Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Congressional Discipline

We hear about “Campaign Finance Reform” (70% of Americans in favor) and the “Culture of Corruption” in politics (Congressional approval rating is only 28%) but the only changes we ever see are things just getting worse. Citizens receive just lip service and often even raw, arrogant contempt from our elective political leaders - too many of whom seem to forget the folks who elected them - and kowtow to their big corporate benefactors. Tom Delay is a classic example.

That tendency makes citizens the prey of corporations with a few corporate Fat Cats controlling most of the political process. Our political leaders themselves too often act like and demand to be treated like royalty.

But, since WE elect them and they actually are supposed to work for US, why don’t we act like real bosses? One way is to tie their salaries to public’s opinion of the jobs they are doing for us. It could be done. We simply have to take the responsibility and enough citizens simply have to demand it.

Right now we allow Congress to enact their own pay raises (and many other things too). They prefer it that way of course - who wouldn’t? In fact, congress persons have their own special “CONGRESSIONAL INSTITUTE” web site to convince us they’re worth every penny - talk about your "Special Interests"!

But, there’s one way we might make them more responsive to us, THE PUBLIC:

* A congressman’s salary today is: $165,500 (with COLA) Some members receive more - like the house leaders. Top salary is $212,000 (with COLA).

*(Not incidentally, Congress recently turned down an increase of the Federal minimum wage which hasn’t been raised since 1997 (from $5.15/Hr). In the same period Congressional pay has increased SEVEN times by around 24% - they even get an AUTOMATIC increase each year unless they specifically decline it!)

We could treat congress people like they wish to treat teachers for example. Let’s make them ACCOUNTABLE and base their pay on MERIT (in this case, decided by public opinion). Here’s one suggested scenario for a typical congress person:

Set a Congressional minimum (2/3 of current salary) = $110,000
Use the Congressional maximum (100% of current salary) = $165,000

Enable Merit steps instep increments of the difference = currently, 5 steps @ $11,000

Then, any time an election rolls around, say about every two years of so, citizens would vote on each individual congress member's merit award. If enough people feel their person does a lousy job, then we might vote for no merit increases. Maybe they do an OK job and we decide to vote them 4 steps of the way to the maximum (= $44,000), which when added to the minimum gives that congress person a total salary of $154,000. Not too shabby all in all. Remember too that the politician is not suffering because he or she has lots of other little bennies that go along with the job - like their fabulous retirement system for example - but let’s don’t go there right now.

We could call this the "3-M Program"!

This scheme gives citizens a pertinent means to express their feeling about the way their own congress person is serving their constituency. It might also be a way to encourage politicians to serve the PEOPLE in their constituency rather than a few well connected folks with special interests.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The War Nightmare

Our Iraq War nightmare cries out for a thorough overhaul of the political system in our country. We need to GET THE MONEY OUT and pass some meaningful reforms - with major penalties against the buying of our elected officials. The current "Culture of Corruption" will ruin us all otherwise and it appears sooner rather than later.

It is amazing HOW MANY otherwise intelligent Americans caved in to the insistent Neo-Con drum beat for war. I've lost faith in the wiseness of our system over this war. Many Americans are having second thoughts now, but where were our leaders when it counted - when our country could have had a truly democratic discussion BEFORE rushing off into a war which now seems a supremely tragic mistake? Maybe I’m just naive but it sure seems sort of late to hold that kind of discussion now with over 2500 American military lives lost and still counting with no end in sight . . .

Yes, there were all the claims - now shown to be baseless - which ‘proved’ Saddam Hussein possessed WMD’s. We were told if we didn’t invade a sovereign third-world nation, our next warning would only be a mushroom cloud over some US city. It was all pure, unadulterated fear mongering balderdash and horse poopy from day one. The folks in this administration responsible for this should hang their heads in shame. In fact, I can think of some of them who simply should be hanged.

Our elected political ‘leaders’ in both the Senate and House of Representative fell all over themselves to authorize Bush’s war. Only 23 senators had the courage to stand up and say “Hey! Wait a minute!”. Only one single Republican Senator (Lincoln Chafee of RI) voted against the resolution handing George W. Bush virtually unbridled power to launch a preemptive * war against a nation with zero ties to the WTC attacks. (H.J. Resolution 114, 10/10/02).

The House of Representatives was not much better with the vote being 266 ‘yeas” to 133 ‘nays’ with NO Republicans among the ‘nay’ votes. One would think that our elected leaders might have checked into this issue a bit more before handling over raw power to a President who acted more like a willful 5-year-old with a loaded gun instead of a wise and responsible leader.

