Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Time to include gay troops

"(CNN) -- Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili has had a change of heart about gays in the military.

Shalikashvili, who was the top military man when President Clinton's "don't ask, don't tell" policy became law in 1993, wrote in a recent New York Times editorial that he was convinced by gay service members that "don't tell" can disappear.

"I now believe that if gay men and lesbians served openly in the United States military, they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces," he wrote in the January 2 edition of the Times. "Our military has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East, and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job."

The "don't ask" means commanders are prohibited from questioning a service member about sexual orientation while "don't tell" refers to the stipulation that gay and lesbian troops must keep their sexual orientation a secret.

President Clinton's policy brought the highly charged issue of gays in the military to the center of public discussion. At the time, Shalikashvili, supported the policy, believing that openly gay servicemen and women would hurt the military's cohesion.
With President Bush now calling for a larger military, the issue is sure to become fodder again for political and social debate.

Shalikashvili wrote that his position change came after meeting with gay troops, including "some with combat experience in Iraq, and an openly gay senior sailor who was serving effectively as a member of a nuclear submarine crew.

"These conversations showed me just how much the military has changed, and that gays and lesbians can be accepted by their peers."
'A political issue, not a military issue'

Former Secretary of Defense William Cohen told CNN that people should not miss the retired general's point, that the war in Iraq should be the top issue with Washington, but the discussion on gays in the military needs to resume in Congress.

"I think we have to ... take into account the full article," he said. "It was almost as if St. Augustine declaring to God, "Dear God, give me chastity, but not just yet.'"
And in the Shalikashvili piece, he said it's time to start "rethinking this policy."
Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd said Shalikashvili's change of heart was a big one but that the policy is a "political issue, not a military issue."

The military doesn't consider the issue a big deal and its concern is with the conduct of its personnel, not their sexual preferences, he said. The change in the policy will reflect a change in social values, he added.

"I think society is moving on and probably Shalikashvili is moving on personally," Shepperd said.
The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a gay advocacy group, applauded the editorial.
"That's a courageous thing to do," said Sharon Alexander, deputy director for policy for the group.
Shalikashvili, who served in the Army for 39 years and is the only immigrant to rise to the pinnacle of military leadership, is very knowledgeable and well-respected, Shepperd said.
World war shaped childhood

Shalikashvili was born in Warsaw, Poland, in June 1936, just three years before the Nazis invaded. His father, who was born in the country of Georgia, was an officer in the Polish army until it surrendered to the Germans then joined a unit of Georgians that fought for the Nazis. Eventually his unit fought with the Waffen-SS.

John Shalikashvili and his family lived in Poland through the occupation and destruction of Warsaw. According to a Washington Post article in 1993, the family lived in a cellar after a German bomber blew up their apartment. Near the end of World War II, the family fled to Germany.

In 1952, the family immigrated to Peoria, Illinois. Shalikashvili, a teenager who spoke no English, learned the language by watching John Wayne movies. He was drafted in 1958 into the Army, where he quickly became an officer.
During the Vietnam war, Shalikashvili served as a senior district adviser to South Vietnamese forces in 1968-69. According to the Army, he won a Bronze Star for directing a search team that was attacked from two positions.

He also served in Iraq after the Gulf War, directing relief efforts for Kurds in the northeastern mountainous area of the country.

When Colin Powell stepped down as Joint Chiefs chairman, President Clinton nominated Shalikashvili, who had been one of Powell's deputies. The nomination hit a stumbling block when his father's service with the Nazis came to light, but the general won Senate approval after convincing testimony that he had not known of his father's ties until just before his confirmation hearings.

Despite suffering a massive stroke in 2004, Shalikashvili continues to speak his mind and some say the retired chairman could be the catalyst for change.

"As a former high-ranking military official, people listen to him," Shepperd said. "The lawmakers will listen to him."'

PBS Report: Gays in the Military

Monday, January 29, 2007

UN: Iraqi Civilian Deaths at New High

"The UN has reported that over 34,000 Iraqi civilians were killed and over 36,000 were wounded. This toll reported by the UN is almost 3 times more than that reported by the Iraqi government. Also included in the reports is that at least 470,000 people have been internally displaced with over 38,000 in Baghdad alone."

The UN Reports that approx 150,000 innocent Iraqi have died in the USA's War on Terror.

A conservative number in my opinion.

Ari Fleischer Disputes Libby's Account at Trial

"January 29, 2007 · Former White House aide Lewis Libby spoke of the wife of a prominent war critic working at the CIA in the summer of 2003 — before the date Libby told investigators he had learned about the CIA operative. That's the testimony of former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

Testifying under an immunity deal with prosecutors, Fleischer says he didn't know at the time of his lunch talk with Libby that the information was classified.
Libby is accused of perjury in the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame, wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who accused the Bush administration of misleading the public in the run-up to the Iraq war.

Libby is the former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney.

