A Bedtime Story for People of All Ages:

The Tale of the Texas Bull Called Iraq and Econ, the Cow - Chapter 2

By Bernard Levy

(Note: Chapter One was written in February, 2003, before President Bush invaded Iraq. Daughter was five years old; Daughter is now eight, and Baby Brother is three years old.)

Daddy: "Hey, kids. The library had the new Rancher Bramble story about 'The Tale of the Texas Bull called Iraq and the Cow named Econ.' Let's read it.

"We left George Bramble trying to ride the bull, Iraq. As you will remember, Rancher Bramble was trying to tame Iraq so that he would mate with his favorite cow, Econ, and…"

Baby Brother: "What's 'mate' mean, Daddy?"

Daughter: "Oh, that's simple. It means, like, becoming friends. Doesn't it, Daddy?"

Daddy: "Yes. Very good. Rancher Bramble rode Iraq, and it appeared he tamed him. Iraq calmed down and became a favorite animal on the farm. He even tried to make friends with the horse, the other cows and a very talkative pig called 'Oinky'. He…"

Daughter: "Daddy, can we see the pictures?" I like it when animals make friends with each other."

Daddy: "Of course, kids. Look; here's Iraq making friends with Oinky. Here's Econ and the person on the farm Rancher Bramble hired to take care of Iraq, Halli Burton. See, Halli Burton is giving Iraq food and medicines to keep him calm.

"Well, Iraq calmed down, but it didn't last long. Iraq became very unruly again. He broke down fences and threatened to hurt the other animals. He needed special attention and a stronger corral."

Baby Brother: "He didn't hurt Econ, did he? It looks like she's growing."

Daddy: "No, son, he didn't hurt Econ. Yes, Econ is growing because she's going to have a baby, and she's very happy."

Daughter: "What about Halli Burton?"

Daddy: "Well, Rancher Bramble found out she wasn't doing the job she was being paid to do. However, Rancher Bramble looked the other way and didn't fire her."

Daddy turned the page, showing Iraq getting angrier and angrier: "Rancher Bramble's attempts to tame him were failing. Rancher Bramble and his farmhands, Don and Dick, finally looked at the papers they received when they bought him. They discovered Iraq had problems that caused great turmoil inside of him and probably was the reason why he was so angry most of the time. Rancher Bramble, Don and Dick discussed this and privately agreed that, if they had known about these facts, they would never have bought him. Rancher Bramble asked Don and Dick if they had these papers at the time they bought him from Farmer Billy Bob Clinton. They said they had the papers before they bought him and perhaps they should have read them at that time. Rancher Bramble sternly said, 'Shhh, don't tell anyone about that'."

Daughter: "Daddy, I don't understand what all that means. Does it mean Iraq had some problems inside of him that they should have known about before they tried to tame him?"

Daddy: "Yes, that's very good. You're a very smart little girl." (Daddy looked at pouting son.) "Son, you're very smart, too. You know, Daughter is older, and she knows more. But, you're very smart, too."

Daughter and Baby Brother, almost in unison: "Daddy, we're getting tired. How does this story end?"

Daddy: "Golly. I've done it again. There must be another part of the book I didn't get at the library. Well, I'll have to end with something else. What'll it be, The Rooster in the Green Slippers or Finny Dorsal, the Talking Fish?"

Baby Brother and Daughter whispered, and Daughter spoke: "Oh, I know how much you like Finny Dorsal. Read us that, please."

Tune in to the next issue to discover:

Will Rancher Bramble tame Iraq? Will Econ continue to grow? Should people read important papers before they buy things? What will happen to Halli Burton, only working because of Rancher Bramble's, Dick's and Don's kindness? Will the library ever have the last volume of the book?


An Interview with Darrell Duplicitous; the Double Talk Man

The Wonderful World of Jim Penn

From Televisionland, USA, comes the following televised broadcast interview:

"Good evening. I'm Howard Roughed, and this is OWL television, the wisdom network. This program is dedicated to interviewing newsmakers of importance and no importance. You make the final decision.

"We're here today with Darrell Duplicitous, known to millions in political and legal circles as the 'Doubletalk Man.'

