Saturday, November 26, 2005

Christmas? Bah?

Let's get over it already! Jesus, or Yeshua as was his real Semitic name that Romans and subsequent anti-Semitic church fathers have attempted to erase from history, was not born on December 25. For these purposes, to reach a wider audience, I'll use his non-Semitic name. That idea originated in the fourth century only because the Roman Empire's Catholic Church wanted to upstage a very popular, and obviously threatening pagan holiday honoring the popular sun god, Mithra. Further, back in those days, whether you were considered pagan or Hebrew, people frowned on celebrating birthdays. The celebration of a person's passing was far more traditional and, to this day, is a standard of religions such as Islam. Most history, including chronicals of Jesus' birth in the New Testament Gospels, seem pretty clear about in what season Jesus would or would not have been born. And it clearly was not in the dead of December.

We have also conveniently forgotten the non-Christian origin of Easter. While there is great symbolism and love in the honoring of Jesus on the occasions of his death and rising, Easter was not on the "X" Sunday after such and such. These events occurred on specific days during Jesus' Passover, or Pessach, holiday. But again, church fathers chose and choose to distance themselves from Jesus' Hebrew faith. And by the way, there are also "pagan" or non-Christian origins for the celebration of Easter.

As far as our beloved Christmas tree, much has been written about the 16th century German origins of this symbol. However, there is just as much, if not more evidence, tracing the concept of a Christmas tree - and Yule logs - all the way back to ancient Roman and Egyptian times - in honor of "pagan" gods.

Our so-called Christian fathers of our nation? Another myth. Puritans, for one group, did not celebrate Christmas; it was even banned in Massachusetts for some time. And they did not adopt Christmas trees until late in the 19th century. We can only guess as to why they changed their minds.

So all of whomever's self-righteous complaining about the toning down of Christmas symbolism in stores, etc.? Point one, I think that it is nonsense, either way, to de-Christianize the sickeningly prideful and extravagant Christmas holidays, especially in light of the fact that, whether we are talking about fellow citizens or our government "leadership," they have all lost sight of Jesus' actual teachings. And that includes all of the fundamentalist folks that purposefully ignore Jesus' loving Beatitudes, among other teachings of the Master, and instead worship war and revenge and, you know, all those so-called godless or pagan concepts.

We need more spiritual symbolism and reminders in our daily lives. Not those that encourage us to spend, spend, spend rather than give in charity. Nor those that encourage us to wage wars against followers of other spiritual traditions - in the name of OUR spiritual path.

Christians can learn and grow a great deal by actually studying and following Jesus' actual teachings and not just prayers, rituals, and political sermons that pour from Sunday pulpits. What is it that we say, "practice what we preach?" Only it is Jesus that did the preaching which we choose to ignore in our daily lives.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Did Blair persuade Bush not to bomb Al-Jazeera?

By Robert Barr
The Associated Press

LONDON – A civil servant has been charged under Britain's Official Secrets Act for allegedly leaking a government memo that a newspaper said today suggested that Prime Minister Tony Blair persuaded President Bush not to bomb the Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera.

The Daily Mirror reported that Bush spoke of targeting Al-Jazeera's headquarters in Doha, Qatar, when he met Blair at the White House on April 16, 2004. The Bush administration has regularly accused Al-Jazeera of being nothing more than a mouthpiece for anti-American sentiments.

The Daily Mirror attributed its information to unidentified sources. One source, said to be in the government, was quoted as saying that the alleged threat was "humorous, not serious," but the newspaper quoted another source as saying that "Bush was deadly serious, as was Blair."

for the rest of the story...


The Man Who Sold the War

Meet John Rendon, Bush's general in the propaganda war


The road to war in Iraq led through many unlikely places. One of them was a chic hotel nestled among the strip bars and brothels that cater to foreigners in the town of Pattaya, on the Gulf of Thailand.

On December 17th, 2001, in a small room within the sound of the crashing tide, a CIA officer attached metal electrodes to the ring and index fingers of a man sitting pensively in a padded chair. The officer then stretched a black rubber tube, pleated like an accordion, around the man's chest and another across his abdomen. Finally, he slipped a thick cuff over the man's brachial artery, on the inside of his upper arm.

Strapped to the polygraph machine was Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, a forty-three-year-old Iraqi who had fled his homeland in Kurdistan and was now determined to bring down Saddam Hussein. For hours, as thin mechanical styluses traced black lines on rolling graph paper, al-Haideri laid out an explosive tale. Answering yes and no to a series of questions, he insisted repeatedly that he was a civil engineer who had helped Saddam's men to secretly bury tons of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. The illegal arms, according to al-Haideri, were buried in subterranean wells, hidden in private villas, even stashed beneath the Saddam Hussein Hospital, the largest medical facility in Baghdad.

for the rest of this insightful article from Rolling Stone (11/17/2005)


The Coming Drug Bust?

