Holiday Spirit According To Walmart And McDonald’s.

Last week, several large retailers made headlines by announcing that they would be open on Thanksgiving Day. Not content with the usual mad rush to sell holiday gifts on Black Friday, the retailers are hoping to increase sales by dragging their employees away from their families and the dinner table.

Chief among the holiday scrooges is Walmart.

When Walmart first made its announcement, its public relations team assured the press that its “associates” (Walmarts euphemism for underpaid employees) would be treated to increased pay and a special dinner. They said the associates would have “fun.” What they didn’t say is that they would cut the hours for these associates before and after the holiday in order to prevent the associates from making extra money!

Such double talk is nothing new for anyone who follows Walmart. Last year, the corporation made $15.7 billion for its owners, the Walton family. Unfortunately, that money hasn’t trickled down to the employees. Indeed, in recognition of the low wages paid to associates, some Walmart stores have been holding Thanksgiving charity food drives for their own employees!

But Walmart is far from the only corporate scrooge.

McDonald’s also refuses to pay employees a living wage. It seems the company even recognizes that fact. But, instead of raising wages, the company has created a website to help its employees better budget their incomes. The site not only recommends that its employees get a second job in order to make ends meet, it shows a recommended budget that fails to include FOOD! (One can only assume that the company expects employees to rely on food stamps to feed their families.) And recognizing the financial stress of the holidays, the company suggests that its employees might save a little extra money by SELLING THEIR HOLIDAY GIFTS!

Yet these very same companies are fighting any potential increase to the minimum wage. That is an incredible show of hubris given that the executives of both companies pay themselves millions.

Blessed Be The Peacemakers.

In one of the most encouraging deals in decades, the US and other western powers reached a deal with Iran President Hassan Rouhani to limit Iran’s enrichment of uranium in exchange for a relaxation of economic sanctions on Iran.  Although merely the first step in a long process, it could make the Middle East and the world a safer place. Not only will it prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, it demonstrates that peaceful negotiations are better and more productive than threats and bluster.

Improved relationships between Iran and the US have been a long time coming. There are serious grievances on both sides. But we have much in common with the Iranian people…too much to consider each other enemies.

Of course, not everyone is happy with these promising developments. The GOP warmongers in Congress, like John McCain and his pal Lindsay Graham, would love to have an excuse to “bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.” Some have even derided the agreement as an attempt by the Obama administration to distract us from the problems of the roll-out of “Obamacare.” Iran likely has its own hardliners who are dissatisfied by the agreement. The Saudis, who belong to the Sunni sect of Islam, are unhappy that we are on the verge of making peace with a nation dominated by the Shiite sect of Islam. And the greatest warmonger of all, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has called the agreement “a historic mistake.”

With friends like these, who needs enemies? These are people whose livelihoods depend on conflict. They thrive on it. And they most certainly profit from it.

We should ignore them all. Instead of embracing their paranoia, we should reject it. We have had far too much war, anger and mistrust. We have tried the path of George W. Bush and Richard “The Dick” Cheney. And what has it gotten us? It has brought the world nothing but death, destruction, rising debts and displaced populations seeking vengeance. In this nuclear-armed world, it’s time to try another approach; one in which we talk with our enemies instead of threatening them. It worked for JFK and Khrushchev in 1962. It could work again.

Both President Obama and President Rouhani seem to understand this. Is it possible that, for once, we have the right people in the right positions at the right time?


Today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, yet after all of these years, there are still many questions about his death. Did Oswald act alone? How could one man fire three bullets from the bolt-action rifle in such a short time when no other marksman has been able to duplicate that feat? How could the so-called “magic” bullet do so much damage and not be fragmented or even misshapen? Why did so many observers turn to the grassy knoll following the shots? Why did those in front of the rail yard hit the ground, convinced that shots were fired from behind them? Who were the people behind the fence in the rail yard? How could a portion of Kennedy’s skull fly backwards from a shot that entered the back of his skull? How was a visitor to the Dallas Police station allowed to shoot and kill Oswald?

