Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Great Stem Cell Debate

The mention of stem cells causes a rise in adrenalin in two groups of people: biomedical engineers and fundamentalists.  Of course, it doesn't take too much of any science to offend the latter group.  The president who left office several days ago was a hero to fundamentalists, not for his war on Iraq which killed 100,000 people, but for his stem cell ban.  Many of that religious persuasion believed that he 'saved babies' through this ban on the use of most embryonic stem cells

 The truth is that not a single 'baby was saved' by the ban because these  embryonic stem cell lines are made from material that would otherwise literally be thrown in the trash. Banning them did not 'save' a single blastocyst, and it came at the cost of delaying or denying lifesaving treatment to millions of people.  

Nonetheless, George Bush bamboozled the fundamentalists into believing that he was the second son of god for doing so.  The ugly truth is that eight years of  research into stem cell therapy was wasted for political gain. has an article this week called, Stem Cell Research: The Quest Resumes which illuminates the 8-year hiatus on important research, delayed by an incompetent president and a knot of Bible-thumpers. Hope is on the way now that we have a science-friendly in the White House once again.

New RNC Chief Steele

The Republican Party elected Michael S. Steele as party chairman for a 2-year term.  He was the first Republican lieutenant governor elected in Maryland; subsequently he lost in his bid for the  senate seat of the state. On Friday he won the chairmanship of the GOP on the 6th ballot.He beat South Carolina state chairman Katon Dawson, a strong anti-desegregationist, 91-77.  Although a committed conservative, he was rated the 'most moderate' of the pack with which he ran.

It may seem odd that the GOP would elect an African-American as chairman; surely some Republicans this morning will be stunned to see a black man at the top of their nearly all-white, rural party.  Racial bigots in America must be fretting over the fact that black men have risen to the top of both the GOP and the Presidency.  What are white supremacists to do now?  Suggestion: an island in the Pacific.

Two black men at the top of the American political scene: how uncommonly refreshing.  However, one ought to look a bit deeper, beyond melanin levels in the skin.  These two men share little more than skin color, career, and a poor, fatherless upbringing.  Beyond these factors, the gap is wide.

Unlike Obama, Steele lived in a nice neighborhood in D.C. and a attended private, Catholic school. His widowed mother remarried when he was 4 and his stepfather was in the home as he grew up. He struggled academically at Johns Hopkins and was nearly expelled for low grades.  After he graduated,  Steele spent three years in a Catholic seminary, studying for the priesthood.  He left the seminary and got a law degree, and worked as a corporate securities associate in a D.C. law firm, specializing in financial investments for Wall Street underwriters.  After working in Tokyo and London for the law firm, he came back to America, left the law firm and started his own business and legal consulting firm.  

Interestingly, both Steele and Obama gave major speeches at their 2004 National Conventions.  Only Obama's speech has been noted as outstanding.  Unlike Obama, Steele lost his next political race for senator. Karl Rove helped Steele in his bid, but Rovian campaign shenanigans were uncovered which shed a bad light on the Steele Campaign.  He lost 44-56.  During this political career, Steele was cast as an Oreo, black outside, white inside, by his critics.  In fact, Oreo cookies were rolled towards him on several campaign stops.

Steele drew much criticism from his senatorial opponent, Ben Cardin, who is Jewish,  for a remark he made during the campaign.  While speaking at a Jewish meeting, Steele compared embryonic stem cell research to Nazi experiments during the Holocaust.  His strong pro-life stance blinded him to what he was saying to this group.  ‘‘He doesn’t have the right to compare ... stem cell research to the barbarity of the Holocaust,” said Cardin's wife after the incident.  

Unfortunately, as I have discovered running this blog, pro-lifers are often careless as well as righteous as they cling to the most extreme elements of their tenets.  These severe platitudes often condemn any form of birth control, many treating the Plan B 'morning after' pill as immoral.

If Mr. Steele hopes, as he said in his speech following his election, to broaden the attraction of the GOP, he will have to be aware that most of America has moved on regarding birth control, stem-cell therapy and abortion.  if he holds tightly to his conservative Catholic beliefs, the GOP will remain the isolated, narrow party of rural, white America.

Out of Afghanistan

Dear President Obama: Get out of Afghanistan before you repeat the disasters of history. There is no reason to be there and no benefit in escalating our presence there.  Read your history books.

Osama bin Laden is hiding somewhere in the caves on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.  He has been there for 8 years.  His capacity to direct operations for al-Qaeda are nil.  What difference does it make if he rots in that cave or we kill him?  His death isn't worth the blood of one more American soldier.  It is time to bring our troops home from both Iraq and Afghanistan.  Our 'missions' have been accomplished, whatever they were.  It is time for America to take care of America for a change.

