Saturday, March 28, 2009

Best for Obama Not to Talk About the Taliban

Obama's recent decision to escalate troop presence, in Afghanistan, by adding an additional 4,000 troops will be easier to pitch at home, and abroad, if he avoids talking about taking out the Taliban, and sticks to Al Qaeda principally because of the gaping questions as to who has been financing, and training, the Taliban, in Pakistan, over the seven year period before 9/11.

Pakistan was conspicuous in its absence from George W. Bush's laundry list especially in light of the release, in 2007, of a declassified report, by the National Security Archives, which chronicles its role in funding, and arming, the Taliban in the seven years leading up to 9/11. The report also shows who supplied the Taliban with weapons, as well as training.

Documents obtained by the National Security Archive, two years ago, not only demonstrate what we already know, that Pakistan has provided safe haven for Osama bin Laden for years, but also that Islamabad has supported the Taliban not merely in the years prior to the World Trade Center bombing, but in subsequent years, as well. Former president Musharraf himself acknowledged that "There is no doubt that Afghan militants are supported from Pakistani soil." Documents released a week ago indicate, too, that "the Taliban was directly funded, armed and advised by Islamabad itself."

Apart from the obvious that the CIA trained, and equipped, bin Laden when he was one of Ronald Reagan's fierce "freedom fighters," in Afghanistan, during their holy war against the "evil empire" that was the Soviet Union in 1985, Reagan's favorite freedom fighter has become public enemy numero uno under George W. Bush, and now under Barack Obama, though Mr. Bush was busy stuffing the pockets of bin Laden's protegees.

And, as the NSA reported while Musharraf was still at the wheel: "Islamabad denies that it ever provided military support to the Taliban, but the newly-released documents report that in the weeks following the Taliban takeover of Kabul in 1996, Pakistan’s intelligence agency was “supplying the Taliban forces with munitions, fuel, and food.” Pakistan’s Interservice Intelligence Directorate was “using a private sector transportation company to funnel supplies into Afghanistan and to the Taliban forces.” If this is the case, and Pakistan effectively exported trained Taliban fighters to Afghanistan, then the battlefield must inevitably expand from Afghanistan into Pakistan.

And, think about this: while American servicemen and women were in neighboring Afghanistan hunting down the Taliban, Uncle Sam was in bed with General Musharraf and a regime that we now know was working toward a Taliban victory in that country.

Making the Taliban the target of expanded military action in the region opens the U.S. up to logical, and imperative, questions about who is funding the rebels not just in Afghanistan, but in Iran, too. The answer might inspire the kind of international outrage the Obama administration doesn't want, and can ill afford.

Friday, March 27, 2009

from Michael Winship

Courtesy of Bill Moyers Journal, and Public Affairs Television:

That’s No Angry Mob, It’s a Movement

By Michael Winship

A college friend of mine, after much quaffing from the keg, so to speak, would start singing a faux hymn that began, “We are sliding into sin – whee!”
I’ve thought of his bleary tune from time to time as we all watched our financial institutions slide from thoughtless, wretched excess into calamity, aided and abetted by deregulation and bailouts, dragging the rest of us along on their speed bump-free ride.

You’d think there would be a modicum of contrition but mostly it has been deny, deny, deny combined with shivers of revulsion as an angry citizenry freely expresses its opinion. Former Clinton SEC chairman Arthur Levitt sniffed to The Wall Street Journal this week, “It has reached extremes of incivility that are intolerable,” and on Friday the Journal editorially wrung its hands over “political Torquemadas” who would dare to prosecute Wall Street executives.

See here, you people, the seemingly dumfounded elite ask, why all this hollering? Well, it wasn’t only those AIG bonuses that had folks mad as hell. For sure, they triggered the outburst last week. But then came an ABC News report that JPMorgan Chase – recipient of 25 billion in bailout bucks, courtesy of taxpayers – was pressing ahead with plans to spend $138 million dollars on two new corporate jets and a place to park them – a state of the art hangar with a “vegetated roof garden.” Presumably, bank executives will use the vegetation to hide behind when the mob arrives with tar and feathers.

And speaking of greenery, Wednesday’s New York Times reported that last year 25 top hedge fund managers harvested salaries totaling 11.6 billion dollars. That’s an awful lot of lettuce in these hungry times, especially when, as the Times calculates, hedge funds have lost an average 18 percent of their value.

By Thursday, Treasury Secretary Geithner was talking tough to Congress. He called for a vast expansion of government authority, promising to crack down on Wall Street’s reckless behavior, including the murky markets of hedge funds and derivatives. He proposed “comprehensive reform – not modest repairs at the margin, but new rules of the game.”

But veteran Washington journalist Wllliam Greider, who has covered government, politics and the economy for four decades, fears that what Geithner and the Obama administration are proposing may not create reform but simply perpetuate more of the same and even lead to the creation of what he calls “a corporate state… a rather small but very powerful circle of financial institutions... Yes, watched closely by the Federal Reserve and others in government, but also protected by them. And that's a really insidious departure.”

He expressed his concern to my colleague Bill Moyers in an interview for the current edition of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS. Greider agrees with most experts that the Geithner plan will end up placing reform in the hands of the Federal Reserve Board.

Twenty years ago, Greider wrote "Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country," still considered the definitive account of the government bank. “One of the attractive qualities about the Fed is that it is this black box of technocratic expertise,” he told Moyers. “And it knows things the rest of us don't know. And it's very expert at what it does… But it's a political institution. It makes public decisions for the rest of us. So to pretend that it's above all that is nonsense from the beginning...

