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Archive for May, 2011

Gravesite of Pembroke, Mass, resident Matthew Bean

On the way to work on Friday June 8th, 2007, I was driving through the center of my hometown where funeral preparations were being made for a twenty-two year old Pembroke man who lost his life in Iraq. His name is Matthew (Matty) Bean.

On May 19, 2007, Matty gave all he had to give during a door-to-door search for three captured U.S. soldiers in the Sunni Triangle region of Iraq.

It was a beautiful and picturesque morning, a Norman Rockwell moment, a warm reflection of small-town life and their patriotism.

Men, women, and children were gathering to pay their respect. Yellow ribbons and the “Red, White, and Blue” were everywhere. With yellow “Road Closed” easels ready to be put in place, and some street access denied by police

However, it was like Bush and Cheney had poured salt into an already open wound inflicted by war, and particularly the Iraq War. That little voice inside said, “how dare they kill a young man like Matty and continue to conduct their lives as if nothing has happened — those “SOB’s!”

Since that day, Memorial Day has had an even deeper meaning. On that day, almost four years ago, not only was I sickened at my government’s actions, but also at citizens who were there not only to show their respect, but dishearteningly they were there to celebrate war and their patriotism, too.

During my formative years, influential years during and immediately following a victorious World War II, nationalism, patriotism, and militarism gradually, subtly, and subliminally were encultured in every American. That enculturation instilled in me that I should support “my country right or wrong,” where nationalism and patriotism meant blind devotion to the United States of America and worshipping her Star Spangled Banner, and a notion that if we did not have a military we would not have a country! It was a time when every Memorial Day was a major celebration, attending parades and ceremonies in every town square instead of the beach or a cookout; a time of unquestionable Christian devotion; a time when every young man was expected to serve in the Armed Forces; a time when every school day began with a prayer and a pledge of allegiance to the flag; a time when I thought my government would never be deceitful and to be a politician was an honorable profession.

It was also a time when to Memorial Day marchers it meant a long parade, rain or shine, to every cemetery where the flag was placed at the gravesite of every veteran on that day — not on some other day — and where at every cemetery echo taps were played. It was a day, as today, of war hero idolatry enhanced by anecdotes of war.

Memorial Day is a day we set-aside to honor those who gave their all for America. But it is also a day when we glorify war, and a day we celebrate our nationalism, patriotism, and militarism via exploitation of our war heroes.

We should not forget on Memorial Day that many others did not give their lives, but they did give all of their futures: Men and Women wounded, disfigured/disabled, mentally/physically, for the rest of their lives, some with very horrifyingly invisible wounds.

Matthew Bean gave all he had with nobility of purpose, as he understood that to be, and sacrificed his life for it. Mathew Bean is the quintessence of the Americans we honor on Memorial Day.

Memorial Day should also be a reminder for every American to speak out against a government and others who would hoodwink Americans, particularly our young people, into thinking that a Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan serve some nobility of purpose, as when I was a young man, never again.

Iraq is not worth the life of a Matthew Bean. We should not just perceive Matthew as a young man who so happened to have lost his life — nonchalantly saying, that’s the way it is, after all, lives are lost in war — without profoundly understanding what we, Matthew’s and other families have lost in our communities and country as a result of their deaths. Think of the lost contribution that Matthew, other fallen veterans, and those who have suffered unrecoverable wounds, could have made to make this country a better country. Our actions in Iraq or Afghanistan will not make us a better country. It is all about what could have been if only America had chosen a different course of action. Matthew’s grave is a symbolic reminder, a metaphor for what is the reality of Memorial Day.

Let all of us work hard to ensure that future Memorial Days will be celebrated in honoring fallen Americans from our increasingly distant past, but not of those in our time.

 

 

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Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, who in his 2010 gubernatorial campaign pledged to enact a state single-payer healthcare system, took the first step to fulfilling that commitment. On May 25, the same day the U. S. Senate rejected a Republican resolution that would have ended Medicare and Medicaid, Shumlin signed a bill, H.202, that would put in motion a plan to create  Green Mountain Care, the first single payer system in America.

