Posts Tagged ‘Congress’

In America, the Rich are Never Wrong

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

By Bob Gaydos

Donald Trump ... I was great, but my mic was lousy

Donald Trump … I was great, but my mic was lousy

Here’s a delayed look at the week that was. (I couldn’t let that televised national embarrassment Monday night go by without somehow acknowledging it. Besides, it ties in neatly with the rest of the menu.)

Monday night, 86 million people turned on their TVs to watch a rich, white man who inherited a fortune bragging about rooting for the collapse of the home mortgage market in 2008 and how “smart” he is to avoid paying taxes. The man also happens to be running for president of the United States as the Republican Party nominee.

During the debate, the nominee also body-shamed a former beauty queen and displayed a shocking lack of knowledge about such things as economics and world affairs. He did sniffle and interrupt his female opponent a lot.

This was white privilege on display in all its arrogance. Donald Trump has got his – well, his daddy gave him a lot to start with – and now he wants to get more of ours. When the debate was over, Trump said if people thought he did lousy it was because somebody turned his microphone sound down too low. Because, in Donald Trump’s world, the rich are never wrong.

Speaking of the rich never being wrong, last week also marked the fifth anniversary of the Occupy Movement in America. It arose seemingly out of nowhere with thousands of Americans of all ages, colors, genders, creeds, etc., setting up camp or just sitting down — and staying — in large numbers in places where people don’t usually set up camp or squat, if you will, for more than a couple of hours at most. Bank doorways. Parks. The middle of Wall Street.

Five years later, the Occupy Movement is, at least physically speaking, a mere memory, a blip in the history of protest movements in the United States. To some, it is a might-have-been movement that missed its moment. To others, it was merely a forbearer of things to come. It was often criticized (by me included) as having no central theme. What was its point?

Today, it’s clear what the point was and remains: America is divided into two groups of people — the haves (like Trump) and the rest.

The haves are the one percent — the individuals and corporations — who control enormous amounts of wealth and want more. The rest, the 99 percent, is us, trying to figure out how things got so out of whack. Wall Street was and still is the symbol of this unfair, obscene distribution of wealth, hence the occupation of the financial district. But as the remaining Occupiers marked their fifth anniversary, it was obvious to anyone who has paid attention to the presidential campaign for the past year that the movement’s message did not disappear in the fog of tear gas, Mace and flash-bang grenades that dispersed many Occupiers in cities across America.

Sen. Bernie Sanders made income disparity the central part of his vigorous campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. It resonated so strongly that, even in defeating Sanders, Hillary Clinton (who is also very wealthy, but not Trump-like) agreed to include it in the party’s platform as she accepted the nomination. Her challenge as president will be to live up to her words and stand up to Wall Street.

If anyone doubted that this is necessary and that the culture of greed still prevails among the one percent, two recent hearings in Congress, of all places, should have put that to rest.

One involved a bank, Wells Fargo, whose employees, under pressure to meet aggressive demands to increase profits, created 2 million phony accounts in customers’ names to collect $2.4 million in unauthorized fees on them.

The other hearing involved a pharmaceutical company, Mylan Inc., which holds 90 percent of the market share on EpiPen, an epinephrine auto-injector, which reverses deadly allergic reactions. Since 2007, the company has raised the price 15 times. EpiPens went from roughly $50 each for a pack of two to $608. Millions of children rely on EpiPens’ life-saving qualities. Many parents are having trouble affording them.

Banks and pharmaceutical companies have been among the chief miscreants in the “get it any way you can” philosophy that dominates corporate America and Wall Street. Even when corporations are found guilty of egregious, illegal, unethical behavior, the persons responsible for creating the atmosphere of unyielding greed seem to never face any repercussions. The rich are never wrong.

Thousands of Wells Fargo employees were fired, either for setting up the phony accounts or for refusing to set up the accounts.The company was fined $185 million by federal authorities and agreed to pay restitution to its customers, but that won’t break the bank. CEO John Stumpf apologized to Congress, sort of, while ignoring many strong suggestions that he resign and that he should be arrested. But this time, the company’s directors went against common practice by making Stumpf give up $41 million in benefits and forgo salary while an investigation proceeds. They also made the executive responsible for running the scam retire without any severance pay. So maybe the Occupy message is starting to get through.

Meanwhile, the Mylan CEO, Heather Bresch, tried to convince Congress that she was doing the world a favor with her blackmail pricing. Showing no apparent understanding of the fears faced by those who rely on her product, she told Congress her company was compassionate and had worked hard to educate the public about the dangers of allergic reactions. Bresch said the company only makes $50 in profit per pen, which is probably a low estimate, but still sounds pretty good, considering it costs only a few bucks to produce.

Bresch was paid $2.4 million in 2007 and $18,931,068 in 2015. She rounded it off to $18 million when asked at a congressional hearing, prompting one congressman to note that it must be easy to ignore $931,068 in annual salary when one reaches a certain level of pay.

And isn’t that the point? It has all been too easy for corporations to boost their bottom lines and top executives’ astronomical pay because no one at the top has been made to pay the price for the pain inflicted upon millions of Americans by illegal, unethical, money-grabbing tactics. Bankers don’t go to jail in this country. Drug company executives don’t go to jail in this country. Insurance executives don’t go to jail in this country. Wall Street brokers don’t go to jail in this country.

