Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Kennedys, Cubans, and Cold War Devices

I wanted to highlight a few items today. First up is David Talbot's interesting article in Salon today regarding Christopher Kennedy Lawford's book Symptoms of Withdrawal, a tell-all book about growing up in the Hollywood-Kennedy nexus and the costs of the assassinations of JFK and RFK on the extended family. Talbot's information goes beyond what is in the book in his review, adding data from his own research into the Kennedy brothers:
This bulwark of family stability vanished the night Bobby Kennedy was cut down in the crowded pantry of a Los Angeles hotel after winning the California primary. The watchful caretaker to the end, Bobby asked, "Is everyone OK?" as he lay bleeding in the arms of a 17-year-old busboy.

History was once again altered by the assassination of a Kennedy. One would have to go back to ancient Rome to find a precedent in the stunning back-to-back assassinations of two brothers at the height of their political glory -- all the way to the second century B.C. when first Tiberius Gracchus and then his younger brother Gaius were viciously hacked to death after being elected tribune of the people and antagonizing the Roman aristocracy with their democratic reforms.

But again, the Kennedy family could not bring itself to confront the deeper meaning of the murder of one of their own. Despite the disturbing evidence of a conspiracy in both murders, the heads of the family seemingly left it to others to explore these monumental crimes.

In public, Bobby Kennedy had stated that he accepted the official version of his brother's public execution in the streets of Dallas. But privately, as I have discovered through research for a book on the Kennedy brothers, RFK nurtured strong suspicions of a high-level plot and recruited several of his closest and most trusted associates to quietly investigate the crime. If he made it back to the White House, RFK confided to these associates, he would reopen his brother's case. However, perhaps out of a desire to protect his family, Bobby did not share his suspicions about Dallas widely among his relatives. Since Bobby publicly accepted the Warren Report, writes Christopher in "Symptoms of Withdrawal," the family was reassured that nothing was rotten in America.

After Bobby's murder, this became harder for the family to accept. But the Kennedys chose once more to suffer in silence. "I never heard any of the grown-ups vent any anger or hatred toward the murderers," writes Christopher. "I never heard anybody question why they did it or how ... We just ate it and tried to be good little Kennedys and demonstrate that stoic grace that everybody seemed to admire so much."
Read the long piece all the way through for many such interesting pieces of information, many from Lawford's book, and a few others from Talbot.

On a separate note, the US judicial system is failing us. Unbelievably, for a country that professes not to support terrorism, a judge in El Paso has granted a deferral of removal, i.e., he stymied the INS's attempt to deport the CIA's longtime operative Luis Posada Carriles, described in the El Paso Times today as an "alleged" terrorist. There's no "alleged" about it. Posada was previously jailed for involvement in the blowing up of a Cubana Airlines jet, an act that killed all the passengers, including the entire Cuban Olympic Fencing Team. As the article's author Louie Gilot states,
The ruling has been awaited by critics of the Bush administration, who said letting Posada stay would show that the United States has a double standard for terrorists.

"It's giving a signal to the world -- there's good terrorism and bad terrorism. And we look after our terrorists," said Luis Martin, a member of an anti-war group in Albuquerque who came to El Paso to picket for Posada's deportation during the trial.
Can't Team Bush smell the hypocrisy brewing? Can't their supporters? Or are Bush and his supporters simply impermeable to reality?

Lastly - USA Today reported recently on the wacky allegation that Hurricane Katrina was caused by something other than mother nature:
An Idaho weatherman says Japan's Yakuza mafia used a Russian-made electromagnetic generator to cause Hurricane Katrina in a bid to avenge itself for the Hiroshima atom bomb attack — and that this technology will soon be wielded again to hit another U.S. city.
I do not believe that Katrina was deliberately caused. But I do believe that the ability to alter weather is a tool of nations. To what extent, and whether it has ever been used, I do not know, and aside from little mentions like the one above, there has been precious little coverage of this capability.

But this wasn't always the case. At the library, looking for other information, I stumbled upon this fascinating editorial from the February 5, 1977 edition of the Saturday Review:
Weather Modification

“If the collective conscience does not now respond, then all our philosophy and religion and education…have been abstract, irrelevant, futile.”

