Thursday, October 20, 2005

DISASTER? YOU'RE ON YOUR OWN.

"Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job," Bush said. "The FEMA director is working 24 - they're working 24 hours a day."

Those were the wise, sage words of Unelected President George W. Bush to Michael "Brownie" Brown, the former head of FEMA, as he toured the region ravaged by Hurricane Katrina on the Friday after the storm. "You're doing a heck of a job." Let those words simmer in your mind for several blissful moments, please. They underscore, in the strongest of statements, just how out of touch with reality this President truly is.

Finally taking time out from his very busy schedule, on October 19, the "other" Michael, Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Insecurity, finally met with a House panel investigating the federal government's Katrina response.

Chertoff took umbrage when questioned by the lawmakers about a number of events prior to and during the hurricane. Oh things like a) why he worked from home Aug. 27, two days before Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, b) why he made a previously scheduled trip to Atlanta on Aug. 30, and c) why President Bush stayed at his Texas ranch until Aug. 31. "I don't think there was a sense of a lack of urgency," Chertoff said.

Excuse me? What? "a sense of a lack of urgency"? Can you explain that comment? Did you mean to say "as sense of urgency?" or did you really mean to say "a lack of urgency?" Either way, Mr. Chertoff, me thinks something smells terribly moldy about your testimony and the Administration's behavior.

Here's why. Prior to making landfall, Dr. Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center, said that officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security, including FEMA Director Mike Brown and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, listened in on electronic briefings given by his staff and were advised of the storm's potential deadly effects. Mayfield said that his staff made the strength of the hurricane and its potentially disastrous consequences clear. They warned of a storm surge capable of overtopping levees in New Orleans and winds strong enough to blow out windows of high-rise buildings. Mayfield said the briefings included information on expected wind speed, storm surge, rainfall and the potential for tornados to accompany the storm as it came ashore.

"We were briefing them way before landfall," Mayfield said. "It's not like this was a surprise. We had in the advisories that the levee could be topped."

But in his testimony, Chertoff painted a picture of a government response that was "overwhelmed by the magnitude of the storm."

"If you start to plan in an emergency, you're not planning, you're improvising," he said.

Chertoff outlined his deteriorating relations with Brownie after Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. Testifying on Brownie's accessibility and responsiveness in the midst of the disaster, Chertoff commented, "Let me put it this way: Michael Brown didn't call me. I didn't speak to him prior to Sunday (Aug. 28) and have him tell me that he was having a problem with the governors."

On Tuesday, August 30, the day the levies broke and water engulfed New Orleans, Chertoff said that he had begun attempts to contact Brownie that morning. By afternoon, "I made it very clear that I expected Mr. Brown forthwith to get in touch with me," Chertoff added. He also testified that he "lost my temper to some degree with his chief of staff."

Chertoff was unable to reach Brown until nearly 8 p.m. that night.

Yet on the morning of Friday, September 2, during his famous photo op in Alabama, Bush uttered those now infamous words, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job. The FEMA director is working 24 - they're working 24 hours a day."

In further testimony, he said, "I knew I became more involved in operational matters than I would normally expect to be or want to be, given the fact that I had a battlefield commander on the ground. I am not a hurricane expert. I've got to rely on people to execute the details of the plan."

Poor Michael Chertoff. Abandoned by his super-duper qualified head of FEMA and having to actually work!

How many times have we heard the contradictory statements by - well almost everyone in the Administration - about how surprised and overwhelmed they were, particularly at the breaching of New Orleans' levies?


MORE CONTRADICTIONS OR SIMPLY LIES?

We've heard story after story about how FEMA's manpower, expertise and infrastructure had been stripped since its takeover by the Department of Homeland Insecurity. But in the face of all of that, Chertoff denied Brownie's assertions, made last month to the House panel, that department budget and personnel cuts led to "the emaciation of FEMA." Chertoff said that from 2001 to 2005, FEMA's "core" budget grew 28 percent, to $447 million, and its staff 19 percent, to 2,445.

With support from department agencies such as the Coast Guard, Chertoff said, "FEMA has better resources, and . . . it brings more to the table now than it did in the previous five, six, seven years."

But in virtually the same breath he added that they had neither the modern supply systems nor the communications gear nor the needed links to local communities in advance. Chertoff vowed to "re-engineer" U.S. preparedness after the storm that killed more than 1,200 people and devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. BUT WAIT....I thought you just said, "FEMA has better resources, and . . . it brings more to the table now than it did in the previous five, six, seven years." And that FEMA's "core" budget grew 28 percent, to $447 million, and its staff 19 percent, to 2,445? What was Tom Ridge, the founder of Homeland Insecurity, doing during his years of service? See, Mr. Chertoff? We can't put all the blame on you. You are the relative newbie. But it seems clear that you've done virtually nothing as well.