In signing the legislation, Governor Shumlin said, “We gather here today to launch the first single-payer system in America, to do in Vermont what has taken too long – to have a healthcare (system) that is the best in the world that treats healthcare as a right and not a privilege, where healthcare follows the individual not the employer.”

Amy Goodman’s says in her article for TruthDigg.com, Vermont, the Land of Healthy Firsts, “This small New England state was the first to join the 13 Colonies. Its constitution was the first to ban slavery. It was the first to establish the right to free education for all—public education.
Another Vermont first was the legalization of same-sex civil unions. Then the state trumped itself and became the first legislature in the nation to legalize gay marriage. After being passed by the Vermont House and Senate, former Gov.[Republican] Jim Douglas vetoed the bill. The next day, April 7, 2009, the House and the Senate overrode the governor’s veto, making the Vermont Freedom to Marry Act the law of the land.”

However, Vermont needs a federal dispensation from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), Aka “Obamacare,” which allows states to apply for a “waiver for state innovation” The waivers are not available until 2017, but a proposal before Congress would make Green Mountain Care available as early as 2014. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Peter Welch are working on expedited exceptions from PPACA, which would allow states to create their own healthcare reform systems.

Vermont’s initiative has a chance of being the impetus for other states to follow.

On May 10, 2011, prior to Vermont’s historic plan for healthcare reform, Independent Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders announced his introduction of legislation to provide healthcare for every American through a Medicare type single-payer system. Washington Democrat Representative Jim McDermott also filed a companion House bill.

“The twin measures, both called H.R.1200 – American Health Security Act of 2011, would provide federal guidelines and strong minimum standards for states to administer single-payer health care programs.”

Senator Sanders said, “The United States is the only major nation in the industrialized world that does not guarantee health care as right to its people. Meanwhile, we spend about twice as much per capita on health care with worse results than others that spend far less. It is time that we bring about a fundamental transformation of the American health care system. It is time for us to end private, for-profit participation in delivering basic coverage. It is time for the United States to provide a Medicare-for-all single-payer health coverage program.”

For the United States to guarantee comprehensive healthcare for every American, to eliminate rationing healthcare based on one’s ability to pay and to reduce cost, it’s absolutely necessary to take the profit out of healthcare, something “Obamacare” does not do.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” And, so it is.

Sources and other reading:

Bernie Sanders, Senate Stops Medicare Disaster, SandersSenate.gov

Anne Galloway, Shumlin signs nation’s first single-payer health care bill into law, VTDigger.com

Amy Goodman, Vermont, the Land of Healthy Firsts, TruthDig.com

Don McCanne MD, Sanders/McDermott single payer American Health Security Act of 2011, Physicians for a National Health Program. PNHP.org

Congressman Jim McDermott, McDermott, Sanders Unveil Single-Payer, Medicare-for-All Legislation, Mcdermott.House.gov

OpenCongress, H.R.1200 – American Health Security Act of 2011, OpenCongres.org

Also posted:

Vermont Has More to Offer Than Maple Syrup – Associated Content from Yahoo! – associatedcontent.com

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Nutria Myocastor coypus

Dressed pelts of a furbearing animals to make garments, now that’s a really novel idea isn’t it. And not just from pretty animals like fox, mink, rabbit, chinchilla, seal – and in Asia, even from dogs and cats — but now from swamp rats as well. Just imagine hats, gloves, jackets, boots, their linings, garment trimmings and who knows what else, all made from the fur of a lowly rodent.

That is exactly what Michael Massimi, invasive-species coordinator at Louisiana’s Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program (BTNEP), and New Orleans designer Cree McCree, of the Righteous Fur project, are up to. Michael Massimi hopes swamp rats—properly known as nutrias—will become part of your wardrobe, according to an article for the Utne Reader by Margret Aldrich, Wear Fur, Save the Wetlands.