In this country, a billionaire who doesn’t pay his employees, stiffs his creditors, brags about not paying taxes, routinely degrades women, espouses racist policies, sets up a phony university, gives voice to hatred and violence, promulgates a fiction that his president wasn’t born in this country, insults military heroes, is ignorant of the Constitution, and lies as naturally as he breathes gets to run for president as the candidate for what is now a sorry excuse for a major political party.

And apparently, to a sizable portion of the 99 percent, this is OK, because he’s rich. And not black. Or a woman. Which may explain why Trump and the rest of his ilk continue to act as if the rich are never wrong.

… and so it went.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

In a Fog of Fiction, Sanders Offers Truth

Thursday, March 17th, 2016

By Bob Gaydos

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders

Thank god for Bernie Sanders.

You can make that an uppercase God if you prefer. Or keep it lowercase. You can take that sentiment ecumenically, evangelically, spiritually, atheistically, or any manner of religiously. But know this, wherever you place your faith, you must take that sentiment seriously.

Bernie Sanders is the saving grace in what has to be the most embarrassing, humiliating, disheartening and frightening presidential campaign, possibly in our nation’s history.

Quite simply, Sanders is the only candidate in either party who is genuine. When he speaks, I believe him. Millions believe him, because he has no hidden agenda, he is beholden to no one, he has a long history of caring and working for people to whom life has not been kind and for challenging those who have always wanted more than their fair share. A mensch.

In comparison, the Republican campaign has featured a collection of liars, misfits, religious zealots, bigots, charlatans, incompetents and people who cannot spell, much less demonstrate, compassion. It has culminated in Donald Trump, one of the most dangerous, embarrassing figures to emerge in American politics. He is a fascist, racist, misogynist, bully, lawyer, buffoon, and con man. A reality TV show star with no idea how government works, but plenty of experience in driving businesses into bankruptcy. He is probably a certifiable narcissist. And apparently, there is no one in his life who has the guts to say any of this to his face.

His candidacy has allowed all the ugly elements in American society, many of whom reside in the Republican Party, to feel free to voice their hate publicly, to assault and threaten those they fear or those who disagree with them, and, incredibly, to believe that their candidate has any respect for them and their needs. Trump, who makes it up as he goes along, has admitted his supporters come from the least-informed element of society. His campaign, in fact, represents the culmination of decades of cynical posturing by and catering to this element, and now appears to be the demise of, the Republican Party as a responsible political party. It is long overdue.

Not one of the Republican candidates — still standing or fallen by the wayside — can hold a candle to Sanders and not one of them deserves a vote to be president of the United States of America. They are, in toto, a disgrace.

However, the real challenge to Sanders comes not from the Republicans, but from within his own party. The Democratic establishment long ago decided that Hillary Clinton should be its candidate for president this time and has done everything within its power to try to make that happen. This includes setting up a ridiculously limited and unattainable schedule of debates and lining up hundreds of superdelegates to announce their support for her even before a primary was held. This was undoubtedly done to try to overcome Clinton’s well-known handicaps: 1) The fact that she is a lousy campaigner; 2) The reality that a lot of people don’t trust her; and 3) The Clinton history of being very cozy with the people responsible for nearly ruining the nation’s economy.

Forget that, her supporters say. She gets things done. What it is she’s gotten done is never mentioned.

Still, the fact is she leads Sanders in delegates won in the primaries so far and, even with her faults, she is still head and shoulders above any of the Republicans in the race.  This means, however much I respect and prefer Sanders as a presidential candidate, if Clinton is the Democratic Party nominee, I personally have to vote for her against any Republican. It also means I cannot write in a vote for Sanders or anyone else as a protest, because I honestly fear that taking votes away from a Democratic candidate could lead to something as disastrous as a Trump presidency or a Ted Cruz presidency or anyone-else-the-Republican-Party-settles-on presidency. I fear what will happen to this country if a Republican wins the presidency this year and I think the only way to get that message across to a party that has been in denial for decades is to thoroughly defeat it in November. Then let it figure out where to go from there.

It’s not a total sellout. Mitigating my vote for Clinton would be the fact that she actually knows how government works and, as president, she would have a working, viable, responsible political party behind her, a party still on working terms with compassion and science and equality and still dedicated to governing, not merely winning. And that party would have a Bernie Sanders and an Elizabeth Warren and plenty of others in Congress reminding a President Clinton of the promises she made during her campaign to convince all those young, disaffected voters that she could deliver what Bernie Sanders was promising.

Thankfully, though, this campaign is far from over. There are many primaries in northern and western and big states where Sanders has considerable support and could easily win enough delegates to capture the nomination. Bill Clinton did it. Barack Obama did it. Bernie Sanders can do it.

But he’s got another major challenge to overcome in addition to that from within his own party. That is the disrespect shown him by much of the major news media. Despite the tens of thousands who have attended his rallies and donated to his no-Pacs campaign, many news organizations have treated him as an afterthought and a Clinton campaign for president as a foregone conclusion.