Libby, the vice president's former chief of staff, is accused of lying to obstruct an investigation into the leak of CIA Agent Valerie Plame's identity.
Fleischer testified that Libby told him Plame's identity over a private lunch in the White House mess hall on July 7, 2003. That contradicts Libby's account that he learned the information from reporters days later.

Fleischer quoted Libby as saying, "This is hush hush. This is on the QT. Not very many people know about this."

Fleischer told the jury, "My sense is Mr. Libby was telling me this is kind of newsy."
Their lunch conversation took place as the White House was in the thick of an effort to rebut criticism from Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Wilson had gone to Africa to investigate claims that Saddam Hussein sought uranium for nuclear weapons from the Nigerian government. When Wilson found no such evidence and the White House continued to assert otherwise, Wilson began to criticize the White House publicly.

Fleischer is the fifth government official to testify that Libby was part of a coordinated White House effort to refute Wilson's claims. Fleischer said, "I never in my wildest dreams would have thought this information (about Plame's identity) would be classified."
According to Fleischer's testimony, he told Plame's identity to reporters from Time magazine and NBC News a few days later, during a presidential trip to Africa.

Libby's lawyers have argued that the Plame/Wilson controversy was a minor issue compared to the other crises Libby had to deal with at the same time. They say if Libby made false statements to FBI agents and a grand jury months later, those statements were the result of memory lapses—not lies" (NPR).

Friday, January 26, 2007

Judge Rejects Katrina settlement

State Farm had agreed to pay Mississippi victims $50 million

NEW ORLEANS - A federal judge in Mississippi on Friday refused to endorse part of a proposed settlement that calls for insurance payments to thousands of Mississippi policyholders whose homes were destroyed or damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

U.S. District Judge L.T. Senter Jr. would not sign off on a deal between State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. and Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood for at least $50 million in payments to policyholders whose claims were denied but didn’t sue the company.

The Bloomington, Ill.-based insurer also had agreed to pay about $80 million to more than 600 policyholders who sued the company for refusing to cover damage from the Aug. 29, 2005, storm. Senter hasn’t been asked to sign off on that part of the deal.

Senter said he doesn’t have enough information to determine how many policyholders would benefit from the deal or how much each can be paid.
“In the absence of substantially more information than I now have before me, I am unable to say, even preliminarily, that the proposed settlement establishes a procedure that is fair, just, balanced or reasonable,” he wrote.
Senter rejected the settlement “without prejudice,” allowing lawyers to present a new agreement that satisfies his concerns.

State Farm spokesman Phil Supple said the company looks forward to “addressing Judge Senter’s concerns,” adding, “We believe, given the opportunity, he will come to view the proposed settlement as fair, just, balanced and reasonable.”

A spokeswoman for Hood would not immediately comment.
In his eight-page ruling Friday, Senter said that although State Farm has agreed to pay $50 million to policyholders who qualify for the class action portion of the settlement, he can’t determine “how thinly this large sum may be spread among the class members.”

Senter also expressed concern about a lack of any “guaranteed” payments to policyholders whose homes weren’t completely destroyed and said he is “uncomfortable” with allowing many cases to be settled by binding arbitration “when none of these individuals has ever agreed to participate in that procedure.”

Mississippi’s mass settlement agreement didn’t involve any claims in other states.
Lawyers involved in the agreement presented the “class action” portion of the deal to Senter on Tuesday afternoon.
Click for related content
State Farm settles hundreds of Katrina lawsuits
Newsweek: The insurance climate change
That part of the agreement would require State Farm to reopen and review claims filed by roughly 35,000 policyholders who live in Mississippi’s three coastal counties but didn’t file lawsuits against State Farm.

After reviewing those claims, the company would be required to make new offers. Any disputes would be heard by an arbitrator whose decision would be binding.

The accord came less than two weeks after a federal jury in Gulfport awarded $2.5 million in punitive damages to a couple who sued State Farm for denying their claim after Katrina. Senter took part of that case out of jurors’ hands, ruling that State Farm is liable for $223,292 in storm damage to the Biloxi home of Norman and Genevieve Broussard.

Senter is the only federal judge in Mississippi who has been presiding over the hundreds of lawsuits that policyholders filed against State Farm and other insurers.

In the first trial for a Katrina insurance case, Senter ruled in August that Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.’s homeowner policies cover damage from wind but not storm surge. He also has ordered dozens of policyholders who sued their insurers to participate in an experimental mediation program."

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

China beats USA in Star Wars?

What would President Reagan say?

By Chris Buckley Mon Jan 22, 9:09 AM ET

BEIJING (Reuters) - Blasting a satellite out of the heavens may have been China's blunt way of demanding a bigger say in space security, Chinese experts said on Monday, while voicing puzzlement about the apparent test and Beijing's long silence.

Chinese arms control specialists with military backgrounds told Reuters they did not know if China had indeed fired an anti-satellite missile on January 11 in what Washington last week called an alarming escalation of military rivalry in space.

