What’s US$482 Billion Among “Friends”?

The USA is a great place to live, but recently it hasn’t been easy for many people. High energy costs, a crashing real estate market, failing mortgage companies and suppliers, oil companies that want more land and offshore areas to drill into when they don’t drill on most of the land and offshore areas they already have access to. Higher food prices, loss of disposable income, an outrageously expensive but not very responsive health care system, the never-ending war in Iraq, crumbling infrastructure such as bridges and roads, a reducing middle class; one wonders what it would take to fix all of this.

How about $482,000,000,000? Or put another way, almost half a trillion dollars? We’re talking serious money here.

When GW Bush came into office in January 2001, he inherited a $128,000,000,000 surplus. He quickly converted that into a budget deficit with his very first budget proposal, which was formulated before 9-11.

In 2002, Bush had the pleasure of working with a republican majority in both houses of the US Congress. For the next four years, through 2006, this governmental lock by the republicans gave us huge yearly budget deficits. Keep in mind that the Republican Party is supposed to be the party of fiscal restraint, which means that they should be restricting their spending, not blowing cash they have to borrow from the Chinese every year and that has to be paid back by our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, for starters.

Besides the outrage of violating this basic tenet of conservatism, republican congressmen and senators, spending like an entire aircraft carrier of drunken sailors, earmarked special projects such as the infamous Alaskan “bridge to nowhere”, which you can read more about HERE. In fairness, republicans were not the only ones doing earmarks, but they were the ones in power, controlling the votes in Congress and ultimately it was Bush who signed these spending bills into law.

It is significant that Senator Ted Stevens, republican from Alaska, was one of two republican senators from Alaska involved in the “bridge to nowhere” debacle. Steven was indicted on seven counts of lying on senate disclosure forms yesterday, July 29, 2008, by a federal grand jury in a case involving his accepting gifts in excess of $250,000 from a firm involved in oil production. It is illegal for federal employees to accept such gifts. You can read more about this HERE.

It evidently is as easy for some to spend the money of others as it is for them to accept expensive illegal gifts from others. The largest yearly budget deficit in history, $482,000,000,000, has been proposed by Bush in the last six months of his term. While some of that has to do with the questionable economic stimulus package of several months ago, the almost half a trillion dollar deficit, lumped onto the existing national debt of over $9 trillion dollars, will take virtually forever to pay back, particularly with no increase in taxes. It’s simple math. You can watch the national debt climb second by second HERE, if you can stand it.

Bush’s tax breaks for the rich while funding a useless and unnecessary war in Iraq, rewarding big business for taking jobs overseas, tax incentives for the oil companies whose profits are obscenely enormous, etc., are all directly and indirectly responsible for the recession-like state of our economy, the international fall of the dollar, and the real threat of increased inflation in the coming months, as predicted by some experts.

In true “do as I say, not as I do” fashion, the Bush administration has castigated democrats as irresponsible “tax and spend” folks. But no one in history has ever proposed such a large budget deficit as Bush has. The republicans will forevermore be known as the “recklessly borrow and spend” party. After all, it’s not their money. It’s yours!

Four hundred and eighty two billion dollars. $482,000,000. Almost half a trillion dollars. Almost half of $1,000,000,000,000.

And we can’t spend one single dime on stem cell research for curing cancer.

And Justice For All, Unless You Fear Justice

One immutable sign of an advanced society is its embracing of justice and the premise of equal justice under the law. With that in mind, the civilized nations of the world, in the United Nations Charter of 1945, long ago gave rise to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands.

The United States withdrew from compulsory compliance of the International Court of Justice in 1986, during the administration of republican Ronald Reagan, approximately at the time of the Iran-Contra controversy.  The result of this unilateral action of the USA is that after the International Court issues a decision, the USA gets to accept or reject that decision based upon its own interests.

An offshoot of the UN International Court of Justice is the International Criminal Court, commonly known as the “World Court” also headquartered in The Hague. It was established in July 2002 to deal with issues of human rights and crimes against humanity, such as war crimes.

In recent days it has been announced that Radovan Karadzic, who had been the Bosnian Serb president in the mid 1990’s, and who had ordered the genocide of Muslim men and boys during his reign, has been apprehended and will face trial in the World Criminal Court in The Hague, on charges of war crimes and genocide.

This is actually not new. Internationally recognized tribunals have held trials and issued verdicts and sentences as far back as the Nuremburg trials on 1946, during which the USA, along with other countries, prosecuted nazi official on charges of war crimes and genocide.

