political Corner

After eight years of George Bush left the nation with the worst economic mess since the Great Depression, Republicans on Capitol Hill are still convinced that Congress and the president must do their bidding on the economy or else. All congressional Republicans voted as a bloc against the economic stimulus bill, still not convinced that after all their failures in economics that they are dead wrong that the package of job producing projects as well as tax cuts are the proper way to recover the economy. The Republican minority aren't living in reality here.

Congressional Republicans still think that massive tax cuts primarily for big business is the path to recovery, unlike the Obama and Democratic path that uses a variety of tools to regrow the economy. For the Republicans it's just more of the same wrong answers and more of what hasn't worked before all over again. For the Democrats history proved during the Roosevelt years that a wide variety of public works jobs and other projects helped to grow the nation out of the Great Depression. The Republican tax cuts can work, but usually only if a recession is not so deep, and take a great deal of time to trickle down to the average person. It's simply more of the same old tired Reagan-Stockman trickle down economics.

Part of the problem with the Republican thinking is that some economic conditions on Wall Street are actually worst than the Great Depression right now according to an analysis on CNBC. There is hardly time to wait around for tax breaks to big business to trickle down to average citizens as conditions rapidly deteriorate and more jobs are lost.

President Obama attempted to be a bridge builder and allow congressional Republicans input into the economic stimulus bill, and an attempt to climb onboard for their own political good . But instead they played the partisan politics card once again when so many Americans are suffering, by voting against the economic stimulus bill.

In 2012, when President Obama is running for re=election, voters will remember that he and the Democrats chose to rescue the economy, while congressional Republicans tried to keep the deep recession going because of their own political arrogance and downright stupidity. Congressional Republicans are quickly painting themselves into a political corner by voting against reasonable efforts to rescue the economy and allowing political screwballs like Sarah Palin to act as their most public face.

Some might think that some American automobile brands are under poor management, but compared to the poor political management of the Republicans, Detroit actually looks pretty good to me. The congressional Republicans and their political party are in a deep leadership depression right now.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

City City Bang Bang

Last Saturday evening, excited teenagers were standing outside the underage Zone nightclub in Downtown Portland, Oregon waiting to get inside to here the DJ spin some great sounds. Then suddenly bullets sprayed everywhere from an Italian-made semiautomatic hand gun, shooting nine young persons including six foreign exchange students. Two girls, one from Oregon, and another, a foreign exchange student from Peru, were killed in the hail of bullets fired by depressed gunman Erik Ayala, himself a foreign national, who then shot and fatally wounded himself. One girl from Italy, another foreign exchange student has 11 bullet exit wounds and remains in critical condition.

When Ayala purchased this semiautomatic weapon at the 99 Pawn And Guns shop in Milwaukee, Oregon, the owner of the shop excuses the lethal sale by claiming that there was no red flags that the murder weapon was going to be used to commit a horrible crime or signs that Ayala was dangerous. Yet, Ayala was first turned away for not providing proper identification, and only on a second attempt was the lethal weapon sold to him by the gunshop.

This latest gun incident, including a huge uptick in gang shootings, where unemployed angry minority members with little money, no jobs, are opening fire on gang rivals is turning Portland, Oregon into a youth gun violence capital.

So far there have been little new calls for increased gun control laws. but at some breaking point, state legislators, police and city hall will no doubt seek to tighten up some laws to stem this new wave of youth gun violence.

All of this raises some interesting issues here. Last year, the Supreme Court struck down a local gun control law in Washington, D.C. as unconstitutional that violated the Second Amendment. And Mr. Obama, a former constitutional law professor voiced some support for the Supreme Court ruling, partly because of the court's constitutional view of the Second Amendment, but also because this ruling came during the presidential campaign and the Obama Campaign didn't want major friction with gun rights advocates or the NRA. Previously, Mr. Obama had been on record as supporting the D.C. hand gun control law.

This week, the Obama Administration voiced support for a new form of states rights on the issue of air pollution control, that will reverse the Bush Administration's form of strong federalism that limited 13 states, including California with congested cities and serious air pollution problems from exceeding federal clean air rules as applied by the EPA. This might provide an interesting clue about the Obama philosophy of the role of the federal government and it's power relation to the states and local governments.

All of these factors raise some interesting questions here. Will the Obama Administration allow some more leeway to states and local governments who want to address serious local issues such as gun violence with tougher local gun control laws? Will the role of the federal government be reduced from that of the Bush Administration that worked to intervene in limiting tougher local rules that it philosophically disagreed with?

Local governments with serious gun violence issues may be more willing to advance some tougher gun laws to keep dangerous persons like Erik Alaya from purchasing mass murder weapons like semiautomatic handguns form gunshops during the Obama years, because like the guide of the new EPA and local pollution rules, some states have serious local concerns about growing gun violence among young people where it is still way too easy for crazy or dangerous persons to purchase mass people killing machines like semiautomatic weapons to create public mayhem. Some Second Amendment advocates and NRA members might not be very pleased. But local and state governments will argue that new tools are needed to stop the gun violence bloodbath.

What do you think about all of this? Comments are very welcome.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Total Recall

I seriousoly began to wonder if the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission(CPSC) was even a functional agency after eight years of the Bush Administration where serious consumer concerns about defective or dangerous products were often nearly routinely ignored by this agency. Nancy Nord was formerly the head of federal government relations for one of worst corporate polluters, Eastman Kodak, until Bush appointed her as the acting head of the CPSC to help weaken consumer protections. There have been calls by some organizations for Nord to resign. And these calls should only grow stronger with the new administration now in power in Washington where consumer protection is likely to taken far more seriously.