President Obama already has blood on his hands after ordering a drone to fire a missile on one of those 'suspected' so-called terrorist homes in Waziristan, killing the 'suspect' as well as his family, including three children.  Is this the way to win the hearts and minds of the locals?  How many more young men joined the Taliban because of that missile strike?

The Pashtuis, who occupy the large majority of Afghanistan and into Pakistan, represent a culture and tradition totally at odds with American culture.  We cannot hope to 'deal' with the Pashtunwali ethical code that pervades these people.  It is an honor code, a set of moral codes and rules of behavior that do not fit well into the American military agenda.  Customs that include revenge, patronage, tribal elders, sanctuary, and blood feuds are much too complex for western cultures to fully understand.

Thus, when it was suggested that the Petraeus model that he developed for Iraq be moved into Afghanistan, the folly of it belies the ignorance of Americans.  We cannot possibly 'bring freedom' to the Pashtuns; they always have been 'free.'  If this is so, what does our foreign policy hope to gain in this 15th century land?

Will President Obama be caught up in the same net in which Lyndon Johnson was snagged in Vietnam in 1964?  More escalation, more bombing, more troops did nothing to improve the quagmire which sank our troops deeper and deeper into that mess.  I hope not, but, at his point in his presidency, I'm not convinced that he, too, could be snared.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Right-wing Distillery

Last fall, my wife and I visited the Glenora Distillery in Nova Scotia, Canada's only single malt distillery.  We took the tour and noted the science of distillation which, in this case, was to purify the product to its ultimate distillation point.   It's all about purity, but the prize for me was the taste.

Today's House of Representative Republicans remind me of the distillation process. Here, however, the product is toxic potion rather than a smooth palatial delight. There are only 185 of them now serving in the House; there used to be 235 in 2004.   Distillation process. 

Not one of these 185 voted on Wednesday for the stimulus package; not one.  Group-think.  Zombies, as I earlier denoted.

Today's Republican Party has been distilled down to base-level, a smelly, sticky ooze of bigotry, righteousness, narcissism and frontiersmanship. The essence of humanism boiled off long ago. These 185 have been voted back into office election after election by constituents who, obviously are of the same distillation matter.  Take minority leader John Boehner, for example.  He represents an obscure part of Ohio along the Indiana border. It has been in Republican hands almost exclusively since the Civil War. Rural, white, in the middle of 'no where. ' Seems folks like it that way.  A mind-set that I, as an urban-dweller, cannot understand. 
Independent people, they like to be called. They don't like 'government telling them what to do.'  No doubt they heralded Ronald Reagan's theme that 'government is the problem, not the solution.'

I will have to agree with these people on that last point, with a caveat: the government of George W. Bush was indeed a problem, and clearly not any solution.  Do the people from these obscure Ohio counties know that?  Or have they been so completely bamboozled by the propaganda and sleight-of-hand that they still wish that they could have voted Bush/Cheney a third time?

When will it dawn on them that they have been completely hoodwinked, betrayed by their smooth-talking congressional representative?  Perhaps they are happy in the ignorance of it all.
Like the single malt distillation process, life might very well be an altered state of existence.

The Long-term Effects of Kool Aid are Spectacular

Many Americans drank deeply the Kool Aid served by the Bush Administration, laced with war propaganda, back in the winter of 2002-2003. Like today's peanut butter fiasco, one never knows the long-effects of things we ingest here in America. Luckily, the vast majority of our citizens were able to purge the propaganda fed to us at the inception of the Bush War on Iraq. Still, every now and then, I meet up with someone still suffering long-lasting effects of the mind control agent in the Kool Aid. Yesterday I met 'Bob.'

Bob is a frequent visitor to the Mikeb302000 blog, an anti-gun themed blog frequented mostly by pro-gun people. Mike attempts to bring the horror of gun violence in America to the attention of his readers only to find continual challenge from the pro-gun lobby. Yet I digress.

A recent thread on the blog was
Army Suicide Rates Highest Ever. Bob and other pro-gun folks naturally objected to the suggestion that easy access to guns contributed to the suicide numbers. In fact, and to the point of this post, a sub-topic developed, away from the gun theme, to why the suicide increase itself? One pro-gun comment suggested that a contributing factor for these soldiers was the 'anti-war attitude' back in the states. He suggested that this was the chief factor for the up-tick in military suicides.