With Karadzic in custody and facing trial, the issue of the World Court returns to center stage. The concept is sound and essentially states that civilized countries recognize certain codes of human behavior, including but certainly not limited to respect for human rights. Most countries already guarantee such concepts in their governing documents. Even the USA’s Declaration of Independence states:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Obviously, denial of human rights, including human rights outrages, torture, and genocide are violations of these “unalienable Rights, that among (which) are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

In fact, the USA is presently conducting war crimes tribunals at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who allegedly was Osama Bin Laden’s driver, and who is being charged with and tried for conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism.

So what does it say that one hundred six nations on Earth are members of this esteemed World Criminal Court but that the USA, under republican president George W. Bush, has joined China in refusing to sign on to the World Criminal Court.

Of course, it’s just a coincidence that another republican president is leading the USA during this refusal. Equally coincidental is the fact that the time-frame for becoming a member of the World Criminal Court is roughly the same as the US invasion of Iraq and mismanagement of that selfsame war.

It has been stated that the USA is not a member of the World Court because members of the Bush administration fear being prosecuted “or political reasons”

If true, then one must presume that “political reasons” might be defined as the unprovoked invasion of a sovereign country, destruction of that country’s civilian infrastructure, causing mass misery to a civilian population, suspension of habeas corpus rights for captives, the murder of unknown numbers of prisoners held in secret prisons, and the planning, ordering and implementation of all the above.

In the meantime, in typical “do as I say, not as I do”  fashion, the Bush Syndicate continues a questionable, often secretive military tribunal system in Guantanamo, having fought against prisoners’ legal rights for years (much as China has been known to do), and yet refuses to participate in what just might be the highest and most credible system of justice on the planet, endorsed by over one hundred countries.

How can this be possible? Or, in the vernacular, WTF??

An Iraqi Woman’s View of Iraq

Aboard the M.S. Ryndam in Vancouver, British Columbia – Americans are much divided regarding the wisdom of the American invasion of Iraq and continuing Iraqi war. A very large majority is now convinced that it was and is a mistake, while a very small and shrinking minority continues to support the Bush “Excellent Adventure”. After all, according to the supporters, we “liberated” Iraq and its people form the evil Saddam Hussein and we were subsequently welcomed as “liberators”

Or so we were led to expect.

This writer had the opportunity to interview an Iraqi woman who, along with her family, is a member of the Iraqi Christian minority. She married a European and was able to leave Iraq, although she still has family there seeking to leave. As an Iraqi Christian, she is not involved in the Shia vs. Sunni conflict. In fact, as an extreme minority, her family was anything but confrontational with the Muslim majority in Iraq.

The woman, whom shall be identified only as “Maria”, made it clear that she and her follow Christian Iraqis recognized Saddam as a tyrant that one did not want to cross. She was equally clear that Iraqis recognized that opposing Saddam was tantamount to a death wish, and that someone who did dare to speak out against the dictator might simply disappear off the face of the planet.

Having prefaced her comments with the aforementioned facts, she compared the life of the average Iraqi under Saddam with conditions five years after the American invasion.

Under Saddam, different religious beliefs were accepted and tolerated. Christians and even the small Jewish population lived in peace alongside Muslims. Shias and Sunnis coexisted. It was known that Saddam would not tolerate religious intolerance, and a violation of this premise could be very dangerous to one’s health.

Women were allowed to work, drive, and attend universities. As a result, there were a large number of educated women in Iraq who held relatively well-paying jobs. Doctors and hospital operated normally. Electricity flowed through the utility lines to homes and apartments, and water flowed through the pipes in similar manner.

Crime was at a minimum, and criminals were apprehended and severely punished. People felt it was safe to walk the streets, and left their doors unlocked at night. Gasoline was cheap and plentiful. Some goods were hard to come by, but food and most necessities were available. Medical care was available on a continuous basis.

Five years later, there is total religious intolerance in Iraq. Women are subservient to men and Islam. Crime is rampant, led by religious and political assassinations and suicide bombings. This woman told of her friend’s sister and mother having been killed last week in their home after gunmen first robbed them and then murdered them because they were Christians.

The previous week, her friend’s brother was killed as well.

The Iraqi police are incapable of tracking down the perpetrators of so many criminal acts which occur each and every day. Non-Muslims are no longer tolerated or safe. If you are not Muslim in Iraq, your life can be in danger.

Electricity is available perhaps two to four hours a day. Water often doesn’t reach the kitchen sink. Gasoline is scarce and expensive. Medical services are also scarce since many doctors and nurses have left the country. There is no end in sight to the misery that exists in that country. The present Iraqi government, supported by the USA and its military forces, appears incapable of solving basic infrastructure problems, let alone create an environment of liberty, tolerance, and safety.