Mention of the CIA immediately conjures up visions of secret agents deeply enmeshed in plot-and-counterplot operations. One of the main concerns of the CIA these days, however, has nothing to do with the international undercover game. It has to do with weather. In particular, the CIA is worried about a major shift for the worse in the world’s climate.

Why should the CIA be troubled about climate? The answer is basically historical. Adverse weather conditions have figured prominently in the ups and downs of civilization and, more particularly, in the outbreak of wars. Nations that have been afflicted by droughts and floods, with consequent mass hunger, have slid into political convulsions and foreign aggressions. The stability of a nation is dependent not just on its political and economic structure but on the vagaries of nature.

America’s top intelligence officers, therefore, have been seriously concerned about the findings of climatologists showing that the world’s weather has been steadily worsening in recent years. The downturn, according to these studies, is likely to continue for the rest of this century and for some decades thereafter.

The series of weather disasters began in 1960, the report says, but its long-term significance was not perceived by climatologists at the time. It was assumed that the massive crop failures in India, the Soviet Union, and western Africa were the results of ordinary weather adversities rather than the harbingers of a basically detrimental change in the world’s climate. The disasters continued into the 1970s and have yet to be generally recognized, says the CIA, as manifestations of an ongoing period of unfavorable climate.

As recent evidence of negative change, the CIA cites the following:

· An increase of approximately 15 percent in the amount of ice cover on earth today.
· Droughts in Central America, the sub-Sahara, South Asia, China, Australia, and the Soviet Union.
· Massive floods in the American Midwest.
· Below-normal temperatures for 19 successive months in northeastern Canada.

As though this picture is not grim enough, the CIA calls our attention to the fact that national governments are already capable of manipulating weather for military purposes. The weather-warfare programs of the military-scientific establishments of the USA and the USSR are euphemistically known as “weather-modification.” The CIA report does not indicate how far “W-M” has developed, but the implication is clear that it involves the manufacture of droughts and floods, and is a powerful addition to modern arsenals.

It is difficult to read the CIA report without wondering whether some of the climatic aberrations in recent years may not have been part of military experimental programs. Another question raised by the development is whether the US and the USSR see W-M only in terms of its military potentialities and not in terms of the opportunities for combating or mitigating natural weather disasters. A final question is whether the US and the USSR are violating principles laid down at Nuremburg following World War II. At that time, the victorious nations promulgated the concept that certain actions by nations are to be regarded as crimes and that government leaders who authorize those actions are to be regarded as criminals, subject to trial and punishment. It is difficult to accept that principle and see no crime in the authorization of W-M research for military purposes, or the corresponding failure to use that research to prevent, rather than to produce, weather disasters.

We have become so desensitized by the endless procession of super-weapons, beginning with nuclear explosives, that the temperature of moral indignation no longer rises when yet another mass killer is added to the inventory of the human apocalypse. But this new adventure in manufacturing hell brings the whole process of human self-destructiveness to a terrifying and culminating point of mass insanity. If the collective conscience does not now respond, then all our philosophy and religion and education, intended to elevate human consciousness to an understanding of the fragility of life and a corresponding respect for human destiny, have been abstract, irrelevant, and futile.

During the election campaign, Jimmy Carter made the significant point that détente between the United States and the Soviet Union has to justify itself not just as an accommodation between giants but as a genuine mutual effort to contribute to the well-being and safety of the world’s peoples. The President now has an important opportunity to move in these directions. He can seek effective and ironclad agreements with the Soviet Union under which all W-M research and development by the two countries would be lifted out of the military establishments and merged into a single joint scientific agency with one fixed and irreversible objective. That objective should be the full development and use of scientific knowledge to combat and forestall natural disasters and to make this planet congenial for human life. The agency should be an integral part of the United Nations.

The dependence of human beings on weather is as much a moral issue as it is a meteorological one. If the world is in for a long spell of crippling weather, then we are fools and monsters if we don’t get together for the purpose of mounting a response as though our life depended on it—as indeed it does.
I want to say again, I absolutely do not believe this was done with Katrina or Rita. That said, my belief proves nothing. If we have such a capability, other nations may as well, and how would we ever know if such had been used? That's the kind of question that keeps me up at night. How could we ever know?