"Darrell graduated from an Ivy League school with a double major in ethics and fraudulent transactions. He's worked in Washington, D.C. for the Office of External Affairs and Internal Affairs and the Office of Affairs with Interns and Externs.

He also served two years as Underneath Secretary for the BIA. Upon his leaving the department, he discovered that BIA stood for 'Bureau of Indian Affairs' and not 'Baffled Intelligence Agency.'

"He has recently written 'Being Two-Faced in a Multifaced Society: Learning to Live with and Love Lies.'

"Good evening, Mr. Duplicitous. Welcome to our show."

"Please call me Darrell."

"Darrell, I read your book and, frankly, I don't understand it. What is its message?"

"You've got to be kidding! It's as clear as a mixed message can be. We're living in a society eschewing big government while growing governmental bureaucracy for which we can't pay; a society in which the executives grab bigger salaries, stock options and bonuses without any concern for their companies and shareholders; a business environment in which investors take 'risk vs. reward' analyses to unbelievable limits; and the continuing saga of persons in positions of power who lie and steal in business and government, even though they know they'll be caught - they count on plea bargaining, turning state's evidence and receiving token fines and punishment.

"Why fight it? The more we resist, the more it costs us and the more frustrated we become. Why not have a double standard? Anything wrong with that?"

"Yes, there is. It doesn't make sense. What do we teach our children? What honesty and ethical standards do we set? How do we conduct our lives? Don't you find these questions important and disturbing?"

"Frankly, I don't. This stuff's been going on for years. We've supported and continue to support dictators and governments whose regimes nurture those who have attacked our very soil. These attacks, in turn, have given rise to a greater bureaucracy costing us tens of billions of dollars, and all at a time when Americans are clamoring for lower taxes. Learn to live with it!"

"I hear what you're saying, but two wrongs don't make a right. How can we stop the double talk and hold our heads high?"

"We have neck braces to hold our heads high, and we can't stop the double talk. President Bush wants to lower taxes. However, we now have to pay for more federal government services. He figures that lowering taxes will stimulate business and the economy, which in turn will create more tax revenues. But, the IRS can't collect the money that's owed now. So, where does that put us?

"Global warming is real and detrimentally affecting our environmental well-being. President Bush would not support the world's attempt to set standards for pollution. However, having expressed that his administration will work hard to reduce pollution, it lowered pollution requirements for both vehicles and industry. Does this make sense? Go with the flow, Joe! That's a fact, Jack!"

"You're something else, Darrell. I guess you're honest about your dishonesty."

"Howard, view it as a giant pyramid scheme. Following our time-honored tradition of misleading the American public, we have greatly expanded the number of wealthy people who have the funds to secure their financial position. Budget cuts will reduce the services most needed for the public living at the pyramid's base. These people are expanding the base, building a larger pyramid peak. Who's going to fight it? You saw how far the probes of Enron progressed in Congress and the administration. Why? Because key congresspersons and administration officials were beholding to Enron."

"Thank you, Darrell, for chatting with us. I don't get it, but maybe I'm just old school. Is this really the kind of a society we want in our country? I hope not. Well, folks, stay tuned for future developments. This is Howard Roughed, signing off with the question: If, as Shakespeare said, 'All the world's a stage,' where are the bathrooms for the politicians? They obviously need them."


Welcome to the Adult Amusement Park:


The Wonderful World of Jim Penn

News Item: "New theme parks are continually created for youngsters. Disney opened California Adventure in 2001 next to its Disneyland in Anaheim, California. The new rides and adventures include California Screamin', a new Ferris wheel; Jumpin' Jellyfish, a jellyfish-parachute drop; and Golden Zephyr, a Buck Rogers-type rocketship ride.

News Item: "It's now 2006 and a theme park for adults is being completed. One time dot.com billionaire, now dot.com hundredaire Siegfried (Skippy) Luxonnutt and old-time moneyaire, Percival Moneyhugger, announced plans to open the first amusement and recreational park dedicated to the businessperson. BusinessFunLand's attractions will focus on the Internal Revenue Service, insurance, law, construction, banking, industry and both high and low technology. Its location is being kept under wraps, but it's rumored that the 1,762 acre facility will be located in Arizona. And with that, we take you to our man in the field, Neal O'Neal, live and in person at BusinessFunLand, U.S.A."

