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John Edwards Should Be President

(category: Commentary, Word count: 1365)
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Populism. John Edwards' campaign is considered by many to have populist themes; lifting up the working class, fighting for the middle class, healthcare for everyone and eliminating poverty. These are concepts that we should embrace. We should help those who can't help themselves. John Edwards tells every American that he will fight for them.

The defining attribute that makes Edwards appealing may be the reason why he won't win the nomination. He won't take money from corporations, lobbyists, or special interest groups. He is being outspent by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton by a ratio of 5 to 1. Obama and Clinton have been taking money from lobbyists and corporations. Edwards believes you have to fight the corporations and moneyed interests that have a stranglehold on America. He wants to take back America and make the government work for the people.

Bipartisanship is great, but look what has happened over the last 8 years with the Republicans in power. Scorched earth politics by the Neocons have run this country into the ground. We were lied into a war that should have never been started. There have been so many scandals from the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame to the partisan firing of the U.S. Attorneys to the Jack Abramoff lobbyist scam to no bid contracts to Halliburton to unchecked executive orders by Bush. And the list goes on and on. The Democrats had a big win in November of 2006. The result has been the failure of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to hold the Bush Administration accountable for abuse of power. The Congress and Senate have folded on votes to stop funding the Iraq War and failed on votes to amend the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act. The housing crisis has been a national tragedy with millions of people losing their homes. The economy is tanking and the country seems to be heading into a recession. Another mission accomplished by George Bush. The Democrats have kowtowed to the Republicans and it has been a bipartisanship disaster.

It seems that some Democrats are afraid to speak truth to power and vote their conscience. They would rather vote to preserve their political futures. I want someone to fight for our rights, someone who will fight for the average American. John Edwards seems like the only candidate who is pushing this issue and driving the Democratic Party in the right direction. It's time for the Democrats to start acting like Democrats. This populist message works. It worked with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. When you stand up for what you believe in and do the right thing, not only for yourself, but for your country, people will follow. Edwards is campaigning based on what he believes is right. He is not pandering based on studies by focus groups to run toward the middle to convince Independents and Republicans to vote for him. He is running toward the base of his party. That happens to be the direction of the left. That is the direction where all Americans should be heading.

The great conservative revolution started when Ronald Reagan took office where greed was considered a virtue and lying was a tool to push policy. Conservative doctrine spiraled out of control as the Neocons of George W. Bush's administration have taken this nation to a dark place where only the rich get richer, the middle class gets squeezed and the population at the poverty level increases. Greed doesn't work. It's time for a Liberal revolution.

I couldn't write it in any better, so I'll have to quote from the movie "It's a Wonderful Life." This is an excerpt from a monologue by the character George Bailey. George's father, Peter Bailey has just died. In this scene George Bailey is standing up to the antagonist, Henry F. Potter, so he can save his father's Building and Loan business.

George

"...He didn't save enough money to send Harry to school, let alone me. But he did help a few people get out of your slums, Mr. Potter. And what's wrong with that? Why . . . Here, you're all businessmen here. Doesn't it make them better citizens? Doesn't it make them better customers? You . . . you said . . . What'd you say just a minute ago? . . . They had to wait and save their money before they even ought to think of a decent home. Wait! Wait for what? Until their children grow up and leave them? Until they're so old and broken-down that they . . . Do you know how long it takes a working man to save five thousand dollars? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you're talking about . . . they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn't think so. People were human beings to him, but to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they're cattle. Well, in my book he died a much richer man than you'll ever be!"

Except for the top five percent who benefited the most from George Bush's tax cuts, the rest of us are the "rabble" George Bailey said Mr. Potter was talking about. One can say that Henry Potter symbolizes present day corporate America and our government. In the real world we do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this country. Don't we, the rabble, deserve a government that represents us and not corporations and special interest groups? Don't we deserve universal healthcare? Don't we deserve at least a $10.00 hour minimum wage? Don't we deserve civil rights under the Constitution and not a President who grants overreaching power to himself? Don't we deserve to have our voices heard when the majority of us believe we should bring our troops home from Iraq? At the very least we deserve all of these things. We are not being heard.

We watch the news that is reported by millionaires talking about the millionaires running for President who will look out for the interests of millionaires who donated to their campaigns. It's true that John Edwards is rich, but he came from a working class family. He spent almost 20 years of his life fighting the rich and powerful as a trial lawyer representing plaintiffs who were victims of corporate and medical malpractice. His money came from the large settlements he won on behalf of his clients malpractice suits. He's a proven winner when in comes to representing the underdog against those with wealth and power.

When I see John Edwards speak I believe that he will fight for us. He is leading by example by not taking corporate money. When I see Hillary Clinton I see the finely tuned Clinton machine going after power and a presidency she somehow believes she is owed. When I see Barack Obama I see a candidate who has only revealed the part of himself that has been safely tested by his handlers and advisors. I hope to see the real Obama soon. John Edwards might not win the nomination because of lack of funds and because of his tough message. If he doesn't win it will be partly because the corporate run media doesn't like his anti-corporate platform.

As the country is enamored with the historical significance of both a woman and African-American running for President with the two candidates slinging mud at each other on a daily basis, John Edwards' populist message doesn't get the coverage it deserves. He is saying all the right things at a time in history when these issues need to be addressed. The citizens of this country need to be allowed to progress and break the bonds of corporate greed. We need to get out of Iraq and bring about change to an ineffective government. We need someone who will fight for that change. I will vote for John Edwards on February 5th in my state's primary. I hope you will too.

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Heal Our Republic Change Our Electoral System

(category: Commentary, Word count: 842)
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Consider the presidential election system we have today: Every state has a number of electors, equal to their amount of representatives and senators, who vote for the President of the United States. In most states, every elector goes to the candidate who achieves the most popular votes, regardless of his margin of victory. This means:

1. Presidential candidates have little reason to campaign to the whole country. If partisan or personal loyalty makes victory certain in a state, a candidate can safely ignore it in favor of other states. Conversely, if a candidate will definitely lose in a state, then he won't waste his time there. Only competitive "battleground states" see much activity.

2. We have less national turnout. If a state will assuredly support one candidate, why bother voting? Also, lack of vigorous campaigning in a state might contribute to voter apathy during an election.

3. With the winner-take-all plurality system, candidates try to attract moderate voters, so to avoid turning people off, they emphasize their personalities more than their policies. This results in bland, visionless candidates who take those traits into the White House.

I believe a new presidential electoral system is in order. We need something that rewards candidates who have bold ideas, while drawing more voters into the process as well.

Therefore, I recommend we emulate the French.

Hear me out! The French have an excellent method by which to elect their president. It is a two-stage electoral process. In the first part, candidates from all the country's parties can run. Candidates who mobilize partisans with daring policy agendas will perform best here. Afterwards, during the second stage runoff, the first and second place finishers of the first round compete. Whoever achieves a majority vote wins. This requires the candidates to make themselves as palatable toward the center as possible.

Eliminating the Electoral College and implementing two-round direct popular vote elections here would deliver many benefits. It would reward courageous candidates with striking ideas in the first stage, but it would weed out dangerous fanatics in the second stage. It would allow smaller parties to achieve greater prominence than they could achieve in a winner-take-all elector paradigm. It would give candidates reason to campaign to every American. And it would give each voter a larger role in determining the outcome of the election.

As a German friend also pointed out to me, "I don't quite get it that in the US, votes for the Greens i.e. are all lost, even help a candidate from the right to get into office (see 2000) - a second turn of the elections would allow Green supporters to vote for the Democrat." This is an important point. The major parties would have to give adherents of smaller parties reasons to vote for them. This would force the Democrats and Republicans to take other parties, such as Greens and Libertarians, seriously, and perhaps heed some of their political desires. This would make more Americans feel as if they play an important role in the republican process.

To complete the reform, we also need to make going out to vote easier. Right now, we seemingly make voting as hard as we can. Elections take place on weekdays, so if Americans want to vote, they must take off work or rush to the polls before or after work. When they get there, they must wait a long time to finish the process, because the volunteer polling coordinators are old, retired people. (Young people have to work, after all.) All this makes voting seem not worth the hassle to millions of Americans.

To change that and increase turnout, Election Day should become a federal holiday. That would allow Americans to vote without worrying about missing work and forfeiting pay, or hurrying through throngs of people in the morning or evening. Younger Americans would also be able to volunteer to oversee the polls, thereby making voting a smoother and faster experience.

While we're on the subject of changing our electoral system, let's consider this: At the time the Constitution was drafted, one of the Anti-Federalist objections to the document was to the pluralistic election of representatives. The Anti-Federalists argued this could allow the election of representatives whom most of the community despised, but who still managed to get more votes than anyone else. Instead, according to the Anti-Federalists, districts should select their representatives by majority vote.

I believe that Anti-Federalist objection has merit. How can a representative represent a district if most of the people there hate him? Changing congressional elections to two-stage elections, similar to what I outlined above for presidential elections, would be a good idea. That way, we could ensure the majority of citizens in a district would have voted for their congressman. All the benefits of switching the national presidential election to a two-stage majority vote model would apply here.

Many conservatives would object to the national scope of my reform plan. They'd correctly point out it would erode federalism. Because population centers

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Spin Cycle

(category: Commentary, Word count: 858)
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It's possible that a seminal moment in the history of electronic news occurred when a comedian confronted commentators ...

Not long after Jon Stewart - host of the Comedy Central cable channel's amusing newscast, The Daily Show - appeared on CNN's staid Crossfire and roundly scorched its principals in a well-publicized confrontation over journalistic integrity (or the lack thereof), the news network announced that Crossfire was being cancelled. Ostensibly, the network said this move was due to the departure of conservative commentator Tucker Carlson. However, he wasn't the original 'right-wing' representative on that show and there were surely more of that flock who would have willingly stepped into the position. CNN has probably assembled a litany of rationalizations for their decision to dump the program, but none of them will dare to broach the actual undertone of perception that would trump anything on their list.

In this day an age in the USA, a comedy show is more adept than a news show at presenting current events.

The crux of the matter is that contemporary electronic journalism is just as subject to the Prime Tenet of Marketing as any sales campaign would be, ie- to be successful, it is imperative to 'sell the sizzle and not the steak.'

Viewing this contention from another angle, respected newsman Ted Koeppel almost saw his redoubtable Nightline program shelved in favor of yet another late-night talk show featuring a comedian. Now that he's retiring, it's notable that the program will shift directions anyway, seemingly to assume a 'lighter' appearance in presentation to presumably better compete with the entertainers.

The sorrowful corollary of this point is that not only do the news operations overly heed the 'sizzle' mantra, so do many of the organizations who feed them their details. In the battle for dominance and perception, 'spin' is paramount.

Slanting a report to influence its perception has been in existence since the dawn of time, when Reporterpithicus - or whatever version of man existed back then - first related to someone else what someone told him. The tendency to spin has now evolved to where it has innately seeped into a troubling number of major news organizations. Anyone who has viewed a moment of Fox News can see for themselves how blatantly they have embraced this trend to promote their conservative leanings. MSNBC seems to be unusually beholden to the corporate world. CNN appears to abide the techniques of spin so as to not have their ratings erode any further.

Such policies clearly resonate in the minds and actions of their reporters in the field. Most seem to blithely absorb the spin given them by corporate and government spokesmen, given the bulk of milquetoast questions that now populate press conferences. Such practices and policies allow the Tucker Carlsons, Bill O'Reillys and Robert Novaks of the world to run amok, apparently encouraged to talk over any dissenting viewpoint as if they were thinly-veiled Jerry Springer clones in a stodgier setting.

Add the consideration that so many of those corporate and government spokesmen are so singly simple-minded about the message they're spinning, and it's no wonder a comedy offering like The Daily Show has risen in pop credibility to a level of perception that rivals the news programs. With so many thin platforms of substance just waiting to be skewered, Jon Stewart and his staff gladly accept a veritable cornucopia of material with every day's harvest of sound bites. The punch lines contained therein seem to literally grab them by the lapels and insist to be written.

If you want to confirm that point, watch an episode and see how many times Mr Stewart merely needs to raise his eyebrows after a sound bite in order to draw guffaws.

Toss in the fact that Comedy Central's video-to-mobile service is better defined for content than any of the news organizations, and The Daily Show is further cementing its image as the 'cool' news outlet for the younger set of voting age.

It's notable that, in late-20th century American politics, when media 'cool' was on the ascent, Democrats won elections. It was true for John F Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, and if that party could ever find a leader, it might be true again.

One would think the Republicans might take a hint and go back to the straight talk that struck enough of a nerve with voters to put them in the majority. Currently, that would advisably include an element of fallibility and contrition over recent policies and events. It remains to be seen if anyone in that camp is forthright enough to admit as much.

Otherwise, it's all but inevitable that the obfuscation of news spin and comedy fodder will further lower the quality of daily electronic information to a series of straight lines that grew from Chevy Chase's Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live portraying Gerald Ford as a bumbler to The Daily Show becoming an A-list stop on the itinerary of any legitimate candidate.

With all due respect to that excellent comedy series, if such a thing ever happened, it wouldn't be breaking news. It would be broken news.

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Ur Bin Legend

(category: Commentary, Word count: 993)
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I may be repulsed at the deeds orchestrated by Osama bin Laden ...

But I'm even more repulsed at the ineptitude displayed in the attempts to stop him and his cause.

I mean, the guy's a murderous criminal. He's an anti-Muslim, as any credible scholar of the Koran would attest. He's been disowned by his family and disavowed by the country of his birth.

So, why is it so hard to dislodge him as a hero to a significant portion of the Muslim world?

The answer, frankly, is in the policies of those to whom his attacks are directed. The USA and its allies have transformed the perception of Osama bin Laden into that of a modern-day Robin Hood, a rich guy who is a champion of the poor by virtue of his acts against the capitalist infidels who invade their lands and impose a foreign culture upon them. As far as I'm concerned, it takes a band of idiots to offer democracy to a country and not be able to make it palatable, but to date, the Western powers are 0-for-2 in Afghanistan and Iraq, and their mishandling of bin Laden's image is a major reason why.

It seems clear that, until they can defeat Osama bin Laden and his band of thieves, they'll fight an uphill battle. It seems just as clear that this task shouldn't even have been part of the equation. After all, al-Qaeda wasn't the Taliban - the actual rulers of Afghanistan at the time - and it certainly had little or nothing to do with Iraq.

However, every enemy needs a poster boy, and bin Laden was certainly well-positioned to provide one. He was only an uneasy ally with the Taliban and just a distant acquaintance with Saddam Hussain's iron-fisted machine. However, he fit the stereotype of an extreme, culpable Muslim terrorist who stood for all that was evil in the region. That put him in perfect position to be publicized by the Western world's leaders, which in the process, proved the age-old bromide to downtrodden and/or displaced Muslims that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."

I highly recommend the recently published book by Peter Bergen, 'The Osama bin Laden I Know: an Oral History of al-Qaeda's Leader.' To defeat an adversary, one must first understand him. This book does an excellent job of not only providing a series of first-hand accounts which illuminate bin Laden's origins and background, but even more importantly, confirming that the publicity heaped upon him by the USA and its allies has only served to solidify bin Laden's legend among his followers and others who are susceptible to his twisted message.

Bergen argues that al-Qaeda was close to becoming an afterthought in the Muslim world prior to the invasion of Iraq. The majority of Muslims were appalled by the wanton murder of innocents on 11 Sep 2001. The al-Qaeda movement was virtually crushed during the American retaliation in Afghanistan, which was really directed against the Taliban government for harboring bin Laden. It could be effectively argued that the al-Qaeda cause had been minimalized to that of an outrageous bunch of anarchists hiding behind a great religion's doctrine.

And then, the Americans tied al-Qaeda to Iraq to further justify their invasion.

My guess is that bin Laden couldn't believe his good fortune. He had no standing in that country until that time. Now, his money and his message sound quite appealing to devout young Iraqi men who have few alternatives in a devastated land that will need years to stablize. The irony is that these are people who like the American way; they just happen to like it on their terms rather than have it thrust upon them in a context of imposition which leaves them little choice but to obey or rebel.

And therein lies the ultimate irony. At no time has bin Laden or al-Qaeda actually stated their way. We know what they're against, but never raised the question as to what they are for. The concept of 'a fundamentalist Muslim state' is too broad. After all, Iran claims that objective, and they're hardly close friends with al-Qaeda.

Sir Winston Churchill once said, "It's better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt." I can think of no better policy shift in the battle against al-Qaeda than that. Rather than continue to personify a criminal element, why not begin a campaign to goad bin Laden into listing specifics as to how he would run a perfect world. My guess is that his responses would alienate enough of the Muslim community to the point of his becoming trivialized, and in the process, exposed for the villain he is.

Why are we not demanding to hear his words and then throwing them back in his face? Why are Western leaders trying to associate his name with every Muslim-based transgressor - eg- the Taliban and Saddam - with whom they have an issue? Could it be their laziness in spin-mongering or simply their cynical attitude that the Western populace cannot discern the reality of these matters for themselves?

Never-ending cycles of attack and imposition haven't worked yet for the Israelis and Palestinians. Did the Americans and their allies really think it would work elsewhere in that region?

It's unconscionable that Western leaders have turned bin Laden into a legend for the mere fact that it's convenient to put a face to an adversary. Make no mistake, this was their doing. To this day, you've never seen a Muslim authority - not even the Taliban when they ruled Afghanistan - ascribe any heroic faith-defending status to him. Bergen's book underscores the reality that Osama bin Laden is nothing more than a soldier of fortune.

It's time for the world to see the difference between a real legend and an urban legend. Bergen's book is further proof that Osama bin Laden is the latter.

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The Failure Is Sundered Within

(category: Commentary, Word count: 892)
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The failure is sundered within each of us, it festers as blame to others, a manifestation of the shame that belongs not to ourselves but of the participants of a deadlier game. Yet innately the affectation begins with our own visceral manumission of guilt, and sadly, empirically lies buried in our own personal failings.

We ponder all that which seems inherently wrong. We awaken to ourselves each morning and gaze at the soul that stares back at us, and ask, "What do I know of such things?" Politically we are involved in a myriad of wars; our own political system has become moribund and incapable of decisive and thoughtful long-term beneficial actions. At the same time we have managed to cause a global warming process that may not be reversible, with unfathomably catastrophic consequences. Yet we no longer trust our scientific community, as we undermine their ability to help them help us make informed decisions. Corporations are now the new soulless leaders of the same communities that we raise our children in: our children, pain and agony none withstanding, are but fodder for their institutionalized thought and labor. Lobbyists are but jackals, which obfuscate and enable the lack of clear and forward thinking that would be required to navigate through these complicated times.

Woe be to the participants: the excoriated politicians, the confused and parsed scientists, the unfeeling and automatonic corporations, the jack-booted lobbyists with their narrow-minded obfuscations, and still there are bureaucrats, the ever-plodding stewards of the status quo. All are to blame. It becomes utterly confusing and so we consequently throw up our hands and hope that serendipity might take us all to the promised land of Biblical and Koranic paradises of no responsibility and perfect harmony for all eternity. When we each awaken in the morning and look in the mirror, the failure should be obvious. Our visage stares back at us in mute mirth smirking at our lack of insight. How convenient that they should all provide themselves as cannon fodder for our obvious shortcomings.

Chaos complexity theory applies here in its truest sense. Things are not so simple, and become ever more complicated and require ever more attention then before. The problems today are more complicated; any pandering to a simple explanation is an abject definition of ignorance. There are no backwoods colloquialisms that fit a particular situation, present day analogies aside. The query remains, what we know as a collective, intrinsically defined by what we know individually, and how we apply this knowledge so we can make informed decisions in our lives as well as a people. Requiring less dooms us to failure as the founders of democracy failed in old Greece.

Guilt is a primordial emotion we all feel, and all are too familiar with its cold narcissistic touch. We wrap ourselves in a comforting cocoon of justification, but as the feeling is primordial it is useless to try and escape its darkening touch. It declares us to be unfit fathers and mothers, a chronic waster of valuable time, its ball peen steeliness pounding into us the failures that we truly are. But what an enlightened group we have become, and let us pat ourselves on the back as congratulations are due, as the self-help nation is within its goal of declaring victory on its war on guilt, puncturing its effectiveness and regulating it to some type of psychosis. Perhaps there might be a reason for guilt for it to be a primordial emotion, as is it possible that the survival of our species requires this most irritating and pervasive type of thought. Does complete victory deign us capable of justifying anything?

The fault is our own, in each and every one of us. Ask yourself what you know of history? Middle eastern history might be of value at this point, but what pray tell do you know of any of the underlying political issues of the day? Have you researched them, or are you listening to the ever-shortening descriptions provided by someone else you may know, or perhaps the 15 second sound bite doled out by our media? What do you know of the education system we currently use? What do you know of stem cell research? Are any of the short synopses you've heard something that you would be satisfied with if you or your loved one's life depended upon it? What is string theory? For that matter, what is quantum physics? It has been around for 75 years, and is it really too complicated, or are you really so lazy you just couldn't spare the time? When was the last time you picked up a book, a real book, not a piece of tripe? I know you suffer from the guilt, I do and I read fifty or odd tomes a year, we all suffer, and should.

Guilt is defined as the punishment one can receive when guilty of a moral wrong. Our punishment is as aforementioned and fully justified for the innate failure within each of us not to take the time to be overly educated and informed, to never reach for what we do not know, to not search and forever fulfill the emptiness of our knowledge. Guilt has judged us and is providing the punishment as we speak.

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Add Me To The List Mr Blair

(category: Commentary, Word count: 467)
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The terrorists are winning. Gradually but perceptibly, the USA and the United Kingdom (UK) are shedding their liberal democratic veneer, axing their traditions, reinterpreting their constitution (USA) and case law (UK) and, thus, becoming police states.

Both the US Patriot Act, recently extended by Congress and Tony Blair's newly acquired powers to exclude and deport not only active terrorists but also people who disagree with his foreign policy suspend long-standing and hard-won human and civil rights. The right to privacy has been all but eradicated in both countries.

Blair and Bush exercise self-defense through moral suicide. Visitors to the UK as well as residents and naturalized Britons must adhere to Britain's set of values and observe them, thunders the former. Presumably, it is the same set of values that Blair is so bent on bending and ignoring. And as for Bush - remember Guantanamo and Abu-Ghraib.

The UK will maintain a registry of undesirables. Please add me to the list, Mr. Blair. I believe that the terrorist attacks in London were a desperate and criminal response to your own war crimes throughout the world and, lately, on a monstrous scale, in Iraq. Terrorism is deplorable and red in tooth and claw. It should be fought with determination and imagination - not with oppression and slaughters of the innocent.

Your mother should have taught you that hanging around bad company invariably ends badly. Evidently, she failed in this particular respect. You cast your obsequious lot with a narcissistic, thuggish, gun-toting, trigger-happy, bible-thumping, and dangerously violent nation, the United States of America. Violence breeds counter-violence and profound contempt. You found yourself on the receiving end of both in ample doses in July 2005. The taste of one's medicine is always bitter.

In a string of uninterrupted and unpunished war crimes, the UK and the USA (and Israel and France) taught Muslim militants that civilians are potential warriors and merit no special treatment or protection. International law has become the self-interested and biased "justice" of the victors, a policy tool, a discriminatory travesty, worthy only of condemnation.

From Dresden to Hiroshima, through Vietnam and Yugoslavia, and down to Palestine and Iraq, the hectoring and hypocritical West itself made no distinction between peaceful population and combatants. Lately, it took to invading or threatening to invade Muslim territories, occupying holy places, and massacring tens of thousands of innocents in the process. More than 100,000 civilians died in Iraq since the American-British led "liberation".

Yet, as New-York and Madrid and London can attest, ignoring one's own rules of engagement in warfare is a recipe for recurrent disaster. By courting the USA, Blair is courting a pernicious transformation in the nature of his people and country that generations of future patriots and compatriots are bound to mourn.

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The New Politics

(category: Commentary, Word count: 262)
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Politics, in all its forms, is bankrupt. The notion that we can safely and successfully hand over the management of our daily lives and the setting of priorities to a political class or elite is thoroughly discredited. Politicians cannot be trusted, regardless of the system in which they operate. No set of constraints, checks, and balances, is proved to work and mitigate their unconscionable acts and the pernicious effects these have on our welfare and longevity.

Ideologies - from the benign to the malign and from the divine to the pedestrian - have driven the gullible human race to the verge of annihilation and back. Participatory democracies have degenerated everywhere into venal plutocracies. Socialism and its poisoned fruits - Marxism-Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism - have wrought misery on a scale unprecedented even by medieval standards. Only Fascism and Nazism compare with them unfavorably. The idea of the nation-state culminated in the Yugoslav succession wars.

People are voting with their feet. Most elections draw to the ballot boxes and the polling stations less than half the electorate.

Three models seem to be emerging as the dominant forms of future politics:

I. Anarchism, both destructive (international terrorism, for example) and constructive (the Internet, for instance).

II. Participatory democracy, both destructive (mob rule and coups) and constructive (people power, especially in Asia and Latin America).

III. In certain countries, mainly in the West, a disenchanted and uninterested citizenry will relegate power and vest it in various oligrachies, forfeiting its decision-making prerogatives altogether and permanently in return for material welfare and personal safety.

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The Honorary Academic

(category: Commentary, Word count: 2032)
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Mira Markovic is an "Honorary Academic" of the Russian Academy of Science. It cost a lot of money to obtain this title and the Serb multi-billionnaire Karic was only too glad to cough it up. Whatever else you say about Balkan cronies, they rarely bite the hand that feeds them (unless and until it is expedient to do so). And whatever else you say about Russia, it adapted remarkably to capitalism. Everything has a price and a market. Israel had to learn this fact the hard way when Russian practical-nurse-level medical doctors and construction-worker-level civil engineers flooded its shores. Everything is for sale in this region of opportunities, instant education inclusive.

It seems that academe suffered the most during the numerous shock therapies and transition periods showered upon the impoverished inhabitants of Eastern and Central Europe. The resident of decrepit communist-era buildings, it had to cope with a flood of eager students and a deluge of anachronistic "scholars". But in Russia, the CIS and the Balkans the scenery is nothing short of Dantesque. Unschooled in any major European language, lazily content with their tenured positions, stagnant and formal - the academics and academicians of the Balkans are both failures and a resounding indictment of the rigor mortis that was socialism. Economics textbooks stop short of mentioning Friedman or Phelps. History textbooks should better be relegated to the science fiction shelves. A brave facade of self sufficiency covers up a vast hinterland of inferiority complex fully supported by real inferiority. In antiquated libraries, shattered labs, crooked buildings and inadequate facilities, student pursue redundant careers with the wrong teachers.

Corruption seethes under this repellent surface. Teachers sell exams, take bribes, trade incestuous sex with their students. They refuse to contribute to their communities. In all my years in the Balkans, I have yet to come across a voluntary act - a single voluntary act - by an academic. And I have come across numerous refusals to help and to contribute. Materialism incarnate.

This sorry state of affairs has a twofold outcome. On the one hand, herds of victims of rigidly dictated lectures and the suppression of free thought. These academic products suffer from the twin afflictions of irrelevance of skills and the inability to acquire relevant ones, the latter being the result of decades of brainwashing and industrial educational methods. Unable to match their anyhow outdated knowledge with anything a modern marketplace can offer - they default on to menial jobs, rebel or pull levers to advance in life. Which leads us to the death of meritocracy and why this region's future is behind it.

In the wake of the downfall of all the major ideologies of the 20th century - Fascism, Communism, etc. the New Order, heralded by President Bush, emerged as a battle of Open Club versus Closed Club societies, at least from the economic point of view.

All modern states and societies must choose whether to be governed by merit (meritocracy) or by the privileged few (oligarchy). It is inevitable that the social and economic structures be controlled by elites. It is a complex world and only a few can master the knowledge it takes to govern effectively. What sets meritocracy apart is not the number of members of its ruling (or leading) class, usually no larger than an oligarchy. No, it is distinguished by its membership criteria and by the mode of their application.

The meritocratic elite is an open club because it satisfies three conditions:

1.. The process and rules of joining up (i.e., the criteria) are transparent and widely known.

2.. The application and membership procedures are uniform, equal to all and open to continuous public scrutiny and criticism.

3.. The system alters its membership requirements in direct response to public feedback and to the changing social and economic environment.

To belong to a meritocracy one needs to satisfy a series of demands, whose attainment is entirely up to he individual. And that is all that one needs to do. The rules of joining and of membership are cast in iron. The wishes and opinions of those who happen to comprise the club at any given moment are of no importance and of no consequence. Meritocracy is a "fair play" by rules of equal chance to derive benefits. Put differently, is the rule of law.

To join a meritocratic club, one needs to demonstrate that one is in possession of, or has access to, "inherent" parameters, such as intelligence, a certain level of education, a potential to contribute to society. An inherent parameter must correspond to a criterion and the latter must be applied independent of the views and predilections of those who sometimes are forced to apply it. The members of a committee or a board can disdain an applicant, or they might wish not to approve a candidate. Or they may prefer someone else for the job because they owe her something, or because they play golf with him. Yet, they are permitted to consider only the applicant's or the candidate's "inherent" parameters: does he have the necessary tenure, qualifications, education, experience? Does he contribute to his workplace, community, society at large? In other words: is he "worthy" or "deserving"? Not WHO he is - but WHAT he is.

Granted, these processes of selection, admission, incorporation and assimilation are administered by mere humans and are, therefore, subject to human failings. Can qualifications be always judged "objectively, unambiguously and unequivocally"? Can "the right personality traits" or "the ability to engage in teamwork" be evaluated "objectively"? These are vague and ambiguous enough to accommodate bias and bad will. Still, at least appearances are kept in most cases - and decisions can be challenged in courts.

What characterizes oligarchy is the extensive, relentless and ruthless use of "transcendent" (in lieu of "inherent") parameters to decide who will belong where, who will get which job and, ultimately, who will enjoy which benefits. The trouble with transcendent parameters is that there is nothing much an applicant or a candidate can do about them. Usually, they are accidents, occurrences absolutely beyond the reach or control of those most affected by them. Race is such a transcendent parameter and so are gender, familial affiliation or contacts and influence.

In many corners of the globe, to join a closed, oligarchic club, to get the right job, to enjoy excessive benefits - one must be white (racism), male (sexual discrimination), born to the right family (nepotism), or to have the right political (or other) contacts (cronyism). And often, belonging to one such club is the prerequisite for joining another.

In France, for instance, the whole country is politically and economically run by graduates of the Ecole Normale d'Administration (ENA). They are known as the ENArques (=the royal dynasty of ENA graduates).

The privatization of state enterprises in most East and Central European countries provided a glaring example of oligarchic machinations. In most of these countries (the Czech Republic, Macedonia, Serbia and Russia are notorious examples) - state companies, the nation's only assets, were "sold" to political cronies, creating in the process a pernicious amalgam of capitalism and oligarchy, known as "crony capitalism" or privateering. The national wealth was passed on to the hands of relatively few, well connected, individuals, at a ridiculously low price. The nations involved were robbed, their riches either squandered or smuggled abroad.

In the affairs of humans, not everything falls neatly into place. Take money, for instance. Is it an inherent parameter or an expressly transcendent one? Making money indicates the existence of some merit, some inherent advantageous traits of the money-making individual. To make money consistently, a person needs to be diligent, resilient, hard working, to prevail and overcome hardships, to be far sighted and to possess a host of other - universally acclaimed - traits. On the other hand, is it fair when someone who made his fortune through corruption, inheritance, or luck - be preferred to a poor genius?

That is a contentious issue. In the USA money talks. Being possessed of money means being virtuous and meritorious. To preserve a fortune inherited is as difficult a task as to make it in the first place, the thinking goes. Thus, the source of the money is secondary.

An oligarchy tends to have long term devastating economic effects.

The reason is that the best and the brightest - when shut out by the members of the ruling elites - emigrate. In a country where one's job is determined by his family connections or by influence peddling - those best fit to do the job are likely to be disappointed, then disgusted and then to leave the place altogether.

This is the phenomenon known as "Brain Drain". It is one of the biggest migratory tidal waves in human history. Capable, well-trained, educated, young people leave their oligarchic, arbitrary, influence peddling societies and migrate to less arbitrary meritocracies (mostly to be found in what is collectively known as "The West").

This is colonialism of the worst kind. The mercantilist definition of a colony is a territory which exports raw materials only to re-import them in the form of finished products. The Brain drain is exactly that: the poorer countries are exporting raw brains and buying back the finished products masterminded, invented and manufactured by theses brains.

Yet, while in classical colonialism, the colony at least received some recompense for its goods - here the poor country is actually the poorer for its exports. The bright young people who depart (most of them never to return) carry with them an investment of the scarce resources of their homeland - and award it to their new, much richer, host countries. This is an absurd situation, a subsidy granted reluctantly by the poor to the rich. This is also one of the largest capital transfers (really capital flight) in history.

Some poor countries understood these basic, unpleasant, facts of life. They extracted an "education fee" from those emigrating. This fee was supposed to, at least partially, recapture the costs of educating and training the immigrants. Romania and the USSR imposed such levies on Jews emigrating to Israel in the 1970s. Others despairingly regard the brain drain as a natural catastrophe. Very few countries are trying to tackle the fundamental, structural and philosophical flaws of the system, the roots of the disenchantment of those who leave.

The Brain Drain is so serious that some countries lost up to a third of their total young and educated population to it (Macedonia in South-eastern Europe, some less developed countries in South East Asia and in Africa). Others were drained of almost one half of the growth in their educated workforce (for instance, Israel during the 1980s).

Brains are an ideal natural resource: they can be cultivated, directed, controlled, manipulated, regulated. They are renewable and replicable. Brains tend to grow exponentially through interaction and they have an unparalleled economic value added. The profit margin in knowledge and information related industries far exceeds anything common to more traditional, second wave, industries (not to mention first wave agriculture and agribusiness).

What is even more important:

Poor countries are uniquely positioned to take advantage of this third revolution. With cheap, educated workforce - they can monopolize basic data processing and telecommunications functions worldwide. True, this calls for massive initial investments in physical infrastructure. But the important input is the wetware, the brains. To constrain them, to disappoint them, to make them run away, to more merit-orientated places - is to sentence oneself to a permanent disadvantage and deprivation.

This is what the countries in the Balkans are doing. Driving away the best part of their population by encouraging the worst part. Abandoning their future by dwelling on their past. Caught in a fatal spider web of family connections and political cronyism of their own design. Their factories and universities and offices and government filled to the brim with third rate relatives of third rate professors and bureaucrats. Turning themselves into third rate countries in a self perpetuating, self feeding process of decline. And all the while eyeing the new and the foreign with the paranoia that is the result of true guilt.

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True American Patriot

(category: Commentary, Word count: 1908)
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A TRUE AMERICAN PATRIOT SPEAKS OUT

By Bill Gallagher

It ain't fair, John Sinclair

In the stir for breathing air.

Won't you care for John Sinclair

In the stir for breathing air?

- John Lennon, 1971.

DETROIT - Those were the days of Nixonian madness - the hopeless war in Vietnam, the illegal invasion of Cambodia, riots on college campuses, secret police, break-ins, enemies lists, IRS audits, the White House leak-plugging "plumbers unit," and on and on. But Nixon's paranoia, crimes, abuses of power, trampling on civil liberties and the Constitution are tame, almost benign, by the standards of the Bushevik regime.

"These guys make Nixon look like a Cub Scout," says John Sinclair, a poet, musician, journalist, veteran radical, cultural icon and professional disturber of the establishment peace. The native of Davison, Mich., near Flint, became an international cause celebre in 1969 when a fascist-leaning judge sentenced him to 10 years in prison for possessing two marijuana joints. "They gave him 10 for two," John Lennon wrote in his song about Sinclair's draconian sentence.

The sentence - right out of Stalin's guidelines - had nothing to do with the gravity of his offense, but had everything to do with his political views. Sinclair founded the White Panther Party and included among his radical and freethinking friends Allen Ginsberg, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and Timothy Leary. He, along with photographer Leni Arndt, his partner and later wife, organized the Detroit Artists' Workshop, a communal group of artists from all disciplines.

His love of music further branded John as a dangerous subversive and put him under the eyes of the FBI creeps J. Edgar Hoover assigned to watch every move he made. Sinclair used music as a conduit for his poetry. Until his imprisonment, he was the manager and Svengali of legendary Detroit rockers the MC5, who made sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll a national pastime.

It was for his thoughts, poems, music, politics and passion that Sinclair was deemed a dangerous enemy of Nixonian Amerika, and he paid a horrible price for his revolutionary ways.

Sinclair did hard time for his soft crime at Michigan's infamous Jackson State Prison. "Jack Town" was, and still is, a hellhole, the largest walled prison on earth, an American gulag where the goal is to degrade and dehumanize the inmates and expect that society will improve as a result. Sinclair spent his time reading and writing, but most of all just surviving.

I met Sinclair on Thursday, Dec. 8, the 25th anniversary of John Lennon's murder. We met at Agave, a fine Mexican restaurant near the campus of Wayne State University. His presence in Detroit on that day was entirely serendipity. He was in town for a poetry reading and concert at the university honoring the poets and music of Katrina-battered New Orleans, a town Sinclair loves and where he lived for 10 years.

I asked where he lives now.

"Amsterdam, for obvious reasons," he replied, with a laugh and a twinkle in his eye. But his voice softened and his eyes moistened when we talked about John Lennon.

"I always remember him on this date every year. It was so close to the date where our lives intersected, because it was Dec. 10 when he came here to Ann Arbor and got me out of prison," Sinclair said.

He shook his head, thinking about his friend John Lennon.

"For any artist to be assassinated in his prime, on his way home from work, going into his home, it's horrifying. For it to be a guy like John Lennon, who represented and believed in peace, love and communications between human beings, probably more than anyone else in the music world, you just shudder to think of this," he said.

Sinclair had been rotting in Jackson State Prison for nearly three years when his life intersected with John Lennon's. Sinclair's lawyers had challenged his sentence and the constitutionality of Michigan's marijuana laws. The case went before the Michigan Supreme Court and Sinclair won, but a lower court refused to grant an appeal bond, claiming he was a "danger to society." He remained in prison.

Friends and supporters organized a rally at the Chrisler Arena on the campus of the University of Michigan set for Dec. 10, 1971. The organizers hoped the "Free John Now Rally" would be a major event, drawing attention to the grave injustice that kept Sinclair locked up.

But filling the 15,000-seat arena worried Sinclair.

"So I was very concerned. I thought it would be awful if we staged this huge thing and nobody came, and then they'd say, 'Oh, man, this guy ain't nowhere. Nobody cares about him,'" Sinclair recalled.

Then, one of his lawyers from Ann Arbor visited Sinclair at Jackson and told him about a surprising phone call he had just gotten.

Sinclair's lawyer told him, "Oh, man, I really got good news. John Lennon is going to come. He's written a song for you."

Sinclair scoffed at the claim, saying, "Man, don't mess with me. I'm already at my wits' end here."

The lawyer went back to his office, called Lennon, tape recorded his offer to help, then went back to the prison the next day and played it for Sinclair.

"It was just unbelievable. You're in prison. People in prison are pretty much abandoned. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here," Sinclair laughed.

Lennon showed up and sang his new song "John Sinclair" to a sold-out crowd.

"Immediately, the whole complexion of my situation changes," Sinclair recalled. "Instead of people saying, 'Why doesn't he just shut up and serve his 10 years?' all of a sudden, they're saying, 'Well, jeeze, John Lennon says this is wrong; maybe we ought to think about this. You know, the Beatles are coming here to look into this guy's case.' Everything changed. Ten days later, I was out. It was like a miracle."

Out of the slammer, Sinclair went to New York to meet and thank John Lennon.

"He wasn't above anyone, even though he was probably the greatest popular creative artist in the world at the time. He was just a regular guy, a beautiful cat. We hit it off pretty good."

Lennon and Sinclair thought of a project to go on a concert tour following Nixon on his 1972 re-election campaign. They'd sell tickets for three bucks and give the money to community organizations.

"The poor guy wanted to have songs, and tell people to make peace. You know, really ugly stuff like that," Sinclair said. But J. Edgar Hoover's FBI and Attorney General John Mitchell's Justice Department were going to put a stop to those plans. Hoover and Mitchell, both serial felons, by the way, got the Immigration and Naturalization Service to tell Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, both foreign nationals, that they were going to have visa problems unless they stopped mixing politics with pop music. "First, the government hounded him out of public life. And then, when he decided to come back, some nut blew him away," Sinclair said. "You just shudder to think of this. He was my age. He would have had another 25 years of productivity, genius, works of art. It's so sad."

Sinclair finds the violence and gun culture of America appalling.

"You'd think, at one point, they'd rethink the concept of everybody being armed. It's so stupid. And now they're taking this kind of thuggery to an international level," he said.

Sinclair believes Lennon would have found the Bushevik regime "frightening," and if he were alive, he would be doing everything he could to end the war in Iraq. Sinclair finds Bush's appeal and ability to sell the war in Iraq disgusting and more harmful than Vietnam.

"This is the worst, in my view. This is the one that took America out of the realm of civilized nations and put us in with Hitler, bliztkrieging some poor little nation because you want their oil. Lying. It's just so ugly. How long are the American people going to put up with this?" he said.

Sinclair watched the BBC in Europe as American democracy unraveled in the 2000 presidential election.

"It was frightening to me. You expect the right wing to do bad things. You don't expect the people to endorse this and cheer them on. You expect them to have more sense. This is a democratic country with a long history of intelligent, informed citizenry, and now they don't have a clue," he said.

We talked about the mainstream media, the American Pravda that helped sell Bush's war in Iraq and failed to question the phony reasons for invading the country. But beyond the propaganda, Sinclair sees a disturbing need in the American people for a leader with such horrible traits and instincts.

"I finally understand what Hitler was all about," Sinclair said, sipping black coffee. "You know, all my life I wondered, how did Germany let this little weird guy gain power? How did they give him everything? He spoke to something in them and that's what this guy does. He doesn't speak to me. I look at him and can't believe someone would follow him across the street. But they like this guy for some reason. He gives them what they want and I don't understand it. I guess I've lost any understanding of mass psychology."

Sinclair still performs with his band, the Blues Scholars, and he loves traveling around the country in an Amtrak train. He hosts a weekly radio show from Amsterdam on the Internet at www.RadioFreeAmsterdam.com. It's also available as a podcast, and his radio show archives are found at www.johnsinclair.us.

"I've never been a big fan of the way our country organizes itself socially. I think that's on the record," he chuckled, "but now more than ever. That's why I spend most of my time in Amsterdam. It's the opposite of here."

Sinclair acknowledges Europe has "right-wing religious fanatics." But unlike the fundamentalist Christianity the Busheviks are trying to impose as a state religion, the European zealots "aren't trying to get into your home. They really don't care what you do in your bedroom. They don't really care what you do to alter the inside of your head, which is as it should be, in my view. And they aren't armed."

Touring with the Blues Scholars is a haven for Sinclair. "I present a moving target," he said. His beard is gray these days and he'd love to experience another miracle like a MacArthur grant or the appearance of some wise and inspired patron to help fund his work and art. His laugh is hearty and contagious. But he is perplexed and saddened that the nation and culture he began challenging more than 40 years ago is in the worst state of his lifetime.

Asked about Lennon's song, Sinclair said, "I light up. I love to hear that song. The ironic thing about it is, I'm a blues man. It's about the closest thing to a blues song he ever made, with the snare drum and slide guitar. So I enjoy it on several levels. But most of all, it was my ticket to freedom."

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