Monday, September 19, 2005

One of the best speeches EVER, made two days ago

I just finished reading what will go down as one of the most impassioned, direct, fantastic speeches of our time. Robert Kennedy, Jr., made it at the Sierra Summit in San Francisco a couple of days ago.

I don't even want to excerpt it, for fear you'll stop there. If you care about this country, and indeed, this planet, and our role in it on so many levels, you must read this speech.

You'll thank me. It is long. It is ABSOLUTELY worth reading all the way through.

God help us all if we don't hear and act upon what he's saying.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Day Before September 11

I've been suspicious about the true facts of 9/11 for some time. I have been hesitant to wade into that pool because it is already polluted with disinformation, and because I know what a life suck investigating such events can be.

It's clear the government failed to act on numerous warnings from qualified people about an imminent terrorist attack. What remains to be proven, in my opinion, is whether people in the government covered up such warnings out of ignorance, or because they wanted the attacks to happen and wanted to make sure no one stopped them.

I have browsed through a few of the books and started doing my own little timeline of events. One event really struck me as a smoking gun, and today seems an appropriate day to share this.

On the CNN site, in a timeline available from this page, I found this stunning entry:
SEPTEMBER 10, 2001 A CIA plan to strike at al Qaeda in Afghanistan, including support for the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, is given to the White House. Sen. Dianne Feinstein asks for a meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney. The California Democrat is told that Cheney's staff would need six months to prepare for a meeting.
When I read this, I was stunned. Feinstein is a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, a group that works closely with intelligence agencies and--ostensibly--provides oversight of intelligence activities. (I say ostensibly because the committee does not know of, and therefore has no option to approve or disapprove all intelligence activities). How could it be that, as the 9/11 Commission report states, when the "system was blinking red" on a possible terrorist attack on the country, and ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee comes to say hey, something serious is afoot and we need to talk, the VP's office could blow off Feinstein by saying they couldn't review her plans for six months?

Curious, I called Senator Feinstein's office and asked, is it normal for the VP to blow off a meeting with Senator Feinstein for six months? The four people I spoke to in her office all said and did the same thing. They said no, that's not usual, what is this about? I said this is about the Senator's 9/10 visit to Cheney, the day before 9/11. At this, each staffer got nervous and transferred me to the next person. None of them would even confirm that this conversation had transpired, but in the end, I found it on a press release on Feinstein's senate site:
I was deeply concerned as to whether our house was in order to prevent a terrorist attack. My work on the Intelligence Committee and as chair of the Technology and Terrorism Subcommittee had given me a sense of foreboding for some time. I had no specific data leading to a possible attack.

In fact, I was so concerned that I contacted Vice President Cheney's office that same month to urge that he restructure our counter-terrorism and homeland defense programs to ensure better accountability and prevent important intelligence information from slipping through the cracks.

Despite repeated efforts by myself and staff, the White House did not address my request. I followed this up last September 2001 before the attacks and was told by 'Scooter' Libby that it might be another six months before he would be able to review the material. I told him I did not believe we had six months to wait.
This just begs the question. Did Scooter Libby know what was going to happen? Did he know just how busy they really would be over the next six months? It's hard not to see that as a possibility.

I was particularly interested that it was I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby who put Feinstein off. Libby was one of the co-signers to the seminal document, "Rebuilding America's Defenses," from the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). In contrast to JFK's call that we seek a true peaceful co-existence with other countries, rather than a "pax Americana," the PNAC report calls for just that - ensuring a pax Americana. This is the same report that said,

the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor.
That quote gave rise to the notion that perhaps 9/11 was made or allowed to happen by the government as an excuse to get us back into a war. We know now that the government tried hard to make that war one in Iraq, despite the fact that no evidence from 9/11 linked Iraq to the attack in any way. So we went to Afghanistan instead and made a great show of taking down the Taliban, even as we let Osama Bin Laden slip through our fingers at Tora Bora. We had pinpointed his location by radio. We could absolutely have picked him up. Several friends of mine in the black ops world have told me repeatedly that we've known were OBL was at all times. A man in Hollywood was approached by a CIA operative to do a documentary of the secret tailing of OBL. So it's not like we can't find him.

And if we weren't picking him up, why? Could it be because ties between his actions and those of our intelligence community might raise disturbing questions about 9/11?