The Warren Commission that investigated the assassination did not have answers to many of the questions, and many of the answers it did have stretched credulity. Is it any wonder that so many people still question the Commission’s conclusions so many years later?

As a senior in high school, I was sitting in math class when Kennedy was shot. When the teacher announced the news, I reacted badly because I thought he was joking. After learning that he wasn’t, I followed the unfolding story as closely as I could. I read most of the reports and books that were spawned by the assassination, including the report by Warren Commission. The most interesting of them was Rush To Judgment by Mark Lane. Lane detailed much of the key testimony from the Warren Commission. He pointed out the flaws in the Commission’s conclusions. More interestingly, he detailed testimony of witnesses who were not interviewed. And he chronicled the overwhelming number of suspicious deaths of witnesses and others involved in the months following the assassinations.

Some of the information in the book may have been flawed, but it convinced me that there is far more to the story than we were told.

In the ensuing years, there have been many attempts to debunk any and every conspiracy theory. Forensic scientists have tried to explain the “magic” bullet. They have tried to explain the contradiction that is the Zapruder film and the questions surrounding Kennedy’s autopsy. Government authorities have dismissed Oswald’s and Ruby’s mafia ties. They have dismissed Oswald’s apparent ties to the CIA. They have dismissed Oswald’s denial of guilt. They never fully explained Ruby’s motives.

There have been numerous official investigations into the assassination over the years. A number of those involved, such as former Senator and presidential candidate, Gary Hart, were unconvinced that Oswald acted alone. Indeed, Hart who served as a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Agencies said that the Warren Commission failed to follow numerous leads; that the Warren Commission failed to fully investigate the CIA-Mafia connection.The Warren Commission’s failure to do so is nothing less than astounding.

To understand why, you have to realize that, just a few years before Kennedy’s election, Fidel Castro led a revolution to overthrow the Cuban dictator and to rid the island of the mafia which had long controlled Cuba’s casino business and other criminal enterprises. The mafia was determined to get their island back. At the same time, the CIA was threatened by a communist government so close to our shores. There was a belief that communism was like a spreading plague that would infect every capitalistic government…the so-called “Domino” theory.

Moreover, the CIA, under Allen Dulles, had a long history of orchestrating coups to remove world leaders it considered a threat. The CIA had conducted several attempts on Castro’s life that involved the mafia. Yet the Warren investigation essentially ignored the connections between Oswald and the CIA, the connections between Ruby and Oswald, and the connections between Ruby, Oswald and the mafia. The failure to do so left a lot of gaps in the Warren Report…especially since JFK’s policies had made powerful enemies within the CIA, the mafia, even the military.

Following the Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy had developed a relationship with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. This made him unpopular with both the CIA and US military leaders. Kennedy had also extended an olive branch to Castro. (At the time of his assassination, an envoy from Kennedy was meeting with Castro.) Further, the mafia felt betrayed when JFK and his brother, Robert, embarked on an initiative to destroy organized crime. As a result, Carlos Marcello, the Louisiana mafia boss who controlled much of the crime in the Southeast, made several threats against JFK. He later took credit for having Kennedy killed while serving time in prison.

Add to this Gary Hart’s revelations that, while his Senate committee was investigating the assassination, two of the key witnesses from the mafia were murdered and there is even more reason to suspect a conspiracy. Indeed, Hart told the Huffington Post, “You don’t have to be a genius to believe that they knew something about the coincidence of events — Cuba, Mafia, CIA and Kennedy — that somebody didn’t want that out in the public 12 years later.”

We likely will never know the whole story of the Kennedy assassination. And, unfortunately, we’ll never know what the world would be like had JFK and RFK been allowed to finish their service to our country and to live out their lives. I, for one, believe that the world would be a much better place. In his short time as president, JFK inspired many young people to service. He inspired us to literally reach for the moon. And he reassured our faith in government by leading us through the Cuban missile, working to end the Cold War and beginning the process to end racial discrimination.

