Thursday, December 17, 2009

Move On raising big bucks to stop Lord Lieberman

"Joe Lieberman is single handedly gutting health care reform.
The time
for forgiveness is over. It's time to hold
Senator Lieberman accountable."

Move, one of the largest political action committees in the country is, as I post this, just about $75,000 short of raising one million dollars for a campaign to neuter Senator Joe Lieberman's single-handed attempt to stall or kill historic health care reform.

Their appeal for ten bucks is unambiguous: "First, we're going to launch a huge ad campaign to make sure every last Connecticut voter knows that Senator Lieberman is blocking strong reforms. Then, we'll push Senate leaders to strip him of his chairmanship and seniority. Finally, we'll work to defeat him in his next election. We can do this."

Move On's appeal starts with a quick review of Lieberman's mad shenanigans, "First, Joe Lieberman helped President Bush invade Iraq, and the Democrats in Washington forgave him. Then, he endorsed John McCain, and they forgave him again. Then, he personally attacked Barack Obama at the Republican National Convention, and still the Democrats forgave him. Now, Joe Lieberman is single handedly gutting health care reform. The time for forgiveness is over. It's time to hold Senator Lieberman accountable."

This has resonated with enough people to make them pitch in almost one million bucks to slow down this supposedly independent Senator who lost his Democratic bid in 2006 and now seems to be representing only his mercurial petty whims instead of the state of Connecticut ... which is a solidly blue state. It went 60% for Obama in 2008. Polls in Connecticut show Lieberman is already in trouble. Thirty percent of Lieberman voters in 2006 later said they would not vote for him again, and, in another poll, he trailed one possible Democratic opponent by a whopping 44 points.

Whether it is big buck political donations from the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries that has has caused his total flip flop on health care reform, or a bruised ego, is not clear. His steadily building Little Caesar rage from feeling he has been snubbed by his caucus seems to many to be driving his decisions.

While holding Democrats hostage for his crucial 60th vote he seems oblivious to his pariah status and seems willing to possibly kill health care reform before it can finish the long hammering-out process ahead. What a legacy that would be for proud, independent Joe. But he gets his gold plated Congressional health insurance plus a fat annual retirement no matter what. He and his colossal ego could ride off into the sunset with no health care worries and plenty of walking around money, happy to say to hell with America.

It has to be more than inflated chutzpah. Maybe his delusional state also sees his reelection as a sure thing because he is so right and so loved.

Or maybe he has been watching too many WWII Kamikaze movies.

If you have had enough of Loony Lieberman and want to donate a couple of bucks to the Move On campaign, here's the link:

Graphic by Larry Ray

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Chrysler TV Spot : US Ad Agency Misses Message

New York Ad Agency's Sour Grapes over Italian Produced PSA

A truly uplifting 45 second public service television spot features a new Chrysler 300 breaking through the Berlin wall with the flying stones turning into white doves. No overt sales pitch for Chrysler is made at all, but the fact that an appeal for international peace and freedom is being made by Chrysler may be one of their strongest company messages in a while.

However, their long time US ad agency, BBDO, is crying foul because Chrysler Group's Olivier Francois, the new president-CEO of the Chrysler vehicle brand, hired an Italian ad agency to produce the spot, which is very similar to a Lancia commercial from a year ago. Lancia is part of the Fiat group.

Francois commented in a press release, "For Chrysler, this is a chance to use our brand image to join with others in the fight for peace and to knock down the walls that divide us. We at Chrysler believe in doing the right thing and making a difference."

The Italian cinematography celebrates Chrysler visually while delivering a strong message for achieving world peace. The spot ends with a call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's immobilized pro-democracy leader. She is a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, who has been in and out of house arrest since 1989.

The Chrysler message supports the 10th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates being held in Berlin December 10-11, 2009 coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, as well as an international internet campaign to free Nobel Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi.

BBDO's contract with Chrysler runs out at the end of next month, and trade publication, Advertising Age, had a banner headline today proclaiming,"After Taking U.S. Bailout, Chrysler Hires Italian Agency." A former Chrysler Group marketing chief, Julie Roehm, blasted the international peace message noting that "social causes have a place in advertising," but not this one.

"The message is a disconnect to what matters to people here," she said. Americans are focused now on getting back to work and the economy back on track, she said. "I don't think the vast majority of Americans know who this woman is or frankly care."

To Ms. Roehm there apparently is no greater cause for concern than envisioning out of work BBDO staffers being forced to pound the pavement at the end of January. An international internet awareness effort, Your Face For is raising support, money and global awareness for "this woman" for whom Ms. Roehm, in her xenophobic nearsightedness exhibits such crass indifference.

Perhaps if she and her chums at BBDO had been doing a more far-sighted job for Chrysler, BBDO might not be losing their contract and Chrysler might not have had to be saved from collapse ... which involved getting rid of ineffective executives and replacing them with new leadership.

The US financing was loaned to Chrysler to allow it to reorganize and emerge from bankruptcy, which it accomplished in record time. New robust changes are but the beginning of what could eventually see Italy's Fiat with a 51% ownership of the new Chrysler Group LLC, "if it meets financial and developmental goals for the company." And those goals center upon revitalizing its manufacturing facilities, parts suppliers and work force in the USA as well as abroad.

Starting to make Chrysler a name known and respected in European and other international markets is what this powerful TV imagery is beginning to do. A friend of mine in Italy who saw the spot emailed me saying, "I think it's great and almost enough to get me to buy a Chrysler! ALMOST-- can I trade in my 2003 Fiat Punto???"

Take a look at the Chrysler spot and see what your gut reaction is.

To view video, go here.

Graphic from Chrysler TV Spot

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Tough times in the USA : Not just a daydream

Walk in the park : A Felliniesque view of our financial mess

Scout and Missy take a breather. Photo by Larry Ray

Walking my dogs under a crisp, cool, bright blue sky a few days ago in a nearby wooded park, I had an unusual, Felliniesque daydream. It all started when the peace and tranquility of the walk was broken by someone talking loudly on his cell phone, for all to hear, which is quite common today. A young fellow was totally absorbed in a verbal replay of various recent losses involving physical pain and a love affair gone badly. He urgently shouted the details into his cellphone.

We picked up our pace to get away from the intrusion, but it seemed that he had decided to take the same trail behind us. He was detailing how he had cracked his ribs in some sort of a fall and how that had not hurt nearly as much as breaking up with the woman he still loved. He finally branched off on another trail leading away from us, the cell phone drama slowly fading out.

A relaxed free-form daydream began as we walked the familiar path. It turned into a Woodie Guthrie moment for me. In an surprising flash, I had the title for a new country song: "That fall broke my ribs, but she broke my heart!" I hummed part of a stock three chord country western melody and tried out a couple of lines. It slowly became the sound track for the open-ended Fellini movie getting underway in my head.

"It's getting tough out in this old world, my back's against the wall.
The bank just took my house away, now them credit cards ain't no good at all.

When I fell off that stock room ladder and landed hard on the concrete floor,

They laid me off that afternoon ... and I don't work at Walmart any more.
Then my wife took off and left me, everything is falling apart.

That fall broke my ribs ... but she broke my heart!"

Hell, I've heard worse, and Woody might even have liked it. I bet the guy on the cell phone probably would have liked it too. I pictured this young man, working class, maybe in his late-twenties, probably a high school graduate, with maybe even a year or so of community college, as a metaphor for greedy banks, self-serving spineless politicians and millions of average folks just like him.

The daydream was also being fed with scenes from "The Card Game" a Frontline-New York Times co-production on PBS I had watched the night before. It laid bare the whole sorry, wild west story of the evolution of the American credit card and the halfhearted attempt to finally rein it in after almost a half century of unregulated abuse.

Frontline showed how banks have gotten away with predatory credit card practices and how a proposed Credit Card Control Act of 2009 was written with gaping loop holes that banks can use to continue exploitation of credit card holders ... and still generously fund political campaigns.

I bet if I had actually talked to the fellow in the park and learned more about him other than what I was forced to overhear, he would have been a perfect example of what credit card issuers call the "unbanked market." People living from paycheck to paycheck who use credit cards as though they were money ... money that people refuse to realize they don't have.