"Thank you, Marcie, for that introduction. Good afternoon, folks. This is Neal O'Neal, and we're televising directly from BusinessFunLand. Although the park isn't open for business, we've been given permission to review its attractions. I just want to tell you that they're fantastic. Luxonnutt and Moneyhugger have done a terrific job coming up with original ideas that will appeal to businesspersons and their families and friends.

"Over there (pointing to his left) is Gobbly-Gook Land. Its main attraction will be the Mad Cap Coffee Party, where Marvin Muskrat and Practical Pig will serve neverending cups of coffee to groups of no more than 10 persons and explain, nonstop, insurance policies and coverage. It's supposed to be a thrill-a-minute experience with Marvin and Practical, the fastest mouths in the West. Two programs will be offered: life and property insurance.

"Once you're at the Party, you can't leave for two hours, during which time they will take you through whole life, term, annuities and all their variations and permutations. If you opt for the property insurance program, Marvin will read, without pause, an insurance policy including its appendixes, exhibits and table of contents.

"To my right is an attraction that combines several concepts. The Road of Tax Relief enters BusinessFunLand's own House of Horrors from which there is only one exit, the Kingdom of Payments and Levies. The main attraction is the House of Horrors where Robert Rabbit and Horace Hornbill offer two programs posing as Internal Revenue agents. They will either answer your tax questions by referring to various pamphlets, brochures and Internal Revenue Code sections and regulations to thoroughly confuse you or, if you choose, they will conduct an audit of your most recent tax return.

"This audit will result in many surprises including recognizing income that you never had and expenses that you should never have taken, all resulting in a very large tax on which interest and penalties will be added. You are then given the tax bill and delivered to the Kingdom, where your goal will be to escape with as much of your clothing and possessions as possible.

"I see that we are running out of time, but I did want to point out the most intricate and creative attraction. Your hosts in LegalLand will be Oliver Owl, 'a case is a case is a case,' and Connie Cobra. You start on a roller coaster that enters NightmareLand, where you will receive your lawsuit. Then you make your way through a series of mazes into the House of Injustice where court will be held with adverse results. You will then exit on a train to TomorrowLand where animated cartoon characters will offer you creative solutions to avoid the judgment against you.

"I'm sorry that our time is up, Marcie. There are so many more wonderful exhibits and attractions to point out like the Banking Adventure, with computer printouts of indecipherable bank statements, and the Nightmare of Constructing Your Dreamhouse.

"You may wonder why anybody would visit this theme park - it's simple. It feels so good to leave this fantasy world! A good example might be having a horrible toothache, going to the dentist and leaving the dentist relieved of pain and thankful for the experience. Okay, Marcie, back to you in the studios."


Downsizing and Freelancing: History and the Present

The Wonderful World of Jim Penn

Let's travel back to a time of Yore to understand the present. Assembled at the Camelot Round Table are 20 Knights in Shinning Armor. King Arthur enters, his face quite somber. It had been rumored that he'll make an important announcement today.

He speaks. "My valiant and loyal Knights, I come to you with mixed blessings. Thanks to you, we have been successful in our campaign against the Saxons. Peace and tranquility are once more with us and will be for many years. Crops abound, and trade flourishes. All are employed, and I have reduced taxes to the greatest extent."

Lowering his voice, he continues. "But with the good news comes the not-so-good news. There is no longer the need for your services there once was. Therefore, I must announce that, effective in a fortnight, eight of you will be dismissed from my service with severance."

An alarming cry went up from all present, "Ohhhh!"

King Arthur recognized his error. "Not severance of heads, but severance payment for deeds well done," he said.

"Ahhhh!" was the relieved reply, and then silence.

Sir Lancelot rose to his feet and broke the silence, "My liege, it has been my life's highlight to serve you. I recognize the great responsibility that you owe your people. Having majored in demand-for-supply-side economics, I know the necessity to reduce taxes, when possible, and minimize the governmental payroll. Although a 40 percent reduction is quite drastic, I stand ready to do whatever is necessary. I feel that I speak for all here."

