Monday, December 31, 2007

Flying Bullets & Tainted Ballots Ring In New Years

From Asia, America and Africa, in the 21st century with its aging first decade, come landmark moments surrounding elections testing the strength of representative democracy. Pakistanis, Americans and Kenyans feel passionately that fair elections involve casting and counting each valid vote as the nation's laws demand. Certainly, not by presidential appointments decreed by stacked Supreme Courts. Believe what leaders do, not what they say. Electing a president is no small thing in a democracy.

Pakistan did a slip and slide two-step under General Pervez Musharraf after the coup he orchestrated installed him as president. His recent barely-there 2007 electoral majority received protection from an intimidated press, his handpicked Supreme Court, which also upheld his unilateral declaration of martial law. For global public consumption, he said he was pro democracy and would voluntarily give up wearing his military shoulder jewelry for the good of Pakistan. His Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) parliamentary rival, the now martyred Benazir Bhutto, (vote for one) a) according to eyewitnesses, died from gunfire first or b) as somebody between the hospital or sorta inside her armored Landcrusier car claims - she slammed her head on the sunroof or c) other reports shout it was shrapnel from the suicide bomber. Riots ensued. Pakistan's leadership quickly pointed to al Qaeda as the assassins attempting to wrap it all up in a neat bow. Pakistan's government now apologizes for the unseemly and undue haste to complete the investigation. The final coup de gras being a delay in parliamentary elections scheduled for 8 January, 2008.

In 2000, the world watched the US Supreme Court ignore Equal Justice Under Law in a hotly debated election. America ripped itself asunder into permanent acne blotches of landlocked red and coastal blue states and never the twain shall meet for the Common Good. A bamboozled press bought the overaggressive Delay staffers as just regular Americans act, now named the Brooks Brothers Riot, yelling outside Florida's official election counting. In 2004, the disenfranchisement in Ohio was apparent but not enough to over come a Bush lead tabulated on increasingly discredited electronic voting machines.

Kenya's presidential election on 27 December, 2008 ended with a contested result, igniting fires and hails of bullets from political factions that mirror the presidential candidates, Kibaki of the Kikuyus tribe and Luos, the tribe of opposition opponent, Raila Odinga. The immediate swearing in of the putative president, Mwai Kibaki, occurred with curfews enforced. Kenya's press has been effectively shuttered and silenced by the government. Kenyan police count over 100 dead amid demonstrations in poor areas of Nairobi. Citizens feel disenfranchised by the system and view it as corrupt as their newly reelected president.

"The international community knows exactly what has happened: Mr. Kibaki lost the election," says opposition presidential candidate Raila Odinga at a Monday press conference. "We will not accept what happened yesterday. It is important that this crisis be resolved peacefully, and we have urged our supporters around the country ... to resist acts of violence."

If the Dec. 27 elections were a test of Kenyan democracy, as analysts said they would be, the past few days show Kenya heading for a failing grade.

Charges of rigging from both major parties, violent protests, and a spiral of ethnic violence – some of it prompted by racist cellphone text messages – have killed more than 120 Kenyans around the country.

"From an outside perspective, it looks like [this election] happened too fast," says Bradley Austin, an election expert at the International Foundation for Election Systems. "I don't think they had all the systems in place that they wanted. And then you add in 2 million additional voters [since the 2002 election], with such a high voter turnout, and you have what you have here." (photos AP & European Press Agency)

It boils down to trust in people leading governments and demanding change from an establishment of entitlement. In an amazing collection of current events, constitutional law professor, Barack Obama is the son of a Kenyan scholar who herded goats, lived in Asia proper with practicing and secular Muslims and is now running to become Chief Hopemonger or by its rightful name, president of the United States of America, after 8 long bitterly divided years. A new beginning is needed. A triumph for democracy with peaceful passages of power would be most welcome in the New Year.

An aptly named book, from the legendary Howard Zinn is
A Power Governments Cannot Suppress .

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Libraries Invaded by Young People

Old world people born post-Watergate era, in the Go-Go 80's or when Bush the Smarter was president, who now have enough new world electronics per capita to bring down a power grid, are discovering the ancient world of the local library. Thomas Jefferson gave his collection to start the Library of Congress and libraries have been an American staple ever since. The internet was supposed to end the quaint notion of getting a library card, but now, I am not the only one with a card that actually goes into the library and sees the Dewey decimal system in full gloriously dull Times New Roman type on little white labels on each book and smiles. And the young people going to the library and using it actually return again and again during daylight hours, in big numbers, according to a joint study from Pew Internet/American Life.