Barry Yeoman, in an OnEarth magazine article, If Ya Can’t Beat ‘Em, Wear ‘Em, writes a Massimi quote describing a fashion show highlight dubbed Nutria-palooza!: “A tall, buxom woman comes out in a robe with a nutria lining. She walks to the end of the catwalk and drops the robe, and she’s wearing a nutria teddy that’s completely backless.”

Now, I cannot think of anything more foolishly absurd than that.

Yeoman writes, “there’s a serious dimension to this outrageous show . . .  The nutria [also known as coypu] was originally imported from South America to Louisiana in the 1930s for its fur. Shortly thereafter, some of the animals escaped — or were released — from captivity and started devouring the state’s coastal wetlands. Nutrias, which reproduce quickly, eat freshwater marsh vegetation down to its roots. ‘They’re the termites of our coastal wetlands,’ Massimi says. ‘This is an existential issue. The marsh ain’t big enough for the two of us. Nutrias also eat young cypress trees in Louisiana’s swamps and burrow into hurricane-protection levees, destabilizing them.’

Instead of advancing culture to a place where animals are not needed for clothing and subsistence, of which clothing from furbearing animals are certainly not necessary today, we hang on to the archaic killing of animals to cloth us, not out of need, but by choice

The human belief that animals exist for food and clothing has been held since the writings of the Hebrew Bible, 1200 to 100 BC, even necessarily prehistoric, right up to today. Rather than finding an alternate solution to a pesky animal problem, we hang on to the “old as Jerusalem” idea that it’s expedient to kill instead.

Humans believe that they are superior to animals, and that the other animals are here for our use in any way that suits us. Religious types believe that animals are not made in the image and likeness of God, while they will acknowledge that they are God’s creatures and admire them, they are not responsive to an animal’s misfortune, protecting them only if they are personal property such as a dog or cat, which in some cultures not even they have protection. Most people are not sensitive to animal suffering if they are being used for experimentation, farming, or if an animal gets in their way of profit. Folks don’t understand that they and we, and everything in our existence are all, in nature’s natural balance, an essential part of our ecology.

A technologically savvy society should have, or the capability of developing humane ways of solving these kinds of problems. One certain solution is not to create the environmental problem in the first place.

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Three surveillance cameras on the corner of a building

As of 2010, it has been documented that worldwide there were over 5 billion cellular telephone users, and in the United States close to 303 million (96% of the population), nearly all of them include photo or video capability. There are Smartphones that provide digital voice service as well as text messaging, e-mail, Web browsing, still and video cameras, MP3 player, video viewing and often, video calling. In addition to their built-in functions, smartphones can run myriad applications including GPS, turning the cellphone into a mobile computer. In Haiti, “mobile money” networks allow cellphones to serve as debit cards. They are universal, all knowing and all powerful. To those who own one they are sacred and worthy of veneration and will raise holy hell if they are deprived of them. For those who irresponsibly use them they certainly can be an evil doer.

In addition, law enforcement employ highly sophisticated systems to monitor cellphone usage, and consequently, with the aid of GPS technology, they as well as corporations have developed precise tracking capability to monitor everyday life. Michigan State Police have begun using a cellphone extraction device, a gadget about two or three times the size of a cellphone that a police officer would attach to a cellphone on a traffic stop and has the capability of downloading emails, text messages, photos, video, as well as contacts.

And, local, state, and federal law enforcement, Homeland Security and other security agencies, increasingly are employing surveillance cameras. Law enforcement uses the technology to monitor streets and highways. Airlines, buses, trains, government buildings, corporations and sole proprietorships, all monitor their employees, visitors and customers. Law enforcement employs aerial surveillance including covert surveillance via unmanned drones. Police mount video cameras on their patrol cars, and some on their headgear or uniforms.

But what happens when citizens turn their cameras on the police. In his piece, David Sirota writes of “a new trend reported by National Public Radio last week—a trend whereby law enforcement officials have been trying to prevent civilians from using cellphone cameras in public places as a means of deterring police brutality.”

