Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Cat's Meow

Where have you heard this before:

"We believe that the decision to perform a medical or surgical procedure should be made by the ____ in consultation with their ____."

If you filled in the blanks with "patient" and "physician," you were wrong. The correct answer is your cat and veterinarian.

In California, it seems the health care debate has spread to cats. Specifically, the declawing of cats, a procedure technically known as onychectomy or flexor tendonectomy. Cat lovers say declawing a cat's paws is an act of animal cruelty.

And, if you thought the California legislature's only mission last July was to what laughingly is referred to as balancing the budget, you were wrong again.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law July 2 that gives the state authority over medical scope-of-practice issues and prevents cities and counties from passing ordinances banning medical procedures starting Jan. 1, 2010.

This has created a state of urgency to beat the deadline in cities such as Santa Monica, Los Angeles and San Francisco to clip a cat's scratching tools, according to a dispatch in today's Los Angeles Times.

Dr. Mark Nunez, president of the California Veterinary Medical Assn., which sponsored the state law, said his group is opposed to bans at the local level. "We believe that the decision to perform a medical or surgical procedure should be made by the owner of the cat in consultation with their veterinarian." The association represents more than 6,000 veterinary professionals in the state.

Memo to Dr. Nunez: Humans don't "own" cats; they take care of them, mostly.

The Santa Monica City Council voted last week to draft an ordinance restricting animal declawing effective no later than Dec. 31. Councilman Kevin McKeown said declawing is "an unacceptable act of animal cruelty."

The city of West Hollywood set the standard by banning declawing except for medical purposes in 2003. The decision was overturned after a challenge by the veterinary association but was reinstated by a state appeals court in 2007. The state Supreme Court declined to hear the case. Under the new state law, West Hollywood's ban will stand, as would any other municipalities' bans that take effect before Jan. 1.

There's one animal rights group that is waffling. Madeline Bernstein, president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Los Angeles, said her group is not in favor of animal declawing but is neutral on the issue of city bans.

Pet owners/caretakers set the rules for the animal kingdom. Declawing an animal seems to me an act of perversion as it would be forcing a human to chew and eat after removing all the teeth. Another acceptable practice for good reason is neutering male and females, a procedure if applied to humans would be associated with those town hall death panel chants.

A crazy world we live in. Human children have no lobby. Pets do.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

After 35 Years, A Case Of Tuna And Lost Pension

It must be a bittersweet experience for my mother-in-law and hundreds of cannery workers being honored today for their contributions to a city's industry that was snuffed a generation ago.

The San Diego Unified Port District spent a half-million dollars to erect a bronze sculpture and commemorate the site honoring tuna and albacore fishing and cannery workers at the waterfront.

The story in the San Diego Union-Tribune featured Eloise Osuna, my mother-in-law, as a primary spokesperson for the cannery workers, almost all Latina women. The heritage left behind by these women is superbly portrayed in the story.

At its height in the early 1950s, the industry generated $65 million for the local economy — about $550 million in today's dollars, said University of San Diego economist Alan Gin — and employed more than 17,000 workers.

The decline began in the 1970s because of stricter fishing regulations enacted to protect dolphins and increased foreign competition.

For her 35 years of service, Eloise received a case of tuna.

Eloise Cavada Osuna is a proud woman, a gracious lady who would not speak ill about the cannery bosses and owner for purposes of an event honoring her work in a newspaper story.

But what ended their jobs was not so much the demise of an industry but their life-long savings by the manipulations of a crooked owner who used cannery worker pension funds for his own personal gains.

The cannery Eloise and thousands worked for was Westgate, a subsidiary of the far-flung business empire created by C. Arnholt Smith, owner of U.S. National Bank and founder of the San Diego Padres. U.S. National was the largest bank failure in U.S. history when Smith's house of cards collapsed in 1972. He went to jail and his cannery workers lost hundreds of dollars in monthly pensions.

In the years leading up to the closure, Eloise told me Westgate cannery supervisors encouraged the employees to participate in its retirement fund by contributing portions of their pay checks to the pension fund.

The women decided it was a good investment for the future. After all, Mr. Smith was a powerful man, a philanthropist and voted Mr. San Diego by his peers in the business community. In the end, they were betrayed and their life savings vanished. Eloise believed the bosses were dupes of Smith's scheme.

"Mr. Smith was an evil man," Eloise once told me. Surviving after the canneries shut down was a struggle for all the Latinas and their families. Eloise lived on limited Social Security, Medicare and MediCal benefits and occasional financial help from her children and sons-in-law.

Two years ago she finally inherited her portion of proceeds from her mother's estate and is enjoying the benefits at long last. I danced with her at her 85th birthday celebration and as usual she was the life of the party.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Guantanamo Bay Fiasco

Michael Lehnert was the commander of Joint Task Force 160 which built Camp X-Ray in 2002. He was given little guidance from the Pentagon except do it fast.

"The Geneva Convention seemed to be a pretty good place to start," he said. "I got several copies and had my staff read it." He wanted the prisoners closely guarded but humanely treated, an approach he lost. He said he opposed the harsh interrogation methods requested by the Bush White House.

“Probably before I left Guantanamo," after 100 days in command, "I was of the opinion it needed to go away as soon as possible.” He said at his retirement news gathering Thursday interrogations, which were handled by a different task force, ignited “creative tension” in the officer ranks of Marines, Navy, Army and the Central Intelligence Agency.. Lehnert said he made his views known through “the appropriate chain of command.” He said the United States has a moral obligation to treat the prisoners humanely.