"The age of books isn't yet over," said Lee Rainie, Pew's director.

The study found that library usage drops gradually as people age -- 62 percent among those 18-30 compared with 32 percent among those 72 and up, with a sharp decline just as Americans turn 50.

"It was truly surprising in this survey to find the youngest adults are the heaviest library users," Rainie said. "The notion has taken hold in our culture that these wired-up, heavily gadgeted young folks are swimming in a sea of information and don't need to go to places where information is."

What's the draw? The working theory is most of these people were in their teens as libraries transformed themselves and powered up with PC's, DVD's and other modern technologies. Online may give information. But there is a difference if you can hold the book or reference material in your own hand. Answers about medical issues seem to be the biggest initial information quests and then it blossoms. Leading in using the library, Gen Y'ers also realize the library is a great spot in urban settings to snag free WiFi. A fast connection rules! But it is better than being at Starbuck's because there are plenty of electrical outlets at the library to plug into, just no triple lattes or baked snacks at the Librarian's information counter.

"These findings turn our thinking about libraries upside down," said Leigh Estabrook, a professor emerita at the University of Illinois and co-author of a report on the survey results.

"Internet use seems to create an information hunger and it is information-savvy young people who are most likely to visit libraries," she said.

Sixty-five percent of them looked up information on the Internet while 62 percent used computers to check into the library's resources.

Public libraries now offer virtual homework help, special gaming software programs, and some librarians even have created characters in the Second Life virtual world, Estabrook said. Libraries also remain a community hub or gathering place in many neighborhoods, she said.

The Library of Congress is a masterpiece of architecture created from marble, limestone and one man's foresight. It is a treasure and though only having been in it once, I vow to return. The Library of Congress: The Art and Architecture of the Thomas Jefferson Building, weighing in at a hefty four pounds and with a price tag worthy of that because of the color pictures, simulates the feeling of being in America's grandest library. Henry Hope Reed, John Young Cole and Herbert Small are the editors.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Corny Food Fights

Fast, easy, and dirt cheap informs choices of what many gobble up with hopefully clean fingers, wooden chopsticks, silverware or the latest dorky spork. Though it looks steamy fresh, even smells divine, chances are excellent, it sprung from genetically modified seeds, had hormonal injections, was bred in a fishery, had poisonous chemicals sprayed on it, was irrigated with water filled with animal poo from a neighboring farm, or after being cloned - the animal was force fed and stuffed to the gills to get the best fois gras. Becoming more rare, food fit for toddlers and the elderly, actually arriving as Mother Nature intended from a local food source, rather than mass produced at an industrial farm. Organic farming, with all natural materials costs a royal ransom, making real food more available on the snowy white linen-laden, heirloom tables of the ultra chic and wannabe thin wealthy.

Agribusinesses are pernicious profit-laden businesses that farm on a Texas sized scale for the huddled masses. Industrialized corporate farm's choice of crops are based on return on investment with their public relations amped up to increase global market share by shouting look at us - we feed (some of) the world's poor and undernourished while spreading a small percentage of our profits to public television and other needy causes to enhance our benevolent image. Corporate corn, the cash crop - instead of being a primary food, it is sold to make energy products, like ethanol, making corn expensive for humans to even eat. But that is just the beginning.
(DPA Photo)

Because corporate corn soaks up water like a soil sponge, farming it decreases water supplies and inflates water bills as local population increase, placing a Herculean demand on antique water distribution and sewage systems. Mix in a few droughts and the cost of corporate corn grows Jack & the cornstalk high, while the evil additive High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) seeps and creeps into an astounding array of products. Subsidized corporate corn is cheaply put into every piece of candy, added to juice drinks, jellies, jams, and spread on other supposedly nutritious foods. Healthcare costs explode and it becomes unaffordable when one of the culprits, such as corporate corn masquerading as HFCS contributes to diabetes, hypertension and dental disasters, creating health crises the world over.