That same media also gave Trump free rein to spew his vile hatred and nonsense for months before finally wising up to him. (And it’s not just Fox News that was guilty of this.) The media will have some soul-searching to do after this campaign as well.

So, I look forward to Sanders winning some big states (Hello, California!). And I expect Trump to continue to behave as Frank Bruni put it in the New York Times recently — like an addict who only wants more and more and more attention and will do or say anything to get it. That was my impression of Trump a while back, but Bruni beat me to it in putting it in writing. I agree wholeheartedly with him.

Indeed, I think of Trump as the guy sitting next to you in a bar who turns to you and says, “Hold my beer. Watch this.” He then proceeds to wreck the joint and bloody every person in the place. He exits with a triumphant grin, claiming it was the other guy’s fault.

Clinton, of course, wouldn’t be caught dead in a bar, much less drinking beer. She would be found sipping wine or martinis in an Upper East Side penthouse with some Wall Street types who are funding her campaign. They’re talking about how to get the vote of the common folk.

Sanders? He walks into a bar and says, “Hey, let me buy you a beer. Let’s sit down. What can I do for you?”

If I were a drinking man, that’s the guy I would want in the White House.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

It’s not such a grand, old party today

Thursday, December 10th, 2015

By Bob Gaydos

Donald Trump, the face of today's Republican Party?

Donald Trump, the face of today’s Republican Party?

I almost don’t know where to start with this. The disintegration of the Republican Party, from a proud political party dedicated to the advancement of its view of the American way of life into a hostile, bigoted, fearful, reactionary group beholden to wealthy forces that care only for enhancing their own way of life, has left me confused, angry, fearful and sad.

It’s not just the sorry collection of presidential candidates the party has put forth. Nor is it just the inability of a Republican-led Congress to do anything but oppose every initiative by a Democratic president and, out of pique, shut down the entire government. And it’s not just the utter disrespect the party that constantly spouts patriotism demonstrates for the Office of President at every opportunity.

What confuses and saddens me the most is the apparent willingness of rank-and-file Republicans and Republican officials at every level of government to sit quietly by as if to say that everything Trump, Carson, Cruz, Huckabee, Christie, Fiorina, Rubio, Bush, Paul, et al say is OK. No problem. So it’s a lie. So it’s hateful. So it’s racist. So it’s stupid. So it’s unconstitutional. So it’s inflammatory. So it’s really not the American way. So what? We’re okay with it.

Why do I feel this way? Because I don’t hear any Republican saying otherwise. Have you heard a Republican mayor, council member, county legislator, county executive, state legislator, governor, district attorney, etc. say publicly that Donald Trump’s utterings are racist, fascist and play to people’s fears? That they could lead to violent behavior on the part of individuals who feel justified because, after all, they are only responding to the words of the leading Republican presidential candidate?

I haven’t. Not one. Republican presidential candidates only began dumping on Trump recently when he said that all Muslims should be banned from entering the United States. Some party leaders joined them in criticizing Trump. This was apparently one Trump too much for them. It’s not what America stands for, they said. Not what the Republican party stands for, they said.

True. But Trump has been saying ugly stuff like this for weeks with no one complaining. Especially no rank-and-file Republicans. Did they expect him to stop on his own?

I know they’re out there, those rank-and-files. I live in the middle of them. And I know that some of them certainly don’t agree with much of what Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Fiorina, Paul, Bush, Carson, Christie and the rest have had to say about immigrants, guns, global warming, and Planned Parenthood, not to mention threatening Social Security.

While I have never belonged to any political party, I understand and respect their function in our society. I don’t understand how longtime Republicans have let a super-conservative, ultra-religious, anti-science, anti-education, anti-government, anti-fact fringe element take control of their party without managing so much as a murmur of disagreement.

Sarah Palin was the warning flare. She was photogenic, but embarrassingly dumb. But she was the Republican candidate for vice president. Trump, Cruz and Carson are merely the culmination of years of Obama-bashing and dancing to the orders of Fox News and the brothers Koch. As the messages grew angrier and uglier, always rooted in fear and fiction, Republicans marched merrily, unquestioningly, along.

To Donald Trump. An adolescent bigot and misogynist with a huge ego, a couple of billion dollars in the bank and no allegiance whatsoever to the Republican Party. How dumb is that?

If Republicans now blow their party up in a desperate attempt to convince Americans that the American Way is the way of old, angry, closed-minded, resentful, greedy, white men who are constantly being told the government is their enemy, Rupert Murdoch will lose no sleep. His Fox News puppets will find another flock to boost their ratings and sell their books. The Koch brothers will find others to carry their water, selling their principles for generous campaign contributions. And Trump will go on being Trump, a reality TV star divorced from reality.

A two-party political system depends on at least a minimal effort by both parties to work together for the common good. If one party is, instead, intent on opposing everything the other proposes and does so in an increasingly hostile, intractable manner, there is no governing. It’s merely making lots of noise, fueling fear and anger among voters in the hopes of gaining power. It is a cynical, dangerous philosophy that can infect the entire body politic if allowed to go unchecked. That’s why I am frightened of this unwillingness by Republicans to call out the fear-mongers in their midst.