Today, I nearly had a cardiac and wondered if my old angina problems had returned when I received a recall notice in the mail where Maytag Corporation was working in cooperation with the CPSC to recall 2.3 million dishwashers that have a fire risk due to liquid drying agent which can leak into the internal wiring and short and cause a house fire. So far there have been reports of 135 such fires, including four injuries. Apparently, Nancy Nord has failed to completely gut out this important consumer protection agency like some fisherman would a fish.

During the Bush years I reported to the CPSC about a small brand of a digital camera that I bought from a company called Largan which seemed like a reasonable camera for a few days until the battery suddenly exploded while I was using it and burnt my fingers and sprayed fire on the rug and my shirt. But under Nord's leadership, this camera fire was not taken too seriously by the agency. When I contacted Largan about the issue, someone there even threatened me with legal action unless I shut up. But then finally the president of the company offered to investigate the matter if I handed the evidence of the fire and explosion over to them. But this was evidence I needed to keep for the CPSC, which stalled around on the matter, and left me out the cost of the camera, a shirt and a rug. Fortunately my burns healed rather well in a few days as well. Finally nothing came of the CPSC actions on the fire and explosion.

But when the CPSC wouldn't take a digital camera explosion and fire very seriously to at least examine the item and see what the problem was, then you knew that the Bush Administration philosophy of government was simply aimed at weakening consumer safety. In fact, under Nord the CPSC only has one dangerous toy inspector for the entire United States, and yet some persons wonder why children have been endangered with defective toys from China painted with lead paint or other dangers. In fact, it has mostly been state run consumer agencies that have identified serious toy or other product defects, not the Nord controlled CPSC.

Amazingly, a dangerous toy called Aqua Dots were actually recalled by the CPSC which had to be the greatest miracle yet known to mankind since the raising of Lazarus. Apparently Nord must have considered this toy that caused children to have a coma and to die was finally a serious enough of a reason to finally act to urge a voluntary recall of the Canadian toy product.

So it at least appears that the Nord ruled CPSC at least once in a great moon still identifies a dangerous product or two with the Maytag notices sent out to millions of dishwasher owners, perhaps sparing a few a dreaded house fire.

Maytag will either send out repairmen for free of charge in-house repairs or else offer a $75 cash voucher in other cases. This company is acting responsibly to address this issue.

So it appears that the Nancy Nord CPSC is a far weaker agency than it once was before Bush. But the agency does act in the public interest for consumer once in a while. But whether Nord keeps her Job is still a good question. Nord's second term at the CPSC won't end until Oct of 2012 unless she is asked to quit by the Obama Administration.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Embattled Portland Mayor Hires Tonya Harding's Attorney

Embattled Portland, Oregon Mayor Sam Adams who has now become a national joke on the late night TV talk shows such as Jay Leno, has now hired Tonya Harding's former attorney, Robert Weaver. Back when the troubled figure skater was caught up in the Nancy Kerrigan knee-whacking incident as a co-conspirator for hindering investigation of the main defendants in the case, Harding needed expert legal representation to avoid potential jail or prison time, and former federal prosecutor Robert Weaver was an excellent choice who helped to arrange a pretty good plea offer with Harding and the prosecution in the case involving 500 hours of community service, three years probation and a $160,000 fine.

Weaver has also been a legal representative for a number of NBA players who were arrested sometimes on very serious charges. A few years ago, just the legal problems of the Portland Trailblazers seemed like more than enough for full time employment of lawyer for all the criminal charges they faced. One of the worst examples was a Trailblazers roadtrip to Salt Lake City to play the Utah Jazz that resulted in four players having sex with under-aged girls from a shopping mall invited to their hotel rooms.

Mayor Sam Adams hiring such a top lawyer is probably a pretty good sign that he might now consider himself in some serious enough of potential legal trouble to hire such a high profile attorney who represents major criminal cases such as this. Hiring such a high profile attorney might indicate that Adams fears that criminal charges could be potentially brought or that he possibly might have crossed some legal line that could result in some criminal charges or potentially violated some ethics rules. Either way, the hiring of this top criminal attorney is a pretty good sign that Adams is taking this issue very seriously and that this story has a lot more life in it yet. This might also indicate that the possibility of his resignation from office might be a real reality as well.

As a federal prosecutor, Weaver helped to bring charges against the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. In a small Oregon community, a cult founded by the Bhagwan used food poisoning to sicken the town's people in an attempt to control the local election and elect Bhagwan supporters to offices such as mayor and city council and to create an all cult controlled community. A number of cult members were either deported to India or sent to prison on various serious charges for conspiracy to poison the townspeople. Weaver also helped to convict some major swindlers of securities fraud during his career as a prosecutor and has worked closely with high level FBI and IRS agents in some of his major cases. Weaver is certainly a top lawyer. And the fact that Adams needs a lawyer of this high caliber is not a particularly good omen that Adams will remain in office for very long.

The Adams sex with an intern scandal is only the latest embarrassing Oregon story to hit the national news. Certainly the Portland Trailblazer put in a good effort to embarrass Oregon. Who knew that having sex with under-aged girls from a shopping mall was a major part of the NBA experience? And Former Senator Robert Packwood became a household joke for his sex scandal that forced his resignation from office in disgrace. And Tonya Harding became another household joke for her role in the conspiracy to whack her skating competitor in the knee when her absurd gang of misfits led by her former husband, Jeff Gillooly, and the laughable Shawn Eckhardt and Shane Stant made the news. Even Conan O'Brien could not stop himself from some hilarious re-enactments of some the events surrounding this case, because the story was so darn funny.

