Saturday, June 18, 2005

Downing Street Memo Won't Die on the Vine - Will It?

David Spero said it exactly right in The Desert Sun today:

According to the memo, Bush created an elaborate plot to invade Iraq as early as 2002. Therefore, all that talk about aluminum tubes, portable biological labs and weapons of mass destruction was nothing more than verbal theatrics. Bush's endlessly reiterated phrase that war was to be used 'only as a last resort' was deceptive, as were the threats to Saddam to 'turn over' weapons of mass destruction. Feeding concocted 'evidence' to an angry, gullible America, Bush utilized the unstable political climate after Sept. 11 to drive America into war.

...This massive scandal will not go away. The president's apparently soiled hands are dyed with the blood of more than 1,700 American soldiers and 100,000 Iraqi citizens. The potential crimes of George Bush reduce Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton's misdeeds into subjects for a comedy act.

But this is no time for laughter.

America's credibility, its conscience and soul, stand at a crossroad. George Bush should be thoroughly investigated by a congressional committee or independent counsel. And, if these allegations hold true, Bush should be impeached and then imprisoned for war crimes against humanity.
This Downing Street Memo, and other revelations, should gives us pause as we reflect on the meaning of our duty to our country. This war in Iraq is taking patriotism too far by deliberately abusing and exploiting it mercilessly.

We the people need not feel responsible for some weakling President (elected or not) who can't control his emotions. He has let his obviously troubled relationship with his father cause him to blindly and willfully take us to war. Knowing he could bring enough of the gullible, the fearful and the weak along with him (and knowing HOW to do that), he engaged in a thoroughly deceitful campaign that succeeded just enough to ensure us falling into this "no-win" situation in which we now find ourselves. Make no mistake, he waged this foolish war more for reasons of his own personal failings as much as any issues of national security or global significance.

Those of our leaders who participated in and supported this campaign, and those who continue to support them, are the villains here. So now we have ourselves in another quagmire, just as we've known them in the past. Don't be surprised when, soon, we start seeing pictures of Iraq in the dictionary entry for 'quagmire', right along side the aging, dusty images of Vietnam that have lived in that entry these many years.

The headline above links you to Spero's article in The Desert Sun, Palm Springs, CA.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

How Does the USA Stack Up Worldwide?

In no particular order, here are some interesting data on how the US stacks up vs. other countries on basic measures of economics, education, health care, poverty and one measure each of press freedom and popular entertainment. Sources are given to enable you to judge veracity and check data for yourself. I identified the first 10 in March, 2005, then added two Updates, in June 2005, as #11, 12.

1) Nordic Countries Lead the Way in the World Economic Forum's 2004 Competitiveness Rankings -- 13 October 2004 - Geneva Switzerland (

"Finland remains the most competitive economy in the world and tops the rankings for the second consecutive year in The Global Competitiveness Report 2004-2005, released today by the World Economic Forum. The United States is in second position, followed by Sweden, Taiwan, Denmark and Norway, consecutively." Half of the top 10 are Nordic countries: Finland (1), Sweden (3), Denmark (5), Norway (6) and Iceland (10). The rankings are drawn from the results of the Executive Opinion Survey, a comprehensive survey conducted by the World Economic Forum, which this year polled over 8,700 business leaders in 104 economies worldwide."

2) In 2004, the USA ranked #1 by far in GNP with $10.98 trillion and China was #2 at $6.449 trillion, followed by Japan ($3.567) and India ($3.022). But the USA was #2 that year in GDP Per Capita, with $37,800, far behind Luxembourg's $55,100. Following closely behind the USA in GNP/capita were Norway: $37,700, Bermuda: $36,000, Cayman Islands: $35,000, San Marino: $34,600, Switzerland: $32,800, Denmark: $31,200, Iceland: $30,900 and, rounding out the top ten, was Austria at $30,000." Source: 2004 CIA World Factbook

3) "China is today the world's sixth most productive economy (the USA and Japan being first and second) and our third largest trading partner after Canada and Mexico. According to CIA statisticians in their Factbook 2003, China is actually already the second-largest economy on Earth measured on a purchasing power parity basis - that is, in terms of what China actually produces rather than prices and exchange rates. The CIA calculates the United States' gross domestic product (GDP) - the total value of all goods and services produced within a country - for 2003 as $10.4 trillion and China's $5.7 trillion. This gives China's 1.3 billion people a per capita GDP of $5,000."