Lehnert will step down next week after heading the Marine Corps Installations West command since 2005. He has guided a massive construction campaign at the seven bases he oversees from an office at Camp Pendleton in San Diego County.

During his presser, the general addressed the subject which is driving the Obama administration crazy -- where to relocate the remaining 220 prisoners of roughly 800 who cannot be released nor held for trial.

He said he opposes the White House inquiry some or all be sent to Camp Pendleton because it could threaten the base's main job of training Marines. This Not-In-My-Backyard chant is echoed by most members of Congress which has delayed funding for Guantanamo closing until the relocation question is resolved. U.S. officials hope to prosecute some of them in federal court and others before military commissions.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post quotes its sources that the fall guy blamed for the current problem at Guantanamo is White House Counsel Gregory B. Craig who convinced President Barack Obama to set a deadline to close the base by Jan. 22, 2010, against the advise of many in both administrations and Congress. The Post:

The White House has faltered in part because of the legal, political and diplomatic complexities involved in determining what to do with more than 200 terrorism suspects at the prison. But senior advisers privately acknowledge not devising a concrete plan for where to move the detainees and mishandling Congress.

Craig no longer is in charge of the base closure, according to the Post.

Craig said Thursday that some of his early assumptions were based on miscalculations, in part because Bush administration officials and senior Republicans in Congress had spoken publicly about closing the facility. "I thought there was, in fact, and I may have been wrong, a broad consensus about the importance to our national security objectives to close Guantanamo and how keeping Guantanamo open actually did damage to our national security objectives," he said.

The Post story implies -- at least to me -- the Obama White House has dropped the urgency of Guantanamo's closing which in part explains its delays in processing the detainees. Part of the problem was this unexpected development the Obama people learned after taking office.

Senior administration officials said the central roadblock during those early months was the condition of the detainee files, which had been left in disarray by the previous administration.

"We assumed that for each detainee there was going to be a file somewhere," one senior administration official said. "Some of the intelligence files were not even organized by detainee. You had to go into a mainframe database and search the name of the detainee to put together a file. So there were weeks, if not months, of putting together the files of detainees that then could be reviewed by the fresh eyes that we wanted."

As the process was getting underway in the spring, the administration began losing support for shutting the facility, in part, officials now say, because the White House did not present a concrete plan for what it would do with the remaining terrorism suspects.

What began as a campaign promise fulfilled has turned into a public relations nightmare for an Obama administration that continually is confronted with the realities of governing.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Now Read This

Headline writers for newspapers and the larger Internet websites have the power to sell, taint, cajole, tease and distort the writer's works in order to lure the reader to take the bait. I took the bait, hook, line and sinker this morning from the following headline on MSNBC's web page:

Why Obama wishes he were king

Or at the very least, he wishes he were Mel Brooks

The article was written by Bill Pascoe, a guest columnist for CQ Politics.

I enjoyed the story. A good read. It explained and backed up with the necessary examples how President Obama must be aggravated because he lacks the power in our constitutional republic to get what he wants despite his personal popularity.

Pascoe leads the story:

Responsibility without authority is a recipe for frustration. But popularity without power is a recipe for aggravation.

I couldn't agree more with what Pascoe wrote but I kept reading on and on wondering when's this king thing and reference to a Mel Brooks skit come to play. Read the entire story and you will see what I mean.

Not till Pascoe's last graph do we come to the headline writer's idea of a grabber:

Mel Brooks said, "it's good to be the King." I'm betting Obama would give anything for a taste of that kind of power.

Om my blog and at TMV I write my own headlines and, yes, plead guilty to sometimes writing a headline of a post in which the lead message is buried in the last graph. It is not a good practice, from a professional journalistic perspective I learned years ago in the newspaper business. The general rule is if you don't grab a reader's attention by the second paragraph, you lost him.

Writing on the Internet is slightly different because you are dealing with niche audiences looking for specific issues they can rant about to either support their views or use as ammunition against opposing ideas.

I have no idea whether Pascoe was pleased with the MSNBC headline. I felt slightly betrayed, thinking it would lead me to one thing and finding something else. In the newspaper business, us writers always had an excuse about the headlines: We didn't write them.

Pascoe's analysis confirmed my impressions of the difficulties of those in power. The president is held responsible for such things he has little or no control: the economy, wars, legislation and backstage support for political candidates he personally favors.

It's now Obama's war in Afghanistan; it's Obama's health care reform plans; it's Obama's climate change legislation; it's Obama's tweaking conservatives for his circumvention of Congress with dozens of so-called czars advising him. You name it. It's Obama's.

Pascoe said that is unfair and an over-simplification. He's right.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Mission Creep In Afghanistan

To the dismay of our military leaders, President Barack Obama is pulling a Brett Favre in deciding to send more troops to Afghanistan. While weighing a change in strategy by the president , Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal warns that unless he is provided more forces and a robust counterinsurgency strategy, the war in Afghanistan is most likely lost.

Today I am filing a comprehensive report on the Afghan divide based on articles in The New York Times and Washington Post. Nothing in these reports convinces me of my conclusions several weeks ago: We should pull out our forces and concentrate on its neighbor Pakistan from afar as we are now doing.

The New York Times:

In a series of interviews on the Sunday morning talk shows, Obama expressed skepticism about sending more American troops to Afghanistan until he was sure his administration had the right strategy to succeed.

“Right now, the question is, the first question is, are we doing the right thing? Are we pursuing the right strategy?” Obama said on CNN. “When we have clarity on that, then the question is, O.K., how do we resource it?”