After much applause, the King addressed Lancelot. "Sir Lancelot, as one of my most trusted men, you shall always be foremost in my heart but, because you command the greatest salary, it is you and seven others that must bite the proverbial dust and seek other employment. Of course, if future need should arise, I will again call upon you to take up the banner and join my forces."

Lancelot rose and addressed the King once more, "I know how it saddens you to communicate your message to me and the others. I always stand ready to serve. I hope that all those served will stick together and aid those in need in the name of the Good, the Right and the Just. Of course, I will be available for conflict consulting, and hopefully you will use me as an outsource resource."

Merlin, Arthur's most trusted advisor, whispered in the King's ear. Arthur's face lit up as he nodded enthusiastically in agreement. "Sir Lancelot, I have a suggestion for you and your band of seven. As we know, Merlin, a prestidigitator of the highest order, has an honors degree in marketing from the Invisible College. He suggests, Lancelot, that you shorten your name to Lance, and you and your band become known as Freelancers. No longer will you be required to pledge fealty to one employer, but you can roam freely to do many jobs."

Sir Gawain pounded the table with glee and said, "What a marvelous idea!"

And, so, Sir Lancelot and his upbeat band of Freelancers roamed the highways and byways offering their services to all who could pay for them (and also did some conflict consulting for King Arthur). They made a decent living, although Lancelot and his men never did acquire sufficient estates to retire.

We now fast forward to the headquarters of Amalgamated Consolidated. Rupert Pendragon, chairman of the board and CEO, is meeting with his top management in the conference room which, coincidentally, has a round table. Amalgamated Consolidated, once a semiconductor manufacturing darling of Wall Street, has fallen on semihard times and is in the process of reorganization.

He begins, "Ladies and gentleman, I have some good news and some not-so-good news. What do you want to hear first?"

And, you know the rest of the story!


Hidden Stories

By Bernard Levy

    The following are a few of the "Hidden Stories." We define "hidden stories" as news that: 1) never receives coverage in mainstream media (MSM); 2) gets published, but insignificantly, e.g., in a newswire that's easily overlooked by a reader or placed in an out-of-the-way page, perhaps next to a large ad for vacuum cleaners; 3) is reported reasonably well once and then never or rarely seen again.

    Most are important stories containing information that affect our pocketbooks and lives, e.g., government incompetence and corruption that cost taxpayers money. We'll cover some in depth as time and resources permit. We hope you enjoy this feature. If you do, please let us know.


There are so many hidden stories that it's taken us some time to select this week's list. Although the Taliban-led violence in Afghanistan has received reasonable press, hidden stories have not been sufficiently aired. Most recently covered is the serious threat to the democratic process and rule in Afghanistan. The Taliban is playing the game of Hamas and Hezbollah, namely gaining control by military intimidation while, at the same time, assisting the Afghans in their daily lives.

We previously covered Afghanistan's record opium crop which has been fueling the Taliban's efforts, but have not covered Pakistan's complicity in this Taliban resurgence. You remember Pakistan, the country that professes to fight terrorists and terrorism while it allows Taliban and al Qaeda terrorist activities to take place in Pakistan areas adjacent to Afghanistan. The violence continues with increasing U.S. and British military casualties. Yes, we once appeared to have defeated the Taliban in Afghanistan, but they are roaring back with a vengeance. What happened in Afghanistan to allow the Taliban comeback, and why is the Afghanistan democracy in such a precarious state? Of course, we can suggest answers; the U.N. never had a strong enough peacekeeping force in Afghanistan, and Afghanistan's government has allowed the opium trade to thrive. How do you kill the number one cash crop in a nation without providing another viable means of support for its people? This is where intelligently and effectively directed resources from the U.S. and other nations would have greatly assisted Afghanistan's budding democracy, which now may never come to full bloom.

* * * * *

Also hidden in MSM news coverage is the total cost of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This amount has been almost cavalierly reported. A report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service was recently published; it was partially based upon an update from the White House Office of Management and Budget. This update noted that war costs, including increased security at military bases, will total $110 billion dollars for fiscal 2007 which began October 1, 2006. The CRS report concluded that total cost could reach $549 billion dollars at the end of this year for Iraq, Afghanistan and increased security measures at military bases. Shouldn't we know, with reasonable accuracy, and detail, how much we're paying for our involvements and shouldn't Congress be concerned?