"The case National Intelligence Council forecasts that China's GDP will equal Britain's in 2005, Germany's in 2009, Japanese in 2017, and the U.S.'s in 2042. But Shahid Javed Burki, former vice president of the World Bank's China Department and a former finance minister of Pakistan, predicts that by 2025 China will probably have a GDP of $25 trillion in terms of purchasing power parity and will have become the world's largest economy followed by the United States at $20 trillion and India at about $13 trillion - and Burki's analysis is based on a conservative prediction of a 6% Chinese growth rate sustained over the next two decades."
Source: Chalmers Johnson, TomDispatch, 3/15/2005

4) As reported by CNN (4/9/2003), the US ranks somewhere from 4th to 12th in reading skills of 4th graders, according to a study by the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study of 2001. Rankings of the 35 countries surveyed showed: 1. Sweden, 2. Netherlands, 3. England, 4 through 12. (though they're listed in order, these nine are statistically tied, according to the CNN article): Bulgaria, Latvia, Canada, Lithuania, Hungary, USA, Italy, Germany, Czech Republic). These are followed by: 13. New Zealand, 14. Scotland, 15. Singapore, 16. Russian Federation.

5) "The United States spends a higher percentage of its Gross Domestic Income (GDP) on health care than any other nation, and the result, as translated into indicators such as life expectancy and infant mortality, are mediocre compared to other rich countries. Yet costs here are continuing to rise rapidly.

"...A recent study found that health costs often spell economic disaster for American families. Half of all bankruptcies in this country result from medical bills. ...many of the people bankrupted by monster medical charges had health insurance coverage. (BOLD added for emphasis)

"The study, published in this month's Health Affairs, estimates two million people annually, including 700,000 dependent children, are affected by medical bankruptcies. ...said Dr. David Himmelstein of the Harvard Medical School, the lead researcher: ...those bankrupted by the high cost of medical care were 'average Americans who happened to get sick.' Indeed, 75.7 percent of them were insured at the onset of illness. The reality of American health care according to the study is that 'even middle-class insured families often fall prey to financial catastrophe when sick.'
Source: "In High Gear, The GOP Class War", by Max J. Castro, Progreso Weekly, 17-23 February 2005 Edition

6) "Healthy Life Expectancy. Health attainment, level and distribution in all Member States. Estimates for 1997 and 1998 by the World Health Organization. Disability adjusted life expectancy at birth:
1 - Japan (74.5)
2 - Australia
3 - France
4 - Sweden
5 - Spain
6 - Italy
7 - Greece
8 - Switzerland
9 - Monaco
10 - Andorra
11 - San Marino
12 - Canada
13 - Netherlands
14 - United Kingdom
15 - Norway
24 - United States (70.0)

See above list in full at:

"US was ranked #72 on "Level of Health" (snuggled between Argentina-71 and Bhutan-73) and #37 (between Costa Rica-36 and Slovenia-38) on "Overall Health System Performance", according to the World Health Organization. See:

7) "The United States is the wealthiest, mightiest country in all of human history, and yet it has a higher proportion of poor or, worse, hungry citizens than almost every other industrialized nation. ...The Luxembourg Income Study, which has been tracking household incomes of twenty-five countries for more than twenty years, recently compared nations' relative poverty rates. 'Relative' poverty is defined as a household making less than 50 percent of the national median income. In Finland, Norway, and Sweden, poverty rates range between 5.4 percent and 6.5 percent. Of our two neighbors, Canada and Mexico, the United States' poverty rate is much closer to Mexico, 22.1 percent. The U.S. poverty rate is 17 percent, according to the Luxembourg study, only 1.8 percent lower than Russia's."
Source: What We've Lost, Graydon Carter, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2004, page 118.

8) "The US child poverty rate is the highest in the developed world, 50 percent higher than the next country"
Source: page 199 of Gary Hart's Restoration of the Republic (2002). He cited this original source: A. Huffington, Los Angeles Times, April 15, 2000.

9) "And, in 2002, the US ranked 17th in Press Freedom, with index values of 4 and 75, according to Reporters Without Borders. Their index (low values are better) was drawn up by asking journalists, researchers and legal experts to answer 50 questions about the whole range of press freedom violations (such as murders or arrests of journalists, censorship, pressure, state monopolies in various fields, punishment of press law offences and regulation of the media). The final list includes 139 countries."
See list at:

10) Move over Hollywood, India is now #1 in production of movies.
Source: TV Show (Letterman, Feb. 2005) and magazines featuring the actress dubbed "Most Beautiful Woman in the World".