$&(%(@#$%%^^&**(&*%*^&%!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

You know, if you throw enough words at Congress, the press, or the American people, we'll just get befuddled and surrender to your clearly more infinite wisdom. Mr. Chertoff, Mr. President, YOU ARE NOT PREPARED! WE ARE NOT PREPARED! You can medivac a wounded U.S. soldier or marine off a remote battlefield in Iraq in minutes, but you can't drop drinking water from a helicopter into New Orleans or Mississippi even in the days following a hurricane.

Our federal government, at its highest and most involved levels, was warned beforehand about the likely severity of Hurricane Katrina...and still did nothing. Perhaps even worse than doing nothing - because many people do take issue with the charge of "nothing" - whatever you did was incompetent.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff acknowledged that Hurricane Katrina "overwhelmed" FEMA and exposed major flaws in the nation's preparations for terrorism and natural disasters. "We certainly have to fill out the ranks of FEMA in terms of its senior level with experienced staff who can deal with all of the elements" of its mission. "We now know that [FEMA's] capabilities were overwhelmed by the magnitude of the storm," he said. No kidding!


Well the bottom line remains. FEMA has primary responsibility for managing the national response to a catastrophic disaster.

OH MY GOD!

Can you say AVIAN FLU?

We are all too familiar with the adage "a disaster waiting to happen"? We folks, we just had one, and the response of the government(s) to which we pay our hard-earned (for most of us) taxes was invisible. And guess what? They're not finished responding. They have tens of billions, if not hundreds of billions, of our tax dollars yet to dish out. On no-bid contracts, on likely reconstruction that will spend inflated dollars for projects that are not likely to benefit middle- and lower class citizens nearly as much as they will enrich the already rich. Why they are already talking about the positive economic benefit the Gulf hurricanes are likely to have on our economy.

But here's the scary part and this is my point. We are so far from prepared to address an avian flu pandemic, we are so far from prepared to address the detonation of a nuclear device by terrorists in a major U.S. city,
we are so far from prepared to address a major earthquake, nor any other catastrophic event on the American "homeland."

We are governed by either the biggest liars in American political history, or the most out of touch with reality, or simply the most incompetent. And in either scenario, it is you and I that are most at risk. This isn't an issue of yet more innocent civilian Iraqis losing their lives thanks to us on the other side of the planet. We are left at risk, without a safety net, in our own homes. And if the fascist, so-called Christian Right continues to get their way, we may soon be without social safety nets, as well.













Wednesday, October 19, 2005

MISUNDERSTANDING ISLAM - CHRISTIANS, GET OVER IT!

The concept that Islam is a religion of violence and that the Qur'an teaches and justifies violence against non-combatants and "infidels" as a broad-brush policy is simply untrue. What has happened, as has been the case in Christianity and Judaism, over the centuries is that small passages have been usurped as justification for truly un-Islamic and un-Prophet Muhammad edicts.

The Qur'an is the sole and true written foundation for Islam. It can even be argued by scholars that the Hadiths, sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, are secondhand information points that are claimed to be meticulously researched. The Qur'an, on the other hand, is considered by Muslims as the word of God, called Allah in Arabic. There are passages in the Qur'an that speak to violent acts of war. These are not meant to be understood as basic concepts of behavior however.

They refer to specific battles and conflicts that Muhammad and his early followers engaged in in defense of their own fight for religious freedom in the face of tribal, polytheistic societal beliefs. This is no different than many of the stories contained in the original Hebrew Bible (aka the Old Testament). The Hebrew tribes warred again and again for conquest, it can be recalled, as they moved into the lands promised them by God.

Nowhere in the Qur'an is the killing of innocent civilians, let alone suicide, condoned or directed.

The concept of Jihad has been continually twisted beyond all meaning and relationship to its intent in the Qur'an. There are the Qur'anic concepts of Greater Jihad and Lesser Jihad.

Greater Jihad: This is an internal fight within an individual for spiritual unity and identity with God. It is a fight to overcome selfishness and the negative aspects of the ego's control over man. It is a struggle to rise to higher moral standards of living, both within the individual and the person's role within society.

Lesser Jihad: This is really meant to be engaged in when Muslims are attacked. It is the basis for defense, not a justification for aggression.

Fundamentalist Wahhabists and other very unIslamic sects and philosophies have usurped these deeply spiritual and moral concepts and twisted them to be used as rationalizations for suicide bombings and terrorism. While these are significant issues with global implications, they are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the defamation of true Islam, including the abridging of women's rights.

It is easy for us westerners to read the oft repeated rantings of critics of Islam and accept these things as true. As they say, if you repeat a lie often enough, people accept it as truth. As we have lived under the dark cloud of the Bush administration and the growing influence of fundamentalist Christian Rightwing politics, we should be able to readily understand and accept this.

If we have axes to grind with those self-proclaimed leaders of "non"-Islam that condone suicide bombing and terrorism rather than peace, we also have the same axes to grind with Christians who have the irrational belief in accepting the Bible literally and as the Word of God.