Here's what I proposed as a more signifgicant factor: The final straw for these men, I believe, was the realization that the war that they fought, that they bled for, that scrambled their psyche, that their buddies died in, was a sham- an unnecessary political scheme of a group of egghead ideologues back in Washington.

At that, I received this retort from Bob: Mud, Any evidence to back up this opinion?

Any evidence? he asks.

The Kool Aid.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Iceland to name openly gay prime minister

REYKJAVIK, Iceland, Jan. 28 (UPI) -- An Icelandic political party says it will name an openly gay government minister to the post of interim primeminister.

The country's Social Democratic Alliance Party has picked Johanna Sigurdardottir, 66, to be prime minister in the wake of this week's collapse of Iceland's ruling conservative coalition, The Daily Mail reported Wednesday.

Now won't that irk those oh-so righteous fundamentalist Christians who hide out in the dark alleys of the GOP?  They've so much to do to 'fix' this nation now that the 'baby-killers' are in office, and now this!  Those bibles will be a-thump'n day and night all across bigoted America!

Obama Ends Four Wars

Op-Ed LA Times columnist Rosa Brooks penned an article today, Obama's Bold First Week. She begins:

Barack Obama ended four wars during his first week as president. With just a few words and strokes of his pen, the president ended the war on terror, the war on Islam, the war on science and the war on women.

No doubt far-right wingnuts have their panties all in a knot over this statement. Of course they and only they know what is best for America. All we have to do is look back on the past eight years to understand exactly what it is that they know best.
Brooks lists these four terminated wars:

In his first executive orders, Obama effectively dismantled the elaborate structures that supported the Bush administration's "war on terror."

The war on Islam is also over. Officially, of course, it never existed.

Obama also ended the undeclared Bush administration war on science. In his inaugural speech, he promised to "restore science to its rightful place."

The undeclared war on women? Also over.
[she refers to the Bush order against supporting foreign health clinics which have abortion information]

An odd collection: gender, religion, intelligence and geopolitics. The four pillars of the Bush-Rove-Cheney scam on America. It worked for a few years, while many American were worried about another 9-11 attack. Fear renders capitulation. Yet, a scam like this can only last so long until the scam-ees catch on. Some still haven't; they live in the dark shadows of the right-wing of the GOP and are as gullible as they get. Rush speaks to them daily.

This week the whole lot meets in Virginia to plot their future existence. I might suggest a serving of Jonesville Kool Aid. That would help America move forward nicely.

Blackwater Out of Iraq

In October 2007 I posted a story about Blackwater, that controversial security contracting company which the Bush Administration hired for his Iraq War.  Yesterday, the Iraqi Interior Ministry failed to renew the contract.  CNN reports: 

Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul Karim Khalaf told CNN the ministry denied the request mainly because of a September 2007 shooting incident in which security guards -- then employed by Blackwater -- fired on a crowd and killed 17 Iraqis.A U.S. Embassy official in Baghdad, who asked not to be named, confirmed the report.

Hooray!  No doubt the decision was made easier with the exiting of George Bush from the White House.  Yet, Blackwater and CEO Erik Prince received hundreds of millions of tax dollars for their work in Iraq.  No surprise there.

Here's what President Obama faces:  Blackwater USA has a 'contract' for homegrown 'security' here in the states.  The book cited in my October post was Jeremy Scahill's,  Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army.  It is a chilling account of this secret mercenary army operating right here in America.  Will Obama continue to contract this 'service' or will he expect the National Guard to assume such domestic military security?

Lockstep Republican Zombies

Those 50's Sci-Fi black and white films of people changed into mindless zombies scared the hell out of me as a kid.  They're back!!  Today they are called House Republicans and they are just as frightening as the those in the horror films.  

Not a single Republican, not one of the 188 Republican men and women serving in the House of Representatives voted 'aye' on the stimulus package.  Zero.  Like vacuous robots, each one of them followed the 'orders' of House leader John Boehner who told them to vote no.  

I wonder how his constituents in Ohio's 8th District felt about his vote; I wonder how folks in the other seven Republican-held Ohio districts felt about that vote?  They represent 4,500,000 Ohioans.  How many of these are jobless or on the brink?  How many are in foreclosure, bankruptcy, or severe debt?

Pundits said that this GOP House vote was a repudiation of Speaker Pelosi.  How very childish.  Sounds like school playground behavior.  Makes one wonder just how mature these Republicans are.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Excellent Inauguration Photos

The Boston Globe has a great collection of Inauguration photos on its website. Here are a few:

Mooning the Republican Leaders

Obstructionists. Republicans.  What else needs to be said? If you've been paying attention to politics at all lately, you will note that the Republican leadership is playing the same role early into the Obama administration as it did with the Bush presidency- obstructionist.  They and only they know what's best for America.  For the past two years as the minority party in Congress, they used the 60-vote rule and filibustering to stop most of the progressive legislation which might have nipped this economic downturn at its root. 