In a July 8, 2010 interview on NPR’s Talk Of The Nation,  Radley Balko, Reason magazine’s senior editor,  reported that “in three states right now, they are actively arresting people for recording on-duty police officers: Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts. In the other states, and even those states, the law isn’t settled. Basically, they’re arresting on an interpretation of wiretapping laws . . .”

Out of all this, there are privacy issues, and there are very serious constitutional violations: the Fifth Amendment, which is part of the Bill of Rights, protects against abuse of government authority in a legal procedure; the warrantless wiretapping of a public pay phone violates the unreasonable search and seizure protections of the Fourth Amendment, which should logically apply to cellphones as well; and, there are First Amendment implications, particularly as it applies to Journalist who use cellphones in their work.

In George Orwell’s “1984,” Winston sees posters displaying the message “Big Brother Is Watching You!” everywhere he goes. In our contemporary world, there are no such posters but there are cameras everywhere. The presence of such surveillance suggests an ability to protect and to many people is reassurance of their safety. However, monitoring society through what Orwell described as “telescreens,” which contemporarily could be described as video phones that can watch every person in society for any purpose that may be deemed necessary to government or a corporation, puts America in what is a de facto authoritarian state.

So Big Brother is alive and well. He will try to twist and turn the constitution and law in any way he can to suit any purpose. Beyond laws banning cellphone calling and texting while driving, there have been no significant efforts to address privacy and other constitutional issues.

It’s important to understand “1984 reveals that technology, which is generally perceived as working toward moral good, can also facilitate the most diabolical evil.”

With words like Plutocracy, Oligarchy, and Corporatocracy clearly defining the direction of the United States government, and it appears that we cannot depend solely on the Constitution to protect us without our participation in some real radical change, the next stop will certainly be totalitarianism.

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Now, American viewers are presented with a new reality show, X Factor, another singing competition, created by Simon Cowell of American Idol fame, which is scheduled for its American debut in September 2011. X Factor’s format is different from American Idol. Among the differences, X Factor is open to both solo artists and groups, and similar to NBC’s The Voice, each judge —Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, L.A. Reid, and Cheryl Cole — will act as a mentor helping to decide song choices, styling and staging. X Factor’s winning contestant or group will be awarded $5 million (The Voice is $100,000) and, as with The Voice, a recording contract. Although Peter Rice, Fox Networks Group’s chair of entertainment, denies losing viewership to The Voice, it is nevertheless designed to take ratings from NBC. Once an X Factor winner is determined, American Idol will return for its 11th season in January.

However, what America certainly does not need is another reality television show of any genre. Of course, if one looks at ratings of any of these shows this is unarguably not the perception of most viewers. American Idol, Amazing Race, Wife Swap, Survivor, Bachelor, Bachelorette, and others have all garnered phenomenal viewership.
Be that as it may, they are Juggernaut Beasts, for they are offensively immoral and embrace the evil side of human behavior. American viewers are enthralled in a culture of celebrity perpetuated by reality television shows, “most of which,” says Chris Hedges, “encourage a dark voyeurism into other people’s humiliation, pain, weakness, and betrayal. No one has any worth beyond his or her appearance, usefulness, or ability to succeed. The highest achievements in a celebrity culture are wealth, sexual conquest, and fame.” And these shows deflect “the moral questions arising from mounting social injustice, growing inequalities, costly imperial wars, and economic collapse and political corruption.”

And so it is with shows like American Idol and will be with X Factor who look on contestants as commodities to be marketed rather than on their artistry. The contestants are more entertainers than they are musicians and vocalist. The emphasis is on how the corporate world can brand the act. Their personal lives and life’s vicissitudes are exploited for ratings. American viewers love the put down and mortification by the shows judges, especially Simon Cowell. Simon Cowell’s scornfully harsh criticism and cattiness, excused by viewers as his honesty, and the confrontational performances by Paula Abdul, as if she was uncontrollably rankled by Cowell’s behavior, is what made American Idol a must watch for American viewers.