* * * * *

    An article written by Rebecca Santana, Associated Press Writer, published September 15, 2006, on the website Find Law.com, noted that "Iraqi security forces will dig trenches around Baghdad and set up checkpoints along all roads leading into the city to try to reduce some of the violence plaguing the capital, the Interior Ministry said Friday." Son of a ditch, this is exciting news! Yes, I can see the benefit of ditches stopping roadside bombers as well as missile-used vehicles from blowing up convoys and civilians and the military. However, won't the ditches impede travel and commerce, and how many lives will be lost digging those ditches?

The article further explains that "the security plan knows as Operation Together Forward, began June 15th and is being implemented in three phases," which "will leave only 28 inlets to Baghdad, while all other inlets will be blocked." There's much more to the article, but maybe a defense similar to the WWI Maginot Line, once wrongfully thought to be the ultimate defense in France against Nazi German, could be effective in Iraq. Let's follow this one closely.

* * * * *

A recent article by Griff Witte, L.A. Times, Washington Post Service Reporter, published in the Oregonian on September 29, 2006, brought to light that "The contractor - Parsons Corp - that botched construction of a $75 million dollar police academy in Baghdad so badly that human waste dripped from the ceiling has produced shoddy work on 13 out of 14 projects reviewed by federal auditors, the top official monitoring Iraq's reconstruction told Congress on Thursday." "Yes, there's going to be a lot of hang-wringing on this deal, but, once again, our Inane Asylum - Congress - has done its usual undersight job of its oversight duties. The article noted that the Special Inspector General for Iraq reconstruction is going to "review all of Parsons' work in Iraq, which totals about one billion dollars." Will Parsons be barred from finishing their present contracts as well as receiving future contracts? Oh, come on, Bernie, get real; probably not!

* * * * *

Finally, a recent small newspaper blurb noted the U.S. Department of Energy now estimates that "the cost to construct the large waste treatment plant at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation rose to 12.2 billion dollars." For those who many not know, Hanford is a designated site to clean up radioactive waste, converting millions of gallons of this waste into glass-like logs for permanent disposal in a nuclear waste repository. The original construction cost in 2000 was estimated at 4.3 billion. This new estimate does not include any amount to be paid to Bechtel National, the contractor employed to build the plant.

What's wrong with this picture? In six or seven years, the cost has risen almost 300 percent. In addition to the projected completion date being extended from 2011 to 2019, there are so many issues raised by this news that we must again consider how clean a nuclear power energy source is. Yes, it appears to be very environmentally sound while the nuclear materials are in use. However, once they became waste materials, golly, their radioactive life goes on, and on and on. The cost to deactivate and store such items is just one of many other issues to consider and examine.


Learning to Walk in J.C.'s Shoes

By Bernard Levy

I love my golden retriever. Cheddar is my 24/7 writing and research companion, and I cherish my nature walks with him.

On September 10th we set off on our daily trek to the Willamette River for swimming - Cheddar, and throwing sticks in the water - me. I had negotiated this particular steep decline to the water more than two dozen times but, on this day, I fell on "the last step" to the river. I lost my footing on the slick river bottom and broke my ankle so cleanly and badly that my foot positioned itself perpendicular to my leg. Luckily, my good friend, Terry, and his German short-hair pointer, Gunner, were just ahead of me. His cell phone worked. Several emergency rescue crews arrived with due dispatch, and they had to carve a path up the incline to carry me out.

I hadn't broken a bone in 70 years, and the pain and related stuff that followed opened my eyes to the hidden heroes in our lives.

I picked a great surgeon, and his expertise is evident; the insertion of a steel plate and six screws has been without incident. However, the medications and their consequences have been a different story, but all of that pales in comparison to what I have learned.

Although one of my uncles, Ben Kaufman, was awarded a Medal of Honor in the First World War and nationally recognized as a war hero, the message of who the daily heroes are in our society hit me: They include my departed best friend J.C. - John Conery - and my Aunt Dorothy. John was one of those important persons in my life and the only person along with his wife, Kathi, who knew all my wives. He and I worked for four years as accountants and auditors in the San Diego office of Peat Marwick Mitchell, now KPMG. We were steadfast friends for more than 40 years, and our friendship only ended with his untimely death after a courageous bout with cancer.