Let me explain. The Bible, be it the New or Old Testaments, were not originally written in English. Period. The various parts were originally written in Hebrew (Old Hebrew by the way), Aramaic, and possibly in Greek. These were then translated into Greek and Latin, then into various other languages, including English. Semitic languages such as Aramaic and Hebrew - this includes Arabic as well - are very complicated. Letters have multiple meanings, words have multiple meanings, and sentences/phrases have multiple meanings. Languages such as Greek and Latin do not have this diversity of interpretation.

Translators had to make black and white choices when ultimately bringing these scriptures and stories down to European and English languages. And they did this not without making blatant errors in translating and understanding the contexts in which various events took place. Semitic languages such as Aramaic (and Arabic) are so complicated that even Jesus' followers and listeners had a difficult time understanding/comprehending what he was saying at times. He spoke northern Aramaic and many of his listeners spoke a southern dialect. Even within that small geographical context, misinterpretations were common.

All of this has been filtered down over the years into English. So when fundamentalist Christians in America stand by the words contained in the King James or other English texts, well they are often far removed from the original writings and the true meanings.

As far as the Word of God argument is concerned, this has always puzzled me. It is clear that God did not write the Bible, either one. Rather they are narratives that have been attributed to various earthly humans. This is very old news. Certainly Christians should acknowledge that the Gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John etc. Not by God. Nor were the Epistles of Paul or anything else. The stories contained in the Hebrew Bible are essentially just that...stories. Written by humans. Nowhere in the Bible does it claim that the Five Books of Moses or any of the other material were written by God.

And we all know how often the Bible has been used by Judeo-Christian followers to inflict severe violence on nonadherents to one version of religious belief or another. Just ask Jews and Muslims that were the victims of wholesale slaughter by Christian Crusaders as a start.

The fact is that anyone that uses religion or spiritual experience as a premise for murder, suicide, terrorism, wars of non-defense etc. isn't religious or spiritual. Period. No ifs, ands or buts. This is common sense. Christians, in particular, who seem quick to point fingers at other faiths (with little understanding I might add) are clueless to the message of love and harmony taught by Jesus. It is the height of hypocrisy and immorality to claim to be a Christian and to justify aggression, to justify dishonesty in business, to justify infidelity, to not generously offer charity to those less fortunate, the list goes on and on.

And the same must be said for Muslims. Caring for orphans and widows, for those less fortunate, regularly giving charity, respecting the rights of women and children, living in peace with neighbors, these are all cornerstones of true Islam, as they are for true Christianity. Unfortunately, institutions and authorities have usurped religions; it seems to be the nature of spiritual movements after their founders die off.

It wasn't much after the death of the Prophet Muhammad that the infighting for control of the faith and its communities began. We must keep in mind that Islam was a very bold experiment in civilizing a very primitive and tribal society. Old ways die hard and without a living center such as a Muhammad, the experiment was bound to wander from its peaceful roots.

Likewise Christianity. In the years following Jesus' death, Christianity took dozens of forms, based on the understandings and experiences of people and communities throughout the Middle East and beyond. It was, again, for the Roman Empire, in its need for some unifying force during its late struggles for survival in an increasingly hostile world, that Emperor Constantine convened gatherings more than 300 years after Jesus' passing in an effort to institutionalize Christianity and qwash diversity of belief, experience and thought. Over the centuries, Christian institutions - churches - have worked variously to muffle women's rights, to accept the virtual enslavement of children, to condone slavery of so-called primitives, to look the other way during various episodes of genocide, to label women as witches during times of strife. And to qwash a Christian's opportunity for direct and personal spiritual experience while giving power of spiritual "interpretation" to clergy and only clergy. All of this has been underscored by the general enslavement of Christians through the concepts of sin and guilt. Where has the love and brotherhood and harmony gone?

What would Jesus think when looking down at today's Christianity? In the case of the constructed conflict between Christianity and Islam, imagine how different the world might be if we as the Christian "world" held to foreign policies of assistance and respect for Muslim nations rather than containment and conflict. True you say, it takes two to tango. But surely someone must take the first steps. The Qur'an says that for every step one takes to Allah, Allah takes ten steps towards you. This is a message for harmony among peoples as well. Isn't it time we took that step?

How many people blame Jesus and "Christianity" for the sins of some of its followers? The wars waged in its name, the persecutions, enslavements, etc.? Should we likewise blame the faith of Islam, the experience of Islam that was brought by the Prophet Muhammad for the sins of some of its supposed followers? Not likely I think.










Tuesday, October 18, 2005

BIRD FLU 101

First off, let’s get all of our information straight. Let’s sift through the fear-mongering that is the “meat and potatoes” of the Bush administration. Let’s get down to facts, let’s get down to our true potential fears, let’s get down to what this presidency is NOT doing – once again – to protect the American people.