We know now too that not only were there no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, but, as the Downing Street Memo tells us, that Team Bush knew there were no weapons, and were deliberately falsifying intelligence to justify an attack on Iraq anyway.

When Ambassador Joe Wilson tried to tell us intelligence was being falsified to justify the march to Iraq, what happened? Scooter Libby talked to Judith Miller of the New York Times about the fact that Valerie Plame, Wilson's wife, was a covert CIA operative. Six days later, Robert Novak reveals this fact in a column that essentially broke the law by revealing the identity of a covert source.

I think Libby told Miller to leak it, and that Miller willingly complied. I think that Miller is in jail not because she believes in the first amendment, but because that is the only thing shielding her directly from criminal charges. And if Libby was so in the loop as to have been a part of this illegal outing, is it possible he was in the loop before the fact on 9/11? It's certainly possible. It is a fact? Of course not. This is speculation, but I believe that his meeting with Feinstein on the 10th should be investigated. Why did he tell her it would be six months before they could review her proposal when such a timeframe was utterly out of keeping re a request from a high profile Senator to the Vice President?

People like David Ray Griffin, Peter Dale Scott, and recently, former intelligence analyst John Newman are presenting serious questions as to whom al Qaeda was really serving in their attack on America. It's not out of the realm of possibility that they were serving the Neocon agenda for a "new Pearl Harbor." We've seen, in graphic relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, how the concerns of ordinary people are not even on the radar to the President, the Vice President, or any of his high-level cabinet members. The president played golf and guitar while people drowned. Condi bought $1000+ shoes. VP Cheney was preserving the last days of his vacation. Is it so hard to believe that people with this kind of concern for America might have done more than even allowing 9/11 to happen, but might have, in some way, encouraged it?

I cannot, in a blog post, present the necessary evidence to show this to be not an idle, but a rather informed opinion on these events. I would direct you to start to do your own reading, not just online, but in books, where evidence can be presented in detail, with footnotes. I will hasten to add that I am not one of those who thinks a missile hit the Pentagon. I met people in DC who told me of their experiences of seeing a plane hit the building.

Just because I have serious questions as to what happened on 9/11 does not mean I agree with the theories of others who share my questions. And a reading of the 9/11 Commission Report, which I commenced recently, brought up far more questions than answers. The report is strange, bearing paragraphs that seem to be answering accusations not made directly in their pages, begging the question of what they are trying to hide. It's bizarre, and disturbing. So I want to know. And wanting to know does not put me in the same bucket with some of the truly whacko conspiracy theorists on this issue, whose theories I strongly disagree with. It puts me in the bucket with many reasonable people who care about the future of our country, at a time when that future seems increasingly bleak.

I look forward to a point 30 years from now, after which many more documents will have been pried from the government showing what they really knew about the impending actions of 9/11. The recently released JFK assassination files have shown us a good deal than we ever knew before about the government's pre- and post-assassination interest in Oswald, things we didn't have documentation on thirty years ago. What will we learn about OBL and al Qaeda years from now? Whatever it is, I'll bet confidently that it won't match what we've been told to date.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

I'm Missing Bobby Kennedy today

As I wait for a true leader to emerge in this tragedy, I remember one who, 37 years ago, tried to raise the visibility of the impoverished among us. Robert Francis Kennedy, brother of JFK, walked through ghettos, picked up poor children and hugged them, saying that love was as important as food. I can't put my finger on the exact quote at the moment - it moved me the first time I read it.

What might he have said to the looting in New Orleans? "There is no point in telling Negroes to obey the law...To many Negroes the law is the enemy. In Harlem, in Bedford-Stuyvestant it has almost always been used against them." (From Arthur Schlesinger's biography Robert Kennedy and His Times, p. 780.)

What might he have felt as he looked at the starving faces of the abandoned in New Orleans, Biloxi, and nearby areas? Revulsion, and anger. That's what he felt when he saw a girl with a mangled face in a Puerto Rican slum in New York City. He asked the mother what had happened to the girl. Rats had bitten off her face when she was a baby. "Kennedy was outraged: how could such things continue to 'happen in the richest city on earth?'" (Ibid., p. 783)

Kennedy was never a fan of welfare, but was a strong believer in creating jobs for those who needed them - "an effort that we know is the real solution." (Ibid.)