Obama said that he and his top advisers had not delayed any request for additional troops from Gen. McChrystal because of the political delicacy of the issue or other domestic priorities. “No, no, no, no,” Obama said when asked on CNN’s “State of the Union” whether Gen. McChrystal had been told to sit on his request.

Obama said his decision “is not going to be driven by the politics of the moment.”

In an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Obama said his top priority was to protect the United States against attacks from al qaeda and other terrorist groups.

“Whatever decisions I make are going to be based first on a strategy to keep us safe, then we’ll figure out how to resource it,” the president said. “We’re not going to put the cart before the horse and just think by sending more troops we’re automatically going to make Americans safe,” he said.

Obama and his advisers have said they need time to absorb the assessment of the Afghanistan security situation that Gen. McChrystal submitted three weeks ago — a separate report from the general’s expected request for forces — as well as the uncertainties created by the fraud-tainted Afghan elections.

Said the top military official in Afghanistan in a 66-page report to the White House and Defense Secretary Robert Gates:

“Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible." In his five-page commander’s summary, Gen. McChrystal ends on a cautiously optimistic note: “While the situation is serious, success is still achievable.”

Reports in both the Times and Washington Post say Gen. McChrystal is expected to propose a range of options for additional troops beyond the 68,000 American forces already approved, from 10,000 to as many as 45,000.

In his report, Gen. McChrystal issues a withering critique of both his NATO command and the Afghan government. His NATO command, he says, is “poorly configured” for counterinsurgency and is “inexperienced in local languages and culture.”

“The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials, and ISAF’s own errors,” Gen. McChrystal says, referring to NATO, “have given Afghans little reason to support their government.”

The general also describes an increasingly savvy insurgency that uses propaganda effectively and is using the Afghan prison system as a training ground. Taliban and Qaeda insurgents represent more than 2,500 of the 14,500 inmates in Afghanistan’s overcrowded prisons.

“These detainees are currently radicalizing non-insurgent inmates,” the report concludes.

The president in March announced the Afghan policy in the broadest of terms. The Washington Post said Gen. McChrystal interprets it accordingly:

McChrystal said he thinks the way to meet the president's relatively narrow objective of denying al-Qaeda's return to Afghanistan involves a wide-ranging U.S. and NATO effort to protect civilians from insurgents by improving the Afghan government's effectiveness. That means not only more troops, but also a far more aggressive program to train Afghan security forces, promote good local governance, root out corruption, reform the justice sector, pursue narcotics traffickers, increase reconstruction activities and change the way U.S. troops interact with the Afghan population. The implicit recommendation is that the United States and its NATO partners need to do more nation-building, and they need to do it quickly.

The White House says the two major game-changers since the policy announcement in March were Afghanistan's presidential election last month, which was compromised by fraud, much of it in support of President Hamid Karzai and recent polls that deem the Afghan war "not worth fighting" by 51% as well as a lack of support from Congressional Democrats.

The Post ended its analysis with this concluding paragraph:

But Obama's deliberative pace -- he has held only one meeting of his top national security advisers to discuss McChrystal's report so far -- is a source of growing consternation within the military. "Either accept the assessment or correct it, or let's have a discussion," one Pentagon official said. "Will you read it and tell us what you think?" Within the military, this official said, "there is a frustration. A significant frustration. A serious frustration."

Obama should punt. We've been in that country eight years and even though it once was called the "good war" compared to Iraq we must keep in mind that in 1,000 years no invader has ever conquered the Afghans' heart and soul. History usually proves correct in things of this nature. Just ask the Russians.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

ACORN's Fed Funding Loss A Drop In The Bucket?

Frankly, my dear, I didn't give a damn about ACORN's community organizing for the impoverished until I saw the videos on You Tube obtained by a self-described nerd who is more of an icon-shattering crusader than staunch conservative as some would have us believe.

In case you missed the edited snippets show low-level ACORN representatives telling the filmmakers how to obtain a loan to finance a house of prostitution featuring teenage girls from Third World countries.

ACORN is the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now and has dozens of affiliated entities, from a home-buying assistance corporation to community radio stations to liberal research and training institutes and voter registration drives. It is so far flung the left hand seldom knows what the right hand is doing.

The filmmaker is James E. O’Keefe III, 25, a Rutgers University grad student who with a friend, 20-year-old Hannah Giles, shocked the nation to such an extent that both Houses of Congress voted this past week to jerk all federal funding to ACORN.

That's what got me thinking. The legislation doesn't say how many federal dollars are at stake and the estimates are about as far apart as the crowd count at last weekend's 9/12 rally in Washington D.C. Liberal moderators such as those on MSNBC claim it's only several million dollars. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., claims it's in the neighborhood of $53 million.

But the votes in Congress weren't even close. The House was 345-75 and the Senate 85-11. Who says bipartisanship in Congress is dead?

The best I could find in Googling searches was an October 2008 report by NPR on ACORN funding.

First, government grants:

The Department of Housing and Urban Development gave $8.2 million to ACORN Housing Corp. between 2003 and 2006. HUD gave another $1.6 million since 2003 to other ACORN affiliates. The Environmental Protection Agency granted $100,000 in 2004 to rid homes of lead. The Justice Department gave $138,000 for a juvenile delinquency prevention program in New York City.

No money to ACORN in the 2009 stimulus bill has been allocated.


The Service Employees International Union gave more than $4 million in 2006-2007.


Liberal groups such as the Bauman Family Foundation $350,000, George Soros' Open Society Institute $300,000 and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation $1.8 million. Large mainstream corporations include JP Morgan Chase $2.4 million, Bank of America Charitable Foundation $1.4 million, Citigroup $1.5 million, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation $1.4 million, the Ford Foundation $1.3 million and foundations affiliated with the late founder of United Parcel Service a combined $6.4 million.