Thanks a lot Sam, for putting Oregon, and especially Portland back on the late night comics jokes list radar again. We really appreciate it.

Some cars in Portland feature a popular local bumper sticker that reads, "KEEP PORTLAND WIERD". Well, Sam, you're certainly doing your part. But that's certainly not the type of "hard" work we expected from the new mayor.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Obama Leadership Style

A fascinating image of the leadership style of President Obama has been emerging in the last few days. On one level, he's viewed as an excellent delegator of responsibility to competent and capable persons, and keen at placing some of the best qualified persons into major positions of authority within his administration. On the other hand, he's unafraid to take a "hands on" approach and make many important and hard decisions on his own. The image of a strong and mature top chief executive for the nation is emerging as good as any top corporate CEO. A top CEO this good could have made a lot more money in the private sector rather than public service.

A further reassuring fact about the leadership strengths of President Obama was the finely tuned precision of his campaign both during the primary and general election seasons. This campaign was so well managed that their were very few flaws or mistakes. And the strategy was so carefully choregraphed that Mr. Obama was able to upend both Hillary Clinton who was the heavy favorite to win the Democratic nomination as well as war hero John McCain in the general election. If Mr. Obama can only continue this excellent choreography during his presidency, then his administration should not only be highly successfully, but the nation should witness substantial progress on his policies taking effect as well.

It's sort of ironic that Mr. Obama who was a constitutional law professor before becoming an U.S. Senator only a few scant years ago is a substantially better business manager than President Bush who was the nation's first MBA and had some substantial business management background. But part of the fact might just be that Mr. Obama surrounds himself with excellent staff and advisors who reach a consensus on what the best possible path to follow should be. If anything, it's a model good enough to run a mega-corporation like GM could seriously use to turn around their dire situation.

A further reassuring note was that Mr. Obama was unafraid to give a very serious and somber address at his inaugural and face cold hard facts and truths and to honestly confront the American public when some serious action is required on their part. It is a perfect portrait of a president with complete self confidence and as much honesty as can be expected from a mortal human. It's a pretty impressive leadership style.

Overall, a strong portrait of an honest leader willing to make hard choices and confront issues head-on is emerging. His first week in office has been impressive, where every day briefings about the economic news are now common, as well as hands-on discussions of other pressing issues.

This is a portrait of a fully engaged, no nonsense, leader. It is also a pretty good indication that the long primary and general election season redeemed itself by helping to wisely winnow perhaps the strongest leader of all the potential contenders by far.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Yet Another Sex With An Intern Scandal

There is another big sex scandal with an intern brewing. In Portland, Oregon, new Mayor Sam Adams, who is is openly Gay, confessed that he lied about a relationship with a city hall intern who was just 17 at the time, claiming that the relationship only turned sexual once the young man turned 18. However voter anger and calls for resignation of the mayor are rapidly building.

Adams has lost substantial public support in recent days over the scandal, after winning a recent November easy election victory over a field of weak competition to win the mayor's office. Most local newspapers including the local Gay community, JUST OUT, have all now called for the Adams to resign. And picketers and nasty messages are popping up on the official website run by Adams. What seems to most anger the public is the young age of the intern involved in the scandal when Adams was 42 years old. And unfortunately, the scandal reminds many Portland area voters of the sex scandal with former Mayor Neil Goldschmidt with a 14 year old girl. Goldschmidt was even a member of the Carter administration because of his expertise on transportation issues. But the Goldschmidt scandal was not discovered until long after the statue of limitations for criminal prosecution had passed, so no criminal charges were ever brought against the former mayor and Carter Administration Transportation Secretary.

However, as bad as the Adams scandal may appear to be, objectively speaking, Adam still has some factors working in his favor to keep his office. First of all, so far no criminal charges have been brought against Adams, unlike the Governor of Illinois or Larry Craig who are both holding on to their offices despite arrests for claimed misconduct. Secondly, sex scandals can be survivable, as proved by the example of Bill Clinton, where lying about sex may certainly not viewed favorably by the public, however does not make it impossible to wait out a sex scandal and hang on to the office.

Certainly the Mayor is now damaged goods. And it seems more than hypocritical that on Adams own website that he once complained about a number of adult entertainment businesses such as strip clubs he noticed during a long walk through a downtown Portland neighborhood. Adams seemed to be creating a phony moralistic public image for himself while concealing his secret tawdry relationship with the young intern.

A number of protests outside of the Portland, Oregon city hall are expected today. But whether this will be enough to force Adams from office yet remains to be seen. Adams might be able to survive this scandal, however there are calls for Oregon's Attorney General to investigate this scandal, and unless some charges are filed, Adams could just pull out a "Bill Clinton" and wait for his critics to tire out and outlast this scandal. But certainly none of this is good or helps to inspire much faith in local government. Intern sex scandals are never a good thing, nationally or locally, straight or Gay.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ding Dong Bush Is Gone

Sometimes the best editorials are short, sweet and funny. So here goes:

Ding Dong Bush Is Gone

Which Old Bush, The Wicked Bush

Ding Dong, The Wicked Bush Is Gone

He's Gone Where The Evil Goes, Back To Texas, Oh Oh Oh

Ding Dong, The Wicked Bush Is Gone

Today it going to be a day one celebration of a new dawn for America.