Xia Liping, a People's Liberation Army (PLA) officer and professor at the Shanghai Institute for International Strategic Studies, said Beijing did not want an arms race in space. But the reported test may have been intended to push Washington toward international talks aimed at preventing a race, he suggested.

"The weaponization of space would be very dangerous; it could lead to a new arms race," said Xia, who stressed he had no firm knowledge of any test. "I would say, though, that in the history of arms control the rule is that the United States is willing to ban a military capability only when other countries possess it."

The Bush administration has announced plans to maintain U.S. dominance of outer space and prevent other states from threatening its satellites, vital nerves of commerce and security. But China is wary.

"Chinese officials believe the real purpose of U.S. space plans is not to protect U.S. assets but to further enhance U.S. military dominance," Hui Zhang, a researcher at Harvard University, wrote in a study recently issued by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (

Chinese textbooks and speeches show that the country's diplomats and military are worried that U.S. ambitions are leaving China vulnerable.

"The militarization of space will also become the focus of all military great powers' national security and development strategy," states a 2006 textbook on space weapons written by officers from China's Second Artillery Battalion, which wields the country's nuclear arsenal. "The flames and smoke of war will rise in a new battlefield -- space."

Chinese military writings also leave no doubt that the PLA has been studying how to directly counter U.S. plans, according to a compilation issued last week by Michael Pillsbury, a researcher close to the

"There is an active group in China not only advocating the weaponization of space, but also putting forward specific proposals for implementation of a Chinese space-based weapons program," Pillsbury wrote in the study for Congress' U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (

But China lags far behind the United States in space technology and does not want to divert its civilian space resources to military uses, said Teng Jianqun, a former PLA officer who now studies space policy at the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, a government-run think tank.

"China does not want to follow the United States into this," said Teng, who said he was skeptical about the reported test. "We need to sit down and work out the rules of the game to prevent this trend taking on a life of its own."

But if the January 11 blast was intended to wake up Washington and push for negotiations, the Chinese Foreign Ministry's silence about the claim is "baffling," said Xu Guangyu, another ex-PLA officer at the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association.

Chinese diplomats had yet to explain or deny the satellite test, even in private, the New York Times reported on Monday, citing senior Washington officials.

"I don't know whether the American reports about the satellite are true. It's odd and abnormal that they haven't said anything," Xu said of China's diplomats.

"If it is a negotiating chip, it's illogical not to come out and announce something. But a side-effect may be that it makes us sit down together and talk."

Yahoo News:

Corporations Take on GLOBAL WARMING

"A diverse group of U.S.-based businesses andleading environmental organizations today called on the federal government to quickly enact strong national legislation to achieve significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.

The group said any delay in action to control emissions increases the risk of unavoidableconsequences that could necessitate even steeper reductions in the future.This unprecedented alliance, called the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), consists of market leaders Alcoa, BP America, Caterpillar, Duke Energy, DuPont, FPL Group, General Electric, Lehman Brothers, PG&E, and PNM Resources, along with four leading non-governmental organizations – Environmental Defense, Natural Resources Defense Council, Pew Center on Global Climate Change, and World Resources Institute.

At a news conference today at the National Press Club, USCAP will issue a setof principles and recommendations to underscore the urgent need for a policy framework on climate change. The solutions-based report, titled A Call for Action, lays out a blueprint for a mandatory economy-wide, market-driven approach to climate protection. “The time has come for constructive action that draws strength equally from business, government, and non-governmental stakeholders,” said Jeff Immelt, Chairman and CEO of General Electric. “These recommendations should catalyze legislative action that encourages innovation and fosters economic growth while enhancing energy security and balance of trade, ensuring U.S. leadership on an issue of significance to our country and the world.”

USCAP’s recommendations [visit] are based on the following six principles:• Account for the global dimensions of climate change;• Recognize the importance of technology;• Be environmentally effective;• Create economic opportunity and advantage;• Be fair to sectors disproportionately impacted; and• Recognize and encourage early action.The principles and the recommendations outlined in A Call for Action are the result of ayear-long collaboration motivated by the shared goal of slowing, stopping and reversing the growth of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over the shortest period of time reasonably achievable.

This unique cooperation of business and environmental leaders is a clear signal tolawmakers that legislative action is urgently needed. This non-partisan effort was driven by the top executives from member organizations—companies with a combined marketcapitalization of more than $750 billion and environmental groups with more than one million members worldwide and global policy influence.

A Call for Action reflects a growing public concern about global warming. A recent TIMEmagazine/ABC News/Stanford University poll finds that a significant majority of Americans, about 85 percent, say they believe global warming is probably happening. An even larger percentage, 88 percent, say they think global warming threatens future generations. USCAP urges policy makers to enact a policy framework for mandatory reductions of GHG emissions from major emitting sectors, including large stationary sources and transportation, and energy use in commercial and residential buildings. The cornerstone of this approach would be a cap-and-trade program. The environmental goal is to reduce global atmospheric GHG concentrations to a level that minimizes large-scale adverse impacts to humans and the natural environment. The group recommends Congress provide leadership and establish short- and mid-term emission reduction targets; a national program to accelerate technology research, development and deployment; and approaches to encourage action by other countries, including those in the developing world, as ultimately the solution must be global.