Ironically, the failures of the Warren Commission and the government agencies investigating his death, have caused many who were alive at that time to distrust the government. That’s one legacy that Kennedy and his family would abhor.

Abortion Foes Obscure Complexity Of The Issue.

For 40 years, religious conservatives have fought against a woman’s constitutional right to end a pregnancy. They have pushed laws that would deny government funding for medical clinics performing abortions. They have demanded waiting periods. They have demanded that women be forced to view pictures of fetuses.

They have subjected abortion providers to increased scrutiny. They have demonstrated outside clinics. They have bombed clinics. They have hurled abuse at patients, nurses and doctors. They have published hit lists with the names of providers, along with their addresses, phone numbers and auto license numbers. They have even murdered doctors.

More recently, conservative politicians have placed limits on the time period with which women could seek abortions. They have required abortion providers to be accepted by local hospitals (many of which deny providers access on religious grounds). And they have voted to subject women to invasive and unnecessary medical procedures before they can have an abortion.

In their narrow minds, God willed the pregnancy, so the woman just needs to deal with it.

They refuse to accept a woman’s desire to abort the offspring of rape or incest. They refuse to accept a family’s desire to save a woman’s life when a pregnancy endangers her, even when other family members depend on her. They refuse to accept the financial and emotional difficulties of bearing a child so disabled that it will never be able to survive on its own. They refuse to accept the financial and emotional burden of giving birth to a child that will need constant attention…not only from the family, but from medical specialists.

Ironically, the very same people try to limit sex education and contraception. And they fight Obamacare because they fear that the government will come between them and their own medical decisions. Yet they’re willing to force the government between a woman and her doctor.

It’s long past time to acknowledge the complexity of the issue and work to minimize the issues that lead women to seek abortions…issues such as rape, incest, poverty, prenatal diseases, lack of education and the woman’s physical ability to carry the fetus to full term. It’s time to recognize that each pregnancy is different; that each woman has a right to her own religious and moral beliefs; that each woman should be free to make medical decisions in consultation with her partner, her family and her doctor.

Simple-minded religious and ideological-driven laws will not stop abortion. They will merely drive it underground, and into the back alleys. Such laws will only ruin lives…the lives of already living, breathing, thinking  people.

Department Of Injustice.

In my elementary school civics class, I was taught that the key to a democratic government was the rule of law; that everyone is equal under the law; that Lady Justice was blind to money, power and influence.

In other words, my teacher lied.

It wasn’t that she intended to. And, at the time, it may not have been a lie at all. What she taught was what the Founding Fathers intended. But the system has since been perverted. In far too many cases, the poor are rushed to “justice” through a forced plea bargain, or the court appoints an often inept attorney and they are swiftly convicted of any and all charges.

On the other hand, those with money can afford the very best counsel. They can delay trials for years. They can negotiate small fines to pay for their transgressions without admitting guilt. In the rare instances when they are convicted, they can file appeal after appeal. They can delay sentencing. And, if they are finally taken to prison, it is usually a minimum security “gentleman’s” prison that protects them from the general prison population.

The most obvious contrast between our two standards of “justice” involves non-violent drug users and small-time dealers versus the barons of Wall Street. As I’ve previously written, our prisons are overflowing with drug users and dealers serving draconian, sometimes life, sentences. In most cases, these people are products of impoverished families and communities. They are often people who never had a real opportunity for a good education or more productive lives.

In contrast stand the gamblers and gamers of Wall Street. Most grew up in wealthy families. They were sent to the best schools and universities. They have enjoyed lives of privilege based on using and taking other people’s money. They have learned to game the system. In the years leading up to 2008, they learned to steal without technically breaking any laws. They crashed our economy. They caused millions to lose their homes and their jobs. And, to my knowledge, not a single one has gone to prison. Not one has faced a trial. Not one has been charged with any crime!

Meanwhile, the Department of Injustice has worked overtime to convict others.

