Friday, October 28, 2005

The Iran conspiracy...

Okay, since coincidences always seem to excite those of you who like a good conspiracy theory, let's try this one on for size...

Yesterday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad launched an all out and unprecedented verbal attack at the US and Israel and called for the state of Israel to be "wiped off the map." An amazingly bold and potentially horrific point of view.

This seemingly unexpected rhetoric came as a shock to everyone, and the world (including Palestinian groups) has condemned his comments.

So, let's look at a few random coincidences:

- This announcement from Tehran came a day before the planned announcement of indictments against Bush administration members. An embarrassment for the administration, and a severe enlightment to the misleading campaign taking us to war.

- This announcement came as the "war on terror" link to anything other than Afghanistan is becoming increasingly questioned by the American people.

- This announcement came as calls for the removal of troops (which we currently have in an area practically surrounding Iran) escalates.

- This announcement came as discussions about punitive measures against Iran are stalled in the UN.

- This announcement came as the Bush administration seemed stalled in making its pre-case for war against Iran.

- This announcement came out of nowhere by a man who was not viewed to be "this" radical.

- This announcement came from a man whom the Bush administration helped put in power.


Or a master covert plan to get us back in a state of fear where we can be easily controlled, and continue the battle of world ideological domination that seems to be a do at all costs mandate from within the secret bowles of the neo-conservative infrastructure?

You be the judge.


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Buy the egg, but not the farm

Looks like George W. Bush got one right.

The recent nomination of Ben Bernanke by President Bush to succeed Alan Greenspan as Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board appears, by all indications, to be an excellent nomination.

Bernanke is highly respected and regarded by his peers and his qualifications in the field of economics are extraordinary. While currently part of the Bush Administration, he is not a Bush "crony" - i.e., he is not an old friend, but rather a qualified member of the current Federal Reserve Board.

Has our president secretly learned something from the Harriet Miers debacle? Is this just a lucky coincidence?

Or, is Karl Rove still making magic?

More precisely: is this nomination, coming an extremely unusual three months prior to the end of Mr. Greenspan's term, a political strategy to "prove" that Mr. Bush does in fact know what he's doing in his nominations - and therefore by association send a message to his conservative doubters that maybe he does know what he's doing with regards to Harriet Miers?

Is it a coincidence that this is happening just as the debate on Miers has hit an all-time high? Is it a coincidence that the timing of this announcement comes well before an announcement on Greenspan's successor was expected?

One thing about politics, nothing is ever a coincidence.

My advice to our elected officials in Washington: feel free to buy the advertised product, but don't let it make you a salesman for the company. In other words, regardless of the reasons, confirm Ben Bernanke - he seems to be the real deal. But don't buy the hype and make his nomination in any way influence your decision about the confirmation of Harriet Miers.

Hype is hype. And one right does not make the wrongs any better.


Monday, October 17, 2005

Democracy is for the apathetic

After watching the results of this weekend's vote on the Iraqi Constitution, I'm convinced that the only reason American Democracy works here in the melting pot of the world is because we are also the apathetic class of the world.

No I don't believe all Americans are lazy non-caring individuals without causes or beliefs. But what I do believe is that the majority of Americans take democracy so much for granted that they've adopted a "Whatever" mentality that is in part responsible for making our democracy work.


Let's compare with Iraq. Yesterday, the following was reported with regard to the Iraqi vote:
...there were signs that some powerful Sunni factions would not accept the referendum results. Several Sunni leaders said they were convinced the charter would be defeated in three Sunni provinces, and accused the U.S. of interfering with the results. We are warning the Sunni community of acts of fraud, Saleh al-Mutlaq, a Sunni leader, told Al-Jazeera TV. ... it might lead to civil war.
There are two key revelations in this statement. First, regardless of the outcome, it is important to note that many in newly attempted democracies believe in Democracy only when their side is victorious in the vote. If their side loses the vote, then the democratically achieved results do not deserve to be accepted - they must be fraudulent. Secondly, unacceptable results, or the "belief" of fraud, leads to armed civil uprising, or civil war.