“The Climate Action Partnership recognizes that the undertaking to address climate change is an enormous one, and should not be underestimated,” said Jonathan Lash, President of the World Resources Institute. “But enacting environmentally effective, economically sustainable and fair climate change law must be a national priority.” USCAP believes that programs to encourage efficiency and to promote cleaner technologies in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 enacted by the last Congress and supported by the President were a good step. However, they alone cannot get us to where we need to be on the climate change issue. A mandatory system is needed that sets clear, predictable, market-based requirements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

Monday, January 22, 2007

G.W. Bush’s Justification for Iraq

President Bush in response to a reporter’s questions in regards to the Iraq War said to paraphrase

“that after 9/11 he made a vow to protect the American people and that we would enter any nation that provided safe haven to terrorist, and that’s why we are in Iraq”.

The fact of today is that this is reasonable justification for the USA being in Afghanistan but it has nothing whatsoever to do with our troops being in Iraq.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The God Experiments

“One Study revealed some overlap between the neural activity of self –transcendence and of sexual pleasure”. –Discover Magazine Dec. 2006, The God Experiments

I think this study deserve more resources. I certainly would volunteer as a subject. Science has now proven all my college rendezvous were not simply that but studies in uhh “religion”.

Comments welcome.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Bush puts spy program under courts

"Bush administration puts spy program under court supervision

Source: Agence France Presse 01/18/2007
WASHINGTON, Jan 18, 2007 (AFP) -

President George W. Bush's administration put a controversial domestic spying program under supervision of a special court after months of sharp criticism over the eavesdropping.
Civil rights group had criticized the program, in which Bush authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to eavesdrop on phone calls and emails between the US and abroad without a court warrant.

Despite legal challenges after the program was revealed in press reports in 2005, the government had insisted that the president could legally authorize the NSA to eavesdrop on international communications it believes involve terror suspects without seeking court approval.
But in a letter to the top Democrat and Republican of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Wednesday Bush would not renew the Terrorist Surveillance Program as it had found an effective and quick system to gain approval through an ultra-secretive court.

A judge from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court issued orders on January 10 authorizing the government to target international communications when there is probable cause that one of the individuals is an Al-Qaeda operative or from an associated terror organization, Gonzales said.
"As a result of these orders, any electronic surveillance that was occurring as part of the Terrorist Surveillance Program will now be conducted subject to the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court," Gonzales wrote.

"Although, as we have previously explained, the Terrorist Surveillance Program fully complies with the law, the orders the government has obtained will allow the necessary speed and agility while providing substantial advantages," he wrote.

"Accordingly, under these circumstances, the president has determined not to reauthorize the Terrorist Surveillance Program when the current authorization expires," Gonzales wrote to Democrat Patrick Leahy, the committee's chairman, and the ranking Republican, Arlen Specter.
Bush had been re-authorizing the program every 45 days.

A federal judge had ordered a halt to the program in August, saying Bush had overstepped his authority, but an appeals court immediately suspended the ruling at the request of the NSA.
Leahy welcomed the Bush administration's announcement Wednesday.

"We must engage in all surveillance necessary to prevent acts of terrorism, but we can and should do so in ways that protect the basic rights of all Americans including the right to privacy," Leahy said in a statement.

"The issue has never been whether to monitor suspected terrorists but doing it legally and with proper checks and balances to prevent abuses," he said.
On the Senate floor, Specter cautiously welcomed the move and recalled that the administration had refused to reveal details of the program while he was chairman of the Judiciary Committee last year.

"I am glad to see that we may now have all of that resolved," Specter said, adding, however, "I want to know all of the details of this program."
"It is regrettable that these steps weren't taken a long time ago," he said.
"I would like to have an explanation as to why it took from last spring of 2005 and at least past December 16, when there has been such a public furor and public concern," Specter said.
Melissa Goodman, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, a powerful group that challenged the surveillance program in court, said the new eavesdropping process was still too secretive.

"The Bush administration has conceded that there should be some judicial role on NSA spying on Americans, but unfortunately we still just don't understand enough about what's going on now," Goodman said.

"He's basically moved the program into a completely secret court," she said.
A senior Justice Department official, who requested anonymity in a teleconference with reporters, said orders issued by the secret court last 90 days and are "very closely" supervised by a judge.