When “Maria” (not her real name), who for safety’s sake had to hide her very Christian name in favor of a Muslim name to disguise her Christianity in Iraq, was asked if the Americans should continue their mission or leave, she emphatically stated that Americans should leave as soon as possible, because the only purpose served by them as seen by the Iraq people was to continue “more of the same”. She went so far as to say that although Saddam was an awful tyrant, that most Iraqi long for a return to life as it was under Saddam.

That’s quite a commentary for the war that Bush built, during which over 4,100 Americans have given their lives. Instead of this waste of American and Iraqi lives, a better way to effect positive change in Iraq would clearly have been through covert internal means, perhaps supporting an alternative Iraqi leadership group in exile.

Make no mistake: Saddam Hussein was a bad person, a dictator, a tyrant who murdered anyone that got in his way. But so is Mohammar Khadafi of Libya and Kim Yong Il of North Korea, as well as many African and several Asian national leaders. Yet, the USA did not invade any of those countries. The reason the US invaded Iraqi but not the others?

1. Oil (in Iraq), or lack thereof (in the other countries);

2. The other leaders didn’t try to kill GW Bush’s dad, as Saddam did;

3. Other reason(s) too sensitive for We, the PEOPLE to know. See #1 and #2 above.

There is little hope that anything in Iraq will improve within the six months and one day left in Bush’s debacle administration. But perhaps after January 20, 2009, the long journey back to Iraqi civilian stability can begin. According to Maria, Iraq needs not strong external propping, but strong internal leadership to solve its problems. And strong internal leadership at present is not evident.

Is she right?

Bush/McCain Legacy for Aviation Safety…NOT!!

Anyone paying the least bit of attention to the news lately knows that a very serious near-missed collision event occurred at KennedyAirport, also known globally as JFK, over the past few days.

One airline jet on short approach to the runway had to “go around”, or abort the approach and proceed with alternate unsafe published instructions for a another approach later, while another airline jet was taking off from a perpendicular (90 degree offset) runway. The two jets came very, VERY close to colliding and killing perhaps up to four hundred people.

This writer has over thirty-three years of air traffic control experience, and is now recommending to his family that they take the train, or at least fly out of less-congested airports than the biggest ones, such as JFK, in the USA. There is an obvious safety-related reason for this.

For the average American citizen, most of the turmoil that has overtaken the US Air Traffic Control System, known internally as the National Airspace System (NAS) since 2002 has been invisible. But the Bush Administration has been hard at work attempting to dismantle the previous presidential administration’s, and ex-Federal Aviation Administrator (FAA’s) Jane Garvey’s actions to ensure the safety of the American flying public, both present and future state.

Jane Garvey was appointed by President Clinton to a five-year term as FAA administrator in 1997. You can read more about here HERE.

Garvey acutely understood that the extremely technical and highly stressful profession of air traffic control demanded that people actually involved in the daily practice of this profession be the ones making decisions about its future demands and requirements. To that end, she worked very successfully with the nation’s air traffic controller workforce to ensure the highest levels of safety. Liaison positions of controllers on management teams were created to ensure that the user interface, i.e., where the rubber meets the road, was taken into consideration when establishing new air traffic procedures or designing new air traffic equipment.

When Garvey’s term was up in 2002, GW Bush nominated, and the republican-controlled senate confirmed, Marion Blakey as administrator.

Blakey had a primary task assigned by Bush: Turn FAA into a profitable business model, so as to facilitate contracting out the NAS to a private contractor, as is done in Canada (with 10% of the air traffic of the USA); Minimize the influence of the workforce, since they are not concerned with business models, but only safety, in their daily work.

It is clear that private contractors are primarily concerned with profit, and NOT safety. Remember that as you read on.

The union/management contract, negotiated under Garvey and beneficial to both the government, in terms of facility staffing and technical support, and to the workforce, in term of pay and the ability to input into technical advances, was due to be renegotiated in 2005. When the Bush team and controller (National Air Traffic Controllers Association, a.k.a. NATCA) team met, it immediately became apparent that the Bush administration was never interested in negotiating a fair contract replacement. Based upon a quirk in federal law, the Bush Administration, through its puppet Blakey, declared a negotiation impasse, and in September of 2006, the FAA was able to impose draconian and unnegotiated work rules upon their air traffic controllers, some of which included a 30% reduction in pay.

The Bush administration has never been good at timing, as evidenced by the Iraqi war and its aftermath, and it didn’t contradict this record here, either. It imposed its non-negotiated work rules and pay reduction upon the controller workforce, just as thousands of air traffic controllers, hired as replacements after the 1981 PATCO air traffic controller strike during which 11,700 controllers were fired, were becoming eligible to themselves retire.