The Republican Party has been festering for years under the threat of Tea Party retaliation for those who dare to disagree. Just look at the sorry example of former House Speaker John Boehner. That festering sore has erupted in the form of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Bobby Jindal, Mike Huckabee, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina, Chris Christie and all the rest.

Even George Pataki, former New York governor and comparatively sensible Republican presidential candidate, is not immune. Pataki has declared, correctly, that Trump is “unfit to be president.” But with his showing in the presidential polls at less than one percent, Pataki felt it necessary to declare war on ‘’radical Islam.” Send in the troops, kill them all, he Tweeted. His poll numbers didn’t budge.

He has obviously been in the wrong political party from the beginning of this campaign, but not to worry. Pretty soon there won’t be a Republican Party, at least not one to which he and all those other silent Republicans once belonged. That Big Tent they once spoke of has been folded and stuck in the garage. Sorry, women, Mexicans, gays, blacks, Muslims, college students, union members, atheists, scientists … Maybe some other time.

There’s nothing grand about this old party today.

 

Hogan

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

Hogan

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Congress greedBill Hogan

When Police Act Like an Occupying Army

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

By Bob Gaydos

Heavily armed police watch protesters in Ferguson, Mo.

Heavily armed police watch protesters in Ferguson, Mo.

A white cop shoots and kills an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., and police respond to the ensuing peaceful demonstration with a massive display of manpower in riot gear. They are supported by armored vehicles mounted with heavy weaponry, lots of rifles and automatic weapons, tear gas, rubber bullets, and verbal threats to shoot anyone who dares resist. They arrest anyone with a camera, including journalists.

Suddenly, Americans notice that many of their police departments resemble occupying armies more than agencies charged with protecting and preserving the peace in their communities.

Where have you been, America? This has been going on — gaining momentum, in fact — for several years. Indeed, the militarization of domestic police forces and the use of modern military equipment and tactics played a major role in quelling the Occupy movement demonstrations a couple of years ago.

The Occupiers were unarmed private citizens, who gathered across the country, protesting the power and privilege large corporations and banks were given by Congress to use and abuse the economy to their benefit at the expense of individuals. The citizen protesters were treated by police as if they were terrorists. They were tear-gassed, Maced, had rubber bullets and flash-bang grenades fired at them. They were roughed up and arrested, all by local police armed with military grade weapons and supported by armored vehicles.

The military hardware came free, courtesy of a Congress looking to do something with surplus military equipment. (The idea of maybe spending less money on military equipment in the first place apparently has not occurred to the members.) Today, dozens of police departments across the country have such military gear at their disposal. What they apparently don’t have is the proper training to use such equipment appropriately and judiciously.

That is, like a police force dealing with private citizens exercising their constitutional rights to assemble, to speak, to report on the goings on, rather than like an army moving in with intimidating force, intent on quashing resistance in any and all ways. Those weapons, remember, are not intended just to scare. They are designed to kill.

But deadly force, or the threat of it, should not be the first option for a police force dealing with unarmed citizens and peaceful demonstrations. Yes, troublemakers need to be dealt with, but again, police should be trained to do that without automatically resorting to threats and aggressive actions against everyone. When protests are handled properly by police at the outset, there is less likelihood or opportunity for troublemakers to join in. The longer confrontations last and the more aggressive police action becomes, the more likely it is that things will get worse because of outside agitation.

But it’s almost as if, in putting on the new military gear and marching alongside armored vehicles, the mindset of the police changes from preserving the peace and protecting their fellow citizens to overpowering anyone who stands in their way.

In Ferguson, the obvious racism of the local police only increased the us-versus-them mentality. But even during the Occupy sit-ins, police seemed to forget that they were — are — us, and that the protesters were speaking on their behalf, too. The mission has been clouded.

There’s talk in Congress now of, not only stopping the giveaway of military hardware to police, but taking some of it back. Good luck with that. Some agencies might be able to admit they don’t really need it, but a lot of others are not going to want to give it up. And cops vote.

The Ferguson shooting and the abysmal handling of it by local authorities has led to a movement called “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” The Occupy community has been part of the coordination. This movement has been fueled by incidents elsewhere similar to that in Ferguson. It speaks to the breakdown of trust between blacks and police, something that was already badly strained.

And not all the incidents involved weapons. An unarmed black man died on Staten Island recently, apparently the result of a chokehold applied by a police officer. The hold has been banned for years by New York police. The man was selling loose cigarettes. Michael Brown, the youth shot in Ferguson, had shoplifted a box of cigars.

There’s obviously something more going on here. Taking the military hardware away from police may be a good start on reminding them of their mission, but massive retraining and serious recruiting of minorities would seem to be even more critical.