Meanwhile, corporate corn is a feed crop for the industrialized chicken farms that the finger lickin' good people use or the I'm lovin' it folks nuke to perfection to fulfill the demand for fast, easy, cheap food. Checking how the sizzling strips of bacon arrived on your plate from a stinky smelly industrial process hog farm, may just make the consumer love pigs in Charlotte's Web or Babe or see the New Year's good luck pigs in German zoos in the future. (AP photo)

Britain is implementing more government bans on junk food ads, especially on shows enjoyed by young people because of the increase in obesity and juvenile onset diabetes from fast food. Europe refuses grain from the US because they will not accept genetically modified seeds and destroy existing plant strains. Bacteria poisoning eaten by unwary consumer is cropping up all around the globe. China has had one helluva year as recall after recall made the leaders even do a promotional food safety campaign. Small farmers are being squeezed all the world over as water becomes more scarce as corporations, public private partnerships buy rights from broke governments and give tax subsidies to the corporate farmers.

Five kinds of pesticides that the (sic Chinese) ministry banned for their high toxicity have been seized and destroyed.

The ministry also issued six regulations on pesticide registry management to standardize labeling and control product quantities.

Food a source of delight for those with enough money to make good choices or even hedonistic ones. Just getting a meal once a day is a struggle for most of the world's population. Many who look healthy or are even plumper than most, may in fact be undernourished.

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto is a widely recommended and critically acclaimed book springing from the equally stunning, intensely researched Omnivore's Dilemma by the same author, Michael Pollan. Eat more plants and other practical insights are common sense offerings in his latest book about our food supply.

Get that Blood Pressure checked while enjoying something green, leafy tasty!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Bush Abandons the Troops, Again

President Bush, The Decider, will use his red-ink veto stamp on the Defense appropriation bill, stopping funding on everything because Iraq's government and a few queasy DC insiders have a few qualms that they might get sued, American style over what meager assets (oil revenue) Iraq has remaining. This is all about Saddam Hussein - still - and the USA's terrorist label hung around Iraq's neck. So, is Iraq's litigation status part of the new Decider Jury since the penultimate Decider just gave away a measure of sovereignty to a nation the US invaded and now occupies because the long arm of American jurisprudence may need to engage in the process?

“The new democratic government of Iraq, during this crucial period of reconstruction, cannot afford to have its funds entangled in such lawsuits in the United States,” Scott Stanzel, a White House spokesman, said in a statement.

Mr. Stanzel said the president objects to a section in the National Defense Authorization Act that would permit plaintiffs’ lawyers to freeze Iraqi funds and expose Iraq to “massive liability in lawsuits concerning the misdeeds of the Saddam Hussein regime.” At least one pending lawsuit reportedly seeks $1 billion or more.

Mr. Stanzel said the White House would consult with Congressional leaders to fix the bill “as soon as possible upon Congress’s return in January.” White House aides said Iraqi government officials had called attention to what they saw as problems in the bill, which was approved amid the lawmakers’ mid-December rush to adjourn for the holidays.

Bush should just *heart* the Courts again
like he does Barney, especially the rollover Supremes, after they voted to give him the title, president, but he jilted them right after they put out. My scorecard for the last seven years is just a mess. Congressional Democrats are not going to be accused of adding clarity as they knelt before Bush and gave him everything in the US treasury that wasn't nailed down without requiring a GET OUT OF IRAQ deadline. But give the Democrats points for strenuously objecting to the vacillating Decider's last second veto.
"This bill is important to our men and women in uniform," Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement. "It is unfortunate that the Administration failed to identify the concerns upon which this veto is based until after the bill had passed both houses on Congress and was sent to the president for signature. I am deeply disappointed that our troops and veterans may have to pay for their mistake and for the confusion and uncertainty caused by their snafu." Yeah, that's telling him Senator...
So, the decider world according to malware version 2007 Bush is:
  • Troop pay raises? Bush -NO,
  • Army expansion? Bush - NO,
  • Missile defense shield placed in Europe? Bush - NO (Putin, Bush's Pooty-Poot, will most definitely take that belated Christmas gift)
  • Increased Veterans benefits? Bush - NO
  • Upgraded weapons systems? Bush - NO
And so, a capitulator's dream Congress in 2007 that pushed through the imperial Decider's wish list, shall be forced to do a legislative Groundhog day reprise beginning in 2008. Will Congress be smart enough to get timelines this time so there can be no more last minute mind melts?

There is no better vantage point than Glen Greenwald's perch looking at the ruins left after a bush presidency and examining the why of it all. The book is A Tragic Legacy: How a Good versus Evil mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency.