The whole credit card industry is designed to trap and exploit those people who don't read the fine print in their contracts and who run up huge balances, making only minimum payments from one card to another. They rack up ever-changing penalty fees with huge loan interest rates in a scheme better than Machiavelli could have ever imagined. According to the Federal Reserve Bank, 40% of American families spent more than they earned in 2008.

Certainly no bank has forced anyone to use a credit card. But a "free" credit card seems so innocent, so easy, and "we can always just pay off the balance" is a reassuring rationalization. Credit cards quickly became as American as imitation apple pie with two-thirds of the population owning one or more in 2008. Too many folks were living high on the hog with bank credit card loans that weren't legally considered 'bank loans,' thereby allowing them to remain unregulated with nary a peep from Capitol Hill. Most all existing governmental financial regulation put in place after the Great Depression of the 1930's had already been peeled away by the 1990's.

Even though there were no Flappers or speakeasies, the giddiness of our recent boom times was just like the 1920's, and just as imprudent. Americans with only modest incomes had learned to spend like they were making six figure salaries. Wallets are even designed to hold a dozen or so credit cards that slip in and out of an accordion fold of pockets for the mag-striped mañana money.

At the same time, home values were increasing at a record rate with no end in sight ... but who was looking? Things seemed so good that second mortgage home loans were used to pay off huge credit card balances. Then in a blink, before the Republicans could get out of office in time, the inflated silver-dollar-studded Potemkin village blew over like a long line of doomed dominoes.

In no time folks were shouting their own Woody Guthrie lyrics over cell phones across the country. Homes now were valued at half of what they were mortgaged for. Americans again were jobless, out on the streets and forced to face harsh realities. Eighty-eight million accounts and credit lines, representing $751 billion in credit, have been closed since September of 2008.

My daydream in the park shifted to a classic Fellini scene with two huge cauldrons of smelly political broth bubbling and stewing up on Capitol Hill. They were both made from the same old soup stock. Senators in stained, flowing robes warned that the health care insurance gumbo may ultimately be indigestible. On an adjoining burner the low fat, credit card control consommé seemed way too thin but the Senators weren't in the least concerned. A parade of morbidly obese, angry people brandishing illegible placards passed by the cauldrons and Senators, demanding that they be left alone to just govern themselves. "No big cauldrons, No big cauldrons" they chanted.

The daydream is then jarred by a ticker tape crawl across my field of vision with endless data in large scrolling letters, "In September 2009 Americans currently owed $917 billion on revolving credit lines and $69 billion of it was past due, according to Federal Reserve statistics." The daydream then realized that was just a couple of months ago, and I was jarred back to reality briefly. Soon the dream slowly returned as a classic Fellini black and white wide shot of a totally empty beach with waves slowly rolling in and I expected to see "Fine" or "The End" in Italian dissolve in over the meaningless empty beach.

Instead, the Border Collies were tugging insistently on the leash, literally yanking me out of my free-running reverie. The guy that had been shouting into his cell phone was now walking toward us, looking down at the edges of the path. He nodded to me and asked, "You haven't seen a ring of keys have you?" I said I really hadn't been paying much attention but that I would keep an eye out for them. For a moment I wondered if there was yet maybe another song in that somewhere? How about, " While I was looking for my keys, they towed my truck away." Woody, America could use you about now.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Strong Message For Health Care Reform Naysayers

I just saw a TV health care message that sensitively illustrates what is happening to too many American lives. A message down on the human level instead of screaming about numbers and cold political minutiae.

Americans for Stable Quality Care produced this :60 second commercial. Its strong message looks at the end of a lifetime of deep love, memories and sharing. With not a word spoken, this powerful one minute message is a clarion call for jaded politicians to look outside their soured, isolated careers and at the need for universal health care for all Americans. This message should urge these career politicians to respond to the Americans they represent by expediting rather than politically picking over and rejecting a plan for health care reform.

Please take a minute to watch this powerful TV message that visually illustrates the words of Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, in an August 4, 2009 Washingtom Post interview:
  • "As the political debate about how to pay for and pass health reform grows louder and more contentious, we shouldn't lose sight of the reason we're even having this conversation: We have a huge, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve the lives of all Americans, insured and uninsured alike."

How many of those in the House and Senate who have categorically rejected a proposed universal health care plan could watch this message and with dry eyes still stiffly say NO, clearly for crass personal and partisan reasons? That politicians of all stripes are saying YES to the strong health insurance and big drug manufacturing lobby and their millions in political campaign contributions is truly sickening.

Have a look at the national organizations who make up Americans for Stable Quality Care:


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Northwest Airline's Dreamy Flight Includes Bed Time Fairytale

Graphic by Larry Ray

Last Wednesday, Oct. 21, Delta-Northwest Airlines flight 188 from San Diego to Minneapolis arrived an hour late after the plane's pilots somehow flew right over the Minneapolis airport and kept on flying eastward for another 150 miles, all the while failing to respond to repeated radio calls to them by air traffic controllers.

As of today the pilots are sticking with the story they gave the NTSB that they were "in a heated discussion about airline policy" and lost "situational awareness" when they flew past their destination at 37,000 feet. Earlier, over Denver, ATC got no reply from repeated radio calls on various frequencies to the Northwest pilots nor did other FAA centers till the plane finally turned around after overshooting Minneapolis. It looked enough like a possible hijacking that National Guard jets were put on standby by the White House.

Regardless of what the two pilots are claiming to the press, the logic of what happened would seem very clear to most pilots, even a non-commercial private pilot like me, and especially any pilot flying under Instrument Flight Rules. Let's consider a few things ...
  • Airline pilots fly in a very structured environment. Flight plans with headings and altitudes are issued by Air Traffic Control centers; the plane is "handed off" from one regional ATC center to another further along the path the plane is following. Pilots cannot decide not to talk to the ATC controllers.
  • There is a relatively continuous exchange of flight altitudes and headings that is heard and read back confirming the information along the route. Aircraft radios are tuned to several different frequencies. Just picture several "phones" that can ring and also be used to call the ground. Pilots must answer any of them when they "ring."
  • Every aircraft, private or commercial, must have a gizmo called a transponder that broadcasts a data string of four numbers which clearly identify the plane on radar. So while the Northwest airplane had "phones ringing" which they weren't answering, the ATC could see exactly where the plane was on their radar screens.
  • Some very basic things a pilot is supposed to do include never flying with less than 8 hours between drinking alcohol and takeoff time, "bottle to throttle" time, and never ignoring and always acknowledging radio instructions from ATC.
  • So, we have to ask. Why didn't anyone answer any of the several "phones ringing" in their headsets or over the cockpit radio speakers? Back on the ground, why would you not get an answer when you call a close friend whom you know is at home? Phone off the hook? Phone ring volume turned way down too low while friend is watching something really great on TV? Or, the TV show was too long and boring and your friend dozed off, not hearing the phone? Or they could have had an accident?
  • When would they finally hear the phone and answer it? If they finally wake up from their snooze having faintly heard the phone ringing? Or if the police and ambulance you sent are banging on the door, while the phone is ringing?
Airline pilots almost always only physically fly the airplane during takeoff, and landing. After climbing out to altitude the 'flight plan' is keyed into into the autopilot computer which does all the long course leg flying. If ATC changes their flight plan while they are up at assigned altitude they just key in the changes in heading and altitude and the plane's system flies the changes very smoothly and efficiently. They then usually only physically take control to land after being cleared to descend and land by ATC. Of course bad weather flying may require the pilot to take over to skirt thunderstorms and such.

Most of the descent is routinely programmed into the computer as well, with the pilot taking the controls when on final approach to land. Most passengers do not know that many of today's modern aircraft have automatic landing systems where the plane's flight controls and throttles are all computer controlled. This allows once impossible landings through thick soupy rain and fog right to touchdown. Many larger airliners even have a "full stop " landing capability that flies the plane to touchdown, steers it straight on the runway heading, slows it down and applies brakes to a full stop if that capability is ever necessary. Pilots are still in total command, but the new capabilities make life lots easier when needed.

So, with all this considered, an intense cockpit conversation about union rules and inequities that lasted from Denver to beyond Minneapolis, drowning out all the radio, email and data messages would have had to be compelling dialogue worthy of Shakespeare.

Airline bean counters in recent years have been combating increasing fuel and operational costs by tightening up flight schedules and pilot-crew pay. FAA-required rest and sleep times have been complied with only on paper in many instances. The real world includes airport-motel flight crew travel times, time to eat, getting restful sleep, waking up way too early, showering and dressing and making it to back the airport on time. Too frequently this stretches FAA requirements way too thinly. Not enough actual beneficial sleep, which is cumulative, can make pilots tired and less sharp. This reportedly is all too frequently becoming routine.