Bird flu is so named be because it is caused by avian influenza viruses. Quite contagious among domesticated birds – chickens, turkeys, ducks and the like – it’s a killer. Of these domesticated birds, that is. The viruses are endemic among wild bird populations, but for some reason it doesn’t kill them, doesn’t even make them ill.

TYPICALLY, bird influenzas have not infected people although there have been reported infections and deaths over the past eight years or so.

It’s not important for people to really know this, but there are numerous subtypes of flu viruses. Bird flu is one of several “A” subtypes. H1N1, H1N2, and H3N2 are the three A subtypes that can typically infect people. To further complicate matters, the subtype that is the subject of current fears and concerns is H5N1.

BIRD FLU’S SPREAD

In 2003 and 2004, H5N1 appeared in numerous countries in Asia, including Vietnam, China, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan. These outbreaks were soon followed by a new round of outbreaks in Russia, Mongolia, Malaysia, Kazakhstan, and once again in Vietnam, China, Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia. Over 100 million birds died or were destroyed.

In recent weeks, infected domestic birds were discovered in Turkey and Romania, underscoring how quickly the virus can spread globally.

Highlighting the world health communities repeated warnings and fears, human deaths have been reported in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia.

To date, bird flu infection to humans has been the result of direct contact with infected birds and their immediate environment. Historically, human-to-human infection has been rare. But this is what the clamor is all about, the possibility of mutation that will allow endemic human-to-human infection. This could leads to a pandemic, or worldwide outbreak.

Documented cases of H5N1 bird flu, fortunately, are readily listed.* Let’s hope the list remains small.

  • H5N1, Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region, 1997: Highly pathogenic avian influenza A (H5N1) infections occurred in both poultry and humans. This was the first time an avian influenza A virus transmission directly from birds to humans had been found. During this outbreak, 18 people were hospitalized and six of them died. To control the outbreak, authorities killed about 1.5 million chickens to remove the source of the virus. Scientists determined that the virus spread primarily from birds to humans, though rare person-to-person infection was noted.
  • H9N2, China and Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region, 1999: Low pathogenic avian influenza A (H9N2) virus infection was confirmed in two children and resulted in uncomplicated influenza-like illness. Both patients recovered, and no additional cases were confirmed. The source is unknown, but the evidence suggested that poultry was the source of infection and the main mode of transmission was from bird to human. However, the possibility of person-to-person transmission could not be ruled out. Several additional human H9N2 infections were reported from China in 1998-99.
  • H7N2, Virginia, 2002: Following an outbreak of H7N2 among poultry in the Shenandoah Valley poultry production area, one person was found to have serologic evidence of infection with H7N2.
  • H5N1, China and Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region, 2003: Two cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza A (H5N1) infection occurred among members of a Hong Kong family that had traveled to China. One person recovered, the other died. How or where these two family members were infected was not determined. Another family member died of a respiratory illness in China, but no testing was done.
  • H7N7, Netherlands, 2003: The Netherlands reported outbreaks of influenza A (H7N7) in poultry on several farms. Later, infections were reported among pigs and humans. In total, 89 people were confirmed to have H7N7 influenza virus infection associated with this poultry outbreak. These cases occurred mostly among poultry workers. H7N7-associated illness included 78 cases of conjunctivitis (eye infections) only; 5 cases of conjunctivitis and influenza-like illnesses with cough, fever, and muscle aches; 2 cases of influenza-like illness only; and 4 cases that were classified as “other.” There was one death among the 89 total cases. It occurred in a veterinarian who visited one of the affected farms and developed acute respiratory distress syndrome and complications related to H7N7 infection. The majority of these cases occurred as a result of direct contact with infected poultry; however, Dutch authorities reported three possible instances of transmission from poultry workers to family members. Since then, no other instances of H7N7 infection among humans have been reported.
  • H9N2, Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region, 2003: Low pathogenic avian influenza A (H9N2) infection was confirmed in a child in Hong Kong. The child was hospitalized and recovered.
  • H7N2, New York, 2003: In November 2003, a patient with serious underlying medical conditions was admitted to a hospital in New York with respiratory symptoms. One of the initial laboratory tests identified an influenza A virus that was thought to be H1N1. The patient recovered and went home after a few weeks. Subsequent confirmatory tests conducted in March 2004 showed that the patient had been infected with avian influenza A (H7N2) virus.
  • H7N3 in Canada, 2004: In February 2004, human infections of highly pathogenic avian influenza A (H7N3) among poultry workers were associated with an H7N3 outbreak among poultry. The H7N3-associated, mild illnesses consisted of eye infections.
  • H5N1, Thailand and Vietnam, 2004, and other outbreaks in Asia during 2004 and 2005: In January 2004, outbreaks of highly pathogenic influenza A (H5N1) in Asia were first reported by the World Health Organization.
  • In Indonesia, four human cases of H5N1 bird flu were confirmed and reported in July and September 2005, resulting in deaths of three of the patients.
  • On September 19, 2005, the Ministry of Health of Vietnam reported a new laboratory-confirmed human infection with avian influenza A (H5N1) virus to WHO. This infection occurred in a 35-year-old man from Ben Tre Province in southern Vietnam; he became ill on July 25 and died on July 31. Since mid-December 2004, 64 human cases of H5N1 have been reported in Vietnam, of which 21 were fatal.