* “SEC. 3. AUTHORIZATION FOR USE OF UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES. (a) AUTHORIZATION- The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to

(1) defend the
national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq;”

Friday, June 16, 2006

The CIA (aka "Confused, Inability Agency")

After I read an article on a blog (Slate) about the CIA's web site and I just had to visit it. I had fun exploring it. For example there was this little gem on their "Employment" page:

"The CIA offers an academic environment with real world implications. Step onto the campus at the George Bush Center for Intelligence . . . . "

I laughed out loud at such an oxymoronic name for their campus. C'mon! If they can't do better than that . . . . . !

Then, there was this little gem of a press release admission:

"We did not try to hide from the criticism or make excuses. Our assessment of Saddam Hussein's WMD capabilities was flawed."
- John A. Kringen, Director of Intelligence 4/3/2006"

I mean, like most of us pretty much knew that from the get-go. What need of an 'intelligence agency' if all they are going to do is twist their 'intellligence' to support the political line of whichever party is in power?

And yes, they actually say the following in their recruitment pitch for new attorneys:

"We’ve been a major player in developing the law of national security vs. the First Amendment."

That sure doesn't leave much doubt where the loyalties lie does it?

And then, in respect to who actually runs things, there's this statement:

"There are separation of powers issues as well, because of the congressional oversight elements that we have to deal with. . . . . . . . At OGC (Office of the General Counsel, i.e., CIA's legal department), we’re the ones who decide how that gets handled."

A general observation: I've noticed that pretty much every major scandal or foreign relations disaster the United States has been involved with in the past 30-40 years has had some sort of CIA component. Every one! This is all in the name of "National Security" of course - and who can argue with that?

Well, maybe WE ALL SHOULD. There seems to be no limit to the lengths the CIA is willing to go with their *manadate of protecting national security. And, if that means protecting the CIA from their detractors (no matter what), well . . . . . that's all in the name of "National Security" isn't it? Or shouldn't it be? Well of course it is if you're of the CIA . . . .

Unfortunately, this little blog may get me on some kind of 'list' - I suppose I could even be 'rendered'. Isn't that what happens when you go through rendition?

* "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
- Lord Acton, 1887

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Global Warming Skeptics

My father used to say, “If you want to know who someone really is, just take a look at who they hang out with”. I have found this to be a very sage observation.

So, I took a quick, pragmatic look at the person often cited as a global warming skeptic, Dr. Sallie Baliunas. I find Dr. Baliunas is associated with, among others, the George C. Marshall Institute, itself associated with support of the Strategic Defense Initiative, American Petroleum Institute, etc., etc.

And, the George C. Marshall Institute receives funding from Earhart Foundation (White Star Oil Company money), Sarah Scaife Foundation (controlled by Richard Mellon Scaife) and Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. (helps fund PNAC- Project for a New American Century). It is easy to look these up to determine the reasons they support skepticism of Global Warming. All are associated with industry (largely energy) and Neo-Conservative viewpoints.

Concerning Dr. Baliunas’ own position, this from Wikepedia:

“In 2003, Baliunas and (Willie) Soon published a paper which reviewed a number of previous scientific papers and came to the conclusion that the climate hasn't changed in the last 2000 years. However, 13 of the authors of the papers Baliunas and Soon cited refuted her interpretation of their work, and several editors of "Climate Research", the journal which published the paper, resigned in protest at a flawed peer review process which allowed the publication. Correctly analysed, the paper by Baliunas and Soon shows that their observations in respect of MWP and LIA could be explained by the random variation of the individual proxies and that their observations in respect of global warming are in favour of the global warming. This is in contradiction to their conclusions. (Emphasis mine).

Baliunas' extra-academic positions at several think tanks funded by energy industry organizations such as the American Petroleum Institute are often cited by her opponents as a source of bias on her part. Baliunas is a member of at least nine organizations which receive financial support from the petroleum industry.”

What quickly becomes apparent the moment you begin any research on “Global Warming Skeptics” is almost universally they are associated in some way or supported by industry groups - particularly the energy sector - which are in turn closely associated with and supported by Neo-Conservatives.

Another characteristic is their apparently overwhelming compulsion to hide themselves behind misleading names. A good example is a web site called “globalwarming.org” (now apparently defunct) - which is actually owned by a group called “National Consumer Coalition” (operated by “Consumer Alert”), itself sailing under totally false colors and supported by industry groups.