Imagine, a little before Flight 188 reached Denver, the Captain says to the First Officer in the right seat, "Charlie, I'm really beat and may be coming down with a damned cold. How about taking it while I get a couple of minutes sleep?" First Officer, Charlie, says, "Sure Skipper, I've got it. Great weather, smooth air, so catch a couple winks." This is prohibited by the FAA for U.S. airlines.

Then with the familiar crackle of radio chatter the only distraction in the cockpit, good old Charlie, who is more worn out than the Captain, starts to nod a little, then a little more and soon he is out cold, deeply asleep. And neither pilot wakes up till a flight attendant bangs on the door or repeatedly clangs the little intercom chime in the cockpit.

It is not reasonable that pilots, knowing they really screwed up, are going to tell authorities or the press right off the bat that they went to sleep with 144 passengers on board. They will stonewall it, futilely hoping their Airline Pilots Association lawyers can intervene with the NTSB and FAA and possibly get them off with a suspension from flying for a few months instead of losing their licenses and hard earned "type ratings" certifying them to pilot multiple models of airliners. A life's worth of training and experience snoozed away is too tough to accept.

The pilots' attorneys know this story will quickly fall off the TV news radar screen and be replaced with some other bizarre event. Just a few days before this latest Delta-Northwest Airlines bizarre story, one of Delta's airliners landed in Atlanta at 6:o3 AM on a taxiway instead of the runway. Fortunately no one was taxiing as they landed. Because of dominating political news, that equally incredible story didn't get the big play this mystery pilot story is getting.

Perhaps my oft-mentioned 'two-headed mule,' will appear on CNN with each head actually making speech-like utterances as if they were talking, one head delivering one sentence with the other head picking up the next mulish garble. But on second thought, that may not be novel enough even for CNN . . . that kind of thing is seen constantly on cable newscasts. But with two human "co-anchor" talking heads which have nicer hair and sometime even speak intelligibly as they divide the news commentary, one line for him, then next for her.

Nothing would delight me more than to be completely blindsided with some astounding revelation from the NTSB and FAA investigations of the errant Northwest Airlines flight that exonerates the Captain and Charlie. Interestingly, Northwest is supposed to be the first North American carrier operating the new 787 Boeing 'Dreamliner' ... maybe this was a secret test flight?

If the pilots are exonerated, I will certainly post a new article on such findings … unless I get completely distracted with news of a real live two headed mule somewhere.

UPDATE: MONDAY OCT. 26, 5:00 PM *********
Breaking news now tells us that Captain Timothy Cheney and First Officer Richard Cole are telling investigators that instead of having had a "heated discussion" they had broken out their laptop computers and the junior officer was showing the Captain how to use a new computerized crew-scheduling system being introduced by Delta-Northwest where pilots now put in "bids" by computer for the flights they prefer.

At this point would you rather have had pilots sleeping, or pilots totally unaware of radio communication or their location while they were fully awake? Talk about people using their cell phones and texting while driving!

There still remains the question as to whether they really were, in fact, asleep or now have hatched a new, still hard to believe cover story about being totally absorbed in their laptop computers, which is also against regulations. Stay tuned ...

UPDATE OCT. 27th 5:00 PM************
The FAA didn't buy any of the the pilots' explanations, and certainly not their telling them that they ". . . heard voices on their radio but ignored them," and in a rarely done, severe move, the FAA revoked both pilot's licenses. They have 10 days to appeal but also remain suspended by parent company Delta, pending results of an ongoing NTSB investigation.

Looks like they will now be using their computers for job hunting along with millions of other unemployed Americans. And as for piloting paying passengers again any time soon, or ever, that looks remote. Below is a view of a nighttime airliner cockpit. Note the two color weather radar flight position indicator displays and numerous radio and data displays. It would seem that even using a laptop, one could hardly miss seeing the radars when looking up. Seems to boil down to asking if there is any excuse at all for putting their minds as well as an Airbus A-320 on autopilot while air traffic control was desperately trying to contact them? Have these pilots forgotten what the last airliner that didn't reply to urgent ATC calls, and was flying in the wrong place did on September 11th 2001?

Graphics by Larry Ray

Monday, October 19, 2009

Halloween Bible-Burning Bash : Amazing Grace in North Carolina

Pastor Marc Grizzard

The Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Canton, North Carolina has big plans for Halloween and just might win the 'Old-South Small Town Flaming Fundamentalist Award.' The church is planning a really big bible burning, or as they see it, "Burning Perversions of God's Word." And as long as the flames are roaring, "We will also be burning Satan's music such as country, pop, heavy metal, western, soft and easy, contemporary Christian, jazz, soul, oldies but goldies, etc."

Bluegrass seems to have survived along with classical music, but I bet Pastor Marc Grizzard would toss Offenbach's "Orpheus in Hades" on his pyre if someone told him about classical.

All this is being done in an attempt to rid the immediate area of all those other bibles that "are not the word of God" and Grizzard has it honed down to anything that is not "based on the TR." And he is not referring to Teddy Roosevelt or Tryannosaurus Rex.

The single abbreviation, TR, is for "Textus Receptus, or "Received Text," the great recitation straight from the mouth of God, AKA the King James Version, as defined by Pastor Grizzard who may or may not cohere to Erasmus's original Greek Testament. Any other biblical interpretations are flawed and not the word of God according to the Pastor and his 14 church members.

So scholars beware! Check the list, "We are burning Satan's bibles like the NIV, RSV, NKJV, TLB, NASB, NEV, NRSV, ASV, NWT, Good News for Modern Man, The Evidence Bible, The Message Bible, The Green Bible, ect.(sic)"

However, there are some exceptions, again straight from their web site, "We are not burning Bibles written in other languages that are based on the TR. We are not burning the Wycliffe, Tyndale, Geneva or other translations that are based on the TR. We will be serving Bar-b-Que Chicken, fried chicken, and all the sides."

To make sure Halloween is clean fun for all, Grizzard's web site promises a raging fire from other blazing blasphemy penned by the likes of everyone from The Pope to Oral Roberts:
  • "We will also be burning Satan's popular books written by heretics like Westcott & Hort, Bruce Metzger, Billy Graham, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, John McArthur, James Dobson, Charles Swindoll, John Piper, Chuck Colson, Tony Evans, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swagart, Mark Driskol, Franklin Graham, Bill Bright, Tim Lahaye, Paula White, T.D. Jakes, Benny Hinn, Joyce Myers, Brian McLaren, Robert Schuller, Mother Teresa, The Pope, Rob Bell, Erwin McManus, Donald Miller, Shane Claiborne, Brennan Manning, William Young, etc."
Canton, North Carolina is in the shadow of Cold Mountain, which inspired the 1997 NY Times bestseller of the same name about a post Civil War romance and it seems like a nice enough place. I hope the Amazing Grace Baptist Church makes sure to get a special burning permit, otherwise the fire department might be called out, and fines levied. Or at least that is what Article B, Fire Prevention and Hazards of the Town of Canton, NC Code of Ordinances seems to say in Section 3-2011 'Open fires prohibited in fire limits. It shall be unlawful for any person to ignite, use or maintain any open or unenclosed fire within the fire limits of the Town.' (Code 1963, Sec. 8-1)

It would just take all the fun out of Halloween not to be able to burn the writings of Mother Teresa and Jimmy Swagart.

Graphic composite by Larry Ray

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Echoes from Vietnam: Dying again in Afghanistan

Forty three years ago as a young civilian correspondent and documentary film maker, I stepped off the plane in Saigon knowing nothing about the history of that country or its people, and little or nothing about why Americans were fighting and dying there. I had come to see the war of my time.

As a US Navy veteran and young news anchor for a South Texas regional TV station it seemed a given that we were there to fight godless communism and that we were the good guys.

It was 1966 and WWII had been over for 21 years and hostilities in Korea had ceased in 1953. But Americans still saw our military and patriotism as Johnny marching home again to ticker tape parades. We had whipped the Nazis and the Japs, and fought the North Koreans and commie Chinese to a draw. Clearly American might was not to be messed with.