Since January 2004, 116 human cases of avian influenza A (H5N1) have been reported to date: 91 in Vietnam, 17 in Thailand, 4 in Cambodia, and 4 in Indonesia, resulting in 60 deaths. CDC remains in communication with WHO and continues to closely monitor the H5N1 situation in countries reporting human cases and animal outbreaks.*

*Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


As of this time, this H5N1 virus has not been seen in the United States. Various U.S. health departments are closely monitoring for any signs of bird flu. While no travel advisories or warnings have been announced, travelers are warned to avoid poultry farms or contact with critters or potentially contaminated environs in live food markets.



PANDEMIC – CAUSE FOR CONCERN

Flu pandemics, well they can be quite deadly, period. Let’s review 20th century pandemic history.*

  • 1918-19, “Spanish flu,” A (H1N1), caused the highest number of known influenza deaths. (However, the actual influenza virus subtype was not detected in the 1918-19 pandemic). More than 500,000 people died in the United States, and up to 50 million people may have died worldwide.
  • 1957-58, “Asian flu,” A (H2N2), caused about 70,000 deaths in the United States. First identified in China in late February 1957, the Asian flu spread to the United States by June 1957.
  • 1968-69, “Hong Kong flu,” A (H3N2), caused about 34,000 deaths in the United States. This virus was first detected in Hong Kong in early 1968 and spread to the United States later that year.

*Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

All of the aforementioned influenza pandemics have been associated with avian flu viruses.

The Next Pandemic?

The big fear is that the current wave of avian flu will mutate and result in rapid human-to-human infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that a “medium level” pandemic could result in 89,000 – 207,000 deaths in the United States, alone, with 20 – 47 million people getting sick. These estimates assume the general absence of effective vaccines and drugs.


Vaccines take time to develop and the world is behind the curve.

A Dutch company, Akzo Nobel, is working on a human vaccine against the H5N1 strain of the avian flu virus. However, the first clinical trials won’t begin until 2006.

President Bush is jawboning the development and production of a new vaccine, but that’s hardly the type of action that a truly concerned and involved president would take to forestall the potential sickness and death of millions of Americans, let alone a possibly huge hit to the economy. Bush recently pow-wowed with Richard Clark, president and CEO of Merck & Co. Inc.; Robert Essner, chairman, president and CEO of Wyeth; Jean-Pierre Garnier, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline; David Mott, president and CEO of MedImmune; Howard Pien, chairman, president and CEO of Chiron Corp.; and David Williams, CEO of Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccine unit of Sanofi-Aventis.

The French company, Sanofi Pasteur, appears to have a good track on development of an effective bird flu vaccine. A study being conducted at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, the University of Rochester in New York and the University of California at Los Angeles, has found it effective. The U.S. government has purchased 2 million doses of the vaccine (potentially successful vaccination requires a series of two vaccinations) to date and “plans to buy more.”

Tamiflu (oseltamivir), an oral medication produced by Roche Laboratories Inc., is the most effective antiviral drug currently available for avian flu and is one of a class of treatments recommended by the World Health Organization for use in the event of a flu pandemic. On October 18, the Company said that it would granting licenses to other companies to manufacture the drug in an effort to increase output.

The U.S. has been slow to act in stockpiling the drug. Currently, the U.S. has stockpiles that cover less than 1 percent of Americans although only in recent days has it said that it plans to increase its stockpiles to perhaps 81 million doses. In stark contrast, the United Kingdom already has about 15 million doses of Tamiflu stockpiled. More than 25 European countries have stockpiled the drug, enough to cover as much as 20-40 percent of their populations.

But, highly criticized for being slow to react and slow to move in acquiring this potential line of defense against bird flu, the government may now be taking steps that could prove ineffective. Virologist Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a professor in the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, just recently wrote in the journal Nature, that the virus may already be mutating to the point that it is resistant to Tamiflu.

So with the possibility of Tamiflu either being unavailable to tens of millions of Americans or ultimately ineffective against a mutating strain of the disease, what is to be done to protect the nation? It takes a great deal of time to design and produce effective vaccines. And as the virus mutates, even an available vaccine may not prove fully effective.


The world population is much larger than it was in 1918, and global transmission rates are far swifter given the ubiquitous nature of air transportation and the movement of goods. The mortality rate in the U.S. for the much referred to Spanish flu was about 2.5 percent. So far, the mortality rate for bird flu in Asia is about 52 percent. If you only apply that 2.5 percent mortality rate to the entire planet, you could envision more than 160 million deaths worldwide, assuming that every person alive is infected. Of course, that’s probably not very likely, but you don’t really know. By the way? If every American was infected with the bird flu, using that mortality rate results in 7.5 million U.S. deaths.