But the official refused to disclose more details.
fc-lt/mac "

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Family and Politics


Family roles, myths seize a bigger stage in new politics
Source: The San Francisco Chronicle 01/17/2007

Change is stressful for any family, the experts say. Marriage, job loss, the birth of a child, divorce, a relative moving in or out, a kitchen remodel -- anything can shift the dynamics, alter delicate balances of power, forge new behaviors, new metaphors, new pathways of negotiation. When the family has 300 million members and is fighting a war half a world away that most of them don't believe in, the problems and challenges multiply madly.

Ever since America underwent its major home makeover in the midterm elections last fall, there's been plenty of sorting out and labeling of the new players and products. Much of it, interestingly, has taken on the forms and metaphorical trappings of family dynamics.

Nancy Pelosi's election as speaker of the House may have been the logical culmination of a political career, but it was also carefully marketed for the values that Pelosi brought to the job as a daughter, wife, mother and grandmother. Every Pelosi photo op, it seemed, had more children of all ages in it than the previous one. Over in the Senate, incoming freshmen Jon Tester (a Montana rancher) and Jim Webb (an ex-Marine and former secretary of the Navy from Virginia) were emblematic of the brawny new "Alpha Male Democrats," as the New York Times dubbed them, flinty Marlboro men minus the cigarettes. The new majority party was cannily having it both ways, as a family that blended warmth and toughness, maternal wisdom and a healthy measure of testosterone.
At the country's most famous home address, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., President Bush has been behaving more and more like a man in need of some serious family counseling. His cherished "surge" of 21,500 American troops in Iraq had pundits flinging out competing images of dysfunction. Several said it was like a couple trying to save a doomed marriage by having a baby. As for the administration's growing pique with the intractable Iraqis themselves, Maureen Dowd mused recently that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and new Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte regard them as "irksome" cousins who have overstayed their welcome or ungrateful children who "leave the playroom a mess."

Politics isn't just personal anymore. It's about the ability to place and define yourself as part of a family, an embracing social structure with a larger unifying purpose. Bush, who rode to power seven years ago on a family-values tailwind that repudiated Clintonian laxness and turpitude, has become the image of a man alone, clinging fast to his failed policy as he teeters on the brink of full-fledged divorce from a Democratic-controlled Congress, from public opinion and even from his own party. Bush in 2007 is a baleful, solitary figure to contemplate.

The English writer W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) would have understood this purposeful mingling of politics and family perfectly. In a long stream of novels, plays, short stories and nonfiction, the author of "Cakes and Ale," "The Razor's Edge" and "Of Human Bondage" returned again and again to the theme of marriage and divorce as forums of power, money, deception, self-delusion and self-assertion. It was politics, in other words, in the most elegant and elemental way.

Maugham is a minor writer who seemed destined for obscurity 40 years after his death. But he's undergoing a timely 21st century rediscovery. His play "The Constant Wife," a 1926 comedy of manners about a woman declaring her economic and erotic freedom from a faithless husband, was revived by the American Conservatory Theater in 2003 and on Broadway in 2005. Now ACT has another Maugham-on- marriage play up and running; "The Circle" (1921) continues through Feb. 4. A fine film adaptation of Maugham's 1925 novel "The Painted Veil," starring Edward Norton and Naomi Watts as an unhappily married couple facing each other down during a cholera outbreak in China, is in theaters.

Seen one way, "Veil" is the more serious, overtly political work. Played out against the menace and human suffering of cholera, with the dramatic Chinese mountainscape as a backdrop, the story has a kind of bleak, tragic grandeur. "This is going to get much worse," Walter (Norton) warns Kitty (Watts) at one point, as the ravages of disease, the gruesome realities of 1920s medicine, the corrosion of English colonialism and the couple's loveless marriage and barren living conditions eat away at them.

"The Circle," by contrast, seems blithely, hermetically sealed. Cocooned inside a luxurious house in Dorset, the characters dress for luncheon, quibble over card games and idly debate the authenticity of an antique chair. Crisis arrives in the form of an older couple who return to England 30 years after an adulterous escape to Italy. Time has turned them into weary comic caricatures of impassioned lovers. One (Kathleen Widdoes) is fat and frivolous; the other (Ken Ruta) is a bitter old man with ill-fitting dentures. The closest thing to a political plotline involves a sexless cold- fish husband (James Waterston as Arnold) whose only real concern about his pretty young wife's plan to leave him is what effects a scandal might have on his future in Parliament.
But Maugham, a homosexual who spent 12 miserable years as a married man, didn't need a larger external world to enhance his subject. Marriage was a minefield in its own right, a realm of treachery, vanity, smiling malice, glimmers of altruism and kindness and acres of stifling suffocation. The power of both "The Painted Veil" and "The Circle" flow from that single source, albeit along different streambeds. Politics, for Maugham, was fundamentally personal, and the personal intrinsically political.
"I did not marry you because I loved you," he once wrote his wife, Syrie, in a letter, "and you were only too well aware of it." That's a line that's repeated, with chilly frankness, by the adulterous Kitty to her husband in "The Painted Veil."