A case in point is Tim DeChristopher whose story is told in a documentary titled Bidder 70. In the waning days of the Bush administration, DeChristopher had the audacity to bid on oil and gas leases for thousands of acres of pristine lands in order to throw a wrench into an auction that was later determined to be an illegal attempt to reward Bush’s oily friends. Nevertheless, DeChristopher was charged with a federal crime. It appears that the Department of “Justice” wanted to make an example of him. The judge in the case refused to allow any testimony that might justify DeChristopher’s actions. He refused to allow testimony that others had bid on leases they couldn’t afford. He refused to allow testimony showing the importance of maintaining the beauty of the lands.

The judge basically ordered the jurors to convict DeChristopher and sentenced him to two years in prison. Those who arranged the auction which would have resulted in the destruction of some of the Southwest’s most beautiful public lands were not charged. The others who bid on leases but couldn’t pay for them were not charged. No one else was charged.

Certainly, that is just one example of a judge seeking injustice. There are many others. Five of them, who have decided to place the rights of corporations above citizens, are sitting on the highest court in the land.

From Obstruction To Subversion.

By now, we all know the incredible lengths to which Teapublicans have gone in order to repeal, defund and obstruct “Obamacare.” But now, it seems, Teapublicans have taken a step over the cliff to outright subversion.

It appears one of the reasons for the difficulties of the website is a cyber attack tool named “Destroy Obama Care!”

The acting assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Cybersecurity and Communications testified that there have been at least 16 confirmed cyber attacks on the website. The most serious of these is a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack designed to make the website unavailable to intended users by bombarding the site with more traffic than it’s designed to handle.

According to a story by, right wingers have been distributing the DDoS through social networking. You know, one “patriot” to another.

Does anyone not see the problem with such tactics? In order to get their way, a minority of political extremists intentionally and willfully disrupt a legitimate function of our federal government thereby denying the majority an opportunity to take advantage of a legal, constitutionally-approved law. This is not typical political campaigning. It’s not merely a conflict of ideals and ideas. It’s not the equivalent of civil disobedience. Such an act is not only illegal, it’s immoral. It is nothing less than cyber terrorism.

If another government committed such an act, it might be construed as an act of war.

Where does the opposition to the Affordable Care Act stop? When is enough enough? Do the extremists need a list of those who are suffering from the lack of access to affordable health insurance? Do they need a list of those who die from their obstruction to understand the injustice of their actions? Do they need a body count?

Such extremists do not deserve their self-proclaimed title of patriots. They do not deserve to be called Americans. Indeed, they do not deserve to be called human.

Extremists And Cowards.

Bullies and weaklings; a**holes and chickensh*ts; Teapublicans and Democrats.  Whatever you want to call them, many of the people who now take up seats in Congress generally fall into one of these two categories. Never has the distinction been more obvious than following the latest vote on “Obamacare.” 39 cowards chose to join the right wing extremists by voting for a bill to “fix” the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by requiring insurance companies to continue to sell junk insurance policies.

The cowards are Democrats who have revealed themselves to be far more concerned about being re-elected and doing what’s best for themselves than doing what’s right for their constituents and their country. Indeed, they are Democrats who have sold out their constituents, their campaign contributors, their congressional caucus and the president. Instead of standing up for health care reform, they stood up for the status quo. They stood up for insurance company profits. They stood up for lobbyists. They stood up with their hands out looking for large campaign contributions from the insurance industry and Big Pharma.

Certainly, many of these weaklings have been targeted by the Republican National Committee and its billionaire sponsors. I have a certain amount of sympathy for these people since right wing Super PACs have already spent millions to attack them more than a year before the mid-term elections. But, if you’re a progressive voter, what’s the point of supporting a representative who refuses to support you on something as important as the ACA? These cowards are forcing their supporters to hold their noses and choose the lesser of the two evils.

For the record, I don’t believe in so-called litmus tests for politicians. I believe in compromise and bipartisanship, but not at the expense of betraying those they are elected to represent. Voting to undermine the ACA by eliminating insurance standards is just such a betrayal.