Contributions from individuals are almost impossible to track but the NPR report listed an aggregate exceeding $500,000 including $200,000 from Soros.

ACORN is accustomed to scandals since its founding in Louisiana in 1970 and has been a pain in the butt to conservatives because of the taxpayer money involved and the group's voter registration unit that helped the election of Barack Obama, who once represented ACORN as an attorney. The Los Angeles Times reports today:

Amy Schur, ACORN's head organizer for California, acknowledged that the organization has had a tough year, but said that the state's 12 offices would survive. Membership is up, and funding has been stable, she said.

"Our organization is under attack," she said. "But we're going to come out of this just fine."

Schur said that the decentralized nature of ACORN ensures that if an office in one part of the country founders, it won't necessarily affect those in the rest of the country.

Still, Schur said, she has taken steps to quell any public uneasiness. Schur said that the organization had hired an independent auditor to review the finances of the state's programs, and that the group would require more training for staff.

As many as 40% of its entities have shut down in the past year and no new clients are being signed up, said national spokesman Brian Kettenring, while the group conducts an internal investigation into how its business is conducted.

There are criminal investigations in at least seven states by the Justice Department and three states have launched investigation to cut off funding.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will ask its chief administrator to investigate ACORN's list of 26,000 newly registered voters in that county in which some applications failed to be filled out properly.

According to The San Diego Union-Tribune, the undercover filmmakers' video of a National City ACORN office employee giving advise about illegal border crossings "rocked" the community. That employee was fired Thursday.

A New York Times profile today on O'Keefe quotes him as surprised by the hellstorm his ACORN videos created.

In a telephone interview on Thursday night — when he was editing still more ACORN footage — O’Keefe said that when he accepted Giles’s idea that they take on ACORN, “I thought we’d get some snippets” worth posting to the Web. “I’m a skinny nerd, the least convincing pimp in the world,” he said.

Instead, a succession of ACORN workers advised the pair on how to smuggle Salvadoran girls into the country, falsify a loan application to buy a house for use as a brothel and even claim the under-age prostitutes as dependents for tax purposes.

“It was an absolute revelation,” O’Keefe said. But it was a familiar pattern in his outlandish sting operations, he said: “People say to me, ‘They’re never going to say yes,’ but they always do.” Repeatedly, his requests have been met with credulous, clueless or incriminating answers, making for a riveting few minutes on the Web.

ACORN'S national chief executive officer Bertha Lewis will appear on Fox's Sunday show. Chris Wallace, whose Fox network first broadcast the videos, will do the interview. That might be worth watching.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

America's Sweet Tooth Addiction

Congratulations to Americans Against Food Taxes for producing a political issues ad that is accurate. The group opposes a one-cent per-ounce tax on sugary soft drinks that Congress is eyeballing to generate more revenue. The ads claim the regressive tax would hit those who least can afford it the most.

On the flip side, sugar tax advocates say the products they are targeting pose a significant contributor to juvenile diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity and could generate $15 billion in the first year to fight the diseases. The tax would apply to soft drinks, energy drinks, sports beverages and many juices and ice teas, but not sugar-free diet drinks.

The major fallacy in both arguments is that sugar is the boogie man when added ingredients such as fructose and corn syrup are the real devils.

The issue is so hot Congress removed the proposal from its health reform legislation to consider it as a separate revenue issue later this year. Translation: The beverage industry lobby smacks a powerful punch.

The New England Journal of Medicine Wednesday reported findings of a study that the tax would not only raise millions but also have a significant effect on reducing weight and other health risks. The study cited research on price elasticity for soft drinks that has shown that for every 10% rise in price, consumption declines 8 to 10%. A similar study on cigarette taxes showed a decline in smoking among adults by 2% and teenagers 7%.

From the New York Times:

John Sicher, the publisher of Beverage Digest, a trade publication, said that a two-liter bottle of soda sells for about $1.35. At 67.6 ounces, if the full tax was passed on to consumers, that would add 50% to the price. A 12-can case, which sells today for about $3.20, could rise by $1.44, a 45% increase.

“A one cent per ounce tax would create serious problems and potentially adversely impact sales for the American beverage industry,” Sicher said.

The Times also quotes Kevin W. Keane, senior vice president of public relations for the beverage industry:

“When it comes to losing weight, all calories count, regardless of the food source,” Keane said. “The bottom line is that the tax isn’t going to make anybody healthier. It’s not going to make a dent in a problem as complex and serious as obesity, and we’re certainly not going to solve the complexities of the health care system with a tax on soda pop."

Susan K. Neely, president of the American Beverage Association, takes it a step further. She maintains that soft drinks don't play a role in the obesity epidemic - that consuming too much is the problem. "Soft drinks are just a fun beverage along with a lot of other beverages and foods that we like to eat or drink. It's eating too much of something that is a problem," she said.

Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Obesity at Yale University said in an interview with ABC TV that a penny-an-ounce tax would have an immediate and powerful impact on the nation’s elevated obesity rate. He called it a home run.

He said that a tax was justified in part because conditions like obesity and diabetes are often treated with public funds through programs like Medicaid and Medicare. Revenue from the tax could help pay for such care.

According to the ABC report, the average American consumes 50 cans of soda pop per month.

The heart of the argument for limiting sugary consumption is Americans consume too much -- about 22 teaspoons daily or 355 calories per day when only six teaspoons are needed, according to Rachel K. Johnson, lead author of the statement published online Monday in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

I have a simple solution to the sweet tooth addicts. Instead of sugar, add Splenda or any other artificial sweetener.