But by 1966 America's claim of winning an honorable peace in South Vietnam was being seriously challenged by seasoned journalists in both Saigon and Washington D.C.. About the time I arrived, Morley Safer filed his story showing our Marines using a zippo lighter to set fire to thatch roofed homes in a rural village on a "search and destroy" mission. His was perhaps the first story that Americans saw that suggested America was facing bleak prospects of victory. We damn sure were not winning hearts and minds.

After a few months of sitting through bogus US military press briefings which we called the "five o'clock follies," and working with seasoned reporters from around the world, my Boy Scout naiveté disappeared. After a year of the outright lies and misrepresentations in Pentagon and White House press releases about things I had seen with my own eyes, my naiveté turned to a frustrated, simmering anger. An anger that was ultimately taken to the streets across America just a few years later. Since the Vietnam war, accredited correspondents have no longer been allowed to freely move about and report on our wars. Reporters are now "embedded" within military units under their control and influence.

The parallels between America's disastrous involvement in Southeast Asia and our costly and ill-advised involvement in the Middle East have fired up that frustration and anger anew. This time opposition by the average American to requests for more troops in Afghanistan is getting louder before the new call for 40,000 more troops has even been approved.

Our involvement
in Vietnam started in 1950. General Eisenhower's decision to send military advisers to help the South Vietnamese army was the start of a massive buildup of American troop strength which reached a high of 543,482 in 1969. In the early years in Vietnam the Pentagon was still using a set-piece, WWII battle mentality, and Communism was our new political devil. And this was a hot, sweaty jungle war with no front lines.

Very few Americans spoke or understood the sing-songy monosyllabic Vietnamese language. The history and dynamics of a very old country that had been at war in some form or another for more than a thousand years was lost on those tasked with guiding America's efforts there.

The fiercest battles were being secretly waged between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Department of State. The State Department's political and diplomatic findings were muzzled and marginalized. We bombed Hanoi while increasing numbers of young draftees and regular American troops were being slaughtered as they fought fiercely in unforgiving conditions for a cause they did not understand. Almost twice as many Vietnamese, insurgents as well as civilians, died from our bombs and bullets.

America's strong belief in the efficacy of power reasoned that if bombing our way to peace was not working, there was no need to consider diplomacy or a new approach. Clearly we only needed to drop more bombs, send in more troops and the enemy would finally give up. And that is just what we did. The generals called for increasing the enemy body count to achieve peace and allow us to return home with honor. And our politicians went right along with that reasoning.

We failed to appreciate that we were in the middle of a very old private fight between North and South. Intelligence showed early on that a majority in the South was ready for peace, even a communist style of peace and most of all wanted the "long noses" who they saw as raining destruction down upon them to be driven out of their country. In Vietnam there ultimately was no victory and no honor for America. Today Vietnam is peaceful and prosperous and an important trading partner with the USA, just like our top trading partner, communist China.

The military might mentality was challenged early on by president John F. Kennedy, who in 1961 bucked extreme pressure from the Pentagon and within his own White House, and refused to order combat troops into Vietnam, limiting our presence there to military advisers. JFK listened not only to his top military brass, but also to his State Department, particularly undersecretary George Ball who predicted pretty much what eventually happened, except reality was worse than what he envisioned. After JFK's death his order halting combat troops was reversed by President Johnson driven more by domestic politics than military necessity.

In Vietnam 58,000 American troops were killed, 155,192 were wounded or missing. The touted "domino effect" where all Southeast Asia would topple country after country to communism if we didn't win in Vietnam now is easy to see as so much expedient political hysteria.

The story is, of course, much more complex than this, but the bare bones are that politicians and military leaders refused to listen to the State Department and other foreign service experts who laid bare the corrupt leadership of South Vietnam, and pointed out that this was a long simmering internal war of insurgency with strong nationalistic roots. The actual communist Chinese or Soviet Russian interest in and backing of the war was extremely limited.

Our desire to strike back after the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001 combined the totally inept leadership of the George W. Bush administration with, once again, expedient political hysteria. First we launched an inadequately planned and then insufficiently supported attack upon al Qaeda strongholds in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda top officials escaped to protective sheltering by tribal supporters who had seen their country invaded by the British, the Soviet union, and now American and NATO troops.

Then, with political misinformation, outright lies, a cowed press and a Congress that asked few questions, our government launched an unprovoked invasion of Iraq, which had nothing whatsoever to do with the 9-11 attacks on the USA. This mad neo-conservative misadventure has had a massively destabilizing effect upon the Middle East and has bred more hatred for the USA and our military in the Arab world.

It has also unnecessarily stressed our military's ready troop strength and equipment readiness with 4,300 US troops killed and more than 30,000 wounded and injured as of September 2009. Cost of the Iraq war is expected to surpass the $686 billion present day dollar value cost of the Vietnam war by year's end.

One of President Obama's first actions after taking office was to make good on his promise to get us out of Iraq, and that is now underway. Though the dynamics, politics, religion and leadership are totally different from Vietnam, Iraq, like Vietnam, will ultimately reach its own destiny without the forceful imposition of American ideas and politics upon its ancient culture. We eliminated its despotic leader, but its people still must sort through complex religious and ideological differences on its own and they may or may not decide to remain some sort of democracy.

Afghanistan is an even older and thornier problem. And one that cannot be bombed into submission. Afghanistan was first invaded by
Alexander the Great in 330 BC. The tribal warlords have never been successfully subdued. No "surge" of military troops will somehow completely overpower the zealotry of religious belief. Imagine foreign troops invading America trying to subdue and forcibly control ultra-orthodox elements of the Southern Baptist Convention or the Catholic Church, because they saw them as bad for the American people.

Afghanistan has never had organized, cohesive governance and is today just a fragile step away from becoming a failed state like Somalia. That is why it was an ideal location for Bin Laden to train his al Qaeda fighters. The American figurehead Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, has become a real problem for the U.S. as well as NATO. We had hoped, with our backing, he could somehow unify the disparate tribes flung through the mountains and badlands into a proud democracy. But such dreams have been jarred by the reality of a Karzai-rigged national election with rampant vote tampering and voter intimidation. Karzai is no better than the warlords we want him to pull together. Karzai has now distanced himself from his American minders and has lost legitimacy in the eyes of the Afghan people.

Now we want to send in a massive number of new troops and equipment to somehow again "win hearts and minds" and
drive out the Taliban with brute force. While the Taliban have no designs upon terror against America or any of the other NATO nations now with troops in the country, they operate as brutal criminals in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan. An increased armed American presence there is a daily irritant to Afghans, as well as neighboring rogue areas of Pakistan caught between foreign troops who often cannot tell the difference between peaceful civilians and the Taliban. Once more we are fighting a war where troops do not speak the language or understand the people and are tasked with fighting often in 130º heat. The goal of preventing Afghanistan from again becoming an al Qaeda terrorist training ground again cannot be accomplished by bombing the country into submission. This is a complicated political, diplomatic and sociological challenge.

President Obama, in office less than a year, just like JFK, must soon make a decision regarding the politically charged prospect of approving or disapproving more troops being called for by a top military general. I hope he is aware of the assessment of others who have tried to subdue this ragged country:
  • “Afghanistan taught us an invaluable lesson . . . It has been and always will be impossible to solve political problems using force. We should have helped the people of Afghanistan in improving their life, but it was a gross mistake to send troops into the country.”
– Retired Red Army General Boris Gromov.

Photo - Larry Ray in Cu Chi Vietnam, late summer 1966

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Stop and Watch: The Butterfly Circus

This is not the usual iHandbill post. This is something special and evocative I want to share with you. Something, I feel, that is very much needed in the shrillness of our times. It will take 20 minutes of your time, and it will, I can almost certainly promise, give you a refreshed view of hope and accomplishment.

This is a magnificently produced short film that is magic. It will grab your soul and hold it up to the light for a few moments ... and might even recharge it a little.

At the height of the Great Depression, the showman of a renowned circus leads his troupe through the devastated American landscape, lifting the spirits of audiences along the way. During their travels they discover a man without limbs at a carnival sideshow, but after an intriguing encounter with the showman he becomes driven to hope against everything he has ever believed."

I hope you will watch this amazing short film. It has the quality of a feature film, and if you have a good monitor you may watch it in high quality full screen. Your ticket is RIGHT HERE ... click the familiar "Play" diamond!