Now these same leaders, Boehner, Mitchell and Cantor, have begun to obstruct the Obama agenda.  As if they have any credibility at all!  For years, these men and their minions in Congress supported legislation which gutted over site regulations on nearly all aspects of the Federal Government.  They supported every Iraq War funding bill.  They supported massive tax cuts for the uber-rich. They looked the other way as Wall Street and banks toyed with our financial stability. They slashed spending for children's health programs, Veterans, and
 Medicaid.  And now they want the American citizens to listen to them?  Again?

Just yesterday, an hour before the unprecedented visit to Capitol Hill by President Obama to listen to the GOP criticisms of the upcoming Economic Stimulus Plan, these Republican leaders put out a memo to all House and Senate Republicans to reject the plan hands down.

They are an insolent, brassy lot.   Rather than respect, we ought to, as a nation, turn around and moon them.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What a Difference One Week Has Made

One week ago today, a bright, new, and glorious chapter of American history began to be written. With a quick stroke of President Obama's pen, the bitterness that most Americans and the world at large have felt towards our presidency began to melt away.

The former president, who left office 8 days ago, often extended his authority with so-called executive orders which usurped the legislative branch of government. One such order was the opening of the Guantanamo Prison in Cuba. President Obama ordered it to be closed on his first-full day in office.

Thankfully we now have a president in the Oval Office who understands the three-branch system of government that was instituted by our Founding Fathers- a system set up expressly to limit executive authority over its citizens. He understands his constitutional limitations and we citizens are well-served by this man. The world knows as well. The closing of Guantanamo has greatly raised the esteem and honor of the United States of America. This act was praised from Finland to Swaziland, from Canada to Argentina. The world now knows that we have a man of character in the office of President of the United States.

Many bloggers ave witten notes of thanks 'for bringing change, legitimacy and responsibility to the White House.' At last, after eight dark, shameful years, we Americans can raise our heads once again, rather than lowering it in shame and disgust. It is, in the words of Ronald Reagan, Morning in America once more.

While standing with the 2 million others gathered on the National Mall last Tuesday, I would hear people around me comment on the bright sun of that crisp morning. That sunshine, pouring down on that sacred space, did more than warm our cold faces; it seemed to indicate to all of those receiving its rays that a new, bright and hopeful future lay before us. In 8 short days President Obama has raised this nation up from the sludge, up from the dishonor, aggression and secrecy of the past 8 years to place this nation on the pedestal of honor from which it had fallen. I thank President Obama for raising this grand city to the place of which John Winthrop spoke: "that we shall be as a city upon a hill—the eyes of all people are upon us"

Israeli War Crimes


The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert has promised to give legal shielding to soldiers who fought in the recent offensive on the Gaza Strip which claimed the lives of 437 children among others.

Olmert speaking on Sunday said "The commanders and soldiers sent to Gaza need to know that they are completely safe from different tribunals and Israel will help and protect them."

The UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, recently demanded that those responsible for bombing UN buildings should be held accountable and Amnesty International says it is "undeniable" that war crimes were committed in the use of white phosphorus.


This raises the question about the American soldiers sent to Iraq. Did our soldiers or Marines also commit 'war crimes?' The larger question that needs to be raised is whether Olmert and Bush ought to be so charged. After all, they ordered the troops into battle and equipped them with the weapons.

After the Abu Ghraib photos were released, most Americans were angry with those prison guards, but few worried about the chain of command upward. It seems that it is always the grunt on the ground who is the subject of inquiry while those above him remain unscathed.

So it has been throughout history: mad men rise to the top of governance who send the young men into battle for some 'cause' that often is nothing more than vengeance, greed, or power on behalf of the king, ruler, dictator or president. Millions of young men [and now women] lie in cold graves having been sent to wage war for some lofty goal or patriotic fervor on the part of their nation. Their government is always right; naturally, God is on their side.

Does 'God' pick and choose the better side to protect and guide? Those who rammed the planes into the Twin Towers cried out that they did it in the name of God. The American troops in Iraq pray for God's blessing as did the Israeli soldiers in Gaza. Surely the people of Gaza City and Baghdad raised prayers to God as bombs were falling on their homes.