A caveat: Not all police departments behave the same way. It would behoove community groups, politicians, concerned citizens to identify those agencies that understand their role as police, not an occupying army, and that demonstrate the proper way to fulfill it. Use them as models to teach those that don’t. They can start in Ferguson.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

The Fruits of Obama’s Syria ‘Defeat’

Thursday, September 19th, 2013
President Obama ... his Syria policy may be more than it appeared to be

President Obama … his Syria policy may be more than it appeared to be

By Bob Gaydos

In the category of Things Are Never Quite the Way They Appear (especially in international diplomacy), I give you what many “pundits” regard as President Barack Obama’s humiliating defeat in getting Syrian President Bashar Assad to: 1. Admit that his country, contrary to all his previous claims, has a stockpile of outlawed chemical weapons; 2. Agree to promptly provide an inventory of those weapons and 3. Turn the weapons over to a United Nations delegation for the purpose of destroying them all by next year..

This humanitarian feat, which will save countless thousands of lives, was accomplished without firing one missile in righteous anger or placing one set of American GI boots on the ground in the midst of Syria’s brutal civil war. Stay out of Syria is what a solid majority of Americans said they wanted ever since Obama broached the subject of a punishing strike against Syria for using chemical weapons against its own people. It is also what most Republicans in Congress insisted they wanted, contrary to their usual position on military intervention, but consistent with their policy of opposing anything Obama proposes. In this case, to the president, Republican motives didn’t matter; end results did.

This is strictly my opinion. I have no special insight into White House strategy, no one leaking me information on the president’s intentions. Rather, I have my own version of common sense and what I believe is a willingness to judge events by outcomes rather than political bias.

One of the things I believe may not necessarily be as it appears — or as many critics would have it be — is the president’s intent. I do not believe Barack Obama is so dumb as to submit a proposal to Congress that he wants passed if he knows it will be defeated. He is a biracial man living in a racist country who earned degrees from two Ivy League schools — Columbia and Harvard Law, where he was editor of the Law Review. He got elected president. Twice. Having made history, he also has guided the country slowly out of a devastating, largely Republican-created recession and got a health care plan for all Americans through a Congress that can barely agree to meet. This is one smart man (although I think his “red line“ on chemical weapons was a tactical mistake).

So, I have serious doubts that the president ever intended to launch a military strike against Syria, precisely because of the opposition he knew existed among average, war-weary Americans, as well as entrenched anti-Obama, rank-and-file Republicans. He signaled that when, after days of threatening a strike, he agreed to ask Congress to debate and vote on the issue, without even asking members to cut short their vacation to do so. That made the proposal DOA, with even many Democrats opposed to U.S. involvement in Syria because of their constituents’ opposition to it.

Ironically, with the disarmament agreement now being finalized with Syria and Russia, Obama’s continued threat to use military force if Syria fails to comply with the agreement gains much more validity and support among Americans than his original threat. Assad has admitted he’s got the weapons. French, British and American experts, as well as Human Rights Watch, say, based on a United Nations report, that there is no doubt it was Assad’s troops, not rebel forces, that used them. The U.S. Navy’s continued presence in the Mediterranean Sea now takes on even greater import to Assad.

Then, of course, there is the disarmament agreement itself. Americans are strongly of two minds on this:

1. One group, that didn’t necessarily want to attack Syria, nonetheless thinks it is embarrassing that Russian President Vladimir Putin is getting credit for the plan and that he lectured Americans (in the New York Times no less) about thinking they had to act as morality policeman of the world.

2. Another group feels it is high time America stopped acting as morality policeman of the world, focused on domestic issues instead and enlisted other countries’ help in finding diplomatic, rather than military, solutions to international crises.

I don’t think Obama cares that Putin is getting most of the credit for the chemical weapons agreement. I also don’t think the agreement just sprang into Putin’s head in a dream one night. In fact, Russian officials have acknowledged such a plan was discussed months ago with American officials. Just as Obama is no clueless patsy in this, Putin is no hero. He is no champion of human rights and Americans shouldn’t really pay serious attention to what he has to say about life in the U.S.

In fact, Russia has been the main supplier of arms for the Syrian Army, enabling the civil war to drag on and produce more than 100,000 deaths and a flood of millions fleeing their country. But it is precisely for the link with Syria that Putin had to appear to be the primary force behind the non-military plan.

Of course, this helps Putin gain even more political stature at home. As mentioned previously, Obama has been elected president twice. He cannot run again. His place in history is forged and his future as a statesman guaranteed. But Putin has an Olympics coming to his country next year and has stirred worldwide condemnation for Russia’s anti-gay laws. I wouldn’t be surprised if Russian authorities were tolerant of demonstrations supporting gay rights next winter or if Barack Obama were among the world leaders being most vocal about demanding such behavior. And, while he won’t show it, I don’t think Putin will regard his apparent backing down on gay rights as a “humiliating defeat” on the international stage.

Meanwhile, a major store of chemical weapons will be destroyed, a potential threat to Middle Eastern neighbors of Syria will have been removed, rebel forces in Syria will know they don’t have to fear facing such weapons, not one American soldier will have set foot in Syria, not one Syrian citizen will have been listed as collateral damage in a strike by American “smart” missiles, the United States will have shown cynical countries that it really can use diplomacy, rather than military might, to resolve a crisis, Assad will have been shown to be a murderous liar, Putin will have had some of his Lone Ranger image stripped away in international diplomacy, President Obama, counter to his image in some corners as a reluctant warrior, will have appeared to be willing and eager to use U.S. military power, and Republicans will have emerged as a party opposed to war. By the way, the overwhelming majority of Americans support the non-military resolution of the Syrian crisis.