HURRICANE KATRINA AGAIN?

These are all virtually doomsday scenarios. But one has to wonder. Given that Bush has been slow to react to the possible threat, does the government know something that we really do not? Like the threat is really overstated in the press? Or are they operating on the opposite end of the spectrum, meaning we face the influenza equivalent of Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina?

Clearly it seems that there is a strong possibility that the nation’s health care system may quickly become overwhelmed if a pandemic occurs. Writing from a perhaps quite cynical viewpoint, this could be great news for Bush and the fascist Christian Right. Just think of all those dead poor folks, the ones with inefficient access to adequate health care, the ones that cannot afford expensive vaccines and antiviral drugs. Why Bush could see huge possible dividends in all of this. In exchange for a short-term slam to the system, he could see dramatic declines in long-term utilization of Medicaid and Medicare, even reduced Social Security spending. Just think of it. The fascist Christian Right could accomplish by doing nothing what a terrorist’s nuclear weapon could accomplish, and with far less damage to the “Ownership Society’s” precious infrastructure. No collateral damage. And maybe just maybe, the terrorists, whom have largely gone forgotten what with the senseless war in Iraq, may either suffer catastrophic losses of their own, or take sympathy at our plight and wait to fight their fight of cowardess another day.

Of course, never mind the misery that would be heaped upon tens of thousands, if not millions, of Americans. But that’s old news isn’t it. Most of Bush’s social and economic policies have already gotten a good start on that.

And the rest of the world? Do we, as the wealthiest nation on Earth, owe anything to the less endowed and “have-nots” on our planet? Don’t hold your breath. Why we can’t even implement a sound, humanitarian AIDS policy in Africa without imposed the fascist Christian Right’s own morality on those very different societies. American aid always comes with strings, does it not?

But in this case, if a true and lethal bird flu pandemic does sweep the globe in the months to come, it’s probably all bets off, everyone is on their own. Just like Bush’s family and friends would have it be here at home if they get to destroy Social Security.

Keep one final parting thought in mind. With this potentially upcoming global disaster, it won’t likely be the top 2 percent of taxpayers that will bear the costs. It’ll be the lower- and middle-classes, those with the least access to lifesaving drugs and vaccines – assuming they actually work and there’s enough to go around, that is.








Monday, October 17, 2005

THE BEST THAT CAN BE SAID ABOUT HARRIET

Poor Unelected President Bush. Feeling that his one-man band campaign to annoint long-time Bush attorney Harriet Miers with a lifetime job on the Supreme Court - that's Bush's personal court you know - is deflating, what with frowning conservatives and Christian Right fascists less than endeared to her, Bush has begun a new public relations storm. He has enlisted(?) the support of numerous "old boy" judges and others from the Lone Star State to shower Miers with wimply glowing endorsements.

Just listen to the depth of commentary. Doesn't it all just turn you pink and want to endorse her yourself?

"I think when people get to know her and understand her like we do they'll find her an excellent choice. And she'll be a legend on that court before her career is finished," said former Texas Supreme Court justice Craig Enoch.

"...I know a lot about how Harriet thinks and she's a great thinker. She analyzes, she gets her facts lined up and she always does the right thing for the right reason," said former Texas Chief Justice John L. Hill, a Democrat.

"I'd trust her with my wife and with my life," Hill added afterwards. Careful Mr. Hill. Miers has never ever been married.

Why if all of that hootin' ain't enuf, just listen to how Bush, himself, praised Harriet. "She is smart," said Bush after meeting with the gang of Texas judges.

"She's been consistently ranked as one of the top 50 women lawyers in the United States," Bush added.

Well we already know that the latter comment is simply a lie.
Likely trying to refer to the National Law Journal's annual lists of the "100 Most Influential Lawyers" and the "50 Most Influential Women Lawyers," Miers can hardly be described as "consistently ranked as one of the top 50 women lawyers in the United States."

According to the NLJ lists, Miers made the "100 Most Influential Lawyers" list twice, 1997 and 2000. She made the "50 Most Influential Women Lawyers" list once, in 1998.

And what glowing report did the NMJ have for Miers to back up its 1998 list standing? The NLJ said that Miers "is a big wheel in the big state of Texas, where she is chair of the Texas Lottery Commission and the personal attorney of Gov. George W. Bush." Well if that isn't a ringing endorsement for a possible U.S. Supreme Court justice, I don't know what is. Perhaps that sells in Texas, but I'd like to think that the United States high court requires higher standards, much higher standards, don't you?

Being an influential lawyer is not quite like being a "top" lawyer, Mr. President. At least not in the real world.

The way things apparently work in Washington, especially these days with the fascist Republican Christian Right in charge, experience and credentials are meaningless. It's who you know and what you've done for them that counts. The nomination of Harriet Miers is only the latest in a laundry list of incompetent, unqualified "leaders" that have seeded our government by Bush and Company. It's only when one fails spectacularly, like Michael "Brownie" Brown, that we hear about them.