What boggles my mind is that health experts tend to downplay the worst contributors to sugary and fatty foods. It's not sugar by itself at work. It is the variety of ingredients including sugar, corn syrup, fructose, dextrose, molasses or evaporated cane juice and anything hydrogenated which are on the nutrition labels of all packaged food and beverages, according to Lona Sandon, a dietitian at Dallas' University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

As in many debates, there are self-serving claims which amount to a mountain of BS. This one is quoted from Bloomberg News in the New York Times article.

Muhtar Kent, the chief executive of Coca-Cola, was asked about the tax on Monday during an appearance at the Rotary Club of Atlanta and he responded by calling it “outrageous.”

“I have never seen it work where a government tells people what to eat and what to drink,” Kent said. “It if worked, the Soviet Union would still be around.”

Coca-Cola is the world's largest beverage company in an industry which contends its revenues are flatlining and cannot withstand any tax increase. According to its own financial statements, Coca-Cola total revenues were $8.627 million in the second quarter of 2009 compared to first quarter earnings of $7.169 million. Annual revenues for 2008 were $31.944 million over the previous year's $28.857 million.

Big Coke is doing quite well despite the threat of a socialistic takeover.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Enough's Enough, America

There comes a time in history when an adult enters the fray of uncivil discourse, shakes America by her broad shoulders, and admonishes everyone that enough is enough. I'm uncertain whether former President Jimmy Carter is that heroic adult.

Carter in an interview Tuesday and later in an address to his own forum said Rep. Joe Wilson's "You lie" outburst to President Barack Obama during a speech to Congress last week was an act "based on racism" and rooted in fears a black man is incapable of being president.

I'm up to my neck with disgust every time an argument degenerates when the race, gender, religious, nationality or sexual preference card is played. Carter, who arguably was the worst president since Warren Harding, has some street creds, at least for a white man, on race.

The Plains, Georgia, native whose best childhood friends were black, has an exemplary record of governor of a southern state and president as a champion and empathetic defender of black people in America.

“Racism ... still exists and I think it has bubbled up to the surface because of a belief among many white people, not just in the south but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country. It’s an abominable circumstance and grieves me and concerns me very deeply,” Carter told NBC News.

Wilson, a South Carolina Republican congressman, was scolded in a House resolution Tuesday 240 to 179. The House held that by shouting "You lie" during the president’s speech, Wilson committed a “breach of decorum and degraded the proceedings of the joint session, to the discredit of the House.”

The rebuke was demanded by the Democratic black caucus because Wilson refused to apologize on the House floor although he did, upon instructions from Republican house leaders, relay his forgiveness to the White House which Obama accepted.

No one knows whether racism harbors in Wilson's mind. Some pundits on the cable networks speculated he had too much to drink before attending the joint congressional speech. Maureen Dowd in her New York Times column Sunday thought but was uncertain whether Wilson's outburst was "You, lie, boy!" Wilson's wife asked him who was the nut who yelled at the president.

"There is not a racist bone in my dad's body," said Alan Wilson, an Iraq veteran who is running for state attorney general. "He doesn't even laugh at distasteful jokes. I won't comment on former President Carter, because I don't know President Carter. But I know my dad, and it's just not in him."

Dick Harpootlian, a former South Carolina Democratic Party chairman, said he has known Wilson for years and doubts the remarks were motivated by racism. "I think Joe's conduct was asinine, but I think it would be asinine no matter what the color of the president," he said. "I don't think Joe's outburst was caused by President Obama being African-American. I think it was caused by no filter being between his brain and his mouth."

Michael Steele, the black Republican Party chairman, said:

President Carter is flat out wrong. This isn't about race. It is about policy. This is a pathetic distraction by Democrats to shift attention away from the president's wildly unpopular government-run health care plan that the American people simply oppose.

Injecting race into the debate over critical issues facing American families doesn't create jobs, reform our health care system or reduce the growing deficit. It only divides Americans rather than uniting us to find solutions to challenges facing our nation.

I find this argument to seriously address the health care reform debate by Republicans astonishing. Not a single Republican has voted in favor of any of the bills offered by the Democrats. They contend the Democrats won't accept their ideas despite the fact hundreds of Republican amendments to the proposed legislation have been included in the process leading to the mark ups or floor votes. It's their problem, not the Democrats, they are the minority party.

The race card may or may not be red herring. What is real is the uncivil discourse we see from town hall meetings and marches on Washington, writes Robin Abcarin in the Los Angeles Times. She quotes a University of Washington sociologist the bad discourse began in the 1960s when America's youth challenged the Vietnam War.

Cultural critic and writer Joseph Epstein thinks civility was purely a facade to begin with, Abcarin writes:

The public figures who crossed the line have careers that generally require them to create "false PR personalities," Epstein said. "These were eruptions of true, loathsome feelings after all these years of suppression and having to pretend to be such sweet characters when they are not. What they all were before is as phony as can be. They all just said, 'I can't take it anymore,' and they all fell apart."

Abcarin then interviews Drew Westen, an Emory University psychologist who has studied the effects of unconscious racism in political contests. He said it was no accident that most of these incidents involved blacks and whites.

"I think racial tensions on both sides are pretty high right now," Westen said. "It's on a new level now because it's not conscious or overt. It's bubbling underneath. What might have led to a small reaction or a thought to yourself that something is unfair is now popping out of people's mouths."

And then Westen, a Democratic consultant, takes a swipe at Obama for not taking advantage of Wilson's outburst.