And Robert Kennedy was a man of action. He was famous--some would say infamous--for his ability to get things done. And he was angry at white northern liberals who were sending aid to the south while ignoring the poor and impoverished in their own back yard.

In 1966, Kennedy actively sought the support of business leaders, many of whom loathed him based on his reputation. Kennedy was not deterred, and persisted until he signed them on for an effort to revitalize the ghetto area of Bedford-Stuyvesant, hoping it would be a model for the reform of other ghettos. He introduced a bill creating housing and jobs in poor areas coupled with tax incentives and low-interest loans. This threatened President Johnson, who put forth his own, weaker proposal.

"How can they be so petty?" Kennedy demanded of Jack Newfield. "I worked on my plan for six months, and we talked to everyone in the Administration in all the relevant agencies. We accepted many of their ideas and put them in our bill. Now they come out with this thing, and the first I hear about it is on television. They didn't even try to work something out together. To them, it's all just politics." (Ibid, p. 789)

To Kennedy, it was about lives, not politics. He spoke up, and often. "Action in adequate measure can wait no longer. There are children in the United States of America with bloated bellies and sores of disease on their bodies. They have cuts and bruises that will not heal correctly in a timely fashion, and chronically runny noses. There are children in the United States who eat so little that they fall asleep in school and do not learn. We must act, and we must act now." (from Make Gentle the Life of this World - quotations from Robert Kennedy and from others he collected in a diary. The book was compiled by his son Maxwell Kennedy. p. 59.)

What might Kennedy have said over FEMA's response to the horrific situation in New Orleans? "[T]here is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions: indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skins have different colors. This is the slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter. This is the breaknig of a man's spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this, too, afflicts us all." (Ibid, pp. 59-60.)

In the end, it was all rather simple to Kennedy. "If we cannot feed the children of our nation, there is very little we will be able to succeed in doing to live up to the principals which our founders set out nearly two hundred years ago."

After a primary victory in California that gave him a genuine shot at being the Democratic nominee for President in 1968, Robert Kennedy was killed, and the last government official to willingly put his life on the line for the chance to help the rest of us was gone.

As Jack Newfield so eloquently stated in his book, Robert F. Kennedy: A Memoir:

“Now I realized what makes our generation unique, what defines us apart from those who came before the hopeful winter of 1961, and those who came after the murderous spring of 1968. We are the first generation that learned from experience ... that things were not really getting better, that we shall not overcome. We felt, by the time we reached thirty, that we had already glimpsed the most compassionate leaders our nation could produce, and they had all been assassinated. And from this time forward, things would get worse: our best political leaders were part of memory now, not hope. The stone was at the bottom of the hill and we were alone.”

I refuse to let that stone sit at the bottom of the hill, no matter how much despair I feel, and truly, that is almost all I can feel these days. I sent some money today to Habit for Humanity. It might as well have been Red Cross or any of a number of excellent agencies. But I wanted to send a signal too, because former President Jimmy Carter has volunteered with Habitat for over twenty years. For all the flack he got while in office, he has proved to be one of the most caring, moral leaders of our time. I wanted to honor someone still living, for a change. I'm too depressed from mourning the dead. I hope you too can get beyond your own mourning long enough to send $10, $50, $100, $1000 - whatever you can afford, to one of the groups aiding the newly homeless and newly unemployed victims of Katrina. Every dollar helps.

Bless you for caring.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Those who "chose not to leave"?????

I'm trying very hard not to swear. But if I hear "chose" again I'm going to scream.

The people who stayed in New Orleans stayed because they HAD no choice. People who say otherwise are engaging in projection. They are projecting their OWN blatant ignorance of the facts on those who truly had no option to go.

  • Many of them had no car, and no public convoys were offered before the fact.
  • Many of them had no income, so where could they go? They can't afford even a Motel 6.
  • Some were sick and could not leave.
  • Others were taking care of those who were sick, and dared not leave.
  • Some were old, and felt if they left they'd never return.
  • Some felt that if they stayed, they might be able to protect something of the little they had.

Can we please not blame the victims??? People who had the means to leave, left. Not the education, not the intelligence, the means. The mulah. The bling. The cash. The credit.

The gap between the wealthy and the poor is now so large that we hardly recognize one another. People who are rich tell themselves they deserve it, not that they were born to privilege. The few who made it on their own have a lot to be proud of, but they combined some genetic intelligence with hard work and a bit of luck to get where they are. They should honor that luck and their native gifts as well as their hard work. I know lots of hardworking smart people who never made it very far up the ladder, possibly because they spent a lot of their time trying to make the world a better place for others.

If God made the rich rich and the poor poor, it sure as hell wasn't to reward the rich and punish the poor, but to test our humanity. I'm not a religious person and I haven't read the bible in years. But when I was and did, the common thread was that we would be judged by how well we treated the least, not the richest, among us. On that level, it's quite certain Bush and his crew are going to hell, and the dying in New Orleans are on their way to heaven. But that's no comfort for someone such as myself. I want to stop the dying and punish the profiteers who brought us to this point. The open greed of the Halliburton employee in the Vice President's office, the open disregard for humanity shown by our unprovoked, unwarranted war on Iraq led by our Thief in Chief Bush, and the open contempt of those not exactly like themselves by the hatemongers of Limbaugh, Coulter, and others are to blame.

Limbaugh has been telling us for years global warming doesn't exist. Yet scientists say global warming is in part to blame for Katrina's lifespan and intensity. Coulter and her ilk have told us for years that government is the problem, that less government is better. So public programs have been cut, the poor have gotten much poorer, and now those chickens are coming home to roost. Had social programs for the poor and indigent in the New Orleans area been more available, these people might have had the means to leave the city, reducing the overall bill for rescue efforts. Had the government payed the bill for fixing the levees, thousands of our fellow human beings would still be alive.

We always have to pay for each other one way or another. That or we devolve into barbaric monkeys. So the only question that matters then is not how much, but when? Which is cheaper? Prevention or the cure? We can all see really clearly now, in hindsight admittedly, that more prevention was due in New Orleans. But should we have to suffer other Katrina-sized cataclysms to prove that prevention is necessary in many other areas of society now as well?

Government either protects us all equally, or it is not legitimate. And an illegitimate government deserves to fall so a new form of government can take its place. The foundation of our country is based on these words:

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.

--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

--That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

It is ironic that these words were written about another George, King George III. In childhood, I learned a little poem about the tyranny of the Georges:

George the First
was always reckoned Vile,
but viler George the Second;
And what mortal ever heard
Any good from George the Third?
When from Earth the Fourth descended
(God be praised!) the Georges ended.
I won't wait to be rid of a fourth before singing. I'll be happy enough at the political demise of George the Second. I don't want him dead. I want him repentant. I want him to understand the evil he has wrought in the world. I want him to really GET it.

How dare he. HOW DARE HE play golf, strum a guitar, and eat cake while people in New Orleans were gasping in their attics for their last breath? Can he be human? And if the answer is no, can he be president? Should he be president?

Can we finally, now, begin impeachment talks in earnest, before he has the chance to do us even greater ill? There's never a "good time" to impeach a president. By definition, if things are going well, he probably doesn't deserve to be impeached.

This isn't about placing blame. It's about taking responsibility. I hear the right cry over and over about "personal responsibility." Well boo hoo. When it's time for THEM to take responsibility, surprise surprise, it's always someone else's fault. It's the fault of those who "chose to stay." I have only one word for people like that. But I can't say it. I'm trying not to swear.

My Last Visit to New Orleans

That's last as in previous, not--hopefully--last as in never again. I love New Orleans. I've been there only twice, but it is (I refuse to say "was") a special place.

The first time, I was recovering from a broken heart and my parents invited me to join them there for one of the spring music festival weekends. Every weekend in April is some sort of music festival. I didn't remember or care which it was. It was New Orleans, city of voodoo, decadence, and dreams. I remember being struck by the utter cuteness of the French Quarter. It looked like something out of Disneyland, not including, of course, the numerous sex shoppes. Pink buildings with white french shutters; curly iron latticework on second-story balconies; the lovely inner courtyard of Court of Two Sisters and its most popular drink, called, ironically, the Hurricane. I took the glass with me, as had so many patrons before me.

The music was first rate. Springfest? I think that was the name. Combination arts/music/food fair. Colorful booths and more colorful visitors, wandering gracefully through the grass in front of the Catholic Church in the center of the Quarter. My mother had recently joined an online New Orleans list, and had made many new friends, most of whom lived there. Dad, Mom and I ate and drank with her virtual village and pictures were taken. Somewhere I still have one or more of them.

The weather was already very hot and humid, and again, this was April, near the Mississippi river. I can only imagine, as I'm suffering in the relatively dry heat here in Los Angeles, how much worse the hot humidity, tinged now with death and decay, must be.

What struck me most, living at that time in Los Angeles, was how kind people were, how they really took their time with you (a detriment if you were in a hurry, a graceful reminder of Southern Hospitality in other cases). I loved the soft southern twang of the people who spoke to me. I indulged in pralines and learned the "proper way" to pronounce the city's name: "Naw-lins."

I read the paper over coffee and beignets at Cafe du Monde, "Cafe of the World", a morning ritual for locals and tourists alike. And I learned a wonderful word: lagniappe, referring to that little something extra, the surprise gift a generous shopkeeper might have slipped into your bag, the little gift at the hotel, the extra food item at your meal. Small kindnesses were everywhere in that city.

We stayed in a small boutique hotel just east of the French Quarter. I had a four-poster bed with a lovely chandelier in my room. The tiny hotel had an inner courtyard with a lovely little square pool, and a separate small jacuzzi. Perfect for soaking your feet in after hours of wandering through the art stores, trinket shops, umbrella shops for "second-lining."

I took the Nachez Steamboat up the amazingly massive Mississippi River to the Zoo just north of town. I'm always drawn to animals, although I hate having to see them in cages. Not being able to afford a trip to Africa and the other continents of the world, I confess to patronizing zoos, and always find the experience interesting, often amusing, and always a tad disturbing. I can't imagine being caged for life. I also saw the pride and joy of the town - a huge "new" (then) aquarium, where sharks swam over your head as you walked through a glass tube. Then I cruised downriver to see new and old battleships stationed there.

I had a bite of the city's signature sandwich, the Muffeleta. It's like a huge antipasto salad in sandwich form. Delicious.

Last February, a couple of weeks before Mardi Gras, I had occasion to return to New Orleans again. I had left the Dean for America campaign in Vermont after Dean lost the New Hampshire primary. I knew it was over and knowing that, didn't want to drag down the true believers still on staff. I had planned my return from Seattle to Los Angeles months before, and was no able to continue the journey. I looked at the map home and decided on one detour from a straight shoot. You guessed it, the city of New Orleans.

I spent Valentine's Day there. If there was ever a city less suited to that day, I cannot imagine it, and that was fine with me, being utterly Valentine-less at the moment. I stayed in another boutique hotel in the same area, not quite as nice as the first but fine enough for me. This one had the essence of pirates about it, with dark green fronds of elephant palms brushing the walls built over a hundred years earlier.

From my temporary home in Burlington, Vermont, I had driven to Washington DC, staying with the Virginia head of Dean for America, a lovely and gracious woman who continues her remarkable activism to this day. From there, I had driven to Greensborough, North Carolina, and spent the night wandering the downtown area, trying to find all the little brass mice hidden throughout the city. The next morning, I drove through seven states to get to New Orleans - North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, ran down to Pensacola, Florida "just to see it," got back in the car and drove through Biloxi, Mississippi, and on into Lousiana and finally to New Orleans. The beach along the Gulf of Mexico was beautiful. A very fine white sand, laden with bleached scallop shells, one of which remains in my car to this day. There were no upended pinball machines littering the beach. And there were no oil slicks on the Mississippi River.

I parked my car and everything I owned in the world in the attached U-Haul trailer, and took my first extended walk of the trip. As before, I enjoyed the variety of people, the way people of all races, colors and political persuasions got along in the Quarter milieu. Again, there was music everywhere, and this time, because it was almost Mardi Gras, there were beads and breasts in abundance. I got my share of beads, not by bearing my breasts, but simply by bearing my teeth. You'd be surprised how many beads a genuine smile can be worth. But that's New Orleans. Sure, it's had its share--okay, more than its share--of smut and violence. And I can't forget that the plot to kill Kennedy was hatched in part there. But to me, it was also a town where the word stranger had no meaning. Everyone was a friend, be they a local, a tourist, or an immigrant worker.