NEW ITEM: 06/05/2005
11) In a massive worldwide poll done by Skytrax, a London-based consultancy, people from 94 countries rated the world's airlines on several criteria. The survey spanned a year's time and tallied more than 12 million responses. See overall results below. In one category: Best Low Cost airline, Jet Blue, of the US, rated best worldwide. When confined by region, i.e., limited to North American airlines, the results show that US airlines ranked #2: Jet Blue and #3: Continental, after #1: Air Canada.
1. Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong
2. Qantas Airways, Australia
3. Emirates, Dubai
4. Singapore Airlines, Singapore
5. British Airways, United Kingdom
6. Malaysia Airlines, Malaysia
7. Thai Airways, Thailand
8. Qatar Airways, Qatar
9. Asiana Airlines, South Korea
10. ANA All Nippon Airways, Japan

Source: "Annual survey of millions of passengers ranks the planet's best airlines.", June 4, 2005: 2:21 PM EDT, By Gordon T. Anderson, CNN/Money staff writer
CNN Money (

NEW ITEM: 06/08/2005
12) Here's one where we're #1: Prevalence of mental illness in the population. "One-quarter of all Americans met the criteria for having a mental illness within the past year, and fully a quarter of those had a 'serious' disorder that significantly disrupted their ability to function day to day, according to the largest and most detailed survey of the nation's mental health, published yesterday.

Although parallel studies in 27 other countries are not yet complete, the new numbers suggest that the United States is poised to rank No. 1 globally for mental illness, researchers said.

'We lead the world in a lot of good things, but we're also leaders in this one particular domain that we'd rather not be,' said Ronald Kessler, the Harvard professor of health care policy who led the effort, called the National Comorbidity Survey Replication.

The exhaustive government-sponsored effort, based on in-depth interviews with more than 9,000 randomly selected Americans, finds that the prevalence of U.S. mental illness has remained roughly flat in the past decade - a possible glimmer of hope given that previous decades had suggested the rates were gradually rising."

Source: Study: "US Leads in Mental Illness, Lags in Treatment", by Rick Weiss, The Washington Post, Tuesday 07 June 2005. See original article at:

Friday, February 18, 2005

50 States Is Too Many

For better or worse, we are not one simple unified country and we never have been. By our very name, United States of America, we are well labeled: a consortium, or federation, of states. We started as 13 - a manageable number, I suppose - but 50? Come on!

50 states and one federal government - it makes one odd looking funnel, doesn't it? More like a disastrously planned highway merger. Ha-Ha! Actually, maybe that's the correct metaphor ...could that explain the many messes and malfunctions that we endure as a so-called nation?

We're not a unified people in the sense that we have so many structures that allow so much variation and give us so much multilayered "local" autonomy -- could that really be it? Too much division of power? ...Too many checks and balances?

Gary Hart, author of "Restoration of the Republic", wouldn't agree for a minute. But can't we see plenty of excess diversity across levels and layers of government (some would call it chaos) in many areas of our civic life: Voting procedures and the electoral college (which, by the way, vastly facilities cheating); gun control legislation; marriage laws; funding, curricula and the variable quality of public education; all manner of tax structures and liabilities at multiple levels; inconsistent maintenance of police and criminal justice records, of social science information management, processing and analysis; allocation of homeland security funds; pork-barrel funding of public programs (oops, I mean, bringing home the bacon); welfare, child care and job training programs; corrections facilities and criminal penalties and practices (e.g., capital punishment); etc., etc., etc. You can no doubt add many more examples where "variety" runs rampant.

Whether this is wise or dumb (it might be great for experimentation purposes, but is that how we're using it?), one thing is certain: If you want uniform programs rationalized on a nationwide basis, the USA is NOT the place to find it.

So, if you're like me, given this structure, you're wondering how we stack up worldwide on various measures, vs. other countries??

A later blog posting will look at how the USA ranks on some quantity and quality of life indicators. Stay tuned.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Freedom Of The Press - To Do Just As It's Told

That's the kind of freedom of the press we have, thanks to our duty-bound and ultra cooperative broadcast media. Today's daily Nightline program note from Gerry Holmes & The Nightline Staff caught my angry and outraged eye, to wit:

You may or may not remember the haunting pictures released last April of rows of caskets lined up in the back of a C-5 cargo plane that had landed at Dover Air Force base. It was the first time Americans had seen the very real images that tell the story of the toll of war. The Pentagon was not happy that the photos were released. They were taken by Air Force photographers and posted onto a Web site after a request was made under the Freedom of Information Act. A few months later, Democrats in the Senate introduced a bill to allow the photography of the caskets coming home, but Republicans defeated the bill and kept line with the President's wishes not to show the caskets.

So, when six members of the Louisiana National Guard were killed in a single incident in Iraq last week, the local Guard decided at the request of the soldiers' families to follow that example and buck the system by giving news photographers access to the military burials.
Since when does freedom of the press mean that the press sits on its hands and waits to do its job until it gets permission from the all-knowing government? What the hell is going on here?? I don't know what this is, but it's certainly NOT a free press! I don't care what the government says is or isn't allowed...we're supposed to have a "free" press. To me, nothing says SELL OUT clearer than this, even clearer than the cute practice of using so-called embedded reporters (or, should I say: "in bed with" reporters?).