"The Butterfly Circus" has just recently won the 2009 Grand Prize in the respected Doorpost Film Project competition.

Monday, September 14, 2009

KKK to Tea Parties: Communicating with the Ignorant and Angry

If angry outbursts and placard waving protesters against health care reform seem heated today, the idea of planned parenthood and birth control in the early 1900's caused a raging bonfire.

Margaret Sanger, an activist way ahead of her time, is credited with starting the idea of planned parenthood. Over the years she was arrested more than eight times for expressing her ideas back when speaking out in public in favor of birth control was illegal. She did time in jail in 1916 nine days after opening America's first birth control and family planning clinic in Brooklyn. But Margaret Sanger's message also supported "negative eugenics" saying, "It is a vicious cycle; ignorance breeds poverty and poverty breeds ignorance. There is only one cure for both, and that is to stop breeding these things."

So, like a modern day Sibyl, her pronouncements could be interpreted by opposing sides, each opting either to hear the positive germ of her message, or to embrace the radical edges of some of her statements as pillars of support for their views ... including white supremacy.

In the mid 1920's she received more than a million letters requesting information on birth control. And she spoke from coast to coast to diverse groups including "cotton workers, churchmen, liberals, socialists, scientists, civic clubs, and fashionable, philanthropically minded women."

In 1926, she was invited to speak to the ladies axillary of the Ku Klux Klan in Silver Lake, New Jersey. After being driven in a curtain shuttered car for almost an hour, way out into a country field, she gave a lecture to the robed and hooded ladies, as well as a smattering of male Klansmen. In her memoirs she described it as "one of the weirdest experiences I had in lecturing," noting that she was forced to use only "the most elementary terms, as though I were trying to make children understand." The KKK ladies and their male attendees were reportedly delighted with the idea of promoting birth control for 'the colored folks.'

Though she remains to this day a controversial figure it is interesting to note that as the nation became more enlightened, birth control and family planning became accepted, championed by John D. Rockefeller, Jr.'s Bureau of Social Hygiene. In spite of allegations of racism, she earned the respect and support of of civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and the American Humanist Association named her Humanist of the Year in 1957.

Today President Barack Obama has undertaken the tough task of renewing a demand for universal health insurance legislation for all Americans. For seventy years political manipulation, crass profit incentives of big business and a whipped up mistrust of "big government" as a convenient devil has blocked health care reform legislation.

Medicare health insurance for our senior citizens finally passed in 1965 after years of being protested and assailed as "socialist" and a "government takeover" by conservative Republicans adverse to any change. A high percentage of today's protesters have Medicare cards in their pockets.

The busloads of well fed white folks who angrily waved placards in the nation's capitol last week probably didn't pay for their bus tickets and their mental carry on baggage was not packed with reasoned ideology based upon clear fact. Rather, it was stuffed with anger, startling ignorance of the facts and, worse, their willingness to believe such political purée.

It is daily becoming more and more clear that much, but not all, of what we are seeing is driven by simmering racism, the idea that the most powerful man in the world, the President of the USA is not a white man. That a black skinned, (his white half doesn't seem to count) calm, educated and persuasive man is deciding what will happen to THEM!

The busloads arriving in Washington D.C. and in the town hall meetings, were all for the most part provided a free ride and a sense of indignant importance, banding together to hate, vent frustration and spout utter nonsense. With Rush Limbaugh, Fox News and the endless babble of knee-jerk talking heads on cable TV, the ignorant are rewarded for their ignorance. They are delighted to hear what they want to hear fed to them daily.

Also, today's so-called "Tea Parties" which have no relationship whatsoever to the reasons for the Boston Tea Party are a sad testament in themselves to the ignorance of most of the shouting sign carriers of what the historic "Tea Party" actually was. Similarly, a large number of those screaming "Socialist" would, I will wager, be unable to define what a socialist is. But by God, they are mad!

Today's disgruntled race baiting demonstrators aren't wearing robes or hoods. Most also are not armed with facts or reasoned opposition. They are armed with anger, wild rumors and a sense of empowerment that harks back some 40 some odd years ago when this same mentality produced sneers and shouts of "Boy!" to make a black move off the sidewalk, or to those who carried "no nigger" placards outside public schools while police dogs strained at their leashes as small black children walked past. Fine law-abiding, church going folks then ... and now.

This minority of our citizenry has long been hijacked for cynical purposes. They present a golden opportunity for the struggling, discredited conservative Republican base to recruit and inflame the bigoted and ignorant with poisoned misinformation.

Though this righteous mob is making the most noise and is getting the media coverage that would be bestowed on a fully grown two-headed mule, our elected representatives must hear the louder voice of reason from the overwhelming concerned and reasonable majority. Maybe it would help if we speak to them "in the most elementary terms, as though we were trying to make children understand."

archive photo

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Raving Joe Wilson: The Pride of So. Carolina!

Graphic by Larry Ray

When Hugh de Veaux Wilson and Wray Graves Wilson looked at their newborn that July 31, 1947, they knew he was destined for national recognition. They named him Addison Graves, Wilson, Sr., but everyone just called him Joe. The crescent moon in the South Carolina flag was his teething ring as he started a career as a conservative Republican. As a teenager he worked on Congressman Floyd Spence's campaign, and later as an aide to segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond. Joe is a product of South Carolina, and became a U.S. Congressman to represent his state in 2001.

And he did make history last night, stunning a jam-packed joint meeting of both houses in the House chamber as well as millions of TV viewers when he bellowed "You Lie!" as President Obama was delivering his major address on health care reform.

Good old Joe made history because as far as anyone could determine, no one had ever exhibited such crass disrespect for the President of the United States during a presidential address.

Shouting out a crude epitaph in a routine session of the House of Representatives is grounds for a formal reprimand. So what was Joe thinking?

Not quite a year after Joe Wilson became a congressman, during a September 2002, debate on going to war in Iraq, Wilson called Congressman Bob Filner "viscerally anti-American." During the debate, Filner suggested the United States supplied chemical and biological weapons to Saddam Hussein and Joe exploded that Filner had a "hatred of America." Joe said later that he "didn't intend to insult Filner."

White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, was sitting just a few rows in front of Congressman Wilson when he hurled his insult at his boss, the President. Emanuel reportedly made it very clear to Republican leaders that the congressman doing the shouting be identified and issue an apology immediately, noting that "No president has ever been treated like that. Ever."

Wilson made a beeline out of the House chamber immediately after the end of the President's speech. He must have had a political epiphany and decided to apologize, just like he had to fellow congressman Filner, by calling the President, to maybe again say "I didn't mean to insult you."

Rahm Emanuel took the call and accepted Joe's apology on behalf of the president. A formal letter of apology was hastily issued from Wilson's congressional office but it clearly shows Joe's wrong-headed hubris. While the letter apologized for "a lack of civility," it also pointed out that, "While I disagree with the president’s statement, my comments were inappropriate . . ."

This is actually a classic example of the "flipped conservative lie" where a clearly established fact, is ballyhooed to constituents back home as being just the opposite. It is classic GOP "government is lying to you so we gotta fight this" political trickery.

"While I disagree with the president’s statement ..." is Joe's way of continuing to maintain the President is lying to you because Joe wants so badly to believe that his real lie, instead, is true.

In this case the President of the United States was categorically clearing up a totally false Republican claim that illegal immigrants would be provided free health care under a new health care reform bill. Joe's ingrained demagoguery automatically made him shout "You lie!'" For that instant he forgot he was not in a chummy, fired up town hall meeting in South Carolina, but that he was seated among his peers and his president was debunking a large Republican lie.

So, lets look at this. The president unambiguously declares that the illegal immigrants free health care rumor is false. Joe says he 'disagrees' with the president . . . meaning that somehow Joe is convinced the illegals are going to get free health care no matter what the president or anyone else says. That Barack Hussein Obama is the president, calm, collected, and much bigger than a sputtering, defeated southern white man, might be part of what is going on here.