"The Circle," expertly directed by Mark Lamos, moves in a lighter and more satiric vein. But the comedy is shot through with a deep skepticism about romance, marriage and family. "I owe everything to my father," says Arnold, referring to a man (Philip Kerr as Clive) who dismisses his ex-wife as "tinsel" and now amuses himself with women in their 20s. Later on, when Clive schemes to save Arnold's marriage by endorsing the infidelity of his son's wife, the deceit backfires without his realizing it. The lovers and manipulators alike are captives of their own illusions.

Late in "The Painted Veil," Kitty and Walter finally forgive each other their failings and are granted a single night of authentic physical passion. Shortly after that, one of them is dead. But it's finally not Maugham's suave cynicism about human affairs that seems attuned to our own family-inflected politics of the moment. It's his clear-eyed realism about the stories people tell themselves and the damage they can do. "It was silly of us to look for qualities in each other that we never had," Walter tells Kitty. That cautionary line hovers over the film and reaches out to us directly.

As the myths of the Bush era dissolve and America moves to remake itself, we need to think more carefully than ever about the qualities we see -- or think we see -- in our leaders. The American family is a warm and inviting notion, and politicians are eager to invoke the rhetoric and images that surround it. Whatever stories we decide to believe, from Congress and the presidential candidates lining up to run in 2008, let's hope we'll do it with our eyes, ears and minds wide open. "

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Remembering the Kings.

Obama or Clinton?

My vote is for Hilary Clinton, Obama looks better though.

Jack's Stance on Iraq

"The Honorable John P. Murtha's Speech on the War in Iraq - The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion. The American public is way ahead of us. The United States and coalition troops have done all they can in Iraq, but it is time for a change in direction. Our military is suffering. The future of our country is at risk. We can not continue on the present course. It is evident that continued military action in Iraq is not in the best interest of the United States of America, the Iraqi people or the Persian Gulf Region."

Popular Vote Movement Makes Headway

"Source: Associated Press Newswires 01/16/2007

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A movement to essentially junk the Electoral College and award the presidency to the winner of the nationwide popular vote is making some headway in states large and small -- including, somewhat improbably, North Dakota.

The National Popular Vote movement is aimed at preventing a repeat of 2000, when Democrat Al Gore lost despite getting more votes than George W. Bush.
Backers are asking states to change their laws to award their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote nationally.

A bill to do that was introduced last week in the North Dakota Legislature, even though it could reduce the political influence of small states like North Dakota.

"Its strength is, it is what the people want," said one of the sponsors, Rep. Duane DeKrey, Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. "It kind of takes out that system where the person who gets the most votes doesn't necessarily win."

John Koza, a Stanford University professor who is one of the idea's principal advocates, said lawmakers in 47 states have agreed to sponsor the plan this year. It was introduced last year in Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri, New York and California, where the Legislature approved the measure only to have Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger veto it.

Backers say it would help bring a national focus to presidential campaigns.
Koza said the current system encourages parties to focus on a few contested "battleground" states -- Ohio and Florida, in recent years -- and exaggerates the significance of issues important to those states.

"Why is the rest of the country interested in Cuba? It's a couple of million people, we don't trade with them, and it's certainly been no military threat for 40 years," Koza said. The reason, he said, is that Florida is a battleground state.

In presidential elections, the American people are not voting directly for a candidate. Instead, under a system created by the founding fathers out of a fear of mob rule, voters choose slates of "electors," who in most cases are expected to cast their ballots for the candidate who wins the popular vote in their state.

Each state has one elector for every member it has in the House and Senate, a formula that gives small states a somewhat larger vote than population alone would dictate.
There have been other attempts to change the Electoral College system, but all of them foundered. They were aimed at amending the Constitution, an often drawn-out process that requires approval by Congress and ratification by at least 38 states.
This plan would be accomplished instead through an agreement among the states. It would not take effect unless adopted by state legislatures representing a majority of electoral votes.
Robert Hardaway, a University of Denver law professor and Electoral College expert, warned that the proposed interstate compact may need approval from Congress to be legal. In any case, it is "a terrible idea," Hardaway said.

In a close presidential election, recounts would be demanded "in every precinct, every hamlet in the United States," he said. "The practical problems are absolutely enormous."
Lloyd Omdahl, a former University of North Dakota political science professor, state tax commissioner and Democratic lieutenant governor, called the measure ingenious. But he was skeptical the GOP-controlled Legislature would embrace it.
"Republicans in North Dakota would see no benefit from this, because they almost always get the electoral votes," Omdahl said.

Had the compact been in force in 2000, North Dakota's three electors would have had to support Gore, even though Bush carried the state with 63 percent. Since 1900, only three Democratic presidential candidates have carried North Dakota -- Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, in 1964.

Lawrence Jacobs, a University of Minnesota political science professor and director of the school's Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, warned the proposal would reduce the influence of small states and lead candidates to spend more time campaigning in voter-rich California, New York and Texas.