What do I want? I expect nothing less than some enterprising reporter and photographer to sneak in, if they have to, and inform us what the hell is going on...EXACTLY what is going on, unfiltered, unscreened, uncensored. And I expect their management to support them physically, financially and every other way, all the way. I guess I should wake up and forget that quaint, old fashioned notion entirely. On this issue, you'll find our national press in the dictionary under: SOLD OUT.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Beware the Reformers

Here in Illinois we just had a rare experience - first hand witness to a campaign with Alan Keyes in it. Talk about cynicism let loose, this was the classic case, and it exposed the irony of how it's such fun to ridicule the entire public sector, to be cynical about government, to decry the corrosive effect of money on our political system, etc., etc., while NEVER thinking about the consequences of all that unmitigated cynicism - what it leads to and the subtle, pernicious damage it does to the body politic.

One result that cynicism NEVER leads to is the one thing we need most: clear, fruitful and constructive thinking about how to accomplish our goals and get things done. Sadly, cynicism fights against these qualities rather than facilitating them. And, cynicism can be so easily exploited. For us in Illinois, Alan Keyes is just the most recent, though, in his case, a harmless example.

More forbidding examples abound around one of our culture's "worship words" - REFORM: Social Security "reform", tax "reform", government "reform", health care "reform", tort "reform", campaign finance "reform", intelligence "reform", etc., etc. Whenever we hear this word we should duck. Beware the man behind the curtain, the devil lurking in the details.

In the hands of an unscrupulous politician, the word can be deadly. By merely tacking it onto an issue or any number of government functions or departments, such a politician can grab the attention of the press and the admiration of a cynical public. But make no mistake, many are being taken in by this clever sophistry, which, I contend, is no accident.

Here's my test: What are your answers to these questions:

1. How many working people believe their social security benefit payments will NOT be there when they're ready to retire?

2. How many believe our politicians are little more than handmaidens to "big money" or "big oil", big business, or to the trail lawyers, the "special interests", the polluters, the think tanks, the military, etc., etc.?

3. How many believe our public school are uniformly of poor quality and that they're deteriorating even further?

4. How many are convinced we spend too much on foreign aid and not enough on defense, even though they haven't the foggiest notion of what the actual amounts are?

5. How many think our national elections are basically the result of intensely negative campaigns that demoralize voters, and that this explains what they say is a trend of declining voter turnout for President since the 1970's?

BTW: On two of these, #1 and #5, the factual picture is:
A) There's no historical evidence that Social Security benefits will NOT be there for everyone who's entitled to them -- it always has been so far.
B) Voter turnout for President has NOT been declining. Recent research has discovered and tracked a more appropriate base for this calculation, called the Voting ELIGIBLE (not the Voting AGE) Population. By its measure, voter turnout for President has held fairly stable, not declined, since 1972. (Thanks to a NPR report and interview with the researcher involved, for this valuable news.)

Nevertheless, for all of these supposed maladies, and many more, "reforms" have been proposed that usually take the form of major changes in programs, policies and, more fundamentally, in our beliefs about society and ourselves. Sometimes these modifications promise huge improvements in the program (if not its abolishment), all predicated on an invisible hand working its magic once the heavy burden of public administration is loosened. Mantras of 'free choice', of 'individual' or 'private ownership' echo in the chambers of Congress and reverberate across the land, as the vital remedy that will release pent up energies and bundles of waiting resources. But, alas, reform, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. One man's reform is another man's emasculation or dismantling.

So, how are we to tell the difference?

I submit that the key factors to check out are:
- If the problem is real, does this "reform" solve the problem?
- What is the philosophy behind this reform proposal and what are its objectives?
- Who will it benefit and who will be hurt by it, vs. the status quo?
- Who offers the reform, have they conjured it to gain support for a hidden agenda?
- What is the overall public policy goal that we should evaluate it against?

ONLY after careful analysis of the above can we say whether a proposed "reform" is a good or bad idea. Welfare reform was, for some who espoused it, merely an excuse to cut spending and, they hoped, lower their own taxes. To his credit, former Wisconsin Governor, Tommy Thompson, a leader in welfare reform, foresaw the need for interim increases in public spending to fund additional day care and job training programs to enable the reform to take hold and have good effects in the long run.

The lessons?
1) It's critical to keep "reform" from falling into the wrong hands.
2) When it does fall in the wrong hands, we must be ever more vigilant to check how this worship word is used in our temples of government.

For some "Straight Dope" on Social Security's real situation - that debunks some prevalent myths now in circulation just click my title: "Beware the Reformers" (above or below), or go to this URL:
to access a CNN/Money Magazine series on the subject, and good for them!