I'll have more to say on this subject later on. Stay tuned.







A REMINDER: THE LIE OF OUR "CHRISTIAN" NATION

The United States was not intended to be a “Christian” country, nor was it founded on Judeo-Christian beliefs. To adhere to such myths is to distort the important history of our nation, and to disrespect our “founding fathers,” who are alleged to be held in such reverence by the Christian Right.

Many of us don't care about Harriet Miers' religious beliefs, other than we demand that should she be appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, she keep those beliefs outside of Constitutional matters. Many of us don't care that George W. Bush cares about Harriet Miers; religious beliefs, other than they should play no part in his selection of her as a potential Justice on the Nation's highest judicial body - but it does.

The President of the United States should set the highest example of Constitutional integrity and respect for our founding fathers, period. No ifs, ands, or buts. Yet this seated President has no more knowledge or respect for our nation's history and the founders' intentions than Osama Bin Laden. Bush and the Christian fascist Right's calling out of our founding fathers' "Christian" heritage is not so much myth as it is a grand lie.

This lie will continue to perpetuate itself as the Christian fascist Right works to tear apart public education in favor of parochial interests via school vouchers; as it works to tear apart secular education by fighting needed increases in school funding on federal, state, and local levels; as it works insidiously to introducce the religious myth of "intelligent design" into science curriculum.

To begin my own diatribe on this heated subject, meditate on these quotes from one of the primary authors of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. Who happened to be a deist (among many among the founding fathers) and not a Christian.

Thomas Jefferson, Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom in Virginia, 1779:

“Well aware that the opinions and belief of men depend not on their own will, but follow involuntarily the evidence proposed to their minds; that Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible to restraint; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments, or burdens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, but to extend it by its influence on reason alone; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time: That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical;…that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry;that the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous falacy [sic], which at once destroys all religious liberty…; and finally, that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself; that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate; errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them. We the General Assembly of Virginia do enact that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities…”

This on the same subject from Thomas Jefferson’s autobiography:

“Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting the words “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read, “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by a majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.”

Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782:

“Subject opinion to coercion: whom will you make your inquisitors? Fallible men; men governed by bad passions, by private as well as public reasons. And why subject it to coercion? To produce uniformity. But is uniformity of opinion desirable? No more than of face and stature.”

Thomas Jefferson, January 1, 1802, in response to a letter from the Danbury (CT) Baptist Association:

“Gentlemen:

“The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which are so good to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist Association, give me the highest satisfaction. My duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, and in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God; that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship; that the legislative powers of the government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore man to all of his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

“I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessings of the common Father and Creator of man, and tender you and your religious association, assurances of my high respect and esteem.

Thomas Jefferson”

Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782:

“Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.”

“No man complains of his neighbor for ill management of his affairs, for an error in sowing his land, or marrying his daughter, for consuming his substance in taverns ... in all these he has liberty; but if he does not frequent the church, or then conform in ceremonies, there is an immediate uproar.”

Thomas Jefferson, letter to Elbridge Gerry, January 26, 1799:

“I am for freedom of religion and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another.”

Thomas Jefferson, letter to Edward Dowse, April 19, 1803:

“I will never, by any word or act, bow to the shrine of intolerance, or admit a right of inquiry into the religious opinions of others.”

Thomas Jefferson, letter to Benjamin Rush, April 21, 1803:

“It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others; or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own.”

Thomas Jefferson, letter to Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814, elaborated about the history of common law:

“For we know that the common law is that system of law which was introduced by the Saxons on their settlement in England, and altered from time to time by proper legislative authority from that time to the date of Magna Charta, which terminates the period of the common law…This settlement took place about the middle of the fifth century. But Christianity was not introduced till the seventh century; the conversion of the first Christian king of the Heptarchy having taken place about the year 598, and that of the last about 686. Here then, was a space of two hundred years, during which the common law was in existence, and Christianity no part of it.

“…if any one chooses to build a doctrine on any law of that period, supposed to have been lost, it is incumbent on him to prove it to have existed, and what were its contents. These were so far alterations of the common law, and became themselves a part of it. But none of these adopt Christianity as a part of the common law. If, therefore, from the settlement of the Saxons to the introduction of Christianity among them, that system of religion could not be a part of the common law, because they were not yet Christians, and if, having their laws from that period to the close of the common law, we are all able to find among them no such act of adoption, we may safely affirm (though contradicted by all the judges and writers on earth) that Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.”

Jefferson later goes on to discuss what he sees as the origins of the erroneous argument that common law sprung from Christianity, noting that in the same letter, Jefferson examined how the error spread about Christianity and common law. Jefferson realized that a misinterpretation had occurred with a Latin term by Prisot, “ancien scripture,” in reference to common law history. The term meant “ancient scripture” but people had incorrectly interpreted it to mean “Holy Scripture,” thus spreading the myth that common law came from the Bible.