Obama's Biggest Bust

As far as presidential busts go, the Smithsonian will not be calling anytime soon, Rodin will not be replaced in any museums, but Madame Toussad may be taking a few notes and measurements for a full body Obama upgrade in wax. This pre presidential bust is made out of luscious Iowa butter and sitting in a Toledo, Iowa gym under hot lights as swarms of people view the Butter Lady's latest masterpiece. It is considered an electoral honor to be sculpted in a buttery tribute in Iowa. The sight of giant butter heads always draws big crowds at the Iowa State Fair held in the hot August sun. Obama's only concern, well two concerns actually, was he had the audacity to hope that his ears were not made too big for the butter head. A balancing problem, I'm sure...for the bust, but the artiste said she remained true to the subject matter presented and that's just the way it was.(Photo courtesy Joshua Lott/New York Times)
Barack Obama really likes the art piece complete with symbolic red and blue professional draping and said so. A bored press corps also got a kick out of it. But still, that has got to be distracting making a compelling closing argument for Iowans presidential caucus votes while staring at your own butter head with the 78 year-old proud dairy sculptor beaming up at you from a fold-up chair right in front of you. If anyone was throwing three pointers, the positioning of the head was politically perfect, though precarious, right under a basketball hoop, a place of honor befitting Obama's favorite sport.

Norma Lyon does her best work in dairy products, either selling them or making sculptures. Obama's bust took two weeks to make and was kept in deep freeze until it was time to display him in butter to the whole World of Iowa - the only place that matters in American politics right now through 3 January, 2008. After making a man's head out of butter, Lyon's is Fired Up & Ready to Go caucusing for Barack Obama with creamy bust in tow. Weather in Iowa right now will freeze her creation, but not participation. Go Obama! (Reuters photo)

Again, the hopeful and sometimes bleak journey of Barack Obama is best told in his own autobiographical words torn from his heart in Dreams from My Father.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto Assassinated in Suicide Bombing

Ms. Bhutto had just finished speaking at a political rally before thousands of her supporters. Her return to Pakistan in October was to resume her political career. Reports say shots were fired, first striking her, before the suicide bomber struck killing at least twenty others. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, recently lifted martial rule, but is known to have antipathy towards former Prime Minister Bhutto, 54, who made no secret of her continuing political ambitions. She has two daughters and one son primarily still living in Dubai. She was 35 when first elected in a secular Pakistan.

Benazir Bhutto was an ally of the United States and familiar with western policies having graduated from Harvard and Oxford. Her father was assassinated (hanged) in Pakistan in the 1970's by a general who later died in a mysterious plane crash,. She spoke to the risks of her life in prior interviews. She was accused of corruption before being exiled from a coup, leading to another coup orchestrated by the current Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf, then ruler of the powerful Pakistani military affiliated with its Saudi sponsored intelligence forces, ISI.

Politics in Pakistan imperil the rule of law with Musharraf previously declaring martial law, stacking Pakistan's Supreme Court and at first disallowing the return of Nawaz Sharif from exile. Musharraf recently stepped down as the head of the military in accordance with negotiations before the country voted in election. This is also deadly blow to the relationship between Pakistan and the US as the Bush administration walks a fine line knowing Pakistan has nuclear weapons. There will be many questions regarding security, motives and Pakistan's future without Benazir Bhutto.

A Few Doctors & Seven Magical Myths of Medicine

Once upon a time, doctors believed all manner of horrible things that turned out not to be true. After the Dark Ages, doctors used western astrology to explain epidemics as a medical matter of stellar misalignment and unlucky planet placement. In 1799, hungry leeches were the prescribed remedy for bleeding George Washington of his high fever and the "cure" killed him. It came as quite a revelation during the American Civil War, 1861-1865, that cleaner operating rooms, washed laundry and spruced up patients made a world of difference in the wounded surviving - after another doctor in 1847 said fewer women would die after giving birth of childbed fever if linens were clean. News bears repeating and a few cataclysmic events before some people learn. (picture from Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry)

In the 21st century, some doctors cling to seven myths found untrue by two Indiana based, university researchers for a report in the British Medical Journal . Though not even close to deadly, these selected modern myths have reserved handicapped mind parking spaces for a few men and women with $100,000 + medical educations. It serves as more of a warning that no profession is completely free of non-critical thinkers. Nor are these the only seven magical myths some doctors still believe.

Drink 8 glasses of water a day is a watery tale because of the amount of H2O also in our food. It was a 1945 recommend that many still take as a Health Gospel.

Humans use only 10% of brain. Oh gosh, must resist jokes,...must resist...failed. Non-listeners Anonymous will be up and running soon for the addicted many speaking 100% of the nonsense in their head as if it came from the 10% genius discount store. Supposedly Einstein said something, but nothing is on the record. A brain bustling with electricity isn't in 'standby' mode at any time no matter how badly we wish it could happen to certain cretins among us.