The entire membership of National Consumer Coalition itself is comprised of industry supported groups with misleading names, and in fact almost all appear to be energetically propagandizing the public using ‘Freedom’ as a sweetener. This also seems to characterize our current Alaskan and national administrations, not incidentally also * ‘Neo-Conservative’.

* (I’ve always considered myself ‘conservative’ but since the current definition has moved so far from my concept I can now be defined as ‘progressive’!)

Such obfuscation and deceit clearly impugns the integrity of the groups as do all the misleading, deceptive names. A favorite tactic seems to be to throw sand in the eyes of those who question and to use any method to discredit opponents. Once you begin to turn over the rocks to look beneath, the ugly truth begins to ooze out and clarify. A thinking, rational person has no choice but to question motive.

While I take nothing from Dr. Baliunas’ obviously good credentials, please pardon me when I question the assertion that Dr. Baliunas has no bias. And, while I do concede the jury may still be out (but only just barely), the hugely overwhelming evidence (and over 90% of scientific opinion) does support the global warming conclusions. In fact, Exxon Corporation itself has recently, grudgingly acknowledged that Global Warming is a fact.

I keep coming back to the point that to fail to act to modify or prevent a calamity would be like foolishly failing to apply the brakes of a vehicle suspected of traveling too fast.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Rule of Law

There is an outstanding article concerning the "RULE OF LAW" and it's relationship and importance to civilization. The article is posted on the NPR (National Public Radio) web site under "This I Believe"

The article is authored by Michael Mullane, Law Professor at the University of Arkansas. You may read this for yourself by clicking on the following link:


This article is very pertinent in light of our current President's wholesale abrogation of conventionally accepted international law and new Pentagon proposals to choose to ignore parts of the Geneva Convention which are inconvenient to it just now. The Geneva Convention has long been held as the standard for treatment of people during wartime - declared or not.

One definition for those who ignore something is "IGNORANT". That certainly seems to fit this administration.

The problem is that once we as a country begin to ignore long established rules and laws that pretty much sets a new standard and gives everyone else the right to do the same. Apparently, the Pentagon assumes that things will never change and the US will be the dominant superpower forever. While that could be the case, another dictum reads, "the real only constant is constant change".

In other words, don't count on it.

The arrogance (not to even mention ignorance) of our current President and administration is bound to come back to haunt us all - particularly our young people we depend upon to maintain the security of our country.

When will this nightmare end?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

You Break it, You Own it!

On May 30, 2006 Alaska's Senator Lisa Murkowski attended a meeting in Juneau to discuss what to do about the situation in Iraq. To be sure our War President has gotten us in a real dilly of a pickle there and the extrication process will be difficult, expensive and cost many more lives. Unfortunately, we have no choice. We HAVE to deal with it; as Colin Powell famously said, "You break it, you own it!"

We've damned sure broken 'IT". Here's the letter I sent to our senator:

May 31, 2006
Senator Lisa Murkowski
322 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Murkowski:

I attended the forum on Iraq in Juneau yesterday and wish to thank you for spending the time to listen to Juneau’s citizens. Sadly, it seems unusual these days for a US Senator to take the time for such an event and I think it is safe to say we all very much appreciate your doing so.

I also want to commend you for your courage and fortitude to endure a seemingly endless litany of angry comments (some very much so) on this issue. The forum seemed heavily attended by opponents to the war with very little representation from the other side - I noted only one speaker out of about forty seemingly in ‘favor’ of the war. I believe you got a good impression of the passion this issue arouses in our country. This is also being borne out by recent polls. I also believe that the ‘powers that be’, i.e., the current administration ‘ain’t seen nothing yet’. Our country is finally waking up to this nightmare brought upon us, and upon Iraq and the world by our current ‘War President’ and his administration.

Besides the consistency of the opposition to the Iraq War and angry denunciations of George W. Bush, his administration and Republicans in general, two things stand out in my mind from this meeting. Both were comments that you made.

The first was the statement - which you made almost in amazement - that the House of Representatives was “actually going to debate the war”. I was stunned. Not because they ARE going to debate this issue, but because the debate is to take place NOW, almost four years AFTER the decision to go to war. If there ever was a definitive mark of a dysfunctional Congress, that was it. I am ashamed, saddened and heartbroken at the failure of our Congress to fulfill their responsibilities and mission to the American people. That my opinion is widely shared is indicated by appalling low approval ratings that Congress now holds - even worse than President Bush’s if that is possible.

The second thing that stands out - and sorely so to me - was your flat statement made during your close that “I’m not going to impeach George W. Bush and Dick Cheney”, period.

This was of course after being urged to do so by several speakers at the forum. Had you added “unless required” your remark would not have stood out so glaringly. However as presented your remark can only mean that your partisan loyalty transcends your responsibilities and duties as an elected representative OF THE PEOPLE. Must you be reminded the PEOPLE keep you in your present position, and the PEOPLE pay your salary?

There may be times when a President or members of his administration SHOULD BE impeached for cause. The provision for and causes are defined in the Constitution, with the interpretations being left to Congress who are in the end supposed to be responsible to the PEOPLE. The way I see that is it your RESPONSIBILITY to determine, and then prosecute an impeachment SHOULD THAT BE REQUIRED. To make the statement “I’m not going to . . .” is a flat abdication of responsibility and your sworn oath. It is also not incidentally prejudgment of the issues. To give the benefit of a doubt perhaps your statement did not relay exactly what you meant to say. I encourage you to clarify those points for the public.

There was much anger expressed at this forum at the assault on civil rights and personal freedoms, both at home and abroad by this administration. You must take serious note of this and relay these feelings to your colleagues: Denial of basic rights and freedoms eventually will result in drastic adjustments - in extreme cases even violent resistance and revolution. We’ve witnessed this elsewhere in the world and have no reason to believe our country is immune. Wise & prudent leadership must consider this component carefully. Unfortunately, few observers accuse our current administration of being either wise or prudent. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

I, like many Americans am very angry at attempts at being shouted down by a vociferous and powerful minority. We’re used to being called ‘unpatriotic’, ‘treasonous’ and being told “if you aren’t for us, you’re against us” by those who have appointed themselves as ‘real Americans’ but whose values don’t bear much resemblance to constitutional ones. In fact it is akin and parallel to the Su’uni vs. Shi’ia factions in Iraq. I am appending some comparisons in the enclosed page.

I urge you to have the courage and independence to uphold the sworn duties and responsibilities of your office and to your constituents.

/S/ (your Alaska constituent)


PARALLELS between the GW Bush Administration and the Saddam Regime

In an eerie parallelism, the US military under GW Bush has mounted attacks against the very same Shi’ia who opposed Saddam Hussein (Al Sadar) - utilizing many of Saddam’s very own former Su’uni forces to assist in the suppression of that faction.

Here are some other parallels which almost make it seem Bush could have taken lessons from Saddam:

Saddam - from official White House report
"Saddam Hussein frequently infringes on citizens' constitutional right to privacy. Saddam routinely ignores constitutional provisions designed to protect the confidentiality of mail, telegraphic correspondence, and telephone conversations. Iraq periodically jams news broadcasts from outside the country, including those of opposition groups. The security services and the Ba'th Party maintain pervasive networks of informers to deter dissident activity and instill fear in the public."

(I leave it to you to make this comparison - it should not be at all difficult!)

Saddam - from official White House report
"In August 2001, Amnesty International reported that Saddam Hussein has the world's worst record for numbers of persons who have disappeared and remain unaccounted for."

1. (Amnesty International Report to UN, 5/3/06: “there is clear evidence that much of the ill-treatment has stemmed directly from officially sanctioned procedures and policies, including interrogation techniques approved by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld for use in Guantánamo and later exported to Iraq.”)

2. (United Nations Committee Against Torture, 5/19/06: “The Committee’s findings point to a systematic failure of the USA to live up to its international obligations, including under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and to protect detainees from abuse. The USA should take these findings to heart.”

3. (Amnesty International press release 5/23/2006: "The United States has become a world leader in avoiding human rights accountability; a case in point is the reliance of the United States government on private military contractors, which has helped create virtually rules-free zones sanctioned with the American flag and firepower,")

Saddam - from official White House report

"The UN and Kuwait say Iraq has not returned extensive Kuwaiti state archives and museum pieces . . ."

While not precisely & exactly parallel, the looting of Iraq museums and antiquities while the US military inexcusably stood by or participated is a comparison: Reuters report, 4/17/2003: “Two cultural advisers to the Bush administration have resigned in protest over the failure of U.S. forces to prevent the wholesale looting of priceless treasures from Baghdad's antiquities museum.”)