“They couldn’t stop deregulation,” he continued. “In fact, they supported it, because they knew their major constituencies in finance and banking were all very much for it... So to tell them now ‘Wouldn’t you like to just admit your mistake and put back some of the collateral lending functions into your control?’ I don’t trust them to do that.”

What we ought to be seeking, Greider believes, “is creating a new financial and banking system, of many more, thousands more, smaller, more diverse, regionally dispersed banks and investment firms. The first obligation is to serve the economy and serve society. Not the other way around.

As for President Obama, “I understand his political dilemma. And I sympathize with it. But he's trying to govern by convincing people that we will be able to get the old good times back. And my view is that the good times ain't comin' back. For lots of reasons – including the ecological crisis and global warming and the weakness of our economy. This is the hard part. The sooner the country comes to terms with that, acknowledges it as fact, not just fear, then we can start this great era of reform and revitalizing the country and society.”

In his new book, "Come Home, America: The Rise and Fall (and Redeeming Promise) of Our Country," William Greider sees the public’s anger as good news for the country – “America the Possible,” he calls it.

“We're at a break point in our history,” he said. “And it's not just the financial system, although that's front and center. It's the deteriorated economy, it's militarism looking out in the world, trying to find the next war. It's a lot of things coming at us, all at once. I believe, on the other side of all of these adversities, we can become a better country.

But to make that happen, Greider thinks, “People at large, I don't care whether they're middle class or upper class or working poor or union, non-union, have to find ways to come together themselves, perhaps in very small groups at first, and talk about their own stuff.

Their experiences, their ideas their convictions, their aspirations for the country, themselves, their families, and then broaden out a bit, laterally. And have more people in the discussion. They don't have to become a giant organization, but they have to convince themselves that they're citizens…

“That's kind of the mystery of democracy. People get power if they believe they're entitled to power.”

Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program
Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS.
Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Geithner: The Wizard of Wall Street

Why would anyone consider connecting Obama's treasury secretary with George W. Bush's former vice-president? Well, stay tuned, because Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is going to be to the Obama administration what Dick Cheney was to George W. Bush--indispensable.

This analogy is irresistable especially in light of frequent comparisons between the current economic collapse and 9/11, and just as Cheney presided over the greatest expansion of the executive branch, Geithner is calling for a Treasury on steroids one that would, in effect, have the power to seize at will, and gut large financial institutions the way the FDIC currently dismantles smaller home savings and loans.

The Treasury Secretary also wants to install a super-regulator who, like the head of Homeland Security, will have broad systemic oversight, and interception authority over investment banks that may pose a risk to national financial security. His plan not only enables greater scrutiny of hedge funds and private equity firms, it would require them to turn over confidential information to the federal government on demand which is markedly similar to the legally dubious practice of the National Security Agency forcing telecommunication companies to hand over private customer records.

Don't be deceived. While he did a magnificent job of hiding it, Cheney was a closet regulator which is what the Department of Homeland Security was all about. The difference is that Cheney and Bush attempted to regulate the free flow of information not toxic assets. The Bush administration did to the major newspapers what Tim Geithner and Larry Summers want to do to the banks and Wall Street,kept editors under surveillance, and demanded accountability. This is not what the founders had in mind with the First Amendment, and frankly we'd be in much better shape today if Bush and Cheney had Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac, and AIG on their terror watch list instead of Green Peace.

Importantly, too, Tim Geithner wants to confine regulation to investment banks, the stock market, the financial industry. And, while Cheney and Geithner are obviously coming from two different hemispheres, there is one thing we can't afford to ignore. If every aspect of Geithner's six point plan for oversight goes through, the Treasury, under Obama, would become what the executive branch was under George W. Bush, a department that's too big to fail. The question is power so much as it is concentration of power wherein lies the abuse.

Interestingly, Geithner and Summers are the ones who get most of the credit, or blame, for the behemoth bank bailouts when Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke was really the mastermind of that one. And, like his predecessor, Alan Greenspan, it will be Bernanke, not Geithner, whose chronic, and indefatigable, manipulation of interest rates will ultimately determine the direction of the stock market, and the fate of the domestic, and global, economy.

Still, there are some who are ill at ease knowing that the man who, in 2003, was named president of the Federal Reserve, who then went on to become vice chair of the Federal Open Market Commission, and, in 2006, joined the Group of Thirty, an international group of leading financiers, is now heading the U.S. Treasury. The fact that Geithner was behind the rescue of Bear Stearns, in 2008, doesn't make anyone sleep easier at night, either, when he's the one who's supposed to be regulating Wall Street.

You needn't marvel anymore that Cheney rhymes with brainy. Just remember that the king of the terrorist bogey man, Dick Cheney, is a major shareholder of the Vanguard Group, a company that builds and manages federal prisons.

Conflict of interest? Maybe.

But, at least the man behind what is widely considered the most sweeping overhaul of financial regulation in our nation's history knows the system from both the inside and out. We would like to think the same could be said about Mr. Cheney.

Life After Death?

Don't you just hate it when people ask you if you think there's life after death?
I'm still trying to figure out if there's life after birth!