It’s important to know that Cowell’s life is driven by avarice. He has an insatiable need to make more and more money. He told Financial Times reporter Sathnam Sanghera, “If I wasn’t selling records on the back of this it would all be a waste of time.” That in itself says a lot about American Idol, and X Factors authentic mission.

So Abdul and Cowell will be back together on X Factor, which will certainly please viewers, for one unquestionably can again expect Cowell’s “brutal honesty” and Abdul’s put-on with Cowell, acts committed solely for the pleasure of their viewership. You see, the gold standard of this genre has found their real stars: Cowell and Abdul.

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“Hurray for the NRA!” is the clarion call of gun owners all across America.  That’s because the National Rifle Association (NRA), with about four million members, staunchly defends the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.  They spend tens of millions in support of favored political candidates, and are the leading special interests group in America.  Needless to say, their political clout is vast.

The political influence of the NRA is so significant that Democrats feel in some way they must buy into NRA’s ideology.  Disappointingly, President Obama in 2009 signed into law legislation that would allow visitors to carry guns into our national parks and wildlife refuges, and in 2010 made it legal for Amtrak passengers to carry guns and ammunition.  And he, like the Republicans, has repeatedly stressed his belief that the Second Amendment “guarantees an individual right to bear arms.”

After the attempted assassination of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, President Obama rejected those who were pushing for stricter gun laws.  Later, he wrote an article for the Arizona Daily Star calling for a “new discussion” on an “intelligent way to make the United States of America a safer, stronger place.”

That “new discussion” has yet to transpire, and with an election coming up in 2012, it’s unlikely it will.  Besides, I don’t believe he ever intended to launch that “new discussion.”  Obama’s weakness is that he is a politician and feels his tenure is in jeopardy if he doesn’t kowtow to the NRA.  Just as he took the risk to approve the assault on Osama bin Laden’s compound and to kill him,  we desperately need an Obama who will take the risk to make that call for strong federal gun regulations regardless of NRA’s political influence.

President Obama said, “But one clear and terrible fact remains.  A man our Army rejected as unfit for service; a man one of our colleges deemed too unstable for studies; a man apparently bent on violence, was able to walk into a store and buy a gun.”  What Obama alluded to but didn’t have the courage to directly say is that the lack of sufficient and appropriate gun regulation is precisely the reason the Giffords tragedy happened.  That happened in Arizona, but it could happen in any state or in the District of Columbia.  The lack of federal regulation allows purchasers who cannot buy in one state to acquire a gun in another state.  The lack of federal regulation allows gunrunning from the United States to Mexico, where there are strict gun laws.  The lack of regulation allows the gangbangers to easily acquire guns.

NRA outgoing President Ron Schmeits, speaking at its April 2011 annual convention, egregiously encouraged members to motivate young people to join NRA, and towards the end of his remarks said, “Get out and shoot, take along a young person.”  NRA Vice President Wayne LaPierre called for the Justice Department to cease its initiative intended at stopping the flow of weapons to Mexican drug cartels.  Although the sting operation initiative known as Project Gunrunner misfired, that initiative would not have been necessary if in the first place congress had enacted strong federal gun laws.

The NRA and gun rights activist associate their freedoms with an unintrusive right to purchase a firearm.  In 1776 as now, money gives one that right, not the U.S. Constitution or its Second Amendment.  Freedom, therefore, now as in 1776, is reserved for those who can afford it.

Furthermore, just imagine what kind of a world we would be living in if everyone had the right to own any of today’s armament(s) that money could buy.  Would Americans, especially those who could not afford a weapon, be safer and would their freedom be enhanced?  Under these circumstances, could world peace ever be achievable?  I certainly don’t think so, but judging by the number of politicians who support the NRA, the answer to those questions is yes.  For those who kowtow to the NRA, yes is the answer they will capitulate to, even though yes may not be in their heart of hearts.  And Americans who have a proclivity to violence will always support the right to own a gun, and their answer is yes.