USPS Urgent Mail:When It Absolutely, Positively Has To Get There Overnight, But Certainly Doesn't

I'm normally a huge defender of the United States Postal Service because I both like and admire so many of the workers that they employ and because it's an unionized service unlike the competing FedEx company which is nonunion. But the fact of the matter is that some companies such as FedEx and UPS offer some high priced urgent overnight shipping services for important business documents and the USPS seems to want to compete with these services.

It is certainly healthy competition for the USPS to offer an overnight shipping service with rates in the $16.50 range for shipping business documents overnight. Compared to much higher priced services from both FedEx and UPS, this seems like a pretty good deal. And USPS claims to ship even on holidays or on Sundays, which certainly sounds good as well. But I shipped some emergency documents the other day, and guess what, two days later the USPS Urgent Mail letter package has still not arrived.

The fact of the matter is that it appears that the USPS has inflated their claims about their services, and their $16.50 Urgent Mail service is actually hardly even much faster than their normal lower priced Priority Mail service in all reality.

Interestingly, it it also postal inspectors who are involved in the business of working with federal policing agencies to prosecute examples of mail fraud, yet these same postal inspectors don't seem to be spending very much time working on their own company to make it more compliant with it's own exaggerated claims of providing overnight mail service that really isn't overnight at all in many cases.

Well, for my sake it was indeed pretty darn stressing and disappointing to me to find out that the USPS does not really provide the Urgent Mail overnight delivery service that it claims to provide. So much for truth in advertising.

Monday, January 19, 2009

John Mortimer: UK Champion For Free Expression

John Mortimer was hardly a household name in the U.S. But in the UK, this barrister, playwright and screenwriter was a great figure in the ongoing war for freedom of expression by artists and writers. Sir John Mortimer died at the age of 85 on January 16.

Mortimer used his best legal skills the defend the respected Penguin books brand back in the 1960's when the UK government attempted to prosecute this book company on obscenity charges for the publication of D.H. Lawrence's classic, LADY CHATTERLEY'S LOVER. In the 1970's, when the leftist underground newspaper OZ attacked right wing Prime Minister Edward Heath, and Heath's government apparently used obscenity charges in an attempt to silence the paper, Mortimer again defended in another high profile obscenity case. Heath was also a disaster for the working people of the UK as well. But a seven week strike by the miners union helped to bring down the right wing Heath government and get this self-righteous twit out of power.

Mortimer not only championed the rights of those who chose to be critical of the government in the UK, but helped to make the UK a little more open to artists, writers and others who lived in this nation with artistic freedom often curtailed by the government or other moral do-gooders. Without a Bill Of Rights like the U.S., writers and artists worked in a legal environment with far less freedom to publish than in many Western nations.

On one hand, Mortimer, who was politically left-leaning and a staunch Labour Party supporter, was a great and eloquent advocate in court defending the right to free expression of others, but also became a great playwright and author in his own right, publishing many plays and books. In 1981, Mortimer was well known for his excellent British TV adaption screenplay of BRIDESHEAD REVISTIED. A long running TV series, RUMPOLE OF THE BAILEY, with the unique character of a unusual defense attorney was another fine production of Mortimer, who often jokingly referred to himself as a "champagne socialist".

Sir Mortimer was a true knight in the ongoing battle for artists seeking free expression, battling intellectual pygmies who want to use government or the courts to control what artists and writers may pen. Mortimer was indeed a fine soldier in this ongoing battle. In this nation his keen legal and intellectual skills could have really been used to beat back the social retards like the James Dobsons. Tony Perkins and Robert Peters, who all appear to have been born without any brains or regard for the American Bill Of Rights.

Mortimer fought the good fight and added to the culture of Britain by his excellent writings as well as TV classics. Well done, Sir Mortimer. Rest In Peace.

Friday, January 16, 2009

China's Great "Firewall"

The government of China is involved in a claimed month-long effort to close down a number of claimed "lewd" content websites in China that it claims run contrary to China's "moral values". However, it is really a number of political websites that are being shut down in what many call "the great firewall of China". Once again the Chinese government is seeking to suppress dissent and maintain the monopoly of power by the Chinese Communist Party.

With as many as 250 million Internet users in China, the most of any nation in the world, along with massive trade with the free world such as the U.S. and Europe, China's service by Google and many other major search engines is opening this nation up to free thinking politics and thoughts about democracy that are rapidly challenging the rule of the Chinese Communist Party.

While the Chinese government employs as many as 30,000 Internet censors and Internet police, and six Chinese government agencies are involved in this latest claimed crackdown on pornographic or vulgar Internet content, games, videos, etc, the fact of the matter is that this latest political campaign by the Communist government appears actually largely aimed at shutting down many political websites that are may be helping to proliferate ideals of democracy in China.

The Chinese government may have shut down a claimed 277 "illegal" websites in the last 11 days of Internet police efforts, however it is still easy enough to find both pornography and adult content on Chinese search engines or through links or searches, so it really appears that a crackdown on political speech and thought is really what the Chinese Internet police are actually involved in. The Chinese government is simply being largely deceptive when it claims that the efforts are aimed at vulgar content when Chinese security agencies that are normally actively involved in suppression of political dissent are the same agencies involved in this latest political crusade by the government.