However, Jacobs said dissatisfaction with the Electoral College system is growing, even in states that may benefit from the current setup.
A lot of Americans "don't like the Electoral College system. They find it to be out of step with expectations about democracy, expectations that our founding fathers did not necessarily share," he said.

"I think time has seen an evolution of a different way of seeing things, a different norm, in which we expect the president to be popularly elected."

On the Net:

National Popular Vote:

Electoral College:

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Should the Government Negotiate Drug Prices?

Comment: The White House & President said they would veto such a measure because they claim it would raise prices for everyone. Excuse me while I cough “Bull Shit”. The Government already has programs that pay for prescription drugs for some Americans. Negotiated for lower prices will increase competition and in no way increase prices anywhere. Competition lowers prices, basic economics.

I’ll tell you what this is, Big Pharmaceutical Money influencing the White House under the leadership of G.W. Bush once again.

I pray Congress would overturn the President’s veto.

NPR Report:
January 12, 2007 · The House passes a bill that would require the secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate with drug makers for lower prices for Medicare patients. The vote was 255-170 in favor of the bill, including some two dozen Republicans. Those supporting the measure ignored a veto threat from President Bush.

The administration contends that government price negotiations — which are currently barred by law — would ultimately threaten the availability of drugs for seniors, and could raise, rather than lower, prices. But polls have shown the public is strongly behind the idea of government negotiation.

And this week, a key Democratic backer of the existing Medicare drug program, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, said he now supports eliminating the ban on government negotiation.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Bush Wants More Money for Iraq

Mr. President,

"Read my lips" No more money and no more troops for Iraq!

Please notice the word "for". Many people are discussing the fact that BILLIONS of Taxpayer dollars are being used "for" Iraqi citizens when it should be being used "for" the needs of U.S. citizens.

While the Republicans are whining and leaking their wounds after suffering a crushing political defeat the “do something” Democratic Congress are busy writing legislation that will hopefully end this War in Iraq this year.


(Comments welcome)

NPR Report of Bush's Plan:

CIA chief's lawyer quits case


CIA chief's lawyer quits case, had hoped for political solution

Source: Associated Press Newswires 01/09/2007

MILAN, Italy (AP) - A lawyer for a former CIA station chief accused of involvement in the alleged kidnapping of an Egyptian terror suspect withdrew from the case Tuesday, saying statements by Italian spymasters implicating U.S. agents had undermined her attempts to head off a criminal trial.

Daria Pesce, representing former Milan station chief Robert Seldon Lady, walked out of court as a judge began hearing arguments on whether to indict 26 Americans and five Italian intelligence officials on criminal charges.

A trial would be the first criminal prosecution involving the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, in which terror suspects are secretly transferred to third countries where critics say they may face torture.

No decision on indictments was made Tuesday and further hearings were set for Jan. 29 into mid-February.

"Robert Seldon Lady says that this case should have had a political solution and not a judicial solution," Pesce said. "The Italian government could have decided it was a state secret -- remember, this was a terror suspect. It would have been possible if the Italian government had had the courage to reach an agreement with the U.S. government."

Instead, she said, statements that amounted to confessions from two Italians were so damaging they made it politically impossible for her to seek diplomatic immunity for her client.

"No one expected the secret services to talk," she told The Associated Press in an interview.
She was referring to statements by several Italians cooperating with Milan prosecutors that described Lady's alleged involvement with the Feb. 17, 2003, abduction of Egyptian Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, from a Milan street.

Prosecutors say the operation was a breach of Italian sovereignty that compromised their own anti-terrorism efforts. None of the defendants attended the hearing.

Asked whether he thought Pesce's withdrawal signaled the CIA's attempt to dissociate itself from the case, prosecutor Armando Spataro, who requested the indictments, said her statements were reminiscent of an era when terrorist groups tried to discredit Italian justice.

"I heard the same thing from the Red Brigades during the terror trials in the 1970s," Spataro said.

Pesce, who met with Seldon Lady four or five times in the United States, most recently in September, said the court had already appointed a new lawyer for him.

All but one of the Americans have been identified by the prosecution as CIA agents, including former station chiefs in Rome and Milan; the other is a U.S. Air Force officer who was stationed at the time at Aviano air base near Venice. The Italians include the former head of the Italian military intelligence, Nicolo Pollari.

In Italy, defendants are not required to attend preliminary hearings, or even trials. Spataro has asked Premier Romano Prodi's center-left government to seek the extradition of the American suspects, but there has been no response.

The previous prime minister, conservative Silvio Berlusconi, who was a close ally of President Bush, refused.

