Thursday, March 29, 2007

Responsible options...

Good editorial from the Orlando Sentinel, as published in the Chronicle today:
When former Vice President Al Gore made his dramatic return to Capitol Hill last week to speak out about global warming, some in Congress scorned his call for action. They were exemplified by Republican Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, who read a newspaper during some of Gore's testimony.

If members still aren't convinced of the need to act by Gore or by last month's slam-dunk report on global warming from a panel of international climate scientists, here's some other questions for them to ponder:

Would they like cleaner air? Or, if public health and the environment aren't among their priorities, what about national security? Would they like to curb America's oil addiction and reduce the flow of U.S. dollars bankrolling terrorist groups and hostile regimes?

Each of these national imperatives also would be advanced by some of the proposals that Gore made during his testimony. That's a compelling argument for members who don't share the former vice president's alarm about global warming to give his action plan a long look.

Gore, for example, called for a moratorium on coal-fired power plants unless they are designed to capture emissions of carbon dioxide, the main culprit behind global warming. But the best design so far for that purpose also reduces emissions that cause smog and acid rain, taint waterways and contribute to asthma attacks, heart disease and birth defects.

Gore also called for raising fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks. This was a no-brainer long before most people had heard anything about global warming.

The United States imports about 60 percent of its oil supply, and cars and light trucks burn nearly half of it.

Raising the standard for both cars and trucks to just 33 mpg over the next decade would save more than 2 million barrels of oil a day by 2025, according to sponsors of a plan in Congress. That savings could reduce U.S. dependence on foreign suppliers such as Saudi Arabia, where some of the petro profits end up promoting terrorism, and Venezuela, whose president has been using oil money to forge an anti-American alliance.

If Gore and the panel of scientists behind last month's report are to be believed, global warming is reason enough to demand action from Congress. But the potential benefits for environmental protection, public health and national security make the case even stronger.

Looking away is not a responsible option.

Only those with a financial interest in polluting industries, and those unwilling to recognize appropriate stewardship - no matter what political party promotes it - are still unwilling to appropriately address the issue.

Related post: Right Wing Radio is Over...

Monday, March 19, 2007

Four Years...


Four years of this incompetent Iraq mess Bush created...and all we get is "patience." Patience? With the way things currently stand in Iraq? That doesn't seem reasonable:

Jobs gone and schools closed. Marriages delayed and children mourned. Markets bombed and clean water in short supply. Speaking freely now a dangerous act.

And hope lost.

Four years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Iraqis describe daily lives that have been torn apart by spiraling violence and a faltering economy.
We WON THIS WAR already - bring our soldiers home now.

There have been 3,220 American soldier deaths (3,478 coalition deaths) in the war in Iraq as of March 19, 2007. At least 24,042 U.S. troops have been wounded in action, according to the Pentagon.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Heavy lifting...

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the fact that there are times when America doesn't seem willing to do the heavy lifting when it comes to national security concerns. Specifically, last night I was thinking about the fact that we seem unable to accept what may end up being either higher prices, or higher taxes, in order to support certain industries (example: steel) in order to secure our defense and security.

What do I mean? While I'm a true believer in a market-based economy, I think that in order to secure a common defense, we need to have a strong steel industry in America. What happens if the entire US steel industry closes shop because steel is able to be acquired in a more efficient and less costly manner overseas? But then what happens when we're at war and need to build aircraft carriers, tanks, and armored jeeps? Or bring it closer to home - our troops have suffered in Iraq due to lack of body armor and lack of armor on troop carrier and humvee-type vehicles. One of the justifications for these failures is the lack of supply. So, why haven't we REQUIRED it? Why hasn't this government been willing to force our industry to make sacrifices in order to provide such equipment to our troops? Or us, as citizens, why didn't they ask us to pay $5 or $10 each to be used to support some company to get this equipment to our troops?

Well, with that on my mind, I read Thomas L. Friedman's column today (I read it in the print edition of the Houston Chronicle, but it is published originally in the New York Times - paid subscription required to read online). His column reflects much of my recent thinking - although in a bit of a different perspective. The title of the piece is "Who's supporting the out of sight, out of mind troops?"
Leadership is about enabling and inspiring people to contribute in time of war so the enemy has to fight all of us -- not insulating the public so the enemy has to fight only a few of us.

If you want to compare President Bush in this regard with Presidents Roosevelt or Wilson, pick up a copy of Robert Hormats's soon-to-be-published book: ''The Price of Liberty: Paying for America's Wars.''

''In every major war that we have fought, with the exception of Vietnam, there was an effort prior to the war or just after the inception to re-evaluate tax and spending policies and to shift resources from less vital national pursuits to the strategic objective of fighting and winning the war,'' said Mr. Hormats, a vice chairman of Goldman Sachs (International).

He quotes Roosevelt's 1942 State of the Union address, when F.D.R. looked Americans in the eye and said: ''War costs money. That means taxes and bonds and bonds and taxes. It means cutting luxuries and other nonessentials. In a word, it means an 'all-out' war by individual effort and family effort in a united country.''

Ever heard Mr. Bush talk that way?

Something that is not said directly in that column, but lurks in the background, is that leadership often means calling for people to work collectively toward solving problems - not merely championing individual success. Roosevelt never minced words with the American people. He never told us that we could contribute to the war effort by going shopping, or on vacation. He told us it would be expensive, hard, long - and that we were all responsible for working together to make is successful. That would seem natural at a time of war, but all you have to do is look at the current Presidential Administration to realize that it is not.

It takes leadership to call for collective action - and call for the heavy lifting to be done by all of us. But can't we do that? I think that American's are more than willing to do it. I think that if we were asked to, we would be willing to pay more for products that use US steel. I think that, as Friedman suggests, if we were asked, we'd be willing to pay a "Patriot Tax" of 50 cents and invest the money to diminish our dependence on oil. I think that - if we'd only been asked - we would have done whatever it took to get our soldiers body and vehicle armor.

I believe America is ready and willing to do the heavy lifting - if only we had leaders that would ask.


We have a bit of a saying in our house. It has become so routine that when every I ask the question, my son gets quiet, usually slumps his shoulders, and gives me the standard answer. Whenever my boy is pouting or crying in an attempt to get his way, his mom or I look right at him, and ask him -

Question - What do you get in this family when you whine and cry and complain?

Answer - Nothing.

Nothing. In our family, whining, crying, and complaining gets you nothing. If Noah wants something that at any other time I would gladly do for him, or get him, or provide him - if he goes about trying to get it with pouting or whining - the answer is an automatic no. Very simply, crying gets you nothing in our family.

I think that conservatives and republicans need to learn that lesson today. I don't care how much they whine and cry and complain about the Libby verdict, and why it was unfair, and how they want the American people to believe that it really says nothing about Bush, or Cheney or Iraq - they are not going to get their way.

This verdict says a lot about this Administration. It says a lot about how Dick Cheney runs (ran) the White House. It says a lot about how scared the Administration was about their fabrications and cherry-picking of the evidence about Iraq becoming public. And, today, it says a LOT about conservatives and republicans who like to talk tough about the moral majority, and family values - but ignore it when their own are those committing such violations.

Listen to the wingers going absolutely apoplectic about this verdict, and defending the actions of this administration would be comical if not sad. Limbaugh almost had a stroke today when two callers in a row suggested that although they don't think the Administration did anything wrong - conservatives should not defend lying to a grand jury or law enforcement at any time - that this was just like Clinton, and they should have the intellectual honesty to call out Libby the same as they had Clinton. Limbaugh absolutely lost it on both callers - saying instead that regardless of the lies, the issue is the liberal media, or the Democrats, or the Clintons. No responsibility.

I think that the effects of this conviction will be lasting. I think Bill Clinton was a good President. But - regardless of that view of his Presidency - he made horrendously poor decisions, he lied when he shouldn't have, and his legacy will be forever tainted because of it. The story is similar here with Bush. Regardless of the ultimate outcome in Iraq, Bush's legacy will be forever tainted by how his Administration managed the public relations campaign in the run up to war, and how they covered up their actions afterward.

Although there were only four charges Libby was convicted of, this trial was indeed much bigger, and its impact will last much longer than the time Libby spends in jail.

For Cheney, Political Toll May Follow Libby Verdict
Libby Guilty of Lying in C.I.A. Leak Case
Libby's Lies

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Hillary's Conversation...

There is an interesting feature on the Hillary Clinton candidacy in today's NY Times:

Clinton Shapes Her Image for ’08 Race

The focus of the article is how Clinton has positioned herself deftly for the '08 White House run - invoking the open, give-and-take, listen-first approach of a conversation, backed up by the firm strength of leadership. (Which plays in sharp-contrast to the blustery rhetoric of "the Decider" George Bush.)

“I’m Hillary Clinton, and I’m running for president,” she says at campaign appearances. Lamenting that her public image has been distorted by caricature, she often says, “I may be the most famous person you don’t really know.” In the cliché of contemporary politics, Mrs. Clinton is “reintroducing herself to the American people.”

She is, in this latest unveiling, the Nurturing Warrior. She displays a cozy acquaintance (“Let’s chat”) and leaderly confidence (“I’m in it to win it”). She is a tea-sipping girlfriend who vows to “deck” anyone who attacks her; a giggly mom who invokes old Girl Scout songs and refuses to apologize for voting for the Iraq War Resolution in 2002. Her aim, of course, is to show that she is tough enough to lead Americans in wartime but tender enough to understand their burdens.
It appears that Hillary's national re-introduction works well for those who actually attend the events, although it is difficult to tell if her national image is recovering.

“She connected with me much better than I expected she would,” said Rachel Stuart, in Berlin. “She was right there. There was a real sense of her as a great listener.”

Mrs. Clinton clearly likes that portrayal. In face-to-face campaign settings, she brings her head close in, appearing engaged. After the Berlin conversation, Mrs. Clinton stopped in for one of those “spontaneous” campaign drop-bys at a local cafe (thoroughly scoped out by advance-people and Secret Service agents). She sat at a corner table and chatted with a group of local reporters.
“Conversation” audiences are predominantly female. At her events, Mrs. Clinton is more likely to call on women than men. She gets physically closer to women who approach her. She compliments their clothes and asks about their children.

She is proper and polite, diligent about thanking everybody, including “the janitor who got up at 5 a.m. to open the facility,” at Berlin Town Hall, “Tea Birds for the delicious food,” and “everyone in Berlin for making me feel so welcome.”

In Keene, N.H., in February, Mrs. Clinton said she was so thankful to all of the people “who gave me confidence,” not something that male politicians typically say. Nor do they worry aloud about gaining weight.

“I really don’t understand why people hate her so much except that they don’t like strong women,” said the Rev. Eleanor McLaughlin, the rector at St. Barnabas’ Episcopal Church in Berlin. “I get a lot of that myself.”
But she is also very conscious that she cannot appear to be soft or to be lacking the gravitas of a leader.
She cannot appear mushy. She drops in periodic tough-talk, glibly mentions the time “my husband bombed Iraq,” or says she is willing to “shoot down” violators of a Darfur no-fly-zone. When asked in Des Moines how her campaign would differ from that of Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat and presidential nominee in 2004, she vows, “You can count on me to stand up and hold our ground and fight back.”

Everywhere she goes, Mrs. Clinton is invited to apologize for her Iraq vote in 2002, but no dice. “There are no do-overs in life,” she says. Tough self-love, in other words, implicitly chiding her girlie-men opponents for running around, saying they had made a mistake.

“I’m in the arena,” she said in Concord, quoting Theodore Roosevelt, one of the enduring political alpha-males in American politics. She says so in the high, insistent pitch of a fed-up mom.

Her constant “I’m in to win” affirmations convey a calibrated confidence. She prefers the “when I’m president” construction to the humbler “If you elect me president” qualifier.

“I want to have universal health care by the end of my second term” she announced at an education event in Nevada in February.
It is no easy task for Hillary to make herself known to Americans after they have spent 15 years seeing her vilified, or caricatured in the media. In an individual case-by-case basis, it seems clear that when people get to know Hillary the candidate, they like what they see. The vast majority of folks out there still see the broad-stroke pictures painted of her by her opponents. Only time will tell if her conversation is joined by enough people to make her Presidential bid successful.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Art Mystery...

I have always had fascination with the stories of thefts of famous artwork. Back in 2004 several Albert Munch paintings were stolen and I followed the stories until the paintings were recovered. Recently a couple of stories have garnered my attention:

Picasso paintings stolen from his granddaughter's house
This story is fascinating. Two paintings (and potentially more work) were stolen from the home of Picasso's granddaughter - while there were people in the home.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said they were worth nearly $66 million, and that there were signs of breaking and entering in the house.

Following the story of the theft of the Picasso paintings, the Chronicle carried this today:

To catch a thief: Register helps track down stolen art

This is a story about the Art Loss Register, a group that works to list stolen artworks in a database. That database is used by legitimate art-dealing enterprises or individuals to check to see if the ownership of the work they are considering dealing in is clouded. The article begins with a great story:
The request was simple enough: Lloyd's underwriters had been approached to insure the movement of seven paintings, including one by Cézanne, from Russia to London for valuation and sale.

So Lloyd's contacted the Art Loss Register, a small private company in London whose computer archive lists 180,000 items ranging from sculpture and silver to textiles, books, stamps and vehicles — and many of the great artworks stolen or missing around the world.

What the insurance company discovered in 1999 was that the works, including Cézanne's Fruit and Jug, had been stolen in 1978 from the home of American collector Michael Bakwin in Massachusetts.

Thus began a long investigation, including Art Loss Register researchers and negotiators, that resulted in the FBI announcing last month the arrest of a lawyer. He allegedly had obtained the art from the thief, who had been murdered by another criminal after the robbery.

In the end, Bakwin got his paintings back and sold the Cézanne for $35 million.

There have been so many puzzling and mysterious stories surrounging the theft of artwork throughout history. And it is amazing to me that such activity can still go on in such an information-based age; and that there is still a market out there for these stolen goods.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Right Wing Radio is Over...

I remember sometime about six or seven years ago - late 1999 or early 2000 I was sitting on my couch with my roommates watching some schlocky awards show and one of the popular boy-bands was performing. It was just awful - over-the-top, ridiculous, and nauseating. I turned to my buddies and told them I thought that (thankfully) the boy-band era was over - that performance had killed it. It may not end that week, or even that year, but its days were numbered.Maybe that situation was too easy to feel that I've got any sort of prognosticating power - but I'm here to make another prediction:

Right-wing Talk Radio is Over.

That may be a more bold prediction that the boy-band claim. Right wing radio is at its height. According to AC Nielson ratings, the five highest rated talk radio programs in the United States are Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Neal Boortz, and Glen Beck - all right-wing talkers. In addition, Hannity and Beck have TV shows, and Limbaugh used to be on TV as well. These shows attract millions of listeners each day. Their influence is widespread in Republican and conservative circles. I sometimes listen to the Limbaugh, Hannity, and Savage radio shows (and these are the main Wing-nuts that I am addressing) in the car, and they attract sycophantic listeners and callers ...but I think that we are very near a time when their influence will dramatically lessen. Why? I have three reasons...

1. Environment/Climate Change -
Limbaugh, Hannity and Savage are all VEHEMENTLY opposed to the thought that pollution in the atmosphere is negative. These guys have taken to calling any discussion about pollution, climate change or conservation as "the new liberal religion of environmentalism." I don't even know that that means - "liberal religion?" They shout from their radio-station thrones about all the scientific uncertainty that exists about climate change and pollution. They speak of the insidious conspiracy that caring for the environment is really communism in disguise. They almost burst blood vessels in raging about how they will never drive a hybrid and never use compact fluorescent bulbs...

Okay, okay - settle down boys. The fact is, they are on the wrong side of this issue - and it is no longer a political issue - its simply a responsibility issue, a stewardship issue. As the evidence of their wrongness grows, they are more desperate to oppose any discussion of responsible environmental actions and policy.

Regardless of what anyone "thinks" about human impact upon climate change - how can any possibly argue that polluting air, water, and earth is healthy? It is not healthy for us, for animal-life, plant-life, or large-scale eco-systems. So clearly, efficiency, conservation, and finding cleaner fuels are imperative. There is no conspiracy, no new religion. In fact - it's old time religion - stewardship.

As Americans (and the world's population in general) become ever more aware of the seriousness of these issues, and as Americans become ever better stewards of the earth that we are given, these right-wing radio types are further-and-further distanced from the mainstream in their 1800s-era environmental thinking. These guys growing irrational bitterness about environmental responsibility is alienating them from even their core audiences...

2. War in Iraq -
Obviously, huh? This issue is almost not worth discussing, because it is so obvious. Limbaugh and Hannity should be absolutely ashamed the way they still support and schill for the Bush Administration on Iraq. These guys actually still talk about links between Al Qaeda and Iraq (links that were shown to be Bush-admin fabrications years ago), and weapons of mass destruction (which they insist were there and hidden/are there and hidden/or have simply been covered up). They cheer leaded during the run-up to war, and now that the predictable has resulted - they blame everyone else. (Admittedly, Savage has been highly critical of Bush and his handling of the war. But his criticism is being Bush has not been harsh enough - Savage argues for massive bombings of civilian areas and/or a nuclear strike to clean out the insurgents. So, it's a "different" form of criticism - to say it lightly.)

This is another example of an issue that these guys have been proven totally wrong - but are steadfast in supporting those proven-wrong policies - and bitterly fabricating about and attacking those who disagree with them on these issues. These guys are self-confessed "water-carriers" - they support the Party and the policies regardless of wisdom. They are out-of-touch and irresponsible in their discussions of the occupation of Iraq. Their growing irrational stances regarding American involvement in Iraq is alienating them from even their core audiences...

3. They eat their own -
Most of all, the further and further these guys distance themselves from average Americans, and even from their core audiences, the more it has led them to eating their own. They attack anyone and everyone who thinks critically. Obviously, it is no surprise that these types wildly attack progressives and Democrats (including vicious personal and/or fabricated attacks). (An example, two years ago John Murtha used to be viewed by the right as a hawk on the war, and one of the few Democrats that could be trusted on military or foreign affairs issues...but he changes his stance on Iraq, and he is one of the chief targets of their attacks.) But, it's gone far beyond that now. They attempt to destroy even those in their own party who dare to think for themselves or not follow the party line. Chuck Hagel, long-time respected Republican, is mercilessly ridiculed and skewered on these shows. Jim Baker, Republican stalwart and long-time Bush family advisor was pilloried for his involvement in the Iraq Study Group. McCain and Giuliani are regularly roasted for their lack of "true" conservative credentials.

And more recently, and more importantly in my thinking, they brutally attack conservative callers who DARE to mention that they think that corporate welfare handouts to oil companies making billions of dollars a year are unnecessary; or mention that they have switched to compact fluorescent bulbs and are saving money; or mention that they are skeptical about the Bush administrations declarations about Iran, when so much of the Iraq intelligence proved cherry-picked or fabricated. These guys just trash their callers when topics like this are broached. These days listeners to these shows often begin by talking about how long they've listened and what an old-school Reagan-conservative they are - trying to deflect from the attack they know is coming. Any possible critical thought that is mentioned is simply crushed, or hung up on, or ridiculed. And this is what they do to their own listeners. These guys growing irrational bitterness is alienating them from even their core audiences...

Why would they eat their own? They are scared. They see the writing on the wall. They see how wrong they are on some of this, how they have backed the wrong horse on a lot of this, and how they are now looking up - and realizing they've dug a hole so deep that they just can't get out. They are scared - so they are more bitter, more caustic, and more vicious than ever. To their downfall.

It may not happen tomorrow or even this year...but these guys' days are numbered. Just like the boy bands...