Question for the Day

If Timothy Geithner can get 20 CEOs of AIG to give their bonuses back, why can't he get the money Madoff swindled from investors back, too?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Highs and Lows

It's good to see I'm not the only one going through menopause, the stock market is, too. Oh, and when Wall Street starts having hot flashes, we really have a problem!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Pimping Out Your Wallet

These days, we no longer look to sacrifice our first born on the altar of unnameable greed, but instead our wallets. The rescue plan which has funneled tax dollars into the pronounced, if a bit frayed, pockets of all the major U.S. home savings and loans has also left town with our savings.

When our friendly ancestors came in on the Mayflower, (make that your friendly ancestors; mine came through Ellis Island, and were not all that friendly), they couldn't have imagined that someday we'd be walking depositories, existing solely for their mercantile (read mercenary) approval.

The guy who penned "The Declaration of Independence" had this to say back in 1802: "Banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered."

But, even Thomas Jefferson couldn't have predicted that the predators would have been this prolific, or that global economic collapse could happen about as fast as it takes to make your average cheeseburger. Arguably, too, were he able to say so, Mr. Jefferson might tell big banks, and investment companies, like JP Morgan, to forget about their toxic assets and get their toxic asses out. His idea of rescue might be more Napoleonic---exile! (How many chief executives of these behemoths have already taken refuge in Swiss bank accounts may never be known)

Every time Uncle Sam decides to manufacture greenbacks in the name of rescuing you from financial ruin, it's like a pimp trying to persuade a judge he was just trying to secure enough money to pay the college bill for one of his wards. It's flat out usury, plain and simple, and usury, like war, alas, has often proven to be president-proof.

Friday, March 20, 2009

To be congratulated...

Governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, is to be congratulated for signing his state's first measure to ban the death penalty into law on Wednesday. Way to go, Gov. Richardson; way to go New Mexico!

Here's hoping that every state in the union quickly follows suit. We are one of the few countries in the industrialized world that still sanctions state-assisted murder, and it must stop.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Cabal Mutiny

A senior member of the Bush administration, as well as what the Obama White House press secretary calls the "Republican cabal," has just defected.

Lifelong Republican, and chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Lawrence B. Wilkerson, stepped forward in a post to his blog on Tuesday to say not only that there are still innocent people being held at the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, not only that we've been holding innocent people there for more than six years, but that the U.S. government has known all along that they pose no risk to national security.

Wilkerson told the Associated Press that he was informed by briefings, and military commanders, that big brass knew those captured had nothing to do with Al Qaeda, or the so-called war on terror, but held them anyway as information-gathering tools for a so-called "mosaic " of intelligence.

Moreover, Powell's former chief of staff insists that the process by which these "enemy combatants" were so designated itself was shabby and incompetent, and that those sent to Gitmo weren't properly "vetted" before they were hauled off to Cuba. Pakistanis, Wilkerson added, often acted as bounty hunters, securing as much as $5,000 a head.

While human rights groups, and others, have speculated for years about the dearth of bona fide terrorists at Gitmo, the information Wilkerson provided this week was classified until now.

The former chief of staff to Colin Powell acknowledges, too, that both Rumsfeld and Cheney knew innocent men were being detained as enemy combatants, without charges, were held indefinitely, and they did nothing about it as "to have admitted this reality would have been a black mark on their leadership" which only goes to show that while there might be innocent people left at Gitmo, there aren't many left in our nation's capital.

According to Wilkerson, fewer than 10% of the 240, or 24 men, who remain at the detention camp, in Cuba, can be considered a security risk, yet a former vice president, Dick Cheney, would convince us that releasing even a single detainee would increase our terror threat. Didn't the fact that half of the executive branch went missing for eight years following 9/11 pose a terror risk to this republic? We are only starting to learn the kind of mischief Cheney was hiding.

Apparently, Mr. Cheney thinks he can still govern by remote control.

Wilkerson has decided to come forward now, though he hasn't been working for the government since 2005, because a new administration is in the process of deciding what to do with those who remain at Gitmo and, more importantly, because he is deeply concerned about Dick Cheney's new role as pundit-in-chief, his public censure of a new president, and the suggestion that Obama's policies pose a risk to the safety of this nation.

"To have a former vice president fear-mongering like this is really, really dangerous," contends this former helicopter pilot who flew combat missions in Vietnam, and spent many years in public service. Lawrence B. Wilkerson deserves a congressional medal of honor for stepping forward with this disclosure, and those who have disgraced, and dishonored, the flag they've been hiding behind for nearly a decade deserve a helping of what Bernie Madoff is getting now.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Common sense

"Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age 18.”
Albert Einstein

Monday, March 16, 2009

Among strangers, among friends

Okay, the reason blogging has so much allure might be because you can talk about stuff among strangers that you've never told your friends. You can maybe even talk about stuff you've never told anyone. hmmmmm..... do I dare? The blog may one day replace the confessional... why not give it a shot then. So here's a story I've never told anyone--until tonight:

When I was in my early teens, oh, say, about 13, I had this huge hankering for hairy chests---don't know where it came from, but it was powerful stuff all these erotic fantasies which even led me to write to actor Alan Bates, after having seen him in "Georgie Girl," to tell him I fell in love with his hairy chest, and how I'd like to buy him dinner if ever he comes to Bayside, Queens.

Fat chance---Bates would never come anywhere near Bayside, but he was a decent fellow. He had his secretary write me this lovely note about how flattered he was by my compliment, and that he could never take out a 13 year old girl, or his career would end right there. (remember, this was in the days before Roman Polanski).

So, anyhow, we belonged to the Bay Terrace country club which consisted mainly of a swimming pool, a dressing room, some bathrooms, and a pool table. There was this one fellow, Carl, who frequented the club, and who would position himself on a lounge chair in such a way that I couldn't help but be totally consumed with his mostly naked, and hugely attractive body, as well as, you guessed it, his chest hair. He was quite a bit older than I----oh, I dunno, say maybe around 23. I'd hold a magazine up to cover my face, and hide the fact that I couldn't keep my eyes off him.

Being an inquisitive child, I found out Carl's last name, and looked him up in the local white pages. At the time, I shared a bedroom with my sister who was around 11We had a spacious walk-in closet, so I took the telephone in there, and closed the door. I proceeded to phone Carl. An older woman answered. "Is Carl home?" I asked plaintively. "Who's this?" she snapped. "Tell him it's Phyllis." Phyllis, I shrieked, when she put the receiver down--wherever did I come up with that name? Could be because that was the name of my best friend's mother.

Carl came to the phone, and he asked if he knew me. I told him the truth----I saw him at the pool every Sunday afternoon, and that I was enchanted with his hairy chest. He laughed, and asked if this was a joke. I asked him what he meant by "this." He asked me if I was putting him on. I convinced him I wasn't, and we ended up talking about lots of things---at first, erotic stuff. He asked what I liked to read. "Story of O," I said, and the occasional marriage manual.

We progressed from things sexual to philosophical stuff. He asked me if I knew anything about Zen Buddhism. When I said I didn't, he proceeded to teach me everything he knew about Zen, and on and on we went from there--for about five months. That's right. I called Carl at about the same time every week from my walk-in closet, and we spoke for hours.

The good news is that I still got to see him every Sunday afternoon at the swimming pool, and drool anonymously; he was none the wiser.

After about four months, he told me he wanted to see me. "Oh," I said, "the fantasy is always better than the reality. Why don't we leave it like this." "No, I can't go on like this. I have to see you. It's killing me. You either agree to meet me, or you're going to have to stop calling me."

I took a long, deep breath. "Okay, where do you want to meet?"

"There's a dance on Friday night," he said, and gave me the address. I tried like the devil to get out of going, but he won.

That Friday night, I walked into the dance hall, and Carl was dancing with another girl--quite a bit older than I was. I gulped, summoned my courage, and asked if I could interrupt. The girl moved away from him in shock. "What's this? Who are you?" he asked. "I'm Phyllis, well, not really----"

He started to laugh. I started to cry. He took me in his arms, and said "You're a sweetheart. How old are you?" He continued to laugh some more, and so hard it seemed like he was crying. "I'm almost 14" was all I could muster. We only had that one dance.

I walked home. My heart was broken, briefly, but I'm still a sucker for a hairy chest.

Too bad...

Too bad Dick Cheney didn't talk more while he was in office. If he had, we might have been able to avoid two-thirds of the problems we have today.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Moving Away from a Rogue State

Friday's decision by the Justice Department that the Obama administration has the right to detain enemies during wartime, and without charging them, comes as a disappointment to those who expect carte blanche change, and especially to those who have not yet learned how to read the fine print.

For the first time in more than a decade, the fine print actually works in favor of those who want an executive branch that appreciates the fundamental value of separation of powers.

Importantly, apart from doing away with the label "enemy combatant" which, as you recall, was coined not by the executive branch, but by a former defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, Justice now says that the power to hold detainees must come from Congress and international law, not from the exercise of wartime power under the presidency.

Implicitly, then, the infrastructure for inflated power of the executive branch, the so-called "unitary presidency," used by Bush and Cheney to justify deconstructing the Constitution, is being slowly laid to rest.

While, in their court filing, government lawyers asserted the president's right to detain suspects at Guantanamo Bay without charges which isn't, on face value, radically different from the position taken by Mr. Obama's predecessor, it must be noted that the new administration's emphasis on international law, and a greater role for Congress, is a dramatic departure.

More importantly, there will no longer be a blanket policy toward detainees, but as government lawyers acknowledge the "particular facts and circumstances justifying detention will vary from case to case," so we're moving out of the realm of absolutes like "axis of evil," and "terror," and back to a place where individual cases will determine course of action.

We can't afford to forget, as journalist Seymour Hersh recently asserted, an assassination squad reported directly to Dick Cheney. An article in last week's New York Times acknowledges the existence of Joint Special Operations Command which is an independent wing of a special operations unit, according to Hersh, one that doesn't "report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office," and which is not subject to congressional oversight.

And, to add insult to injury, Cheney appeared on CNN Sunday morning to call his administration's use of "enhanced alternative" interrogation techniques "absolutely essential" to stopping future 9/11s. Too bad he wasn't asked if he didn't think clandestine assassination squads even more effective?

Moreover, under Bush-Cheney, checks and balances referred more to personal banking methods than governance. Under Obama, we may expect, once again, to see separation of powers. Isn't it reassuring to think we're witnessing a return to the rule of law, and away from executive lawlessness, even if it isn't happening fast enough for some of us.

While avoiding terms like "war on terror," and "enemy combatant," may not appear to be a sweeping changes, that our new president is now pressing for more congressional involvement, as well as adherence to international law, is positively revolutionary in light of what preceded him.

If it's fast food we want, we should go to MacDonald's and not the polls!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Without Translation

"That's what Destiny is: to be face to face
and nothing but that and always opposite."