Where are their friends now? I applaud all the people who are giving money - it's much needed. But that's why we pay taxes. Government is supposed to be our insurance policy against disaster and disarray. But to hear our PINO (President In Name Only) speak, he's more interested in shooting looters. What about the looting of southern state resources to feed the war in another gulf region? What of the redirecting of monies tagged for buttressing the levees to fund instead the war in Iraq? And how dare we judge the looters? We don't know how desperate they are. They don't know if they will live until the next day. They have kids who need diapers. They need food. They need medicine, and something potable to drink. And clean clothes. If President Nero wants to shoot looters, he should point his gun at the face in the mirror.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

What the country needs: FDR, higher taxes on the rich, and the WPA

The only way out of the horrific mess in New Orleans and the ripple effect it's just starting to have across the nation is for someone like a Franklin Delano Roosevelt to step forward into the leadership gap, to do what our current officeholder, President Nero, cannot. (He's too busy playing guitar as New Orleans and surrounding areas sink into further destitution.) The recipe is simple, time-tested, and doable (as a physical feat, not necessarily as a political feat):
  1. Raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Before you start to scream - remember that we have a progressive tax system. So we're only talking about raising taxes on the portion people make over the first 200,000 - that sort of thing. Everyone pays the same at every income level, but those who make more get more benefit from the police, the army, etc. and should pay a higher share. Think insurance. Those who have a poor car pay little. Those who have a nice car pay much more. So should it be with our tax system.
  2. Take the money raised and use it to create a new Work Projects Administration (WPA) ala the New Deal. Create jobs for people newly displaced by Katrina, and many of those jobs will be directly related to rebuilding the infrastructure of the cities and homes destroyed by the hurricane.
  3. Enact legislation tying the highest salary in a corporation to the lowest salary in a corporation. We used to have a strong middle class, and executive compensation was a few multiples of the average wages in the company. But the research Donald Bartlett and James Steele did for the Philidelphia Inquirer, later published in their book America - What Went Wrong, showed that "Between 1980 and 1989, the combined salaries of people in the $20,000-$50,000 income group increased 44 percent. During the same period, the combined salaries of people earning $1 million or more a year increased 2,184 percent." (Thank you, Reagan and Bush Sr.) No one person adds all that value to a company. At best, they manage and motivate the others who do the physical gruntwork (be it computer gruntwork or manual labor) to bring about the profits. For CEOs to take exorbitant salaries is not only bad for America on an economic level, it's also inherently immoral. Greed is, after all, one of the seven deadly sins.
  4. Strengthen unions. When people act together in their collective best interest, they have true power. When they are prohibited (hello, "right to work" crap) from joining together in common interest, the middle class is weakened. And remember that tired adage about a rising tide lifting all boats? Hello, that only works if the boats are in the same ocean. Put the yachts in a private pool and raise the pool level and I'm sorry, but no one outside of that pool is affected. And that's where we're at with the obscene concentration of wealth in this country. These aren't people you've ever met, or likely ever seen unless you frequent the Hamptons or St. Barts. Remember - Bush Sr. had never seen a grocery store scanner until he ran for President. Those kind of people. Sure, I'd like to be rich as hell too. But not at the expense of those whom I would have the honor and good fortune to employ.
  5. Put the notion of the commons back into our lives. No man, no family, no small group is an island. We're all interconnected. We need to share with each other, to help each other. Should each person have to buy hundreds of thousands of books? Isn't it better, simpler, and more efficient to pay a small portion of tax money to fund public libraries? Should we be at the mercy of private road owners who can exact whatever toll they want? Or should we fund public "free"ways? I'm sick to death of hearing people bitch about paying taxes. Bitch about where the tax money goes, but don't bitch about paying them. There are lots of good uses for tax money. I just mentioned two, and schools, health care, and social security are three more.

Look. We had all this. We had it for years under the extremely competent and forward thinking Roosevelt. But the private business interests hated him with a passion, because he was making others more like them, and they saw themselves becoming less "special." They revolted and formed various groups. The neocons are the denoument of the Reagan Revolution. The pendulum has swung so far to the right that if it swings any further it will break free. The pendulum needs to swing back to the left to restore sanity and order, to help employ the hundreds of thousands left suddenly jobless and homeless. These are drastic times, calling for drastic measures. Why not start with measures that have already worked?