A hometown blog, Carolina Politics Online, reporting on their congressman's ugly and universally condemned outburst, simply asked:
  • "Did y’all hear Congressman Joe Wilson stand up and yell “You lie!” to Obama tonight when he said illegal aliens won’t get covered under government health care? It was clearly audible on the television and it made the Dalai Bama pause for a second or two. It’s already hit YouTube. The look on Pelosi’s face is priceless too."
Yeah, we all heard it, millions of us, and so did your "Dali Bama." In fact, we've all had more than an earful of "Carolina Politics." Your romance novel, philandering governor held the So. Carolina Jackass Award until last night. Y'all also got all that rumor-mongering, betting Governor Sanford's GOP buddies will not impeach him out of fear of putting a supposedly gay man in his place. That is hard to top, but now Congressman Joe calls the POTUS a liar, in prime time, and sweeps the top jackass spot probably for a long time to come. Y'all are in a big steamed up glass house. Time to quit throwing rocks, and worry about our country's real problems don't you think?

FOLLOWUP: People wanting to leave their thoughts about Rep. Joe Wilson on his Capitol Hill site are getting this notice after clicking "Contact Us." Joe really connected with America it seems. And lots of them would like to have a piece of his red neck.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Health Care Reform: A Pandemic of Ignorance and Fear

I have just finishing reading "Naples in the Time of Cholera 1884-1911." It is a masterful historical look at the spread of cholera in Naples, Italy during the late cholera pandemics that swept large parts of the world in the 19th and 20th centuries. The parallels between today's vocal citizen opposition to change in our problem-plagued American health care system and the frightened ignorance of fist-shaking citizens in Naples 125 years ago are worth a few words.

In Naples, filth and squalid living conditions as well as medical ignorance of just what caused cholera made for a deadly combination. This was worsened by politics, class distinctions and long a standing public distrust of authority in 1884. Italy had just been unified in 1871, with Rome as its capital, into a single republic. Naples had been under the domination of so many other countries and powers since its founding by the Greeks in about 430BC that its citizens didn't trust politicians for a moment. And with good reason, with the hapless poor and elderly always the first to get the short end of any political stick.

The USA, just an upstart of a country compared to the ancient grand old former empires of Europe, nonetheless shares the commonality of basic human nature with Italy and certainly Naples when it comes to anger generated from ignorance and fear of change. And we also share with Naples the existence of conniving politicians, greedy business interests, a medical elite fighting amongst itself, and organized religion attempting to influence legislation.

Putting things into this kind of a time comparison, the 70 years we have been trying to get affordable access to health care for all Americans doesn't seem very long compared to how long old world countries have had to wait for things to happen.

As cholera spread throughout the slums and packed tenement houses of Naples, widespread anger fed by wild rumors and misinformation resulted from the heavy-handed treatment and cavalier approach by government to dealing with massive death and spread of the disease.

Rumor became fact in the minds of the non-elite sufferers that the rich were poisoning them "by spreading arsenic on their buildings at night" as a way to get rid of them. In both France and Italy the clerical right fanned the flames of the Vatican's prejudice to further stir up trouble for regimes they deeply disliked. The Jesuits called cholera "the chastisement of heaven' for those who strayed from toeing a strict Catholic line.

Involvement of religion here in the USA is most loudly heard through faith-based interpretation of when life begins and how that belief impacts health care for believers as well as non-believers. This line in the religious sand focuses most fiercely upon abortion rights. Obliquely, recent misinformation from conservatives includes nonsense and twisted interpretations warning of President Obama's "death panels" that would decide who lives and dies ... sort of a modern day rumor akin to government poisoning the poor in Naples to get rid of them.

The human nature parallels between health care based fear and public demonstrations here in the USA and those in bella Napoli more than a century ago are not hard to see. Lines can be drawn between the socio economic and educational levels of the loudest and angriest of those in Naples in the 1800's and the many frightened and ignorant fist shakers at the hot summer 'Town Hall' meetings across America in recent weeks.

The misinformation and rumors could have been a lot worse in Naples had there been access to email and TV.

In Naples there was no fact-checking to counter misinformation, so the wildest and most improbable fear-mongering flashed like a wildfire through the disease ridden quarters of the old city.

Today we do have impartial fact checking and the Annenberg Public Policy Center's just posted results of their non-partisan research into recent falsehoods and manipulation by those with lots to lose from a more level health care insurance playing field:

Twenty-six Lies About H.R. 3200
"A notorious analysis of the House health care bill contains 48 claims.
Twenty-six of them are false and the rest mostly misleading. Only four are true."

It is worth a quick CLICK ON THE LINK to see this dispassionate debunking of chain e-mail and blathering talking head nonsense.

The irony of my Naples comparison is that Italy ranks near the top of the list of countries with the most equitable and highest level of quality health care today, while the USA is pitifully way down the list ... and it is America's world-recognized low standing that current health care reform seeks to finally remedy.

graphic by Larry Ray
"Naples in the Time of Cholera 1884-1911" by Frank M. Snowden

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Town Hall Crazies : Too Nuts for Jerry Springer?

Out of Control Town Hall mobs:
Probably too much
even for Jerry Springer!

It would not surprise me if former politician and TV show host, Jerry Springer, would even ban some raving and ranting health care town hall meeting audience members from his show. Springer, known for the raucous and outrageous behavior of his show's guests is a former Mayor of Cincinnati and knows the politics of stage-managed dissent. Many recent summer break town hall meetings televised on cable TV and the evening news look very much like the Jerry Springer show . . . complete with beefy security guards hauling off screaming, threatening audience members.

News and opinion columns are full of reasons why rude sign-toting mobs are shouting down their U.S. Senators and Congressmen at town hall meetings across the nation. Common findings about this rage and nastiness show much of it has to do with more than constructive health care debate. Almost all the red-faced, loud, finger-pointing folks are up in arms over totally incorrect or out of context information they believe to be true. Many also erupt over things to do with immigration and topics other than health care. And the meetings may also be serving as a pop-off valve for racial hatred in some instances.

Senator Arlen Specter was assailed by 59 year old Craig Anthony Miller who did not like the seating plan for the meeting. He bellowed at Specter, ""One day, God is going to stand before you and he's going to judge you!" Then he walked out of the meeting. Later Specter noted, "There is more anger in America today than any time I can remember."

Much of this disinformation is fed by mindlessness opportunists like Sarah Palin and her Twittered warning of Obama "Death Panels," and from endless talking-point emails loaded with falsehoods and half-truths.

I was recently emailed "20 Questions for your Congressman . . . what to ask at a Town Hall Meeting." The list is the work of Robert Tracinski, and distributed by the right-wing "TIA Daily." I looked up Tracinski and remembered his ultra-conservative ravings from the presidential campaign. He was opposed to McCain for president for not being a true conservative and was a Rudy Guliani champion. In January 2008 wrote:
  • So how is he (McCain) supposed to stand up to the Democrats on any part of their socialized medicine agenda? In addition to fighting the Democrats on socialized medicine, a Republican president would also have to fight in Congress for the extension of President Bush's tax cuts, which are set to begin expiring in 2009 and 2010.
Tracinski's talking-point list is full of total fiction and fear mongering. Here's an example:
  • When the government starting(sic) portraying people in the financial industry as villains and started limiting their pay and subjecting them to more regulations, banks reported a "brain drain" as smart and well-educated people left the industry or went overseas looking for better pay and less stress. But the term "brain drain" was originally coined in the 1960s when doctors and medical researchers left Britain to escape socialized medicine. Aren't you afraid we might see the same kind of brain drain from the medical profession here in America?
That simply is not true at all, but is typical of chauvinistic claims ignorant Americans love to make about "foreign countries" they know nothing about. Tired of hearing their National Health Service, England's cheap, efficient and universal health-care system smeared in the American debate, the Brits have started responding to them with a lively Twitter forum, ""welovetheNHS."

A serious example of chauvinistic ignorance is the conservative Los Angeles, California based, "Investor's Business Daily" which asserted in an editorial, "People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the UK, where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless."

This prompted a quick counter response from London's "Guardian," by Hugh Muir an editorial columnist for the paper. Muir, contacted the internationally famous, wheelchair-bound Prof. Hawking for comment which was easy to do since Muir and Hawking are both UK citizens, a fact the LA IBD clearly did not know. Muir reported on his contact with Professor Hawking:
  • We say his life is far from worthless, as they do at Addenbrooke's hospital, Cambridge, where Professor Hawking, who has motor neurone disease, was treated for chest problems in April. As indeed does he. "I wouldn't be here today if it were not for the NHS," he told us. "I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived." Something here is worthless. And it's not him. Investor's Business Daily, incidentally, has now deleted the offending line from their editorial and published a correction. "This version corrects the original editorial which implied that physicist Stephen Hawking, a professor at the University of Cambridge, did not live in the UK," reads the addendum.