Compare this to the United States in 2000 when fewer than 50% of eligible voters turned out, tampering with the vote was proven, and the final "decision" was handed down by a split Court along partisan lines. Even those who were vehemently opposed to the outcome accepted it - whether they said they did or not. The mere act of civil obedience signifies acceptance. We didn't like the results, didn't agree with them but we got back in line and let George W. be sworn in as president.

It's important to note, that the losing 50% of the 50% who voted didn't revolt. It's not that we don't care. It's just that, well... whatever.

Yet in Iraq, the Shias, Sunnis and Kurds may never get along - nor accept any outcome that is not in their favor. And they are willing to fight each other over it. Not very democratic.

Maybe if we could just teach them all to care a little less, they'd be able to become a model democracy - just like us. Then our troops wouldn't be in the middle of this mess, and, well..



Thursday, October 13, 2005

Pharmacies punishing children

Crystal Meth.

That single phrase has struck fear in many communities and has become the current battle-cry for drug enforcement.

But it has also made us brain dead once again - and I'm not talking about from use of the drug. I'm talking about our new 21st-century tradition of knee-jerk reaction and regulation. Anything that can be, or has been, abused by anyone, in any form, is suddenly prone to over-zealous regulation.

I could go off about the stupidity of pundits equating the abuse of drugs (like oxycontin) by addicts to its legitimate uses for pain control. But I'll leave that for another day. Instead, I want to discuss our amazing loss of cognitive ability when it comes to protecting ourselves against the few who abuse.

For example, patting down an 85 year old African American woman in a wheelchair (and making her get out of her wheelchair!) in the airport after we've had four airplanes highjacked by young middle eastern men belonging to an islamic terrorist cell. How about the removal of shoes and articles of clothing of a 2 year old caucasian child and the dismantling of his stroller while his very middle class mother with two other children is forced to watch this amazing act of ignorance unfold. Oh, don't get me rolling down that path...

But now we're back to crytal meth. Or more precisely, one of its main ingredients: Pseudoephedrine HCl.

Over the weekend, my 3 year old son got sick after dinner with flu-like symptoms and so at 7:30 pm I trekked down to my local Walgreens for some children's cold medicine. He needed something to help him breathe and sleep.

But what did I find when I arrived at Walgreens? Every cold medicine available, which all happen to contain some level of Pseudoephedrine HCl, was locked up behind the Pharmacy counter - which, of course, closed long before 7:30. At least 60 products were advertised on the shelves, and all were unavailable. The only thing I was allowed to purchase was cough syrup.

I'm sorry, did I miss something in Chemistry class?

Okay, I will accept the fact that pure Pseudoephedrine HCl tablets should be controlled and locked up. They are directly used in homemade crystal meth labs (a typical crystal meth recipe - easily found on the internet - calls for two hundred [200] 60mg Pseudoephedrine HCl tablets). I don't have a problem with locking these up at all.

But Children's Tylenol Plus chewable tablets? Give me a friggin' break!

Let's do some math. A single chewable tablet has 7.5mg of Pseudoephedrine HCl, not to mention being filled with three other active ingredients that do not go in crystal meth. That means to get the 12,000mg required for the batch you'd need 1600 tablets, or 67 boxes - at a cost of over $400.

And lets' not forget that to use these, our little crystal meth chemists will need to somehow use their magic to separate the Pseudoephedrine HCl from the other ingredients of each tablet. Yeah, right - I see Ma and Pa Meth pulling that one off.

And even if they could, lets go one better shall we. How about the liquid versions of these childrens cold medicines? Not only do Ma and Pa have to break the compounds down, but now they have to distill them as well.

Huh? Are we this stupid?

Is someone really going to do this? Is someone going to buy 67 bottles of liquid children's cold medicine. Can someone who's doped up and working with 2-litre pop bottles and sterno cans actually use this stuff to make crystal meth?

I want to see proof! But, I don't think there is any proof.