Once again, the Chinese government has forced some major Chinese search engines such as Google.CN and Baidu and others to apologize to the government. But the bottom line is that China may have huge trade with democratic nations such as the United States. However, this Communist giant is hardly a free society by any stretch of the imagination. Back on March 11, 2008, after the protests by many Western reporters preparing for the upcoming Summer Olympics coverage, China unblocked access to some websites and opened up the Internet somewhat in China, allowing for a little more freedom. However, the latest effort by Chinese authorities appears to be aimed at closing that window somewhat and shutting down some search freedom that the Olympics helped to bring to China's Internet searches. In all real truth, the great "firewall" of China is being raised once again.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pat Buchanan Gets It Right Again

Today, Pat Buchanan has published another fine editorial piece on HUMAN EVENTS that gets it right again, reflecting on the failed Bush presidency.. Pat Buchanan is one conservative I really like because he often gets it exactly right. An "Unreflective Man" is a fine analysis of the grossly failed Bush presidency.

Buchanan rightly pointed out the supposed success of "the surge" was merely nothing more than a formula used by "empires for centuries" to buy off the Sunni tribes by paying 80,000 militia members a monthly salary to hunt down Al Qaeda, as well as an Iraqi public anger against Al Qaeda motivated by revenge for murders of Iraqi citizens, as well as a huge new infusion of 30,000 more American troops. That strategy was hardly novel or new, but merely a well proven military formula that could be traced back to battle successes of ancient feudal empires and others who hired mercenary tribes to fight their battles for them.

And Buchanan rightly pointed out that Mr. Bush's so-called Freedom Agenda for Iraq has only resulted in over 4,000 Americans killed, another 30,000 wounded, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed, many more wounded, and millions of refugees. Buchanan notes that Mr. Bush seems to be unaware of this high human cost merely to remove one dictator's control of Iraq because Mr. Bush had a long running personal grudge against Saddam Hussein and somehow felt compelled to complete the job that his father failed to do by removing him during the first 1991 Gulf War to begin with. The end result was essentially father and son following a degree of success with a huge measure of failure.

Buchanan also seems to rightly note that Mr. Bush seems so self-absorbed in his own sense of the nobility of his own ideals of "freedom" towards Iraq, and that somehow this own internal self-justifying thinking by Bush will somehow validate any human cost incurred towards those goals. Buchanan views this as the same sort of self-delusional thinking that once pervaded Woodrow Wilson.

But Buchanan is also quick to note that in the area of economics is yet another area where Bush never seemed to get where he was causing the economic destruction of the U.S. even before the current deep recession crisis. Bush was so opposed to what he called protectionism, that he allowed 3 million American manufacturing jobs to slip away to labor cheap nations such as China, and made our nation largely dependent on the banks of Asia to prop up the bankrupt economics of George Bush.

And Mr. Buchanan also expresses very serious concerns over the growing humanitarian crisis building in Gaza where Palestinian casualties are outnumbering Israeli casualties by 100 to 1. With the Hamas strategy of using schoolchildren and women as "human shields" to mask their cowardly attacks on Israelis, Israel's military is causing greast "collateral damage" to the Palestinian civilians that will leave their society in great poverty and social destruction for perhaps up to decades.

And Mr. Buchanan rightly noted that as bad as some enemies of the U.S. might be, that the American government needs to maintain a dialogue with this persons, especially if they have nuclear weapons.

I might continue to cringe at many of the notions about immigration that Mr. Buchanan seems to hold very close to his heart. But darn, the guy is near dead on right often in his analysis of many other matters. And today's piece by Buchanan in HUMAN EVENTS, "An Unreflective Man" was pretty well dead-on right in so many respects of why the Bush presidency was such a text book case of failure.

As much as I'm a standard bearer for the liberal ideology, there's a few conservatives like Pat Buchanan that I really like because they understand how things really work, unlike the conservatism of George Bush that was so-self absorbed in self-love for his own ideals where he could just never recognize the massive short comings and end results building from the technical failures of these ideals in the real details. Indeed the Devil is often in the details. Mr. Obama might just be wise to consider adding Pat Buchanan in some way to his pool of advisors to add a diverse opinion to his administration.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Circuit City May Become First Major Victim Of The Deep Recession

With the sinking economy, and disappointing Christmas sales. some major American businesses are likely to start dropping like flies very soon. Circuit City might be one of the first victims to fall if the company cannot find a buyer by Friday. Things are just that desperate for many American businesses.

On paper, Circuit City looks like just the sort of business that should prosper. The company always has a great advertising supplement to the nation's Sunday papers with many great specials and near loss leader bargains with some items priced at rock bottom levels. But apparently not even that seems to be working in this poor economic environment.

Circuit City should also be enjoying a sales bounce as many families rush to upgrade their TVs to digital models before the February 17 deadline. But even that doesn't seem to be working for them right now. And laptop computer prices have sunk to bargain levels as well, yet even that doesn't seem to be working in favor of Circuit City either. In other words, the company is doing everything right. But in this very poor economic environment, nothing seems to be working as well as it should to make Circuit City viable.

That is a large part of the frustration of many in the business community right now. No business formula seems to be working very well right now for many companies. What works well in a good or fairly stable economy just isn't working in this rotten business environment for many businesses.

Hopefully a buyer for Circuit City may come by Friday. But that's a pretty slim window of hope. Circuit City might just become the first of many failures of perfectly good businesses that just cannot survive in this huge economic slowdown environment that is so bad that giants like GM and Chrysler are on the ropes as well. If a steady drip-drip of major business failures starts soon, as many expect might well happen, then the American jobless picture might really worsen dramatically despite attempts by the new Obama Administration to shore up the economy. That would be a real nightmare.