It's spooky and it's creepy...No! Fingernails and hair will not continue to grow after Death.

This almost seems like someone was picking on a certain French custom. Shaving hair causes it to grow back faster, darker, or coarser.

Reading in dim light will ruin, just plain ruin your eyesight. No, just makes a person squint, blink and tear up on a more consistent basis, kind of like watching Imitation of Life or an Affair to Remember. Go blind, no. Bugs Bunny and I shall remain mum on the carrot stalk hypothesis.

Eating too much turkey will make the diner drowsy. Turkey is not the cause of that heavy feeling in the pit of the stomach no matter the admonitions. That's the cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, half dozen dinner rolls, cornbread dressing, asparagus, baked ham, 4 glasses of flaming punch, green beans, Ambrosia salad and second helpings of a rich chocolate fudge cake with a piece of apple pie a la mode on the side.

Cell phones interfere with medical equipment in hospitals and may cause patients to suffer. Fact checking site, Snopes, knocked that one down with no attributable deaths to the alleged phenomenon. To me, its the plane thing where now airlines are finding ways for passengers to use (pay) for all the electrical ringing, buzzing, singing and DVD playing stuff one lugs about in their daily lives.

The list of medical myths that shall live just a tiny bit longer just got a bit shorter.

More serious medical tales and accepted business practices in the modern medical community come under intense scrutiny in the 2007 second edition release of Health Myths Exposed: How Western Medicine Undermines Your Health, by M.Sc. Shane Ellison.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Tapes, Lies, Spies - The CIA's Shredded Creds

Choosing when to lie is terribly hard work. Lies are arriving like hen house clockwork from so many chickens coming to the CIA to roost. More than fifty years old, the spy agency started by Wild Bill Donovan , still cloaks itself in high teenage drama when caught red-handed lying. America's Central Intelligence Agency behaves as if mortally wounded when found bald-face lying. Professional apologists for the Langley agency are then publicly thrown into the swirling cesspool of the seven press circles of hell. Swimming in muck is what they are paid to do, but CIA propagandists just cannot help lauding themselves like The Incredibles for saving America from all manner of evil. That is the executive premise from which many of the CIA abuses flow - like destroying taped evidence and taking oaths they did not have it - until now. Another part of the equation is the Bush administration's incredible expansion of presidential powers to include the intelligence community.
The order to destroy the recordings came from Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., then-head of the CIA's clandestine service, which deploys spies overseas and carries out covert operations.

The clandestine service "is almost tribal in nature," said a former senior CIA official familiar with the discussions on the tapes. "They believe that no one else will look out for them so they have to look out for themselves."

Even with the possibility of criminal charges looming, some CIA veterans who worked with Rodriguez said destroying the tapes was the honorable course at an agency that reveres leaders who protect spies and guard agency secrets.

The CIA has maintained that all of its interrogation methods were lawful and approved in advance by the Justice Department. The agency has also defended its handling of the tapes.
Australia just returned the passport of a legal immigrant Indian doctor accused by the CIA of being a terrorist. Australia is mum on the tapes of Habib's interrogations as he was taken by the CIA to Egypt where excruciating torture of prisoners is a known tactic.

It is maddening that the same spy people given license by an unrighteous US president(s) to secretly rendition people to other countries using ghost CIA spy planes, run arms and Stinger missiles to Afghanistan rebels now using them against the USA, and ferry drugs are the same people that told the 9/11 Commission, we have no tapes of our methods and means of extracting information from suspected terrorists strapped to a board with his or her nose clamped and mouth shut as water is forcibly poured down their throats as their feet are higher than their heads. No. Now three entities are investigating the destroyed tape lies, Bush's decimated and political Justice Department, a weak capitulating Congress and the CIA's own Inspector General who is under investigation. Just inspires confidence, doesn't it?

Right now in theaters, is the Tom Hanks & Julia Roberts film collaboration in Charlie Wilson's War premised on the bestselling book by George Crile, Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of How the Wildest man in Congress and A Rogue CIA Agent Changed the History of Our Times. Now that was a mighty fine read on how a boozing and womanizing player congressman found out how to help bring down the Soviet Union in Afghanistan with the CIA. The CIA chronicles are in a five-star 2007 book by multiple Pulitzer winner, reporter Timothy Weiner, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA.