Friday, March 24, 2006

Mr. Murrow, come back

In Simon and Garfunkel's song "Mrs. Robinson", we hear them imploring "Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you". While not exactly in the same context, this phrase jumped into my mind while I was watching the DVD of "Good Night and Good Luck", George Clooney's homage to the newsman Edward R. Murrow.

The movie is obviously a labor of love for Clooney, whose father is a news anchor and held Murrow up as one of his role models. The tale is classic now; powerful communist hunting machine fronted by Senator "Tailgunner Joe McCarthy" in Washington running roughshod over people's civil liberties, throwing wild accusations around, ruining careers and lives versus the well-known but not so powerful newscaster.

Edward R. Murrow was already a famous man by the time he had his historic altercation with the senator from Wisconsin. His rooftop reports during the London Blitz early in World War II established his voice on radio and made him a household name. When he moved into television with CBS, he was already a celebrity. His television show "See It Now", an offshoot from his radio show "Hear It Now", was the forerunner of investigative news shows like 60 minutes. Mr. Murrow, his producer and confidant Fred Friendly, and the stable of news reporters tackled controversial issues every week. In 1954, Mr Murrow turned his sights on Joe McCarthy. By using the senators own pictures (news reel footage and words), he showed the senator to be what he was; a showboating bully intent on self promotion. The contradictions in the senator's own rebuttal on "See It Now" a few weeks later helped accelerate the eventual downfall and repudiation of the communist hunter from Wisconsin. Murrow and his team paid for this little adventure however. They eventually lost their primary sponsor, ALCOA, sometime later, and Murrow's friendship with the chairman of CBS, William Paley was strained to the point that Paley reduced Murrow's shows down to a set of periodic special events. Murrow retired from CBS in 1961 and died in 1965 of lung cancer, but his legacy on news reporting and editorial commentary is indelible. Murrow and his team had the courage of their convictions to stand up and take on issues that most people ran from. He had a steadfast belief in the idea of a free and unfettered press. He had a belief in due process, that an accused has the right to confront their accusers, and he expressed these ideas clearly and with a level of integrity that everyone trusted. Walter Cronkite (a Murrow associate) would later become known as "The Most Trusted Man in America", but it was Murrow that started it all. During his tenure and for sometime afterward, the News Media (both print and video), were our guardians, ready to shine a bright light on corruption and malfeasance by governments, corporations and any other powerful institution.

What happened? Where have all the Murrows gone? Instead of Murrow or Cronkite, we see Hannity and O'reilly. Instead of Eric Severeid, we get Geraldo.

Where have you gone Mr. Murrow? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you....

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Fear Factor - America's Addiction to Being Afraid

Americans seem predisposed to being afraid. Oh, I know, you'll say that's a load of crap, that Americans are the bravest and toughest people on earth. In many cases I would agree with you. All one has to do is look at our soldiers, fire services, police and many other occupations that put people in harms way. That's not what I'm referring to when I talk about our addiction to being afraid. Situational bravery is there. It's repeated over and over again. We celebrate it with honors, medals, stories and even movies.

Being afraid however is far more pervasive and in my view attractive. We get to use fear as a cloak to shield us from dealing with the real issues facing us today. Terrorism has become the new badge of fear. At any moment our government tells us, we could be subjected to another attack from the "terrorists". We must be vigilant. We must be looking for the evildoers around every corner. Sleeper cells of radical Islamic terrorists are probably in your neighborhood, or so the government would want you to believe. Is there a threat of terrorism? Certainly. Is there also a threat that an asteroid will land on your head when you go out to get the morning paper? Certainly, but we don't consider that because of a couple of reasons. First, the threat of an asteroid hitting you on the head is remote, the odds of you getting hit by a meteor are 182,138,880,000,000 to 1, and secondly, we don't see news reports about threatening meteors or asteroids every day on CNN, FOX or ABC.

What we do see every day is news about the terrorists. Mostly we see news about Iraq and then we see the government spin the news about Iraq. The story has become a permanent fixture in our lives now. Our country has more or less decided that we are o.k. with having over a hundred thousand soldiers in combat in Iraq. The polls don't agree with this statement, and I think it's because individually, many of us don't like the war and when asked will say so. However, we don't collectively seem to mind. We as a nation have not been forced to sacrifice hardly anything with respect to this war. We aren't paying for it economically, that bill is coming due in the future. Because we are borrowing the funds to execute the war, our kids will get the honor of paying that bill. We haven't seen rationing of food or power. About the only inconvenience I have witnessed is standing in line longer at the airport. Not a dramatic level of sacrifice. The point here is that we don't have a big beef as a nation right now with Bush and his minions fighting this war. Why? Because we are absolutely convinced that if we didn't fight them there, we would be fighting them here. How many times have you heard the term 9/11 when anyone in government who supports this war tries to justify its existence?

Because we've decided to be afraid, we've agreed to put up with all sorts of foolishness from our government. We've agreed to give up civil liberties and allow spying on our citizenry, all in the name of fighting terrorism. We've agreed to allow the government to look into yours, mine, my kids' private lives to nose around to see if we have any connections to Al-Qaida. We've agreed to allow the government to hold people in prison without right to representation or even to confront their accusers. All of this in America. All of this because we are afraid.

Folks, the likelihood of another terrorist attack in this country affecting you is remote. It may and probably will happen again, but let's put this in perspective. This year, the odds of you getting killed by a terrorist attack are about 1 in 88,000, roughly ten times more than the odds of dying as a result of extreme cold.. The odds of dying from a homicide are 1 in 197, or about 447 times more possible than dying in a terrorist attack. The odds of dying from a stroke are 1 in 6, dying from heart disease 1 in 3. So, you see we spend a significant amount of time worrying about something that is not likely to happen. One wonders if we spent $400 billion dollars (about the cost of the war in Afghanistan, Iraq and all other actions towards fighting terrorism) towards fighting heart disease if we could push those odds out to 1 in 100, or 1 in 1000.

What will it take for us to wake up from our collective nap? We have been sold a bill of goods purported to keep us safe, but really does little in the larger view to protect us. How about if we spent the money on new energy sources, reducing environmental pollution, educating our people, providing health care to those that are sick? Wouldn't this make more sense? Wouldn't it make more sense to stop killing people and giving them more and more reasons to hate us? Wouldn't it make more sense to spend money to secure our borders, ports, and public venues?

It is time for the people in this country to refuse to be afraid. It's time for our nation to take action in a manner that stopped the war in Viet Nam. It's time for us as a people to demand that our civil liberties not be eroded and that we bring our soldiers home. It's time to change our political landscape and remove politicians who will use fear to obtain or retain power.

We must dissent. We must argue and debate. We must act. This November, use your vote wisely. If you are tired of listening to the drivel spouted by the administration and congress, vote them out. We will not have a chance to vote for President again until 2008, but we can effectively alter the course of the Bush administration's actions by voting in a democratic majority into congress. Perhaps this will have the desired effect of placing constraints on a president that has forgotten he is the servant of the people, not the master.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

2008 Cannot Come Early Enough

The presidential elections of 2008 cannot come early enough for me. I'm completely exhausted with George W. Bush and his merry band of henchpeople (politically correct as ever) driving this country down the metaphorical toilet.

Will it get better when he retires? I certainly hope so. The president has done significant damage to our economic future driving up the deficits to the ridiculous levels we have today. Last year, we had a budget deficit of $319B. This year, according to the Bush Administration, who in my opinion cannot be trusted, have said the budget deficit will be $423B. So, in the space of 6 years, The Bush Administration will have added an average of $70.5B per year. This is supposed to be the MBA administration, where the Bush team would use ruthless and efficient business operations and George W. Bush as the CEO would bring a "business-like" approach to running our government. It seems that the approach he has brought is more Enron than Walmart in terms of efficiency and operational effectiveness.

Why do people tolerate this incredible level of incompetence? My opinion is becasue we are afraid. Fear breeds very bad decisions. We ask for protection because we are afraid. What are we afraid of? We are afraid of terrorism. We are afraid of radical islamic fundamentalist who vow to destroy us. We are afraid of Osama Bin Laden and his sinister band of brothers who have executed terrorist operations against us, Britain and Spain. We believed that George Bush would protect us better than John Kerry would. We decided that everything else was secondary. We bought into the idea that "taking the war to them over there so we don't have to fight it over her". Fear is no way to pick your leadership. The president has vowed to protect us. He has done reasonably well in the fact we haven't had a terrorist attack in this country since 9/11. However, protection from terrorism is only one dimension of safeguarding this county and its people. The Devil is in the details however. The recent aborted deal with Dubai Ports World is an example. Was the problem that the company was of Arab ownership and management? No. The problem is that we have a terrible level of security at our ports. This is not new news. We've known this for some time. It however has been something that has not been acted upon. We have spent abysmally low levels of money on protection of our ports of entry into the country. This becomes problematic for the administration and their response has been to say "trust me". Well, the country doesn't seem to be buying into this. There is questionable legality on the surveillance the NSA and Bush Administration has been doing to American citizens. Most Americans, while o.k. with the idea of the surveillance, have not bought into the idea of unbridled Presidential power. Most Americans believe that everyone should abide by the law. The American people do not buy into the idea that we can trust an administration that will avoid the law because they think it would stymie their efforts. The polls regarding how well the administration is performing are consistently fallng, and the message is "We don't trust you". The American people are beginning to question how well the administration is truly protecting them. Now, there are other ares of concern relative to how well we are protected.

We have seen recently several areas not dealing specifically with terrorism that have highlighted the inability of this administration to protect its citizens. The devestation of Hurricane Katrina and Rita highlighted the ineffectual capabilities of the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA.

The ever increasing budget deficits have highlighted the farce of an economic plan that the administration has been pushing. It is true, the base economic numbers are sound. Economic growth has been good. No doubt. Couple this however with our ever expanding budget and trade deficits, and you have an atrophied economy, with the key player in the economy, the consumer, suffering. Credit card debt is at an all-time high, and savings is at an all-time low. People are teetering on the brink if personal financial failure. So, what does the administration do? It supports a bill that makes it harder for people to file for personal bankruptcy protection. Was the bankruptcy deal a good idea? In principle yes, in terms of timing, absolutely not.

We must stand up and develop a plan that reduces and eliminates budget deficits. We have to get a level of backbone and discipline about our deficit. It starts with us, the consumer taking a stand to tell our elected representatives to stop spending money we don't have. We have to reduce entitlements and begin means-testing on things like social security and medicare. We have to reduce military spending. How? Bring troops home and stop invading other countries. We have to beginto build a cogent policy towards how get the job engine started again in this country. None of this will occur as long as this administration is in power. The Republican party has had almost 6 years of almost total control of the government and it hasn't gotten better for the general public. It has gotten significantly better for big pharmaceutical companies, big oil and gas companies and big service companies. Don't think so? Look at the legislation that has benefitted Merck, Exxon or Haliburton.

We are economically terrorized by the flight of job overseas and the amazing trade deficits we have. Our deficits and long term debt are becoming untenable and we may go the way of Argentina. China is growing at a pace of 8-9% of GDP per year. India is not far behind. The infrastructure within both countries is developing to the point that in 20 years, both of these countries may exceed the capabilities of the US from both a production and consumption standpoint.

The war in Iraq is dragging on and on with no foreseable end. The Bush administration has made consistent noise that Iran is now in the radar screen. Will we see an attack on Iran? Current estimates regarding the cost of the war in Iraq come out to about $19k per household. When will we say enough is enough? It's time to stop this madness and get out of Iraq and get out of the middle east.

This administration is easily the most incompetent and corrupt in years. The only legacy the administration has is Iraq. Iraq is failing and unless something turns around quickly, history will treat George W. Bush as many of us already know him. As a buffoon.