Rainer Maria Rilke

Don't ask me how to
say this your
language is foreign to
me as is the map
you pack like
chocolate for
a ride on
a slow bridge.
You know that destiny
wears you like a badge on
a senseless night
yet you stand
stiller than
thinking you
can see yourself,
but it is only
the lazy
rainbow forming in
the mouth of a
storm without

jayne lyn stahl
from "Riding with Destiny"

John Updike poem

This poem comes courtesy of The New Yorker, and was written weeks before the demise of legendary novelist, poet, critic, and short-story writer, John Updike, who died in January.


My window tells me the euonymus
arrives now at the last and deepest shade
of red, before its leaves let go. One of
my grandsons leaves a phone message for me;
his voice has deepened. A cold that wouldn't let go
is now a cloud upon my chest X-ray;
pneumonia. My house is now a cage
I prowl, window to window, as I wait

for time to take away the cloud within.
The rusty autumn gold is glorious.
Blue jays and a small gray bird, white-chested,
decline to join the seasonal escape
and flit on bushes below. Is this an end?
I hang, half-healthy, here, and wait to see."

November 2, 2008

And from "Duino Elegies" by Rainer Maria Rilke:

"Murderers are easily seen through. But this: to accept death, even before life, the whole of death, and not to be angry, is past description."

Chateau Muzot, Switzerland, 1922.

"The Brave, Living and Dead"

Courtesy of Bill Moyers Journal, and Public Affairs Television:

The Brave, Living and Dead

By Michael Winship

In this bicentennial year of Abraham Lincoln's birth, I recently was re-reading part of Doris Kearns Goodwin's epic history, "Team of Rivals." Once again it was stunning to see the number of casualties during the Civil War, the dead and wounded in four years of fighting exponentially outnumbering the American men and women killed and wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan over six and a half years of combat.

On both sides of the Civil War, 618,000 were killed, although some estimate as many as 700,000. In just the three days of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1863 - more than 51,000 dead and wounded. Chickamauga, Georgia, 2 days, September 1963, nearly 35,000. Chancellorsville, Virginia, four days, May 1863, more than 30,000. And
on and on.

"The war took young, healthy men and rapidly, often instantly,destroyed them with disease or injury," Drew Gilpin Faust notes in her 2008 book "The Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War" ".... Loss became commonplace; death was no longer encountered individually; death's threat, its proximity and its actuality became the most widely shared of the war's experiences."

Up until that time, Faust writes, the U.S. Army had neither regular burial details nor grave-registration units. Such duties "seemed always to be an act of
improvisation." Often the townspeople in or near a battleground wound up with the task. Many of the enlisted went unidentified, their bodies hastily placed in mass graves for fear of disease.

Contrast that with the painstaking care given each of the dead today when they arrive from Iraq or Afghanistan at the Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs, the joint military facility headquartered at the Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Bodies and personal effects are thoroughly washed and cleansed, dress uniforms are individually tailored for the corpse, even the individual's wristwatch is carefully set to the time at the location where they fell. When each body is ready to leave Dover,
all the service personnel at the mortuary stop what they're doing and form a line along the driveway, giving a slow, ceremonial salute as the hearse passes by.

I learned this a few weeks ago, when I happened on the telecast of the HBO made-for-TV movie, "Taking Chance," the true story of Marine Lieutenant Colonel Michael Strobl - played in the film by Kevin Bacon -who in 2004 escorted the body of Lance Corporal Chance Phelps, killed in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, to its final resting place in Dubois, Wyoming.

I knew about the film, but hadn't made plans to watch it. Nonetheless, coming upon it by accident I was totally pulled in by the eloquent simplicity of the script, its attention to detail and lack of melodrama, the poignancy of Strobl and Phelps' stories and the people "they" meet as Lt. Col. Strobl accompanies the body on its final,cross-country journey. (You can continue to see the film through this
month, at various times, well worth the fewer than 90 minutes it takes to view. Check the schedule at

Coincidentally, the film's release came at the same time as the Pentagon's announcement that it was lifting the ban on photographs and videos of bodies arriving at Dover, a proscription that had been in place since the first Gulf War in 1991. A similar renewed openness is taking place as the military and the Department of Veterans Affairs become more candid about suicide and PTSD, post traumatic stress

Alarmed by the increasing rate of suicide, the Army has begun releasing monthly numbers, in addition to the annual reports produced in the past. 2008 was a record high - 128 confirmed suicides and 15 under investigation. The rate has been increasing steadily since 2004.

Last month, there were 18 suspected suicides, up from 11 the previous year. In January there were 24, up from five in January 2008. According to the Associated Press, "Usually the vast majority of suspected suicides are eventually confirmed, and if that holds true it would mean that self-inflicted deaths surpassed the 16 combat deaths [in January]reported in all branches of the armed forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and other nations considered part of the global war on terror."

The Army's suicide rate is now exceeding the U.S. civilian rate, for the
first time since the military began keeping records in 1980. "Why do the numbers keep going up?" Army Secretary Peter Geren asked rhetorically at a press conference last month. "We cannot tell you." Experts say PTSD is a big reason - the RAND Center for Military Health Policy Research estimates that 19 percent of all the troops who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from it, some 300,000 men and women.

Others point to the high rate of redeployment. According to a new report in the Boston Phoenix newspaper, "With the number of personnel that have served in the two theaters reaching nearly 1.8 million, critics estimate that one-third have served multiple deployments." With that redeployment comes incredible stress and anxiety, not only on the battlefield but back home, where marriages and other relationships collapse from the strain.