No, all this does is once again hurt the average American citizen by an industry over-reaction. Whether it's government or corporate induced doesn't matter - it's a trend that has to stop. Rational and logical decision making at some point needs to re-enter our daily lives.

Unfortunately, in this current case, the only people affected by this new corporate policy are law-abiding parents and their sick children.

And I thought that's who we were trying to protect.


And another (credit) thing...

I have to add to my utter disgust with credit card companies and banks the absolute fraud perpetrated through the "Pre-Approved" and "Balance Transfer" offers advertised by these companies.

In my recent experience with Chase Bank, they offered a 12-month 0% interest balance transfer option for a new Visa. Our household income, and credit status, is enough to qualify us for quite a bit - to the tune of tens of thousands (I know because of loan discussions with my personal bank). So, I took the bait and applied to transfer my $8K American Express balance to them. Heck, American Express themselves just offered me another card with a $20K limit, so this should be a done deal.

Or so I thought.

I got my new card in the mail from Chase Bank with a note apologizing that they couldn't transfer the entire balance requested (the $8K) because it was greater than the limit they provided on my new card. Yeah, I've heard that bait and switch before.

But, it continued...

They were happy to have earned my business and were pleased to report that they had transferred the amazing sum of $300 onto my card - the most they could based on my new card's $500 limit.

What? Surely that's a typo and they meant $5000

Nope. A call to "customer service" (where "service" is absent) verified that this was in fact all correct. I've just been given the same card they give to either someone who has no job, has filed for bankruptcy, or has no credit whatsoever.

$500! Yippee!

What an insult! And what brain-dead human would receive a request for an $8000 transfer and then actually process a $300 transfer and $500 limit and believe that was in any way acceptable. Did they call? Send an email or letter asking if I still wanted to do this? Of course not - that would have been customer service.

To me this is fraud, pure and simple. I didn't apply for a $500 credit card, or a balance transfer of $300. I applied for a balance transfer of $8000. Period. If they couldn't process that request - the actual one I made - then they need to inform me of that BEFORE processing anything!

That's like me buying a Corvette and when I show up at the dealer to pick it up they give me a pair of roller skates instead - and inform me that they've already charged me for them.

Sorry, that doesn't cut it. And banks need to be held responsible for these bait & switch practices.

The problem is not the credit consumer - the problem is the banks, like my new least favorite Chase. And they need to be punished.

I'm sure my five minute tirade to customer support, and my newly closed account, mean nothing to them. Maybe my complaints to the Better Business Bureau and the State Attorney General will at least make me feel better.

Either way, I can safely say I will never do business with Chase Bank again. Maybe if a few million more people stopped doing business with these companies when they abuse their power they'll finally get a clue.

Then again, maybe not...


Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Thievery and deceit... Priceless

A great article about the upcoming Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (S.256), discusses why this bill is a national tragedy, not to mention what it says about our leaders in Washington - our leaders who are apparently worried that Visa and American Express are being hurt by consumer and small business bankruptcies.

Hmmm... Let's look at how they're doing now.

Visa USA's 2004 Annual Report claims a net income of $200 million for 2004. That's $200 million profit. And that's just Visa. Add into that Master Card, Discover and American Express and, well, you get the picture.

What exactly are we protecting here? A profit margin for a corporation? And in doing so we're sacrificing the very lives and existence of those in the middle class who fall unexpectedly on extreme times. And our elected officials are okay with this?

Is this the foundation of our nation's Congress?

Well, let's look at one very important factoid: 40% of current Senators are millionaires, as are 30% of our Congressmen. Compare that with the US population where only 3.5% of US households have assets of more than $1 million and it's not such a stretch to see where financial loyalties are drifting.

But if bankruptcy is such a problem, what is the root cause for the over-extended credit community that is today the United States. Who is to blame? According to Congress it's the irresponsible average citizen-consumer.

In most con games, bait & switch schemes, and consumer fraud practices it is the purveyor of the deceit who is at fault, not the unwitting consumer. Even home mortgage lenders have assumed risk when offering a mortgage. That's why the process of getting a mortgage is not easy, has limits and has protections (like mortgage insurance) built in.