    But that's not a correction at all. IBD never claimed that Hawking didn't live in the UK. It claimed that the NHS would judge him worthless and leave him to die. That was what was wrong. And that has not been corrected by the IBD -- which says a lot about how much trust readers should place in their work. Instead, it has been corrected by Hawking himself.
This kind of calculated misinformation easily leads to anger and violence. Fortunately this unforgivable US editorial garbage was called to task. All too many Americans still repeat the old saw that America has "the best health care in the world," which of course has not been true for decades when looked at in detail. America, indeed, has some of the very best physicians and surgeons in the world and amazing medical technology. But when you look at the overall health care provided to our citizens, we are failing miserably. The statistics are nothing to be proud of:

US expenditure for health care (2008) was $2.4 trillion, and estimated to be $4.3 trillion by 2017. 46 million uninsured and another 25 million underinsured. 18% of US citizens can’t pay for medicines or health care their family needed in last 12 months (April, 2009).

A telling and truly sad confirmation of this lack of health care for all Americans was published in The New York Times last night, August 12th. The story's headline is "Thousands Line Up for Promise of Free Health Care."

Hundreds of volunteer doctors, dentists, optometrists, nurses and others have set up a huge M*A*S*H unit in an arena just outside Los Angeles. For eight days they hope to help more than 8,000 people. "Remote Area Medical" is offering basic medical exams, mammograms, eye exams and glasses as well as dental services, all offered for free from medical professionals who understand the huge problem too many Americans face.

Of the thousands standing in lines for hours, many have some sort of insurance but it does not cover all their needs. Most still cannot afford a dentist, preventive medical tests or the cost of an eye exam and glasses.

It is extremely generous for individual physicians, nurses and others to make this all possible a few times a year. But this Tennessee based group is now spending more time helping the under served in America than in rural India where they have helped for years.

You would never see such a pitiful band-aid approach to health care anywhere in Europe, Japan, and other modern societies where all citizens are guaranteed quality universal health coverage. The USA is a singular holdout, not placing a high value on guaranteed quality health care for all its citizens.

Shouts of "socialized medicine" by conservatives clearly mean that they feel many Americans actually do not deserve quality health care. Shouting down this obvious need for universal health care, especially if the rich and powerful are urging frightened people to do the shouting, may appeal to Jerry Springer fans but for most reasonable Americans it is a disgusting show.

graphic by Larry Ray with Apologies to Jerry Springer

Monday, August 3, 2009

Beneath Naples, Italy via Radio New Zealand!

The reach of the internet continues to amaze me. I have long had a fascination with the "Parallel City" beneath Naples, Italy since the early 1960's when I lived there. Called the "sottosuolo," it is a maze of giant cavities, tunnels, aqueducts, passageways, ancient Greek tombs, WWII air raid shelters and more.

Stationed in Naples many years ago, I became fascinated with the mysterious network below the city, which few locals knew much about at all. For many years I regularly returned to Naples to see friends and pursue exploration of the wonders below the city. In recent years I have translated articles into English on a wonderful web site operated by my urban speleologist friends in Naples.

The English Language version has resulted in a much wider knowledge of the marvels beneath the city including attracting the interest of regular visitors from around the world, National Geographic who did a great article with stunning photos, a travel article in The New York Times a couple of months ago, and a phone call a couple of weeks ago from Radio New Zealand wanting to do an interview with me for their popular "Nights" program.

That interview was broadcast August 3, down under in New Zealand and is now available in streaming form at the link below through the marvel of the internet. Imagine the improbability of Radio New Zealand interviewing an old guy in Gulfport, Mississippi about a secret world beneath Naples, Italy!

I believe you will enjoy the interview. Chris Whitta, the program host, is personable and asked great questions. So take a few minutes and come enjoy the mysterious "Sottosuolo" of Naples.


Graphic by Larry Ray - RNZ Logo©

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Empathy Meets Realpolitik

Summertime and the living is easy . . . for our elected politicians in Washington D.C..

In just a few days they will suspend their hearings and deadline-driven decision making and return to the voters back home who keep them in office.

Homeless veterans across America, American children who do not have enough to eat, families facing foreclosure and unemployment all will still all be there when this great leadership body returns in a month or so, their campaign cash needs having been firmed up after non stop meetings with their voter base.

Meanwhile, last weekend almost one thousand homeless American military veterans in the San Diego, California area sought help at a three-day tent city program called "Stand Down." This volunteer effort has been operating for more than 20 years. It is a three-day chance for homeless veterans, many from the Vietnam era, but with increasing numbers from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to get free housing and social services. Hot food, a haircut, dental work, legal aid and a clean place to sleep in a familiar military camp setting is there to help these souls living on the very edge.

That in the USA we have a thousand former military veterans, down and out in the shadows of one large city should evoke both sadness, and no small amount of outrage and frustration. However, it is not just San Diego. The Department of Veterans affairs estimates that one out of three homeless people across America is a veteran.

How do all the car magnets and lawn signs urging that we "Support Our Troops" somehow exclude those troops who become disabled and fall through the cracks once they get back home? Do we just say tough luck to those who turn to drugs and alcohol, the ones who desperately need extra help? Where is our empathy?

Empathy? Conservative politicians have loudly used that word as a pejorative just recently. The word was invoked by President Obama as a desirable quality in a federal judge. More specifically his nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

Empathy? An effete, bleeding heart label? Hardly. Empathy is simply the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. But in that very definition we see among our elected leaders many who neither understand, nor share the feelings of others than themselves and their starchy conservative cohorts.

Empathy? How many of our nation's leaders have ever gone to bed hungry? U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics show that, "12.4 million children in the U.S. are 'food insecure' -- defined as not being able to get enough food to maintain a healthy, active life."

Food insecure? Simply say too many of our kids are hungry, not getting enough to eat. American kids. Using some bureaucratic euphemism does not fill empty tummies. Euphemisms do make the reports coming out of Washington agencies look a little less shocking. "Food insecure" doesn't jump off the page like "starving" or "undernourished," and helps keep this disgrace beneath the political radar.

Homeless American veterans and American children who never get enough to eat are merely two examples of ongoing problems that many of our politicians somehow must not hear about when they go back home. Our bloated and ineffective health care system is on this long list of old and worsening problems. But as a majority of our politicians now are working diligently to finally bring forth a new overhauled and affordable universal health plan for all Americans, conservatives reflexively throw up roadblocks.

Conservative protests about leaving huge indebtedness to our grandchildren actually mask a selfish fear of losing votes back home if they support a new, and initially expensive national health care plan. Empathy is absent from this narrow reasoning. Personal political career interests hold hostage the entire inertia and completion of work, particularly in the House of Representatives.

The very politicians now expressing such deep concern for our national debt were deafeningly silent as President Bush raised the national debt each of his eight years in office to a breathtaking record $11.3 trillion.

Properly done, universal health care would eventually greatly reduce soaring insurance and overall medical costs. But initially, funding for such a massive landmark change in the way we take care of America's health will be expensive and will require political backbone to make it a reality. More backbone is still needed to address the needs of homeless Veterans and our undernourished children.

Approval of long overdue universal health care will require the very two things sorely lacking in current political opponents - statesmanship and empathy. For those lacking these qualities, it is essential that we point them out, on both sides of the aisle, and inundate their offices with email, letters and phone calls demanding that they use their stated concerns for program cost as positive negotiable input to the committees working to craft the final health plan and not as a singular duplicitous barrier to progress.

Graphic - Larry Ray

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Senator Sessions : Alabama Hypocrite Would Sit in Judgment

The Republican Party's finest continue to exhibit just how sorry, brazen, and unprincipled many of them can be as questioning of Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor has gotten underway. One of the worst and most shameless of the GOP interrogators is Alabama junior senator, Jefferson Beauregard "Jeff" Sessions III.

In 1986 Sessions himself sat in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee as a Reagan nominee for a federal judgeship, and was promptly rejected because of his history of racially insensitive remarks and a poor civil rights record. One of those questioning Sessions was Senator Edward Kennedy who even back in 1986 called him "a throwback to a shameful era."

Today, after 23 years of playing the good old boy politician, becoming a U.S. Senator in 1997, Sessions, who switched from the Democratic to the Republican party, was assigned to be the Ranking Member on the Senate Judiciary Committee less than three months ago.