However, if we could turn the pages back to before the Wild West, and if today the Second Amendment were upheld under the dictate of original intent, it would mean that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” would be limited to flintlock muskets and pistols.  And if that were the case, I do agree, America would be safer, we would have greater freedom, and we would have a better chance at world peace.

Video:

NRA, April 30, 2011 annual convention

Sources:

James Hohmann, National Rifle Association members focused on ousting President Obama, Politico

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My great grandfather once told me politics simply boil down to those who are for the rich and those who are for the poor.  This adage is as true today as it was then, and certainly is exemplified in the symbols representing the Republicans — an elephant (fat and rich) — and the Democrats — a donkey (indigent).  Some dismiss this truism by pointing out congressional republicans and democrats are equally wealthy individuals, or that the argument is just too simplistic.  However, these are not suitable arguments, for they are simply straw man arguments.  Paul Krugman writing in a New York Times article, “The Conscience of a Liberal,” said that the fact is that people with higher incomes are more likely to vote Republican.  Republican representative Paul Ryan and his republican cohorts clearly demonstrate in Ryan’s Path to Prosperity” that they “… view the poor as parasites—and the rich as our rightful rulers,” says Jonathan Chait writing in an article for Newsweek, “War on the Weak.”

Demonstrated by their statements, it’s clear that the Tea Party and republicans believe that the indigent and  working class are lazy, stupid, are the “tamed asses used to carry things” and should be despised.  Despite their Christian rhetoric, conservatives and libertarians seem to forget that Jesus rode a donkey.  They seem to dismiss the fact that without a working class there would be no wealthy class, nor vice versa, of course.  For most of these folks, their lodestar is the Randian philosophy of “objectivism,” an individualism that asserts self-interest as the most important and ethical value, an ideology of getting what you want by any means necessary.  It is clear that Ryan and those who support his Path to Prosperity, prosperity meaning maintaining and increasing wealth for the wealthy, are Randians.  For those who may have doubt, consider that Ryan said at one time, “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.”  Ryan insists that his staff read “Atlas Shrugged.”

However, support for Path to Prosperity is dwindling.  The Rrasmussen reports “Opposition to Ryan Budget Plan Grows.”  Speaker of the House John Boehner initially hedged on Ryan’s plan, saying that the plan is “an option worth considering,” but later said that he “fully supports” the proposal.  On April 15, the House passed the $3.5 trillion budget for 2012, with every democrat-voting no.  Democrat Senator Harry Reid, vowed that the plan would never pass the Senate.

The budget the house passed just proves what my great grandfather imparted to me so many years ago.  The republicans’ budget imposes stiff cuts to spending on social safety net programs like food stamps and Medicaid, denying the indigent income, food, and fundamentally reshaping the government’s role in health care for the elderly and the indigent.  It significantly changes Medicare.  However, it leaves in place a tax structure that favors wealthy Americans and corporations.

Independent Senator Bernie Sanders writes in an article for In These Times, Organizing Help Wanted, “there is a war in our country … waged by the wealthiest people in America on the shrinking middle class of our country.  The nation’s billionaires are on the warpath.  They want more, more, more.  Their greed has no end, and they are apparently unconcerned for the future of this country if it gets in the way of their accumulation of power and wealth.”

In Ayn Rand,s novel, Atlas Shrugged, the great minds that drive society’s growth and productivity, the wealthy class, refuse to think, create, and work in a world that forces them to sacrifice themselves to society and so they go on strike.  These great minds hope to demonstrate that a world in which the individual is not free to create is doomed.  That civilization cannot exist where people are slaves to society and government, and that the destruction of the profit motive leads to the collapse of society.

To turn the precepts in Atlas Shrugged upside-down, the middle and lower class could mount a strike in the United States against the shenanigans of the rich and famous who use them as slaves.  Rand is correct in the sense that people cannot exist where they are slaves to society controlled by government, society, or by the rich and powerful.  What is being called the “Arab Spring” can transpire here as well.  Our own Revolutionary War should be testament of that again could happen here.

The Randians are wrong; it’s the abolition of the profit motive in a moneyless society that will set us all free.

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