Pollari's defense lawyers said Tuesday they intend in the next session to try to have both Prodi and Berlusconi take the witness stand, as well as their respective defense ministers.
Even if a request is made for the Americans' extradition -- a move bound to irritate U.S.-Italian relations -- it was unlikely that the CIA agents would be turned over for trial abroad.
The CIA has refused to comment on the case.
Associated Press Writer Colleen Barry in Milan contributed to this report.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Someone Said "The Children Are Our Future"

"Source: USA Today 01/02/2007

I f you're anything like me, 2006 has left you in an exhausted heap, distressed and depressed that America has been swallowed up in its own star-spangled stew of bitterness and scandal -- from the relentless political infighting and ceaseless clamor on talk radio to the pantyless Britney Spears.

And don't even get me started on Kramer.
But as the curtain rises on 2007, we do have a lot to smile about. I discovered this by conducting my own little experiment in optimism: Combing through a backlog of e-mails and clipped articles, I noticed that I'd been focusing my energy primarily on hot-button issues -- from stem cells to the Iraq War. I suppose this is natural. After all, nothing gets the blood pumping like a good fight, and there are plenty of those to go around lately.

Still, what about those stories that carry a whiff of (dare I say it) hope? Cultural watchdogs like to say that the media focus only on the bad stuff, but in truth, the good news is always out there -- you just have to look for it.

Here are a few items that, to me at least, make the New Year not only palatable, but maybe even something to celebrate:

Keeping hope alive. St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis has achieved a 90% survival rate in its treatment of kids with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common form of childhood cancer. This is not a small thing. When entertainer Danny Thomas opened the doors to St. Jude in 1962, that survival rate was less than 4% -- all but guaranteeing the death of the child. Now, lives are being saved. Meanwhile, St. Jude stands by its founding promise - - that no child will be turned away for a family's inability to pay. In a nation in which 9 million kids are uninsured, that's not just good news. It's a blessing.

The kids are all right. Not every teen is loitering in the electronic hallways of MySpace or zombied out in front of MTV's Pimp My Ride. Last year, I received a letter from USA TODAY reader Tom Marshall of Laytonsville, Md., responding to a column I had written about teen activism. Tom proudly noted that his 17-year-old daughter, Kathleen (and her friend Charlene Thomas), had devoted the previous summer ("590 hours in all") to organizing a walk-a-thon that generated more than $10,000 for the AIDS Research Alliance. It was the largest fundraising effort by a high school in ARA's history. This single act of charity, says dad, so inspired Kathleen that she subsequently traveled to Africa to lend a hand to AIDS victims in hospitals, clinics and orphanages in Botswana.

Kathleen is in good company: According to a report by the Corporation for National & Community Service, teen volunteerism (ages 16 to 19) has more than doubled since 1989, thanks in large part to such organizations as the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts and 4- H. (Oh, yeah -- some more good news: Girl Scout cookies now have zero trans fats. But that's another story.)
The Pied Piper of pennies. Speaking of active youth, would you believe that children have raised more money for victims of Hurricane Katrina than most of the country's cash-fat corporations? Credit Anne Ginther of Dallas, whose non-profit organization Random Kid has raked in more than $10 million for Americans left homeless by the hurricane's devastation. In 2005, Ginther became captivated by the news-making efforts of a 10-year-old neighbor, Talia Leman, who had convinced a grocery chain to support her trick-or-trick campaign for Katrina relief dollars. Having already built her own kids' coin crusade on the Internet, Ginther joined forces with Talia, and they soon began marshalling a nationwide army of pint- sized fundraisers into the fold -- kids who collect coins in buckets, sell lemonade on street corners and hector business bigwigs with all the self-assurance of a D.C. lobbyist. The money then flows to relief organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, the Bush- Clinton Katrina Fund and Oprah's Angel Network.
But to Ginther, it always comes back to the kids. "The amazing thing about children," she told me, "is that they don't see politics as an obstacle, they don't take no for an answer, and they do take sheer joy in everything they do. It's such a kick to see just how powerful a child can be."
Are there any disadvantages to working with kids seven days a week? Says Ginther, "Well, they tend to get up early ... ."

Special deliveries. While the rest of the country was fighting over the war in Iraq, Californian Carolyn Blashek was busy packing boxes. So began the 2006 holiday drive for her beloved brainchild, Operation Gratitude, which since 2003 has provided our servicemen and women overseas with regular care packages from home, brimming with donated items -- from DVDs and sunflower seeds to baseball caps and Beanie Babies. This past year, more than 60,000 holiday packages found their way to American troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, bringing Op Gratitude's grand total to more than 200,000. "The idea is to let every servicemember who's been deployed know that someone cares about them," Blashek told me during a rare break from the assembly line. "After more than three years, I feel like a mom to these people. Every one of them is in my blood now."

Although Blashek doesn't like to play favorites, she admits that the most unusual item donated to Op Gratitude was a car. Postage must've been brutal.

So that's what jazzes me these days. If none of the above gives you reason to head into 2007 with even an ounce of cheer, you can always fall back on another little thought -- one that's guaranteed to perk up even the terminally dour: It ain't 2006.
Bruce Kluger, a member of USA TODAY's board of contributors, also writes for National Public Radio and Parenting magazine. "