"The president had just said in his speech that he is happy to work with people who want solutions, but 'I will call you out' to those who are getting in the way and being uncivil. And then Joe Wilson calls him a liar to his face in front of the whole nation. He should have said, 'Excuse me, I believe someone just called me a liar. Would you like to stand up?' "

That Obama did not do that, said Westen, "was an object lesson in why the right continues to escalate their incivility."

Let's give credit where credit is due. Three cheers to the Republican attack squads who have framed the national debate to their terms. It is derisive, negative, pocked with lies and distortions and will do Americans no benefit. It is their way of restoring America to its founding freedoms of rising health costs, failing banking institutions, filthy air and wars that have no redeeming outcomes.

A pox on the Democrats for allowing this to happen. Nor will I buy their sanctimonious whining they never called President Bush a liar during his address to a joint congress. They did that and more out of chambers coaxed and fanned by a vicious left wing media blitz.

Come on, America. Can't we all just get along?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Why I Screw Up Now And Then, I Recall

I want to take a breather for a couple of minutes from bashing Joe Wilson and other stupid Republican claims about our health care legislation and discuss a condition that has bothered me the past several months.

For no apparent reason my brain insists I sleep 10 to 12 hours a day. Anything short of that, I feel like I'm hungover but I don't drink booze. Furthermore, less than that amount of sleep tends to contribute to stupid mistakes in my blog writings which I greet with self-deprecating humor as a "senior moment."

Well, it ain't funny. I'm a creature of habit. My morning ritual has been well established over the past 60-plus years. Violate that custom and I'm thrown off schedule for the entire day.

I used to get by on five to seven hours sleep and perhaps log in an extra hour or two on Sundays.

I was diagnosed with sleep apnea five years go. The condition was corrected simply by breathing oxygen through the night with what is called a CPAP machine. It broke down 10 days ago and I'm waiting for the insurance company to replace it. But the need for sleep began many weeks before. Now, it is worse, for obvious reasons.

A hypochondriac I am not. I plan to discuss this newly found disorder with my primary physician scheduled the end of this month. All she'll do is kiss it off to a specialist.

Nor am I one to read medical studies and diagnose my imagined condition. Well, I read a study today written by Reuters that indicates I could be in the early stages of dementia. I fit all the criteria.

Spanish researchers found that among nearly 3,300 older adults they followed for three years, those who slept nine or more hours per day, daytime naps included, were about twice as likely to develop dementia as those who typically slept for seven hours.

The study of 3,286 adults age 65 and older found 140 with dementia and of those 28 slept nine or more hours a night.

"It remains to be established how the relation between longer sleep duration and dementia is mediated," said Dr. Julian Benito-Leon, of University Hospital '12 de Octubre' in Madrid. He added there is no known cure.

I've defied the laws of medical probabilities all my life and see no reason to quit now.This time the odds are in my favor.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Obamacare You Can Live With

In an attempt to regain control of the health care debate if not his presidency, President Barack Obama crafted a speech a fifth grader could grasp and Congress could follow allowing all Americans to receive affordable medical services.

What struck me was all the goals and specifics outlined by the president seem reasonable enough for Congress to adopt with all sides of the equation giving up some of their hallowed turf. That's what sausage-making legislation is all about. I think if Obama had his druthers, he would prefer extending Medicare to all and raise taxes to fill the deficit holes. But, no, the man is a political pragmatist and has a feel for what flies and what sinks.

To win this battle, the emotionally-charged debate needs to be unplugged after a summer of discontent. That became evident when snickers rolled across the chamber floor after the president said "there remain some significant details to be ironed out." That wasn't unusual.

What was a violation of decorum was Rep. Joe Wilson (R-South Carolina) who yelled "you lie" when Obama debunked charges that the proposed legislation would pay for medical coverage for illegal immigrants. Wilson later apologized to the White House, claiming "emotions" got the better of him.

The only areas of the speech Wednesday night that left me uncomfortable was Obama's argument that any plan approved by Congress be deficit neutral. I do agree with this statement:"Put simply, our health care problem is our deficit problem. Nothing else even comes close." It's the numbers game how we get there is what is troubling.

The encouraging aspects of Obamacare -- and I use the term approvingly and not mockingly as opponents have coined -- is legislation that would force the insurance carriers to be more accountable.

What this plan will do is to make the insurance you have work better for you. Under this plan, it will be against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage because of a pre-existing condition. As soon as I sign this bill, it will be against the law for insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick or water it down when you need it most. They will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or a lifetime. We will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses, because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they get sick. And insurance companies will be required to cover, with no extra charge, routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms and colonoscopies - because there's no reason we shouldn't be catching diseases like breast cancer and colon cancer before they get worse. That makes sense, it saves money, and it saves lives.

I have no problem with Obama doing an end run around the liberal Democrats demand for a public option. Instead, he dipped into his bag of campaign proposals and suggested a new government insurance exchange to cover the uninsured.

If you lose your job or change your job, you will be able to get coverage. If you strike out on your own and start a small business, you will be able to get coverage. We will do this by creating a new insurance exchange - a marketplace where individuals and small businesses will be able to shop for health insurance at competitive prices. Insurance companies will have an incentive to participate in this exchange because it lets them compete for millions of new customers.

Obama laid down a few markers. His proposals translate to the premise that health care is a right for every American. It also would require all Americans to buy health insurance as they do automobile insurance.He seemed willing to allow consumers to buy out-of-state health insurance, a practice now under the exclusive domain of individual states. And, he supports a Bush administration proposal to test by region ways to cap malpractice lawsuits.