A major company like Circuit City might just be a canary in the coalmine. If they fail, then many more failures might also just be right around the corner as well. That's pretty depressing. But this is the deepest economic mess since the Great Depression. And that mess ruined many great American businesses including luxury car brands like Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg. This deep recession will likely leave a graveyard of major business failures as well. And that's very sad because of not only the human cost of the lost jobs, but the capital difficulties of putting together new major companies.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

George Bush Gives A Reflective Interview On FOX NEWS SUNDAY

On FOX NEWS SUNDAY, President Bush gave a reflective interview about his last eight years in office which was both predictable as well as somewhat surprising. A pleasant surprise was Bush's father, also a former president who was present for a portion of the interview. Regardless of your politics it was pretty good Sunday talk TV.

It has been a long strange ride for the younger Bush who seemed to accidentally become president due to a number of unfortunate bad breaks for Democratic Vice President Al Gore in 2000. Despite losing the popular vote in 2000 by more than half a million votes to Al Gore, Bush became president due to the electoral college vote breakdown. Gore had the misfortune of losing his home state of Tennessee, despite winning the popular vote elsewhere, which was another strange quirk as well as losing the normally Democratic leaning West Virginia which even supported losing efforts by Michael Dukakis in the past. The controversial close vote in Florida where many older voters were confused by the ballot, third party candidate Ralph Nader, as well as a felon list in which persons with similar names were disqualified from voting because a Social Security checklist was not used were only a few of many problems that all might have cost Al Gore the election and made George Bush an accidental president.

But regardless of the cloud of that hung over the 2000 election results, shortly into his term in office, the President Bush faced the huge 9/11 terrorist crisis, and did manage to receive great public unity and support for a time. But it was the elective war of Iraq as well as the collapse of the economy that will probably be most noted in many history books about the legacy of the Bush presidency.

For some reason, the quickest thing for President Bush to call to mind was his support for torture of terrorist suspects today on the Fox program. And Bush seemed to most miss the command over the American military. But he did voice support for the cabinet choices of Barack Obama, and noted that he likes the guy. The older President Bush seemed to voice some approval and sign of public support for Obama, and seemed to wish that that many Republicans would remain on the sidelines when they don't agree for a little while and give Obama some room to pull the country together.

Certainly liberals like me can find many things that they didn't like about the Bush presidency. But the bottom line for me was that I feel that he was never intended to be president, that his election was a quirk and a complete mistake, and he was well in over his head. A business friend of mine once told me that Bush's feet just didn't reach the pedals of the presidency, which was as fine of a summation as I can think of. But Bush did have a few moments of strength after 9/11. But other problems such as the economic crisis and Iraq will leave a real mess for President Obama to address and remedy that might linger for years.

But Mr. Bush did leave us with many moments of laughter as he butchered the English language, but he actually strikes me as a pretty good guy if a person knew him as a friend. I certainly may not agree with his politics, but the guy was darn funny at times. I can't say that I'm sorry to see him go. But thanks so much for the laughs George, if anything.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

John McCain Back On The Political Stage Again

Right now would be a very good time for John McCain to graciously give Mr. Obama the opportunity to finish putting his bipartisan cabinet and administration together and allow him some room to develop some new policies to reverse the serious global economic crisis. But instead, Mr. McCain is starting some new political organization called Country First, which is meant to elect Republicans at all levels to office and to undermine the clear election mandate that the voters gave to the Democrats in their sweeping November victories. This is hardly Country First, but partisanship and division at a time this nation can hardly afford it.

Even if things were reversed, I would have expected Mr. Obama to give a President McCain some opportunity to prove himself as well, and not immediately rush to undermine his efforts to rescue this nation from the grips of the most serious economic mess since the Great Depression. It's way too early for Mr. McCain to be placing himself atop some partisan organization meant to undermine the voters mandate when the new administration hasn't even spent a single day in office. Mr. McCain is acting far too much like just some political partisan, and not the elder statesman who gave such a wonderful concession speech after his crushing victory on November 4.

The fact of the matter is that John McCain didn't even come close to winning in November. He lost by well over 8 million votes, and only won about half as many electoral votes as Mr. Obama. And John McCain only hung on to winning his home state by a relatively close margin as well. After all the debates, and the campaigning, Mr. Obama's opinions on the economy struck a far better chord with voters than the views of John McCain or his running mate, Sarah Palin, who squandered away many opportunities by falsely calling Mr. Obama a Socialist or other derogatory things, when in fact his cabinet reflects that he will indeed be a centrist, and inclusive of some Republicans in his administration.

Mr. McCain needs to return to that elder statesman who gave that great concession speech and to be respected as a gracious loser. His loss was huge, and nearly humiliating, but he needs to put up a respectable face and be respected by voters as a decent loser. But McCain's efforts today to put together some new Republican partisan organization, that is only concerned with electing Republicans to office solely because of their political party, and not what they have to offer this country is hardly putting "Country First" as the title might suggest.

Russia Cuts Off All Gas Supplies To Europe

Russia is playing dangerous geopolitics with it's European rival states by cutting off all gas supplies to Europe just when many customers throughout Europe struggle in the global economic crisis. A major Ukrainian company, Naftogaz, reported on Wednesday that Russia's main gas supplier, Gazprom, immediately cut off all service.