Humiliating defeat my ass..

bob@zestoforange.com

Mr. Obama: No Proof, No Attack on Syria

Thursday, August 29th, 2013
President Obama needs to make an ironclad case to justify an attack on Syria.

President Obama needs to make an ironclad case to justify an attack on Syria.

By Bob Gaydos

Here we go again.

A brutal Arab regime, under fire from rebel forces, is accused of using chemical weapons against its own people, women and children included. This violates every rule of warfare and demands military intervention by the United States, to whom the role of defender of democracy and human decency has been assigned by other nations over the years. But like everything else in the Middle East, nothing about the war in Syria is that clear-cut.

The United Nations, established in part to unify and coordinate worldwide reaction to such atrocities, as usual, is paralyzed. Any effort by the U.S. and allies to get Security Council approval for missile or air strikes against the offending party will be blocked by Russia and China, who have veto power. They do not simply follow marching orders from the White House and are big enough to make that matter. That will probably require the U.S. to put together a coalition of enough nations to give the imprimatur of legitimacy, if not legality, for such a military action.

This will likely happen despite conflicting accounts as to who actually used the chemical weapons — the ruling Assad government or the rebels — and with the assurance that U.S. involvement will include only targeted air or missile strikes (remember smart bombs?) and no involvement of ground forces in Syria’s civil war. Apparently, it will also occur without a debate on the issue by the U.S. Congress, which is unfortunate since it is the only branch of government authorized to declare war. In addition, a clear majority of Americans, weary of fighting more than a decade of wars in the Middle East, are opposed to U.S. involvement in another war in the region.

Add to these complications the fact that there has still been no convincing proof given publicly that the Syrian military, not the rebels, employed the nerve gas. Rather, Americans have been reassured by a well-respected secretary of state that the White House is certain the weapons were used by Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad’s troops and that this is reason enough for U.S. involvement.

Sound familiar? Did anybody in the White House hear former Secretary of State Colin Powell — who made the case for attacking Iraq before the U.N. — recently call out former Vice President Dick Cheney for steamrolling President George W. Bush into attacking Iraq with similar justification and no solid evidence? Since that justifiable “moral” intervention lasted 10 years and cost tens of thousands of lives and destroyed a country, it would seem to behoove President Obama to present undeniable proof of guilt publicly before ordering any attack.

Obama, who has until now wisely resisted calls for U.S. military intervention in Syria, drew a red line in the sand to signal when the U.S. might actually get involved. That’s a risky diplomatic tool. His red line was the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government. Having made such a declaration and now believing that Syria has, in fact, crossed that line, the president faces a difficult choice. If he follows the will of the American people, recent history of U.S. involvement in the Middle East, and the lack of publicly offered conclusive evidence on who used the chemical weapons, he would surely not order U.S. warplanes or ships to attack Syria.

However, if he ignores his own red line, other nations that have been given similar warnings about development of nuclear weapons — Iran and North Korea — might feel emboldened to move ahead, figuring Obama was not a man of his word. That the American president was all talk, as it were. Then there is the matter of this being a deplorable act that cannot be allowed to go unpunished.

The key questions to be answered are:

— Who used the nerve gas, the government or the rebels?

— What is an appropriate response?

Given the American public’s growing distrust of the Obama administration because of its widespread spying on American citizens and its vigorous efforts to prosecute whistleblowers — who might be able to answer the question of who used the chemical weapons — the president should insist on a full public debate on Syria by Congress. This would be wise especially if he’s certain he’s got the goods on Assad. This would also be wise given the extended U.S. military presences in Iraq and Afghanistan, with little obvious gain except to the corporations that provide the machinery of war. Obama should welcome a full and open discussion by Congress of the situation and the options.

There is no good choice here. Some party is using chemical weapons against the people of Syria to further its own interests. This is barbaric. Just look at the photos of the bodies of dead children lined up. A surgical air strike or ship-launched missiles, aimed at the guilty parties only and the machinery that allows them to use the weapons, would be a viable military option. But “surgical” air strikes have been notoriously imprecise in the past. Innocent people have been killed in the name of protecting innocent people.

The obvious preference would be for a diplomatic solution that spares lives. That would probably require Obama to somehow convince Russia and China, friendly with the Syrian government, to work with him on a peaceful solution. Assad leaving Syria would be one. If that is not possible and if the president can provide conclusive and independently verifiable (say, by United Nations inspectors) proof of guilt by the Syrian government, and if Congress is given the evidence and conducts a public debate, and if more nations than Syria’s immediate neighbors (Turkey and Jordan) as well as U.S. ally Great Britain, support the action, Obama would be justified in launching a limited military intervention in Syria.

That’s a lot of ifs, to be sure and war is seldom the answer. Still, there are no ifs, ands or buts that whoever inflicted chemical weapons on the children of Syria must be made to pay.

bob@zestoforange.com

Warning: This Column May Be Bugged

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

By Bob Gaydosstock-photo-eye-spying-trough-a-computer-monitor-85320868

Hi there. Thanks for clicking on this article. I feel obliged to warn you right off that you and I are probably not alone in this seemingly intimate connection. Odds are this interchange is being monitored by some government or private computer for the purpose of, well, maybe for the sole purpose of demonstrating that it can be done.