Now, for the hero stuff. John contracted polio when he was a young man and wore a steel brace from his shoe to his thigh on his right leg. His polio leg was mere skin and bones, but that didn't stop him from leading an active and full life; he and Kathi raised four children. One of his favorite pastimes was swimming in his backyard pool.

However, until I broke my ankle, I never appreciated - heck , I didn't even comprehend - what John must have endured to prepare for a day's activities. I never heard him complain about the many difficulties he must have faced daily, including walking with a decidedly awkward gait. He never spoke about his continuing pain, and all the people with whom he worked just viewed him as an ordinary Joe, without any awareness of his disability.

It's clear to me now that the unsung heroes in our society are those who have disabilities that materially affect their daily lives, although many of them don't view it that way.

On a par with these heroes are the caregivers who should qualify as heroes in their own rights.

I "threw away" my crutches after three weeks, but continue to walk in my steel-braced boot, at the insistence of my surgeon. Just this limited time of walking with a six-pound boot has detrimentally affected my back; I continually experience pain which I now realize J.C. experienced daily, yet without complaint.

This brings me to my Aunt Dorothy, who was stricken with polio back in one of polio's first waves of terror. In those days, it was called infantile paralysis, and aptly named since my Aunt Dorothy and thousands of others were stricken as children. She was 10 or 11 when polio reared its horrendous head, and her rehabilitation or, more correctly, her courageous fight to lead a normal life was a living testament to her spirit. Her story is one of many that needs to be told.

Her mom and dad, my grandparents, gave up their lives for many years to solely care for her in the 1920's when very little was known about the affliction. Her stricken legs were the exact opposite of J.C.'s skin-and-bone configuration. Aunt Dorothy's were bloated, probably filled with fluid. She wore heavy leg braces and walked with canes. As an aside, she was the only one of my grandparents' other four daughters who could swim; and did she swim! In fact when my dad, for a brief period in the 40's, owned a 26 foot cruiser on the Delaware River, she had no hesitation to sun herself on the foredeck, never fearing that she may be called upon to swim in the event of a heavy wake.

She attended and received her degree from Rider College, now University, in the old, four-story Trenton, New Jersey, classroom building that served Rider until the college moved in 1960 to its beautiful campus in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. I know all about that old building because my class was the last to use that facility. My aunt, with her braces and canes, had to negotiate at least two, if not three, flights of stairs to attend classes.

But now comes the heavy hero stuff. She was employed for many years by the State of New Jersey as an Employment Specialist. Her specialty was working with disabled veterans returning from WWII and the Korea War. Since she was my godmother, I often visited her at work and witnessed her compassion for these returning disabled veterans.

When she sensed that a veteran, or any job applicant, was feeling unduly sorry for himself or herself, she would excuse herself from her desk under the pretext of having to retrieve a file. She arduously righted herself with her canes and laboriously crossed a lengthy hallway - in full view of the applicant - and retrieved the file she didn't need. Her nonverbal message was clear and convincing to the person sitting at her desk: Get a grip on yourself; if I can do it, you can do it; I know you're in pain and hurting, but that's no reason to give up on life.

My Uncle Ben, the war hero, and she fell in love in their middle years, and their marriage was a lifelong love affair to behold. He was the Executive Commander of the Jewish War Veterans for many years and, in their worldwide travels, met kings, queens, heads of state and dignitaries of all magnitudes and description.

With life's traumas come perspective. It's unfortunate that we have to learn by trauma, but that's the way it is. We can learn otherwise, but trauma increases the illumination of the lesson. My broken ankle is just a mere blip in my life; something I hadn't planned to experience, but experience it I did. My pain and discomfort, such as the inability to shower and then shower with difficulty, is thankfully temporary.

I challenge you to consider the heroic struggles of persons with continuing disabilities who rise above their pain and hardships to live with strength, courage and meaning, performing those everyday tasks we take for granted.

For those who read this column, consider my message very carefully. There are many unrecognized heroes throughout our society who deserve our daily respect and admiration. Hopefully, you won't need to experience this revelation through some physical mishap of your own, such as tumbling down an embankment and breaking your ankle.