While Russia's Gazprom has claimed that a price dispute is at issue, the real issue is that the Ukraine has been supplying gas to nations such as the Austria, Slovenia, Romania, and the Czech Republic, and the government in Moscow is having some serious political disputes with many of these nations over their interest in NATO membership or in participation with United States defense projects, missiles or military bases. About 25% of all gas used in the European Union and 40% of the gas used in these former Eastern Bloc nations comes from Russia. Unless this situation is quickly resolved, it could be viewed as a serious effort by Russia to bring Europe to it's knees and destroy their economies and governments. This could very well present a very political or even military serious crisis if this situation continues.

In 2006, Moscow sent a cold chill over Europe when there was a less serious price dispute between Moscow and Kiev. However, in this case it may appear that geopolitics rather than a true price dispute might really be the central issue. If Russia can effectively use a vital supply such as gas to gain major influence over the politics of Europe and the former Eastern Bloc nations, prying them off from the U.S. military alliances, or weakening NATO, then Russia becomes a much more powerful player in determining European politics.

But it is indeed a very dangerous game for a nation like Russia to use a vital supply such as gas to wield political power over Europe. Right before the military attack at Pearl Harbor by Japan that started the U.S. entry into WWII, there was a major dispute with Japan over steel supplies. The Roosevelt Administration cut off all steel exports to Japan as a result of their continued agression in China and elsewhere in the Pacific. And Japan continued to negotiate with the U.S. to resume these steel exports, but when the U.S. refused to resume these steel exports, then Japan planned the military attack at Pearl Harbor, and even had military plans to eventually launch a land invasion of the American West Coast as well in the course of the war. However, with the survival of the American aircraft carriers, as well the U.S. rebuilding it's badly damaged Navy, the U.S. was able to thwart Japan's Navy in critical battles such Midway, ending their sea dominance in the Pacific.

The fact of the matter is that economic disputes can sometimes become real military wars. And this is a real danger. Russia, Ukraine, Europe and the former Eastern Bloc must resolve any political differences aside from using a vital supply such as gas supplies to determine the discussion. Moscow is playing a very dangerous game here.

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Wit & Wisdom Of Hamas

While most have certainly heard of the Palestinian political organization Hamas, few have heard of some of the "brilliant" thinking and downright funny wisdom coming out this organization. Here are just a few of their many choice gems:

In 2003, Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi published an absurd article in the Hamas-run Al-Risala that claimed that the Holocaust did not exist and praised some of the worst of Holocaust deniers such as David Irving and claimed that the gas chambers were only a "myth".

In 2005, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal praised radical Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his "courageous" denial of the Holocaust. Hamas incidentally receives massive funding from Iran's Islamic revolutionary government.

Al Fateh, the Hamas run children's website and Hamas run children's TV programming routinely praises suicide bombings and death for God when it isn't preaching anti semitic hate against Jews. Bozo the clown this isn't.

Article 22 of Hamas charter falsely claims that Jews were responsible for causing WWI and WII. And further falsely claims that in every war around the world, Jews somehow are involved with their "finger" in it.

Article 7 of the Hamas Charter claims:"The day of judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews(killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind trees and stones. The trees and stones will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree,(the cedar tree)would not do because it is the tree of the Jews".

Hamas leader Mahmud al-Zahar offered this gem about Homosexuals:"Are these the laws for which the Palestinian street is waiting? For us to give rights to homosexuals and lesbians, a minority of perverts and the mentally and morally sick?". Hey, didn't those "Yes On Proposition 8" guys say something similar?

Hamas Sheikh Muhammed Abu Ter, the candidate for the second highest office in Palestinian parliament blamed coeducation for the high suicide rates in Western nations like Sweden during a campaign speech. Who knew that boys and girls going to school together could result in death?

Palestinian voters were threatened into voting for Hamas by being told that, "If you don't vote Hamas. God will punish you". Darn it, if only Sarah Palin would have only thought to say that, then maybe she'd be vice president now.

Hamas not only promises to destroy Israel, but plans on the eventual destruction of the West itself and threatens, "We say to this West, which does not act reasonably, and does not learn it's lessons: By Allah you will be defeated...", as stated during a typical Mosque sermon given by a top Hamas cleric.

Dr. Mahmud al-Zahar praised female suicide bomber Re'em Al Riyashi, and praised using such suicide bombings not only to rule over all of Palestine but the entire "universe" as well.

Hamas makes their feelings about Israel fairly clear when they state that, "Israel is not a legitimate entity, and no amount of pressure can force us to recognize it's right to exist".

Funny guys with a great sense of humor those Hamas guys, huh? Maybe they should write comedy material for SNL?

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Israel's Big Gamble

On the surface of it all, Israel's actions to protect their citizens from attacks from Hamas rockets that have grown more deadly and able to reach deeper into Israeli territory seems like a clearcut national security choice. One the other hand, Israel faces the possible same muddled outcome as their 2006 mission in Lebanon which was a huge failure despite being a success for the politically embattled Ehud Olmert Administration.

The Israeli effort in Lebanon in July 2006 started shortly after a Hezbollah artillery assault on Israel and eventually resulted in a large mission using Israeli groundtroops before a brokered UN ceasefire. However, as much as a military success as the Israeli military might have had on the ground, the Hezbollah organization wasn't destroyed, and Hezbollah actually gained some undeserved world community sympathy looking like some pathetic poor child beaten up by a schoolyard bully, despite provoking the entire situation and bringing massive military and economic destruction to Lebanon.