And it is done, routinely, to anyone and everyone who uses a computer, lap top, tablet or cell phone. Privacy has become a quaint concept, an anachronism, in the computer era. The very tool that has freed us to a world of instant information and communication has also stripped us of something we cherish, our privacy.

Let me amend that. The tool is not to blame. It’s the people using it. They have entered our lives — admittedly often at our initial invitation — to such an extent that savvy technicians can put together accurate profiles of us in short order. Mostly, these people work for private companies that want to sell us something based on our computer behavior. Of course, those with malice in their heart can and do use their skills and the gathered data for nefarious purposes such as identity theft or simply installing a computer virus for no apparent reason.

This is not news to you, I’m sure. What’s perhaps new and most troubling to me is the extent to which our own government is involved in spying on us. Recent revelations by Edward Snowden of a massive cell phone data collection program run by the National Security Agency targeting average American citizens has been followed up with revelations of the extent to which the NSA also has used popular Internet service providers such as Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Bing, AOL, Apple, Facebook and YouTube, to compile information on private citizens.

Why?

Why national security, of course. There could very well be potential terrorists lurking out there among those cute cat photos and it is part of our eternal war on terrorism to try to find them among the billions of clicks per day on computers.

That’s the company line and there is a small element of truth in it. But we can’t assess how valuable the snooping has been because the government (the White House and Congress) won’t tell us anything that can be verified by uninvolved parties. (And the head of the CIA lies to Congress without getting fired.)

Mostly, though, I have come to believe (and this is why I warn you this column may be bugged) that our government snoops do this kind of thing because they can and they really don’t see it is an invasion of privacy and most certainly do not consider the massive potential for abuse it presents. This is scary. When the computer spies forget that they, too, are American citizens and also suffer from any erosion of individual privacy along with the rest of us, the slippery slope to total control of the citizenry has begun. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness lose their meaning.

Too alarmist?

Well, consider the reaction of President Obama when Snowden subsequently revealed that the United States was snooping on countries in the European Union and elsewhere. These are our friends, mind, our allies. The EU folks erupted with indignant surprise. They were outraged, etc. Obama said, in effect, what’s the big deal? Everybody does it.

Which is in large part true. The EU huffing and puffing was largely for show. They knew they were bugged and some of them also bugged official United States locations for the purpose of … what?

The nonchalant nature of the practice on an international scale bespeaks an inability and/or unwillingness to trust friends at their word or to get some kind of edge on them in international diplomacy. So I ask, why would this attitude not translate into domestic spying? It’s no big deal. Everybody does it. National security, you know? Trust us, we mean you no harm.

Really? Well then, why is the entire process sealed in secrecy, with a special court granting rubber stamp warrants for the government bugging private citizens? Why is the court answerable to no one in the public? Why are its rulings free from challenge? Why are private contractors (Snowden was one), not actual government employees, given access to such highly classified information? What happens to the data collected on U.S. citizens who turn out to be really just “average” Americans connecting with friends or venting frustration on Facebook? Why are most of our political leaders focusing on Snowden’s release of “classified” data rather than on the enormity of the spying effort on private citizens?

And why should we not be concerned that instructions are available on line on how to turn computer cameras (yes, Skype, too) and cell phone cameras into devices that can spy on their owners, a weapon that obviously could be used by serious government computer spies? And probably is. (Put tape over the lens without actually touching it. Shut it off in the bedroom.)

We “average citizens” have definitely been complicit in creating this situation, but most of were also a bit naïve: I have nothing to hide, so why should I worry about putting personal information on line? That may have been a valid view at one time, but it ignored the reality that those with a certain amount of power inevitably seek to expand their power.

Our government is supposed to protect us from this. When it is the offending party, we need to challenge it. We have no choice. We must do this peaceably, but vigorously, through public demonstrations (as the Occupy movement tried), petitions, messages to elected officials, support for candidates who want to shine light on such programs and eliminate abuses, rejection of candidates who support the spying, protest to and boycott of companies that cooperate with spying efforts, And by voicing opinions of protest on line.

Which is where I came in. Thanks for reading this. Don’t bother deleting; Big Brother already knows you were here.

bob@zestoforange.com

The Game’s Rigged; Revolution Time

Thursday, June 27th, 2013
Eric Snowden ... traitor or planned distraction?

Edward Snowden … traitor or planned distraction?

By Bob Gaydos

Edward Snowden, currently on the run and accused of being a spy, did more than reveal how much snooping our government does on its own citizens. For me, he provided a smack upside the head and a wakeup call to something I’ve believed for a long time but, being a bit lazy and self-absorbed, had dispatched to a dusty, unexercised corner of my brain.

To wit: The game is rigged. Put another way: “Dysfunction” has a function.

Consider this: With Congress’ approval rating at historic lows, with Republicans rejecting out of hand every proposal put forth by Democratic President Barack Obama, with a Democrat-controlled Senate unable to pass meaningful legislation because of archaic filibuster rules used by Republicans, with both major political parties staking out rigid positions on opposite sides of every issue, what is the one thing on which Republicans and Democrats suddenly agree? That Edward Snowden is a traitor.