From the beginning, the ACA has been a difficult undertaking. Everyone knew that its implementation would not be smooth, even in the best of circumstances. (We all know that the roll-out of Social Security, Medicare and Part D did not go smoothly.) In order to get the bill passed, the administration was forced to drop the public option that was intended to keep insurance companies honest by providing more competition. Congressmen and senators spent months and months adding amendments that would weaken the bill. Then many of those same people voted against it anyway.

The ACA faced unparalleled opposition from both inside and outside the beltway; from lobbyists; from the insurance industry; from the pharmaceutical industry; from the medical supply industry and more. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent in very public attempts to block it. Teapublicans have spent years bad-mouthing it and predicting that it would be a “train wreck.” They mischaracterized it as a “government takeover” of medicine. They said it would result in “government death panels.” The right wing media has called it “an end to liberty,” “socialism,” “fascism” and worse. The mainstream media has thrived on the controversy, reporting it as though it was some sporting event, trumpeting every setback and glitch. Now they are scoring the ACA by the numbers of people who have registered and purchased insurance policies.

Teapublicans made their opposition to the ACA the centerpiece of two election cycles. They have attempted to repeal the ACA or defund it more than 40 times. They even shut down the government in an attempt to defund the ACA.

Many Teapublican-controlled states refused to expand Medicaid leaving millions of their citizens without health insurance. Many of those same states refused to create insurance exchanges, forcing the federal government to pick up the slack and directing millions more Americans to the website. At the same time, they cut funding for the website. They funded cyber attacks to disrupt the website. Then they held congressional “investigations” in order to call attention to the glitches.

And now, NOW, 39 so-called Democrats add to the headwinds by voting for a bill that would undermine the ACA? I can think of only two words to describe such a vote…cowardice and treachery! I spent the last election cycle supporting some of these people. I donated to their campaign funds. I can hardly wait until I receive another email from them asking for my support.

They won’t like the answer any more than I like their vote.

Is Muslim Extremism A US Export?

As sensational as that may seem, it’s a reasonable question. Here’s why: When the USSR invaded Afghanistan, the US moved to counter the invasion with Operation Cyclone which was portrayed in the movie, Charlie Wilson’s War starring Tom Hanks. The operation consisted of the US providing weapons, military aid and training to the mujahedeen, a ragtag group of guerrilla fighters based in Pakistan.

But it turns out there was one aspect of “assistance” not covered in Charlie Wilson’s War. I only recently learned about propaganda funded by USAID and created by the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Center for Afghanistan Studies. According to the UNO website, the Center “organized more than 1,300 educational sites in Afghanistan and Pakistan and reached 130,000 Afghan refugees with K-12 textbooks and basic education services.” What the UNO website fails to mention is that those textbooks included images of dead Soviet soldiers, tanks, missiles, and AK47s. The books taught reading and math. They also included propaganda to turn Afghan children against the USSR and Afghan communist government. They incorporated Islamic verses from the Quran, as well as calls for jihad against the infidels.

For example, the books taught Afghan children the Pashtu language through two fictional characters named Maqbool and Basheer intended to be the Afghan equivalent of our Dick and Jane. An estimated 15 million of the textbooks were published in the Afghan languages of Dari and Pashtu from the early 1980’s to 1994.

In an article that appeared in the March 23, 2002 Washington Post, Joe Stephens and David B. Ottaway wrote “An aid worker in the region reviewed an unrevised 100-page book and counted 43 pages containing violent images or passages.” They quoted Ahmad Fahim Hakim, an Afghan educator saying, “The pictures [in] the texts are horrendous to school students, but the texts are even much worse.”

Following the end of the Soviet occupation, many of the violent images were removed from the books, but much of the jihadist language remained unchanged. And many of the original books are still in use today throughout Afghanistan and western Pakistan. It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that the anti-Soviet messages can be used as calls to action against Americans and our allies. Indeed, the books are more than likely used in the most extreme madrassas in the region, many of which are funded by Saudis exporting their extremist wahhabi form of Islam.