Two thousand controllers have since done exactly that, leaving the NAS desperately wanting for experience. The FAA, slowly responding to the huge self-caused staffing shortage, would hire anyone under the age of 31 who can spell their name two out of three times without making a mistake. And that’s exactly the kind of response they’re getting, after having reduced the salaries of new hires to the point that they cannot live normal lives.

It will take three to five years to train these new “slave-wage” workers.

And what does this mean to you, the American flying public?

It means that veteran controllers, who cannot yet retire, have to pick up the slack, work much longer hours under increased traffic conditions, under extreme mental fatigue conditions, with procedures they sometimes feel are unsafe and into which they had no input.

Imagine that you need an operation on a brain tumor. Imagine further that your brain surgeon has to pick up the slack for three others that left for whatever reasons, and the only replacements are still in their internship. Further imagine that your surgeon is now really tired and fatigued because to the increased number of operations per day. Imagine his last operation of the day, under these conditions, is YOU.

That’s the status of the present Bush-raped, experience-starved, profit-motivated, contractor-ready, mistake-laden FAA Air Traffic Control/NAS system in the USA.

McCain, whom is extremely anti-union/anti-worker, has stated that he supports the present FAA management practices.

Wanna fly? Do you feel lucky today?

Need more convincing? Check out THIS SITE.

Sexual Hypocrisy and the Constitution

You might remember the saga of U.S. senator Larry Craig, republican from Idaho, who was arrested last summer in the men’s room at Minneapolis Airport for soliciting sex in a men’s room (frequented by men, you realize). Craig pleaded no contest to charges and paid a fine. You can read more about this incident HERE.

You might also remember US senator David Vitter, republican from Louisiana, who has admitted to consorting with prostitutes over a long time frame. You can read more about this “pillar of integrity” HERE.

Just this week, a group of ten right-wing republican senators reintroduced the “Federal Marriage Amendment” to the U.S. Constitution, which proposes, in pertinent part:

“Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.”

These two aforementioned bastions of hypocrisy were among the ten who cosponsored the proposed constitutional amendment. You can read multiple articles about this HERE.

You will notice in bold that the proposed amendment includes a prohibition of civil unions, meaning that same-sex couples living together, but not allowed in their state to marry, could not even access joint health or beneficiary benefits, or a thousand other benefits presently legally available to both married couples and folks in legal civil unions today.

Thankfully, this stupid amendment, which attempts to inject certain religious beliefs about marriage and civil unions into the U.S. Constitution, has no hope of passage, or even having a hearing scheduled in the U.S. Senate. But it does raise issues that need to be addressed.

First, marriage in the legal sense and marriage in the religious sense are two totally distinct entities. From a legal point of view, which the “state” clearly administers, it is essentially a legal financial contract between two people. Many laws at multiple levels come into play for and between two legally married people, which primarily impact real and personal property, assets and benefits. If children are involved, the state has legal jurisdiction over their fate should the married partners not agree, most commonly during and/or after a divorce, just as it has legal authority over disposition of property and assets.

Marriage in the religious sense, while touching on the above, has no legal standing in the United States or other western industrialized nations. Religious marriage is often considered to be permanent and has its roots in ancient history. The teachings of Judeo-Christian religions make clear that marriage is a union between people of opposite sex because of a primary religiously mandated marital function, which is procreation. This, placed against the property and children disposition of legal marriage, is a huge distinction between religious and legal marriage.

Additionally, religious marriage is defined differently depending upon whether one follows Catholic, Jewish, mainstream Protestant or fundamentalist Protestant teachings. Catholics and some fundamentalists do not accept divorce.

Clearly, the state does accept divorce and exercises considerable control over the procedure.

Thus, to accept a religious-oriented view of marriage into the U.S. Constitution would clearly violate the First Amendment protections (with subsequent Supreme Court case law) which states in pertinent part: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof .

But the most amazing issue to surface out of this marriage amendment debacle is that Larry Craig and David Vitter co-sponsored this legislation. Clearly, these two guys think they are fooling their constituents, and now the rest of the American people.

Craig and Vitter obviously subscribe to the “Do as I say, not as I do” philosophy that so many of history’s hypocrites before them have followed. Besides not having any integrity, or the good sense to remain quiet and invisible for the rest of their tainted terms, they also seem to be incredibly stupid. That doesn’t say much for the folks that elected them in the first place, either.

If the republicans can’t find a way to move away from these two guys, and others like them, then they deserve the pounding that they seem likely to get this November.

As far as same sex marriage is concerned, as long as it (or anything else) doesn’t cause the price of gas to go up, people should mind their own business. After all, there are a LOT of heterosexual marriages out there that totally suck.

Shouldn’t these “do as I say” folks be concentrating on fixing those marriages, as well as their own, FIRST?