There is great irony here in the once rejected federal judicial nominee now trying to sharpen his claws on Judge Sotomayor. But she is lots tougher and sharper than Sessions could ever be, and is letting him claw away, as he loudly displays his lightweight duplicity and demagoguery.

In his confrontational opening statement of the confirmation hearings for Sonia Sotomayor, Sessions, in his high nasal whine, lectured the nominee about 'prejudice' in the legal system.

Twenty years ago when Sessions sat before the very panel he now heads, he was asked about well documented reports of his publicly recognized racism. His response, "I may have said something about the NAACP being un-American or Communist, but I meant no harm by it."

Sessions allegedly referred to the (NAACP) and the (ACLU) as "un-American" and "Communist inspired" because they "forced civil rights down the throats of people." At his confirmation hearings, Sessions said that the groups could be un-American when "they involve themselves in un-American positions" in foreign policy.

Sessions had been frequently accused of "gross insensitivity” on racial issues by his detractors. Among a variety of blatant racial comments his opponents pointed to, was his joking reference to the Ku Klux Klan which he said "was not so bad until he found out that some of them smoked marijuana." Sessions, with a straight face, claimed his remarks were made in jest.

The panel didn't buy it, and rejected him. One of those voting against him was Alabama Democratic Senator Howell Heflin.

Today Republican Senator Sessions is but one more example of GOP leadership tinged with documented hate, racism, anti immigration xenophobia, and unrealistic conservative dreams of "keeping things like they have always been."

The almost certain approval of Judge Sotomayor will, indeed, not be the way things have always been. That is the point of President Obama's having nominated her to the join the ranks of what has historically been the dominion of white men only, with relatively recent minor exceptions.

Meanwhile Senator Sessions may himself well be called to testify in future hearings since he was one of of only nine opponents of Senator John McCain's anti-torture amendment. Sessions supports former Vice President Dick Cheney's proposal to exempt the (CIA) from any ban on the use of torture.

Sessions is not real big on empathy either. Last month reportedly during testimony by a 42-year-old Filipino woman scheduled to be deported, the mother of two American children who had been in the USA for 23 years, Sessions was clearly heard telling one one of his aides, "Enough with the histrionics," when the woman's 12-year-old son began crying during the testimony.

And now he lectures a Supreme Court nominee about "prejudice in the legal system."

The only thing more disgusting and upsetting than Sessions' troubling racist background and narrow agenda are the voters out there who are nodding their heads in agreement with his "tough questioning" instead of asking themselves if Sessions is the best Alabama can do to represent them in the U.S. Senate.

.Graphic: US News & World Report June, 16, 1986

Thursday, July 9, 2009

ASCAP Wants To Be Paid When Your Phone Rings

When I first read about being forced to pay every time your cell phone's ringtone plays I thought it was a prank or hoax email. It wasn't. If you don't know what ASCAP is then turn off your cell phone and read this.

The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers was born in 1913 following passage of the Copyright Law of 1909. The law was enacted, the old tale goes, after songwriter Stephen Foster died penniless while sheet music publishers became wealthy selling his music. ASCAP set up a royalty rate structure and under New York law became an unincorporated membership association. Licensing contracts with composer and publisher members give ASCAP the power to "collect and distribute money and police infringements."

By the 1990's ASCAP had membership of some 30,000 writers and around 14,000 music publishers who retained their individual copyrights. ASCAP's contracted powers grew exponentially as hand cranked Victrolas gave way to movies with sound, radio, TV and an explosion of elevator music, video, jukeboxes, tape decks right up to today's iPods, the internet and and downloadable music.

BMI is also part of the alphabet soup. Broadcast Music Incorporated collects fees from radio and TV stations for the music they play and was formed in the 1940's when broadcasters began to feel ASCAP was more and more engaging in monopolistic practices, price fixing, and other unsavory practices.

So, with that bit of background, let's look at just one of the inevitable excesses ASCAP has indulged in based upon it's interpretation of licensing practices that are, "the only practical way to give effect to the right of public performance which the Copyright Law intends creators to have."

It is a tough call as to whether it was music industry greed or just plain stupidity that led ASCAP to actually go after Girl Scouts singing songs around a campfire. In 1996, ASCAP, ever seeking more licensing and musical moolah, cast a wide net covering hotels, restaurants, funeral homes, even resorts demanding payment for the right to "perform" licensed or recorded music.

Under copyright law, "where a substantial number of persons outside a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances are gathered," that qualifies as a public performance. Summer camp is sort of like a resort, they reasoned, so the suits around the table opened negotiations with the American Camping Association asking $1,200 annually each from the 288 camps in the association. They finally settled for a nag of $257 per camp. But reportedly when the public learned that the Girl Scouts were among the camps being dunned and would have to pony up their Girl Scout Cookie money to sing around a campfire, ASCAP took a PR beating and called off the whole camping caper.

Now, just a couple of weeks ago, ASCAP decided every time that snip of music you bought for a ringtone blares forth on your cell phone that constitutes a performance, violating copyright law meaning you must pay up! ASCAP is in a big legal skunk peeing contest with major mobile cell phone carriers like AT&T and Verizon.

Customers who have legally bought ringtones have already boosted the music industry's bottom line by millions of dollars. But now ASCAP's lawyers are dialing for more dollars. Existing law from the much earlier Sony Betamax ruling says companies are not liable for how their technology is used. It would seem like ASCAP doesn't have a case at all.

But these are the same folks who crisscrossed America threatening and intimidating small business owners for having a radio playing in their small shop, diner or bar, demanding they pay an annual fee. Those found playing a radio or recorded music were hounded month after month not unlike mafia shakedown goons seeking protection money. ASCAP agents didn't burn down the businesses who refused to pay for playing a radio but hounded them mercilessly.

I doubt many of us are keeping up with briefs filed in court by ASCAP, but THIS BRIEF in their battle with AT&T pretty well shows where this may all be headed after the big buck lawyers finish knocking heads.

The outcome of their insatiable greed may just be coming to a cell phone near you.


Friday, July 3, 2009

Sarah Palin Reads Vanity Fair, Resigns as Governor

Illustration by Risko for Vanity Fair
Sarah Louise Palin, erratic governor of Alaska and the G.O.P.'s 2008 Vice Presidential candidate, must have felt more than just the heat that is melting the glaciers in her state. She announced her resignation one day before all the real Fourth of July fireworks, from her Wasilla, Alaska home.

I read Todd S. Purdum's tell-all article, "It Came From Wasilla" just two days ago in the August 2009 issue of Vanity Fair. Purdum's article was more than telling. It was prophetic. The title could now be "It Never Really Left Wasilla."

The article carefully documents Palin from all sides, including inside stories now being told by top McCain campaign staff about Palin's petulant meltdown as a serious candidate. She dazzled the eager conservative base like a master magician during her brief stage appearances, but a look behind the curtain discloses a small town, clueless lightweight former beauty queen whose life, Purdum notes, "has sometimes played out like an unholy amalgam of Desperate Housewives and Northern Exposure."

The Vanity Fair article is, well, fair. It definitely is not a superficial whack job. It is so on target, and so well documented that one has to wonder if it is more than coincidence that she decided to fold up her political tent. After Vanity Fair, she can expect a steady barrage of even deeper investigative reporting if she decides to run for anything other than head of her church's glossolalia discussion committee.

Will she leave politics, or will she run for a U.S. Senate seat or the Presidency? Cable TV is having a field day. Interestingly, Palin's timing in announcing her resignation evidences her utter lack of understanding of the fine points of making political news. Millions of Americans are traveling, taking holiday vacations to visit family and friends. And after the nonstop weekend news coverage of fireworks, parades and celebration of American Independence, constant news coverage immediately shifts to the Michael Jackson memorial free for all in Los Angeles through the end of the following week.

Palin has reportedly gotten a sizeable advance for a book contract. She has chosen a senior writer for conservative Christian World magazine as her co-author. But if you can't wait for her book to come out, I suggest you grab a copy of Vanity Fair for a more sober look at the real Sarah Louise Palin.

Vanity Fair also has strong presence on the web where you may also read the article.

Even the woman in the red dress who told candidate McCain at a town hall campaign gathering in 2008 she thought Obama "was an Arab" should be able see past Palin's lip gloss, if she reads the VF article.