But not so with consumer credit companies, including banks, who deluge consumers with a never-ending barrage of "free" offers and credit "deals" enticing even people with "bad credit" to keep charging ahead - or to start charging again. Then, once a person is "hooked", woe is them if they should be even 10 days late with a payment - then watch that "fixed" 7.9% interest rate jump to an astonishing 28.9% - a rate that would make any loan shark proud.

And that's exactly what these lenders are - loan sharks. No better than drug dealers who give a sample away for free and then hook their users into a spiral of addiction from which it becomes impossible to break free. By the time you're in over your head you have tens of thousands of dollars of debt at a 28% rate that's adding hundreds of dollars of new debt every month. There is no escape.

How effective is the game? In December of 2004, Visa says its cards accounted for 14 percent of the nation's personal consumption. That, simply, is frightening.

Sure, the individual consumer is to blame for a lot of this - heck I've put myself in the same situation. But it wouldn't have been possible without the constant mailbox stalking I endure - I receive at a minimum three new credit card offers every week. And it certainly wouldn't be as bad if the credit companies weren't imposing the types of rates that frankly should be illegal.

And in my opinion 28.9% should be illegal for a revolving credit account. Yes American Express I'm talking to you and your Delta Sky Miles card which should be renamed Vinnie's Lending Card!

Credit card companies, and banks especially, have a responsibility to be good community citizens. Coaxing and deceiving people into debt is NOT being responsible, and as such they should have to bear their share of the burden.

But not in America today - where corporations are exempt from ethical and community standards, all in the name of profits and investor return. If a bank has sought me out, nagging and begging me to try their card, and then I turn out to be a poor customer - who should pay the bill?

I didn't ask for it. But now, I get to pay for it. And if I can't, as of October 17th, the credit company will have even less responsibility and I'll no longer be able break away or start my life over.

It appears the financial drug dealers have won. At what point will we fight to take the streets back?


Monday, October 03, 2005

Friends in high places

Today Harriet Miers was announced as the latest nominee for the US Supreme Court. What, if anything, does this mean?

It means we're all being tested to see if we're paying attention.

Compared to Harriet Miers, recent Supreme Court Chief Justice appointee John Roberts had a wealth of past judicial experience - Ms. Miers' experience on the bench is nil.

No, I don't believe you must already be a judge to be an appropriate Supreme Court nominee - many other Supreme Court Justices have had no judicial experience before joining the Court. What worries me the most is one single line, stated in an AP article today, which read:
Whatever her credentials for the high court, Miers' loyalty to Bush ... is above question.
At this particular moment in our history, I find it a bit scary to put my faith in a Supreme Court nominee who today, when she has a free-will choice, remains committed to the path and policy of the current administration. And it will frighten me if the American populace doesn't have the same trepidation.

This is someone who, by virtue of continued loyalty, apparently believes that the ever-changing line of reason behind the Iraq war leaves no moral or ethical dilemmas. Someone who believes in the reduction of civil liberties. Someone who is okay with twisting meaning and interpretation to fit personal belief, and can do it with a clear conscience. And someone who believes that America is currently on the right path - because she continues to promote that path.

This is reason enough to be alarmed. I might be able to accept that from a politician - but not from a Supreme Court justice.

And Harriet Miers is not just an average administration employee - if that were all she was, then there would be less to fear. But she has been a personal friend and counsel to George W. Bush for more than a decade. She is part of the inner-circle - not the periphery. Do the names Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, Wolfowitz and Rove mean anything? Do we want that ideology on the Court?

While she is most certainly an intelligent and highly distinguished attorney, her nomination also symbolizes yet another case of "cronyism" with this administration. Another bold and in-your-face case of it's not what you know, but who you know.

This is a test. Are we paying attention? Are we going to allow this to take place?

Have we really hit the point in our country's evolution where all of us accept the premise, unquestioningly, that there are no qualified candidates for any positions except for those who are personal friends of George W. Bush?

I hope we're all smarter than that.

If not, then we have no one to blame but ourselves for the consequences.