We humans ought to let God off of the hook on these war games and take responsibility, as adults, for the idiotic choices we allow and encourage from our national leaders.

Monday, January 26, 2009

On My Mind Today

The euphoria of last week has waned as I look at the news sources this morning. On MSNBC Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame bluntly stated that the Obama Team is facing an even more daunting task than just six weeks ago; he wonders if our combined economic mess can be moved back into positive territory at all.

It is sad to think that this bright and energetic team assembled by President Obama has to spend so much time, energy and capital just to clean up the mess left behind by the Bush/Cheney Administration.  My mind imagines a proud, young and eager family that just purchased a home only to find that it is trashed inside.

Of course the other way to look at the mess left by Bush et al is that the Obama Administration is best suited for the hazmat clean-up team.  Not fair, but in an emergency one wants the professionals to be involved.  That is, the adults, the fully-functioning adults.

For years I have labeled the Bush Administration 'adolescents.' That word was chosen carefully and purposely. I believe that George Bush has been stuck in adolescence all of his adult life.  The alcoholism but one obvious factor.  Sadly, the attacks on 9-11 forced him into adulthood- a position for which he was unprepared.  Those 9-minutes of sitting in the classroom staring into space on the morning of September 11th said it all.  

The neighborhood kids and I played cops-and-robbers and cowboys-and-Indians during our golden days of the 40's and 50's.  The games were black-and-white with simple frontiersman rules: good v. bad.  Blam, you were dead!  It was just a matter of time before you were shot by the 'good guys.'  Life was simple then.  Afterwards, we grew up and realized the complexities of life, often through trial and error.

As the naive and bewildered George Bush sat staring on that fateful morning in September, he must have wondered how the hell he got to the position of President of the United States.  He alone knew that he was unprepared for the awesome responsibilities that were dropped on his lap at that moment.  His years of alcohol abuse- often used to soothe the current difficulties he faced- would be no help during this crisis. So there he sat, quite alone, frozen in fear.

It is my hypothesis that, from that moment on, George Bush reverted to his childhood thinking: black-or-white, good-or-bad.  Easy thinking, or, rather, no thinking at all.  Them or us.  With us or against us. Axis of Evil.  Terrorists.  War on Terror.

In this morning's Toledo Blade, OpEd columnist S. Amjad Hussain wrote this:

President Obama’s ascent to the presidency was in part helped by the bumbling and fumbling of a stubborn but woefully ignorant man who was mesmerized and razzled-dazzled by the neo-conservative cabal that was hell-bent to restructure the world in its own distorted image of America.

Exactly.  Yet I would assert this: the stun of the 9-11 attacks forced George Bush to rush to the elders in his clique who just happened to be the neo-conservatives like Cheney, Rumsfeld, Libby, Wolfowitz, Woolsey, Perle, Armitage and others.  They had a plan.  It wasn't new; it was conceived in the  90's while Clinton was in office. An attack on Iraq was manifest.  Period.

And so, during the next 7 years of the Bush presidency, 'terrorism' was the theme- the exclusive theme of his time in office.  The economy, infrastructure, and other normal responsibilities of a president were relegated to minions- unimportant during a 'war on terror.'

That 'war on terror,' as we sadly noted, went as poorly as the economy, and so not only does President Obama inherit the economic disaster left by Mr. Bush, but two wars, one going quite badly.  I found it pathetic at best during the waning days of his presidency that Mr. Bush was attempting to polish his image for the history books.  Historians deal in fact, data and substance and there are reams of material waiting to be examined.  As the intrepid White House correspondent Helen Thomas noted some years ago, "He's the worst President ever!"

Good luck with the mess, Mr. Obama.  We're all counting on a miracle from you.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

America's Civil Religion

Amen, brother! This Sunday morning I'll not be sitting in a pew, nor watching a televangelist on TV, but I will be filled with a 'religious' experience as I reflect back upon the week that just ended.  I was there, atop the Washington Monument with my wife, daughter and eldest grandson.

  Aretha Franklin sang the opening 'prayer' for the 2 million of us standing on the National Mall on Inauguration Day, My Country 'Tis of Thee.  Her improvisation of the famous song included this MLK tribute, “Let freedom ring From the red clay of Georgia, all the way to the Allegheny Mountains. Let freedom ring.”

So many 'religious' images were on display in Washington, D.C. that day: the Washington Monument, the Flag, the Capitol, the sacred ground of The National Mall itself.  Two million fellow 'worshipers' in this hallowed space.

Our civil preacher, installed only moments earlier, said, “On this day we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.”

A bit later he told us, “This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed, why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall. And why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.”



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