Frankly, the speech comes too late in the legislative process, I fear. No one seems to recall a presidential speech that tipped the scales in favor of landmark legislation. I doubt the president changed any minds in Congress. We won't know for several days if it stirred the grass roots to demand reform as outlined by the president.

One thing is clear. There's 80% agreement in Congress over what so far has been introduced in draft bills and that's the closest we've been since President Teddy Roosevelt argued for it almost a century ago.

We may not get a whole loaf from health reform, but a couple of slices short is not all that bad.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Send The Peace Corps, Not More Troops, To Afghanistan

I'm not gloating but two New York Times columnists agree with my assessment that U.S. military presence in Afghanistan is untenable although neither go as far as my desire to pull out all our troops.

Normally, opinions by New York Times columnists are not those that sway the powers in Washington. But in the case of Afghanistan the White House and Pentagon should be taking notes. One columnist is Thomas L. Friedman, arguably the most authoritative voice in the main stream media on Middle Eastern affairs. The other is Nicholas D. Kristof whom I'm not so sure about but at least he's talked to the folks there.

Writes Friedman:

It would be one thing if the people we were fighting with and for represented everything the Taliban did not: decency, respect for women’s rights and education, respect for the rule of law and democratic values and rejection of drug-dealing. But they do not. Too many in this Kabul government are just a different kind of bad. This has become a war between light black — (president Hamid) Karzai & Co. — and dark black — Taliban Inc. And light black is simply not good enough to ask Americans to pay for with blood or treasure.

Friedman argues after eight years we do not have a reliable partner to hand off to.

The strategy that our new — and impressive — commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, is pursuing calls for additional troops to create something that does not now exist there — a reasonably noncorrupt Afghan state that will serve its people and partner with America in keeping Afghanistan free of drug lords, warlords, the Taliban and Al Qaeda. His plan calls for clearing areas of Taliban control, holding those areas and then building effective local, district and provincial governments — along with a bigger army, real courts, police and public services. Because only with all that can we hold the support of the Afghan people and avoid a Taliban victory and a return of Al Qaeda that could threaten us. That is the theory.

What it amount to is a shift in policy from baby sitting a nation to adopting it, Friedman says.

"I feel a vast and rising ambivalence about this in the American public today, and adopting a baby you are ambivalent about is a prescription for disaster," he concludes.

Kristof is worried President Obama will increase troop levels in Afghanistan in which he cites military and CIA officials as a recipe for disaster. The group fears sending more American troops into ethnic Pashtun areas in the Afghan south may only galvanize local people to back the Taliban in repelling the infidels.

Many Pashtuns I’ve interviewed are appalled by the Taliban’s periodic brutality and think they are too extreme; they think they’re a little nuts. But these Pashtuns also admire the Taliban’s personal honesty and religious piety, a contrast to the corruption of so many officials around President Hamid Karzai.

Some Taliban are hard-core ideologues, but many join the fight because friends or elders suggest it, because they are avenging the deaths of relatives in previous fighting, because it’s a way to earn money, or because they want to expel the infidels from their land — particularly because the foreigners haven’t brought the roads, bridges and irrigation projects that had been anticipated.

The group Kristof cites includes Howard Hart, a former Central Intelligence Agency station chief in Pakistan; David Miller, a former ambassador and National Security Council official; William J. Olson, a counterinsurgency scholar at the National Defense University; and another C.I.A. veteran who does not want his name published but who spent 12 years in the region, was station chief in Kabul at the time the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, and later headed the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorism Center.

Kristof supports a nation building approach.

The solution is neither to pull out of Afghanistan nor to double down. Rather, we need to continue our presence with a lighter military footprint, limited to training the Afghan forces and helping them hold major cities, and ensuring that Al Qaeda does not regroup. We must also invest more in education and agriculture development, for that is a way over time to peel Pashtuns away from the Taliban.

What turned me sour on Afghanistan as a hopeless rebuilding entity is a 2007 report by the World Bank in which I posted columns in May and June. One of the bank's subsidiaries loaned the Karzai government $65 million to begin restoring its rural irrigation system. Success was marginal at best and was marred by corrupt and inept officials within the Interior Ministry.

In efforts to improve the country's agriculture development, why not send in trained experts in horticulture and irrigation engineering from members of our civilian Peace Corps. Afghanistan with its tribal customs will take years to bring into the 21st century. The end game is no where near in sight.

It's time for our soldiers to leave.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Memorize This, Fool

I have a story to tell that relates to the brewing controversy over President Obama's speech to the nation's school children next Tuesday.

It was during the war years of 1943-45. Our grade school teachers made it a contest. Who could raise the most money for Infantile Paralysis. The money was for research to cure the disease that crippled President Franklin Roosevelt in the prime of his life. The campaign was based on the slogan "March For Dimes."

My parents nor the parents of many of my fellow second and third graders were fans of FDR, not because of the war but because of his landmark social policies to move the nation out of the Great Depression.

No one, not even those in rock-ribbed Republican Orange County, Calif., suggested for a second that joining the March of Dimes was furthering FDR's political agenda. The drive to cure the terrible disease was greeted with the same enthusiasm as buying war bonds for $18.25 which, in 10 years, were worth $25.

We didn't take home notes from teachers for parental authorization. We took home Mason jars to be filled with pennies, nickles, dimes and quarters.

Flash forward to 2009.

President Obama's speech at a Virginia high school essentially urges students to study hard, finish school and accept personal responsibility. There's no more political overtones in that message than the March For Dimes drive honored for FDR.

Michelle Malkin, just one of many ultra-right conservative voices, claims it is a well-known fact liberal Democrats want to brainwash our nation's children with their social agendas she and others like her oppose.