That is the Edward Snowden who blew the whistle on the most sweeping, secret domestic spying operation ever conducted by an American government on its people. It is an invasion of privacy condoned — and now vigorously defended — by both political parties as necessary for the security of the people being spied upon. Yes, the politicians also read George Orwell. But they’ve been caught with their “bad-is-good” pants down and have demonstrated that, when their power is in jeopardy, they can find true harmony. All together now: Snowden is a traitor.

The threat to the power brokers, of course, is that a lot of Americans will awaken from their self-absorbed delusion that their elected representatives are actually trying to do something positive for their constituents, as opposed to the reality they are doing whatever is necessary to maintain their membership in the power elite. That’s the 1 percent who reap the fruits of the manufactured dysfunction.

Look at it this way: Democrats talk about jobs, immigration, education, the minimum wage, etc. Republicans talk about abortion, guns, rape, gay marriage, etc. The parties bicker and banter and do next to nothing about any of those issues. Dysfunction. Or so it seems.

But they also ignore issues that would actually fix much of the apparent dysfunction — campaign finance reform and revising the filibuster rules, for two.

It’s planned dysfunction. You keep your talking points; we’ll keep ours. We’ll all get re-elected anyway or, if not, move on to even more-lucrative lobbying jobs, book tours, top corporate positions or TV punditry. Rigged.

And it’s not just Congress. Having plunged the world into the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, American banks and investment firms (which used to be separate entities) are now reaping the profits of their plundering of other people’s wealth, thanks to a government bailout and the failure of the political powers that be — who reap substantial campaign contributions from these financial institutions — to send any of the bankers to jail.

In the sequel to “Wall Street,” arch-villain Gordon Gekko says he was convicted of a “victimless crime,” as if no lives are negatively affected when companies go under because of shady, immoral behavior by financial companies.

At least Gekko went to prison for his misdeeds. But then, that was in the movies and even his creator, Oliver Stone, tries to find some redeeming traits in his main character in the sequel. Meanwhile, in real life, no one can make any money today putting money in banks and, as Gekko also points out in the sequel, the task of investing money in the stock markets, where profits may be made, has been made so complex, only “about 75 people in the world understand it.”

That may be an exaggeration, but not by much. Most of us need to trust the very people who have proven to be untrustworthy with our money to make investments.

There are other dots to connect, but for now I’ll limit it to major corporations that move top executives to influential government positions and back again, getting laws written to their liking (often by their own former employees), usually without a whimper from members of Congress. Think Monsanto and Halliburton.

Corporations pour tens of millions of dollars into political campaigns hoping to elect candidates who will then return the favor by promoting legislation that will improve corporate profits or opposing proposals placing restrictions on corporate power. The latter would include the public’s right to sue and to obtain information on corporate practices. This is serving the private, not the public, good. It’s part of the system.

Now, this rigging did not occur in a vacuum. There had to be at least an implicit acknowledgement from the rest of us that what the people to whom we had entrusted power and position was doing was right and proper for all of us. That may have simply come in the form of apathy or blissful ignorance. Don’t bother to vote. Don’t try to understand the issues. Hey, life is already too busy and complicated without such things.

But not for those whose motivation is accumulating more wealth and power. For them, an important part of the rigged system is making it seem so complicated and out of our control that it is impossible to change. That’s not necessarily true. There are people, even politicians, who recognize that things have been rigged for a powerful elite and who speak out regularly about it. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Jim Moran are three of the most outspoken. They need allies and support, vocal and financial.

So do the Internet activists campaigning for campaign finance reform and greater transparency in government and Wall Street. These are not obscure issues that don’t impact us. Indeed, they are crucial to ending the grip of the 1 percent on our national wealth and positions of power.

There are some simple steps that can be taken by individuals, groups, towns to begin to reclaim some control over our lives. Registering to vote and actually voting is a start. Getting informed on the issues that matter and working to raise awareness (think the Occupy movement and social media) is another. The movement to sustainability and buying locally grown food, as opposed to that offered by corporate growers, are not just “feel-good” green ideas. Like using alternative energy, they challenge the influence of large corporations (and they don’t come more influential than oil companies) and give people some control over their lives. People have even started turning their lawns into vegetable gardens. Seattle is planning the nation’s first public food garden. Take a walk, pick an apple. Eat it.

Some of this may sound simplistic and even ineffectual in the face of such entrenched power and wealth, but all revolutions have to start somehow. And make no mistake, nothing less than an all-out revolution will serve to unrig the system and dislodge those who thrive within it. Some noise must be made. The alternative is to do what many of us have been doing for a long time — complain that “they’re all crooked, so what’s the use?”

Some people are comparing Edward Snowden to Paul Revere. I won’t go that far yet. There’s too much information still unknown (and yes, the mainstream media stands suspect as being part of the system). But I’m not ready to call Snowden a traitor either, not when Republicans and Democrats somehow manage to agree that he is. That smells too much like the fix is in.

bob@zestoforange.com