The newest Medicare benefit is confusing and costly. It may not be much of a political boon to the people who created and promoted it.

By Robert J. Samuelson

Nov. 28, 2005 issue - Good policy can make for good politics, and bad policy can make for bad politics. Republicans may be about to discover this truism with their Medicare drug benefit, passed by Congress in 2003 and scheduled to take effect in January. As policy, the drug benefit is a calamity. It worsens one of the nation's major problems (paying baby boomers' retirement costs) while addressing a nonexistent "crisis" (allegedly oppressive drug costs for retirees). Its purpose was mostly political: to bribe the elderly or soon-to-be-elderly to support Republicans in 2004. Now it may backfire on Republicans.

Sometimes it's hard to give away money without making people angry. They figure you should give them more, or they dislike your terms. Here, Republicans created grief for themselves. They rejected a simple add-on of drug coverage to Medicare. Instead, they preferred a "market-based" system that has private insurance companies offer plans that are, in turn, subsidized by Medicare. Congress set a minimum benefit (including a $250 deductible and 25 percent premiums on coverage up to $2,250) and invited insurers to provide that plan or something "actuarially equivalent." The result: many plans—and much confusion.

In 46 states, Medicare beneficiaries can choose from 40 plans or more, reports the Kaiser Family Foundation. People feel overwhelmed. It's hard to compare plans, which often cover different drugs and have varying deductibles and premiums. One monthly premium is as low as $1.87; another is as high as $99.90. A survey by Kaiser confirms the bafflement: only 35 percent of Medicare beneficiaries say they understand the drug benefit "very well" or "somewhat well"; a dismal 61 percent say they understand it "not well at all" or "not too well."

For Republicans, there's a second political problem—outrage among conservatives over the new spending and the biggest expansion of Medicare since its creation in 1965. From 2005 to 2015, the drug benefit will cost $858 billion, estimates the Congressional Budget Office. Similarly, many conservatives ridicule the role of private insurance companies. "This is not a market-based system. It's central planning," says Robert Moffit of the Heritage Foundation. "You have [more] red tape and bureaucracy"—all the rules and subsidies that regulate the insurance plans.

Republicans deserve the backlash, because their motives were so blatantly political. President Bush embraced congressional demands for a big drug benefit from, among others, House Speaker Dennis Hastert. "He was pushing for a program that wouldn't just apply to poorer seniors [Bush's original plan]," says John Feehery, Hastert's former press secretary. "Medicare has always applied to all seniors. That's the political reality. They are the people who vote." To be fair, Democrats groveled with equal abandon; their drug plans were generally costlier.

Whether the Republicans' bribe initially succeeded is unclear. Among voters 65 and over, Bush beat Kerry in 2004 by 52 percent to 47 percent, a five-percentage-point gain over 2000 but close to his overall victory margin (51 percent to 48 percent). In the House, the Republican majority increased slightly. But the drug plan's features confirm its political nature. First, Republicans declined to pay for it; most costs (literally trillions of dollars) must be covered by borrowing or future tax increases. Second, there's the "doughnut hole"—the standard benefit provides coverage up to $2,250 of drug costs and then no coverage for the next $2,850. Of course, this makes no sense as health or social policy. The purpose was political: to provide benefits for lots of people while limiting total costs.

The justification for a broad drug benefit was always flimsy. When Congress passed it, about three quarters of Medicare recipients already had drug coverage: the poorest had it through Medicaid; many retirees had it from their former employers; some had it through Medicare managed-care plans or policies (Medigap) they purchased. For Medicare recipients, all out-of-pocket costs—including drug costs—have remained remarkably stable. In 2001, they averaged 9.9 percent of income; the comparable figures for 1977, 1987 and 1996 are 8.1 percent, 9.4 percent and 8 percent. In 2002, 55 percent of Medicare recipients had out-of-pocket costs of less than $1,000; another 26 percent were under $2,499. Drug costs are oppressive mainly for a small minority of uninsured poorer recipients with large bills.

Mark McClellan, the doctor and economist who runs Medicare, thinks that understanding of the drug benefit will increase and that perhaps 30 million of Medicare's 43 million recipients will gladly sign up. Perhaps. But it may be that the program's complexities and idiosyncrasies intensify resentment. Some commentators (including me) have suggested repealing or suspending the benefit. That would be good policy, because it would cut wasteful spending and allow drug coverage to be included in a major Medicare overhaul that focuses on the neediest and takes steps to curb costs. With hindsight, Republicans may someday realize that it also would have been good politics.

© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.

© 2005

Monday, November 21, 2005


Vakil is taking the holiday week of November 21 off.

Peace to all.