This past fall, the Army announced a $50 million, five year joint study of suicide with the National Institute of Mental Health. And this week, the service will be wrapping up a month-long training program to help soldiers recognize suicidal behaviors in their comrades. But much more needs to be done. "We keep getting studies," Rep. John Murtha, chair of the House Defense Appropriations Committee said at a March 3rd hearing. "That's the problem with the Defense Department -they study it to death."

What's more, according to an Army Medical Department's 2008 report, 33 percent of the troops in Afghanistan, and 21.8 percent in Iraq say when it comes to mental health, their leaders discourage them from seeking help.

That has to stop. We must treat the living as respectfully as we do the dead.

Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program
Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS.
Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Holier than Dow

For those of us who feel good watching Bernie Madoff being led off to prison in handcuffs, think about this:

Richard M. Nixon was never led off to jail in handcuffs. Nixon got to resign, and live out his life at taxpayer expense. He even has a library named after him, and
think about this:

America never got to witness George W. Bush and Dick Cheney led off to jail in handcuffs, and the swindle they pulled off will outlive us all.

What's more, the government can't account for trillions of dollars since the Bush years. In fiscal year 2000 alone, the Defense Department reported over $1 trillion missing in action. What, if anything, does Bernie Madoff have to do with that scam, and where's the money?

Bernie Madoff is the tip of the iceberg, and a useless distraction from the real criminals for whom it will be buiness as usual despite what amounts to this collective massage.

If nothing else, parading the scapegoat that is Madoff through the town square has shown us that there is something holier than the Dow, and that is the almighty buck. We're no closer to knowing where it stops with Madoff behind bars.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Harry the Greek

Back in 1995, I rented part of a private house in Douglaston, New York, from a lovely Greek couple. Harry, the husband, was a banker, and had been for years. They were among the finest people I have ever known.

In what has become a trend, over the past few years, the couple created a private entry apartment out of a wing of their home as a way to finance their children's college education. Harry was a prescient kind of guy, quiet, soft-spoken, and highly intelligent.

When I gave my 30 days notice in the summer of 1996, and said I was moving back to California, he took me aside, in a fatherly way, and told me that what he was about to say had nothing to do with trying to keep me as a tenant, although he would certainly like that, but was to warn me of what he, in the banking industry, saw as a coming development.

Harry said, in unequivocal terms, that California was already showing signs of being in "deep trouble," and that the situation was expected to dramatically worsen over the coming years. He urged me not to move back.

This morning, news broke that California is now among four states in the country where unemployment is over 10%; the others are South Carolina, Michigan, and Rhode Island. The number of unemployed, in the golden state, jumped 2% in one month alone---from 8% in December to 10% in January.

If you happen to be reading this, Harry, I want to send heartfelt thanks for the warning. You were right.

Having said that, I think the President's recent signing of legislation to overturn the Bush administration's ban on embryonic stem cell research, as well as California's longterm interest, and investment, in green jobs, and alternative sources of energy, will eventually revive the sixth largest economy in the world. I sure hope so for as goes California so goes the planet.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

from Michael Winship

Oh, What A Lovely Class War!

By Michael Winship

My goodness, how they howl when the proverbial shoe is on the proverbial other foot. You'd think the Red Army had just left Moscow and was preparing a frontal assault on the Federal Reserve.

So what are conservatives, Wall Street and financial television commentators shouting? Socialists! That's right. Spread the word: Socialists are swarming over our nation's capitol, and making off with the means of production, otherwise known as campaign contributions and the Federal budget. You got trouble, my friends.

The hysteria started during the campaign, retreated a bit but was back full throttle by the day after the inauguration. President Obama's left hand was barely off Abraham Lincoln's Bible as South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint told the January 21st edition of The Wall Street Journal, "What I'm looking to do as a conservative leader in the Senate is to identify those Republicans, and even some Democrats, and put together a consensus of people who can help stop this slide toward socialism."

Newt Gingrich, resurrected yet again, proclaims his Contract on America has been cancelled and replaced by Barack Obama's "European socialism." Josh Bolin, founder of the conservative website is quoted in The New York Times, saying, "Socialism is something new for us to hit Obama over the head with," and a panel at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference was titled, "Bailing Out Big Business: Are We All Socialists Now?"

And what do all these pesky socialists coming out from the woodwork want? Why, class war, of course. Arise, ye workers from your slumbers, at least in time to watch early morning TV. On the Today show last week, CNBC's Jim Cramer alleged that President Obama was perpetrating 'an agenda in this country now that I would regard as being a radical agenda," adding, "This is the most, greatest wealth destruction I've seen by a president."

Joan Walsh of noted several hundred references to Obama and "class warfare" when she searched the words on Google News at the beginning of March and wondered "why are mainstream reporters pushing this storyline?"

The truth is, there's nothing new about any of this. A famous New Deal-era cartoon in The New Yorker shows Manhattan swells in black tie urging neighbors to, "Come along. We're going to the Trans-Lux to hiss Roosevelt." And as financial historian Charles Geisst told the Times, "To hear [FDR] referred to as Comrade Roosevelt during that period was not unusual."

But although Obama embraces FDR analogies, in some respects he's a piker by comparison. The Columbia Journalism Review linked to a chart from the National Taxpayers Union and noted, "The top marginal rate of 39.6 percent that Obama is proposing is actually low by historical standards-he may be adopting FDR-style rhetoric, but his tax plan isn't in the same ballpark. And it wasn't only Roosevelt. Throughout the Eisenhower administration, top tax rates exceeded 90 percent. Under Nixon, they never dropped below 70 percent. Even for most of Ronald Reagan's term, they were at 50 percent. Those presidents aren't often thought of as 'class warriors.'"