The fact is, President Obama's speech is not the problem. He's the straw man.

What the critics really are complaining about is several lesson plans suggested by some unthinking zealots in the U.S. Department of Education for teachers to ask their students to write an essay how they can help our president. To that, I would agree, poses a problem to some parents.

Each school district is setting its own protocol. At Davidson Elementary in San Bernardino, Calif., Principal Joyce Payne said nearly all her teachers in grades higher than kindergarten will show the speech, which she expects to be "a wonderful learning experience for kids." She also anticipates that her teachers will use the accompanying classroom materials prepared by the Obama administration.

I was curious how my old school district is handling it.

Ken Lopez-Maddox, a former Republican assemblyman who is a school board trustee for the Capistrano Unified School District in Orange County, said he has no problem with the president addressing students and schools.

"To the degree he's emphasizing education, I think it's great," he said.

The district issued a news release saying it was not "encouraging nor discouraging classroom viewing," and urging parents who do not want their children to watch the speech to contact school principals.

Maddox said he respected the rights of parents to choose what their children watch, but added: "I would think it odd that they wouldn't want them to know what the president is going to say."

I mentioned Ms. Malkin earlier. Here's another critic touching on the same subject:

On Thursday, Jim Greer, chairman of the Florida Republican Party, accused the president of attempting to "indoctrinate America's children to his socialist agenda." According to Greer, "the idea that schoolchildren across our nation will be forced to watch the president justify his plans for government-run healthcare, banks and automobile companies, increasing taxes on those who create jobs, and racking up more debt than any other president, is not only infuriating but goes against the beliefs of the majority of Americans, while bypassing American parents through an invasive abuse of power."

One of the most common assignments teachers require is writing essays on a timely subject or memorizing a classic speech delivered by our presidents. Consider yourself in the fifth grade during the Civil War and the teacher made you memorize the Gettysburg Address by President Lincoln. Would the school need authorization from the parents? I don't think so.

The White House plans to release the speech online Monday so parents can read it. Obama will deliver the speech at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Afganistan Is Not Worth The Price

President Obama this weekend at Camp David is studying a classified report submitted by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, that some say could be a game changer by putting a larger emphasis on "protecting the Afghan people."

You can bet he will not take my advise and that of a growing number of both liberals and conservatives that the U.S. should pull its forces from that country which has booted out every invader in recorded history.

From the U.S. perspective, we are not invaders but rather protectors resisting the Taliban from governing and al quada from training terrorists. Tell that to Afghan civilians who are killed in air attacks at a frightening rate, including perhaps dozens early Friday.

From the Afghan perspective, we kill indiscriminately, burn their best source of income in poppy production, interdict their drug traffickers and support its corrupt government. Humanitarian efforts by the U.S., some NATO allies and the World Bank go unnoticed because the projects stagnate once they enter the hands of local officials and inept bureaucrats.

Friday's air attack on two hijacked diesel tankers is the latest tragedy. Depending on what report you believe, the German command ordered the attack believing no civilians were in the area of the tiny village of Omar Kheil, about 10 miles south of Kunduz, in northern Afghanistan. The explosion killed about 80 people, and an undetermined number of civilians who arrived beginning about an hour earlier to collect released fuel from the tankers to lighten their loads in order to cross a muddy stream bed.

The airstrike comes three months after McChrystal tightened the rules governing the use of airstrikes in an effort to reduce the civilian deaths that he said were undermining the American-led mission by creating anger and opposition among Afghans.

This latest episode could have political ramifications in Germany where its participation is deeply unpopular and comes just three weeks before the federal election in which Chancellor Angela Merkel is seeking a second term.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates signaled Thursday he may drop his resistance for more troops to Afghanistan if it would help McChrystal's change in strategy to protect Afghan civilians which Obama is reviewing at Camp David. "It's not the size of the footprint, but the nature of the footprint" that matters, said Gates.

Gates must be reminded that any footprint would be resisted by the Afghan civilians as they have each and every time a foreign army has set foot in that forsaken country.

Gates says the call to vacate the Afghans is improper although he agrees the American people are growing weary of the growing number of casualties. He argued that President Obama's new strategy in Afghanistan hasn't even been given a chance to work.

One way of looking at the Obama strategy is its focus on nation building -- programs to train the police and army for security, rebuilding roads and improving the infrastructure which is in shambles whether its irrigation, drinking water, sewage or electrical grid system.

Afghanistan remains a nation ruled by tribal factions and warlords. They will fail to improve themselves if they follow the Taliban influence which systematically allows women to bear children and bans them from all other contributions to its society.

My feeling is if they existed this long without us, so be it. They may be on to something we can't comprehend. The price in American lives and the cost to nation build is too enormous when the end game is factored in. I don't pretend I'm an expert on Afghanistan. I know nothing about the country or its people other than what I have read, and, I must confess, isn't all that much. Call it an opinion from a common Joe who sees no U.S. resolve, no public will to spend resources we can't afford.

We will never win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. And the location of the country in the Middle East never could be confused as strategic or critical to our national security. It cannot be argued it is a buffer to its neighbors in Pakistan or Iran. The only thing Afghanistan has to offer is its poppy fields. If the country is used as a training ground and safe haven for terrorists, then fly in the drones and jets from off shore carriers.

The problem I had with President Bush and now Obama is allowing the generals on the ground to influence policy decisions. Generals rarely tell their commander-in-chief they can't carry out a mission.

Of course, McChrystal has a plan. Whether it works is not the point. It is just not worth the effort.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Daily Kos -- Anatomy Of Bad Polling