Jefferson writes:

“And Blackstone repeats, in the words of Sir Matthew Hale, that “Christianity is part of the laws of England,” citing Ventris and Strange ubi surpa. 4. Blackst. 59. Lord Mansfield qualifies it a little by saying that “The essential principles of revealed religion are part of the common law.” In the case of the Chamberlain of London v. Evans, 1767. But he cites no authority, and leaves us at our peril to find out what, in the opinion of the judge, and according to the measure of his foot or his faith, are those essential principles of revealed religion obligatory on us as a part of the common law.”

Thomas Jefferson, letter to Horatio Spofford, 1814:

“In every country and every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own. It is easier to acquire wealth and power by this combination than by deserving them, and to effect this, they have perverted the purest religion ever preached to man into mystery and jargon, unintelligible to all mankind, and therefore the safer for their purposes.”

Thomas Jefferson, letter to Mrs. M. Harrison Smith, 1816:

“I never told my own religion, nor scrutinized that of another…” Thomas Jefferson once remarked, adding that he had “ever judged” the religion of others by their lives “rather than their” words.

Thomas Jefferson, letter to Major John Cartwright. June 5, 1824:

“I was glad to find in your book a formal contradiction at length of the judiciary usurpation of legislative powers; for such the judges have usurped in their repeated decisions, that Christianity is a part of the common law. The proof of the contrary which you have adduced is incontrovertible; to wit, that the common law existed while the Anglo-Saxons were yet Pagans, at a time when they had never yet heard the name of Christ pronounced, or knew that such a character had ever existed. But it may amuse you to show when and by what means they stole the law in upon us. In a case of quare impedit in the Year Book 34 H. 6, folio 38, (anno 1458,) a question was made, how far the ecclesiastical law was to be respected in a common law court. And Prisot, Chief Justice, gives his opinion in these words: “A tiel leis qu’ils de seint eglise ont en ancien scripture covient a nous a donner credence,” etc. See S.C. Fitzh. Abr. Qu. imp. 89. Bro.; Abr. Qu. imp. 12.

“Finch, in his first book, c. 3 is the first afterwards who quotes this case, and mistakes it thus: “To such laws of the church as have warrant in Holy Scripture our law giveth credence;” and cites Prisot, mistranslating ‘ancien scripture’ into ‘Holy Scripture.’ Whereas Prisot palpably says ‘To such laws as those of holy church have in ancient writing it is proper for us to give credence;’ to wit, to their ancient written laws. This was in 1613, a century and a half after the dictum of Prisot. Wingate, in 1658, erects this false translation into a maxim of common law, copying the words of Finch, but citing Prisot. Wing, Max. 3. And Sheppard, title ‘Religion,’ in 1675, copies the same mistranslation, quoting the Y.B. Finch and Wingate. Hale expresses it in these words: “Christianity is parcel of the laws of England.” 1 Ventr. 293. 3 Keb. 607. But he quotes no authority. By these echoings and re-echoings from one to another it had become so established in 1728 that, in case the King vs. Woolston, 2 Stra. 834, the court would not suffer it to be debated, whether to write against Christianity was punishable in the temporal courts at common law. Wood, therefore, 409, ventures still to vary the phrase, and say that all blasphemy and profaneness are offenses by the common law, and cites 2 St ra. Then Blackstone, in 1763, 4.59, repeats the words of Hale, that “Christianity is part of laws of England,” citing Ventris and Strange. And finally, Lord Mansfield, with a little qualification in Evans's case, in 1767, says that “the essential principles of revealed religion are part of the common law.” Thus engulfing Bible, Testament, and all, into the common law, without citing any authority. And thus we find this chain of authorities hanging link by link, one upon another, and all ultimately on one and the same book, and that a mistranslation of the words ‘ancien scripture’ used by Prisot.

“Finch quotes Prisot; Wingate does the same. Sheppard quotes Prisot, Finch, and Wingate. Hale cites nobody. The court in Woolston’s case cites Hale. Wood cites Woolston’s case. Blackstone quotes Woolston’s case and Hale. And Lord Mansfield, like Hale, ventures on his own authority. Here I might defy the best read lawyer to produce another scrip of authority for this judiciary forgery; and I might go on further to show how some of they Anglo-Saxon priests interpolated into the texts of Alfred’s laws 20th, 21st, 22d, and 23d chapters of Exodus, and the 15th of the Acts of the Apostles, from the 23d to the 29th verse. But this would lead my pen and your patience too far. What a conspiracy this between church and state! Sing Tantarara, rogues all, rogues all!”

Thomas Jefferson, letter to Alexander Smyth, January, 1827, on the subject of the Book of Revelations:

It is merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy, nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams. Apocalyptic writing deserved no commentary, for "what has no meaning admits no explanation."

Thomas Jefferson (undated):

“The clergy, by getting themselves established by law and ingrafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man.”