Nor did Democrats or progressives fire the first shots in any so-called class war. As the recently poorer multibillionaire Warren Buffet said a couple of years ago, "There's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning."

America wasn't founded as a nation where winner takes all but over the last couple of decades, that's the way it has turned out. The central vision of "We, the people" has been distorted and manipulated by the powerful and privileged doing their damnedest as they wage class war to sustain their way of life at the expense of everybody else, even in this current crisis.

"Sold Out: How Wall Street and Washington Betrayed America," a report released last week by the non-profit citizen's group Essential Information and the Consumer Education Foundation finds that "from 1998-2008, Wall Street investment firms, commercial banks, hedge funds, real estate companies and insurance conglomerates made $1.7 billion in political contributions and spent another $3.4 billion on lobbyists, a financial juggernaut aimed at undercutting federal regulation."

According to Harvey Rosenfield, president of the Consumer Education Foundation, "Depression-era programs that would have prevented the financial meltdown that began last year were dismantled, and the warnings of those who foresaw disaster were drowned in an ocean of political money. Americans were betrayed, and we are paying a high price - trillions of dollars - for that betrayal."

The truth of the matter may be that, as Nate Silver wrote at, "The stock market is engaged in something of a pity party - the prevailing emotions being fear and loathing. It is concerned about policies which might be burdensome to equity holders in large corporations while perhaps nevertheless being boons to economic recovery."

Add to that a heavy dose of petulance, arrogance and malice stirred further by any attempt at curtailing their rice pudding days. While the dives in the stock markets are real enough, the screams and rending of bespoke garments carry more than the hint of self-inflicted wounds, in the manner of spoiled kids saying "I meant to do that," when they break a toy, even though this administration is seeking solutions by joining hands with the very financial institutions that got us into the jam in the first place - including private equity firms and hedge funds.

Cries of Socialism! - with their insinuations of sedition and Bolsheviks under the bedstead - ring hollow, especially with the threat of global Communism 20 years past and many in the financial world opting for expediency over ideology. The basic truth is that there are no easy answers, no quick fixes, no kiss to the body politic that will make it all better.

Nonetheless, they lash out, flailing madly, saddling up straw horses and conjuring memories of McCarthy-like witch hunts, desperate to point the finger at anyone but themselves.

Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program
Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS.
Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at

Monday, March 09, 2009

Up to their old tricks

A Chinese news Web site reported yesterday that U.S. navy vessels have been busy conducting what they call "illegal surveying activities." Surveying might indeed be "surveilling" spelled phonetically.

But, who gives a flying fajita about phonetics. All the Defense Department would ask is that we think about what might have prompted the surveillance in the first place. Acording to Reuters, our venerable Pentagon alleges that Chinese ships "harassed the vessel in international waters." Imagine being harassed by a vessel? That might be enough to cause anyone to conduct a survey!

And in a related story, the guy who coordinates government cybersecurity programs, Rod Beckstrom, just quit over the role played by the National Security Agency. The former Silicon Valley entrepreneur wants separation of powers, go figure, and expressed concern about which part of government will be calling the shots on keeping our computers out of the hands of enemy combatants. Will it be the same folks who have been electronically eavesdropping, or "surveying," us for the past eight years?

You may recall, too, that about a month ago, a U.S. Navy officer toured the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, and said that is now meets "humane" standards. Some folks are taking time out from perpetual war to drink the Kool-Aid.

In these challenging times, some might be heartened to know that the Navy and the Pentagon are still up to their old tricks.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

On witnessing a birth

How you
came out
as if from too
much light, or
the roller coaster
that is
evolution. Still
too many shadows
remain on
that cave where
you soak like
a vowel in a
long bath.
How you came from
between the legs of
your ancestors
too large to
betray space
your eyes wide
open where
the ocean hugs
your lips.

by jayne lyn stahl

Quote of the Day

"Look, I wish I had the luxury of just dealing with a modest recession or just dealing with health care or just dealing with energy or just dealing with Iraq or just dealing with Afghanistan. I don’t have that luxury, and I don’t think the American people do, either.”

President Barack Obama

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Eating Peanuts

eating peanuts




poem I

think of


condemned now



jayne lyn stahl

Friday, March 06, 2009

the myth

"The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth—persistent, persuasive and unrealistic."

—John F. Kennedy


The road to peace begins when we use our ears, and not arms.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

A nuclear umbrella?

Our quote of the day comes from McClatchy news service, and former advisor to President Jimmy Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski:

"A U.S. nuclear umbrella would re-emphasize the importance of deterrence. I think we have, to some extent, lost sight of the relevance of our very extensive experience with nuclear deterrence. It has worked. It worked with the Stalinist regime, which was ominous, tyrannical and murderous. It worked with the Chinese, whose leaders talked about a nuclear war not being so serious because it would only kill 300 million people. The Indians and the Pakistanis have managed to deter each other, knock on wood, so far."

Gosh, I can't recall when I last heard the word "deterrence" used with such vigor since, oh, I dunno, the days of Ronald Reagan. And, it would be one helluva storm if we allowed any more countries under our so-called nuclear umbrella.

If we're expecting peace to trickle down, like prosperity, we're in a heap of trouble.

Besides, who needs all that non-proliferation stuff. It's so decadent!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

What to do about those pesky Gitmo detainees?