The end result of the 2006 war in Lebanon also reminded Israeli voters about the rampant corruption in the politically unpopular Ehud Olmert Administration, and only helped to further this government's decline in public respect as well. For all it's military success, the Lebanon effort was a huge political failure of the Prime Minister Olmert Administration to divert public attention away from a president accused by several women of being a rapist and other serious political problems.

But the Ehud Olmert Administration seems to have learned little from all of this, and the latest efforts against Hamas seem to be straight from the same Lebanon playbook that brought so much political wreckage. And this is despite the fact that this latest military campaign seems like a political act to bolster the election hopes of the ruling Israeli political party ahead of the upcoming elections as well as some effort to improve the stature of Fatah, and weaken Hamas. In both cases, this latest military campaign may not achieve either result. The centrist ruling Israeli party could well find itself losing to the far right party, and that would only guarantee more combat and friction with the Palestinians. And Hamas may actually be strengthened, not weakened by being able to act like some poor victim of a bully, just like Hezbollah was so successful at.

If Israel manages to save a few lives by stopping a few Hamas rockets, then I suppose it has achieved a little something. But otherwise this whole mess is beginning to look an awful lot like Lebanon once again, where radicals and terrorists eventually emerge stronger, rather than defeated.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Cuba's 50th Anniversary Leaves Their Population In Poverty Without Political Freedom

Back in 1959, many believed that Fidel Castro and his revolutionary forces who challenged the government of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista were little more than some agrarian reformers who would bring some needed parity between the small upper class of Cuban society and the large mass of poor. However, as Cuban marked it's 50th anniversary on Thursday as a Communist state, most in Cuba are simply still left in poverty and without political freedom.

Under the current rule of Fidel Castro's brother, Raul Castro, Cubans still struggle to have enough to eat, where a government rationed food basket may guarantee that every Cuban family receives at least some essential foods, however it is not nearly enough to eat and families must struggle on meager incomes of sometimes as little as an average of 408 pesos a month, which is a little more than $125 U.S., to purchase more basic food goods and pay other living expenses. And because Cuban food production lags so far behind government goals, many families still struggle to afford more food products not provided by the small government rationed supplies. These short supplies of food are just one of many broken promises of this Communist state which has failed on so many levels.

Since the Communist system in Cuba can only regulate the price of goods produced within in Cuba, and so much needs to imported from abroad into Cuba, rapid inflation on many goods including food has left most Cubans in deep poverty. Unlike China or more pragmatic Communist regimes, Cuba's Communist government simply has not modernized or undergone some critical restructuring to become part of the world economy and community. Cuba may not be quite as isolationist as North Korea by any means. But the government of Cuba has certainly hindered the economy of Cuba.

Both China and Vietnam, may be Communist states, but both have welcomed massive foreign investment and trade, as well as fostered friendly relations with the United States. Cuba's main problem has always been that it fails to do what is required to have more constructive economic relations with the United States, and this has forced long range relationships with nations such as the old Soviet Union. When the old Soviet Union collapsed, so also did much of the financial support for struggling Cuba as well.

Cuba has experienced some recent new oil discoveries that China and other states are beginning to invest in because Cuba lacks the funds to develop these oil assets itself. But other than this one bright spot, there is little room for optimism that the Cuban economy will improve greatly for most citizens very soon. In fact, conditions continue to be so bleak, that many Cubans still continue to risk their lives on poorly made homemade rafts to set sail for Florida only 90 miles away. In fact, the per capita income in Cuba is well below most of Latin America as a whole, where only some bright spots such as a high literacy rate and an infant mortality rate that is lower than many other Latin states due to government run medical services. However this is surprising because how poorly equipped these medical services are. Often families of hospital patients will bring in supplies from home to supplement what the hospital lacks in basic goods needed for patient care.

And there are the constant images of prerevolution 1950's cars still operating in Cuba. This nation has been known to export some of these old Chevrolets and Packards for sale in order to buy goods. Many individuals who own such old cars, have been known to make their parts in order to keep them running because it is so difficult to purchase a new car in Cuba because of the poor economy.

Cuba's leadership has left the Communist state in a condition only slightly better than North Korea in so many regards. Cuba could have a huge tourist industry if it would have better relations with the U.S. and open up foreign investment to build hotels and casinos. But instead the hardline Communist government often views such notions as "decadent capitalism", so this closed minded approach has on;y helped to keep Cuba in poverty.

The hardcore revolutionary thinking of the Communist leadership of Cuba has only resulted in economic isolation from the U.S., when it really needed to have good relations and have a pragmatic economic relationship with it's large neighbor.

But most surprisingly, since at least 1940, Cuba has been heavily involved with Communism. Dictator Batista actually brought in the support of many Communist controlled labor unions as well as Communist members into his government when he first ran for political office before eventually taking control of the nation by force. Batista did bring in some economic reforms to address poverty issues, but it was not nearly enough to satisfy Fidel Castro and the Communist forces he commanded.

After the successful 1959 revolution, Castro promised free elections within six months. This hasn't happened yet. And for a time, even the strong Catholic Church faced great sanctions by the atheist government, but these sanctions have eased somewhat over the years. However, Cubans still live in a poverty ridden society with little gains to show, and little freedoms.

Cuba needs to be pragmatic and replace both Castro brothers with a true reformer that will approach the Obama Administration and promise significant reforms and open this nation up to strong economic trade and tourism traffic with the U.S. But until this happens, this nation will be stuck in poverty where so many old 1950's automobiles on the streets of cities like Havana really tell the tale of how this nation has been stuck in time thanks to the failure of Communism.