UNO is unapologetic for its role in the publication of the books. According to a 2007 article by Matthew Hansen from the Lincoln, “To the center’s longtime director, the textbooks are byproducts of a dark era when Russian bombs killed Afghan schoolchildren and rebel forces fought to save their country. ‘I won’t apologize…for something done in 1988,’ Thomas Gouttierre says. ‘At the time, Afghans were being killed.’”

Of course, many others have been killed since then, including thousands of Americans.

Exactly What Are Teapublicans Trying To Protect Us From?

In shutting down the federal government, GOP congressional leaders said they wanted to save us from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, (aka “Obamacare”). In other words, they want to save Americans from an idea that they, themselves, proposed in 1996 and successfully implemented in Massachusetts as an alternative to universal health care.

So what great evils are they trying to keep at bay on our behalf?

They are trying to block our access to online marketplaces that will allow hundreds of thousands of Americans to choose more affordable options for health insurance. (Yes, will soon be fixed and, if the experience of Massachusetts is any indication, customers will wait until the last few weeks to sign up.) They are trying to overturn a new government rule that prevents insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions. They are trying to overturn a new rule that prevents insurance companies from terminating policies rather than pay the costs of medical treatments. They are trying to save us from the tax credits we’ll receive for purchasing health insurance.

The GOP and their wealthy contributors are trying to save up to 50 million Americans from being able to afford private health insurance for the first time. They are trying to keep parents from adding adult children up to age 26 to their own insurance policies. They are trying to save us from subsidized preventative care that will help identify medical conditions before they become more serious (and expensive) diseases.

They are trying to make sure that those who already have health insurance will continue to bear the costs of the uninsured who use the Emergency Room for routine health care visits. They are trying to preserve Washington’s largest group of lobbyists. Teapublicans are trying to ensure that the cost of health care benefits continue to encourage large corporations to ship middle class jobs overseas. Finally, they are trying to ensure that increases in health care costs continue to outpace inflation and that the cost of prescriptions will continue to skyrocket.

It’s obvious we need someone to rescue us for these self-proclaimed rescuers!

How Small Of A Government Is Small Enough?

For years, Republicans have demanded a smaller government with limited powers. Indeed, Grover Norquist has said, “I want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.’

Okay, I get it. Republicans really hate government. But given the fact that our federal government is already the smallest in 47 years, and given that the size of our federal government ranks just 120th in the world as a percentage of GDP, when will Republicans consider it small enough to drown in the proverbial bathtub?

Exactly how small is small enough?

Roughly a third of all US federal employees are dedicated to national defense. Another 10 percent are in the Department of Homeland Security created by the Bush administration following 9/11. Yet another 10 percent are in law enforcement and prisons. According to Republicans, all of these people are necessary. In fact, Republicans constantly call for increasing the size of our military and border security!

That leaves roughly half of all federal employees to manage all of the remaining functions of government. Of those, nearly half work for the quasi-governmental US Postal Service. Do we no longer need mail service? If not, who is going to deliver your bills, your payments, your magazines, your checks? (Not everyone has access to the Internet, and it has not yet proven to be secure.)

The remaining 600,000-plus federal employees manage all other aspects of government. So what goes? Do we get rid of the IRS which collects the revenue to run our government? If so, how does the government get the money it needs to operate? Do we actually expect it to run on private donations?

Do we eliminate Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps? Then what happens to the elderly and the poor? Do we eliminate unemployment insurance? Then what happens to those who can’t find work?

Do we eliminate our federal court system? Do we eliminate our foreign embassies?

Do we eliminate government regulators? Then who becomes responsible for food safety, drug safety and transportation safety? Who keeps banks from taking all of our money and causing a complete collapse of our economy? Who keeps corporations from defrauding our citizens, pillaging our land, dumping industrial waste into our waters and poisoning our air? Who builds our highways? Who keeps hunters, fishermen and commercial interests from “harvesting” species into extinction? Who keeps corporations from clear-cutting our forests? Who subsidizes research and our universities?

It’s one thing to say that government is too big and out of control. It’s quite another to face the reality of living in a plutocracy with corporations and the greedy allowed to completely run amok.