What should we do with detainees currently held at Gitmo after the base is closed? I say we should allow them to be brought to the United States if for no other reason than to establish socioeconomic equity.

Who knows? Bernie Madoff might even be persuaded to put up a couple dozen detainees in his $7 million Manhattan condo, but if more space is needed, there are several luxury highrises nearby on the Upper East Side that might serve equally well as temporary living quarters for some of those higher octane enemy combatants.

Of course, if Mayor Bloomberg objects, or Madoff enters a guilty plea, gets a slap on the wrist and, in effect, prevails, he gets to keep his many millions and the condo, both of which are in his wife's name (and yes, there is an Easter bunny), there's lots of prime real estate in the Hamptons, or Palm Beach, that would be perfect for these political pariahs.

The good news is that there are only something like 245 detainees left at Gitmo, so finding suitable lodgings for them might not be as difficult a task as, say, finding housing for the many thousands who have lost their homes as a result of foreclosure, and the scalping they got at the hands
of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the big city banks, and the stock market.

So, given that the so-called war on terror has relegated 95% of America to a fnancial holding cell, it makes perfect sense to look upon these detainees as our new roommates!

Arrest warrant issued for Sudanese President al-Bashir on war crimes charges in Darfur...

from the Associated Press:

"THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant Wednesday for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. He is the first sitting head of state the court has ordered arrested...

"He (al-Bashir) is suspected of being criminally responsible ... for intentionally directing attacks against an important part of the civilian population of Darfur, Sudan, murdering, exterminating, raping, torturing and forcibly transferring large numbers of civilians, and pillaging their property," Laurence Blairon, for The International Criminal Court of The Hague said. Should al-Bashir be convicted, he faces life in prison.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Putting Out the Fire with Gasoline?

Last night, I ventured out in the biblical rain that has lasted fourteen, now fifteen, days to go to a book signing by columnist Robert Scheer which was at the local Unitarian Church, three miles away.

Granted, I've scrupulously avoided Ygnacio Valley Blvd., a thoroughfare that makes Madison Avenue, and any major one-way street in downtown Los Angeles, look like a day in the park, but there was no choice. If one wants to go to that church, one must take Ygnacio Blvd.

So, here I go in the pouring rain, the kind of rain that gets one's socks soaked, and everything is running smoothly until I get up Walnut Blvd. which sounds like a quaint little street, but is about as quaint as any major sidestreet in Manhattan. And, appropriately, David Bowie's "I've been putting out the fire with gasoline" on the radio.

At every stop sign, there was a cougar in the car behind me waiting to pounce---here on a dark, rainy street, no less, and when I finally found my way back to the intersection, after deciding to give it up and go home, the car behind me blew his horn several times, and with such dedication, that he forced me into Ygnacio Blvd. oncoming traffic. I'm sure he jerked off several times, when he got home, thinking about that.

Being evil seems to be everybody's favorite pasttime around here. It looks like writing for the Walnut Creek visitor's bureau isn't in the cards for me, either.

To say I got lost is a profound understatement.

One doesn't need a church to live here; one needs a strong sedative.

Monday, March 02, 2009


Funny how
flows through
a soldier
readying for

jayne lyn stahl

Glasnost, at last!

In a classified Bush administration memo, one of many secret memos that were just released today by the Obama administration, former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo wrote, back in 2001:

"First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully...The current campaign against terrorism may require even broader exercises of federal power domestically."

A big thumbs-up to President Obama for releasing these Bush White House memos today, as well as to the American Civil Liberties Union for suing to prove that 92 interrogation videotapes were destroyed by the Central Intelligence Agency under George W. Bush.

Now that we've opened the floodgates, how about having access to those 14 million "misplaced" e-mails that the former president claims to have suddenly conveniently found?

What are the odds of Bus, Cheney and clan writing "weapons of mass destruction" 14 million times? Frankly, I can think of no better penalty!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

"The Nuclear Club"

On Sunday, the Associated Press reported Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, top military brass, contends Iran has enough "fissile material" to produce a nuclear weapon. Mullen added that the outcome would be "very, very bad" should Tehran proceed with their plans. We haven't heard that kind of language since Donald Rumsfeld, and the start of the war of hyperbole.

So, this seems to be as good a time as any to reflect on "the nuclear club," a group of nine counties which all share the dubious distinction of having acquired nuclear capabiity, or having been the first on their block to have detonated a nuclear weapon.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty lists five of these nine states as nuclear weapon states, and they include, in order of seniority, the U.S., Russia, the U.K., France, and China. The U.S. and Russia, of course, are thought to have the greatest nuclear arsenal of all.

A former president, Jimmy Carter, has asserted that Israel has as many as 150 nuclear weapons, a claim that has yet to be denied, or confirmed.

Many other countries, like Saudi Arabia and Turkey, are also thought to have the wherewithal for nuclear proliferation.

Then, there are those nations that have already conducted nuclear testing include: India, Pakistan, and North Korea. These folks are higher up on the devolutionary food chain.

Thinking about the club of nine should come in handy whenever any top U.S. military official starts making noises about Iran's progress down the road of nuclear capability. How about having a non-proliferation pajama party at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Consider the irony that the country making the most noise about Iran and North Korea's nuclear stockpile is the one that has breached the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty more than any other, even Russia; yes, you guessed it, the United States.

So, what about that pajama party. After all, non-proliferation, like charity, begins at home.