The Inane AsylumTM - Congress and Its Inmates
(A pre-election column; see the post-election coverage in this issue.)

By Bernard Levy

Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition, definitions:

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(Although this column was written pre-election, we believe it requires publication)

On this election eve, let's approach Congress, whom we "affectionately" label "The Inane AsylumTM," on a "What if?" basis.

We have been taught by the experts (moms, dads, teachers) that we should never revert to the "would have, should have, could have" syndrome. In other words, whatever we did, whatever has happened, is real and factual. We can't go backwards. Although President Bush has consistently said, when the many occasions have arisen - "I don't want to play the blame game" - it's not a question of blame, but a question of fixing responsibility for actions. And so, let's indulge ourselves in the "What if?" game with Congress with the view that perhaps something can be accomplished in the future.

Maybe not, but even some of the above actions that could have been taken would have been much better than the actions that were not taken.

Truly Congress has lived up to its name and reputation of being the Inane AsylumTM.

 

The Inane AsylumTM - Observations on the Elections and Their Aftermath: What Do They Really Mean?

By Bernard Levy

Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition, definitions:

  • "Inane: Absurd, banal, foolish, frivolous, insipid, pointless, silly, trite, vapid."
  • "Asylum: A sanctuary, as a temple, where criminals, debtors, etc., are safe from arrest; an institution for the care of the mentally ill, or the aged, the poor, etc.…"

We've listened to and absorbed the rantings, ravings, and forecasts of most of the prominent political pundits in the country, both before and after the election. We've taken into account the changes that have already occurred in our country, including the "resignation" of Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense, the immediately thereafter announcement of Robert Gates as the new Secretary of Defense, the prospective plans of the new Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, for the first 100 hours of the new Congress and the worldwide reactions to the results of our mid-term elections.

First, the players and their attitudes. We, at The FCP, are most impressed with the post-election statements and the level-headedness of Nancy Pelosi. We have not been overwhelmingly impressed with her behavior during the last six years, but we could have misread her statements and political posturing. Or, could it be a variation of the Harry Truman syndrome: when a person is thrust into a position from which he (or she) has to perform and perform well, he (or she) will certain do so, probably exceeding expectations of those who observe? Clearly, Ms. Pelosi fills that bill.

President Bush and his administrative henchpersons are another story. First, it is interesting to note that Vice President Cheney, chief political guru Karl Rove, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, have almost disappeared from view. I refer you to The Full-Court Press first issue column: "PTFE - The Slick Invention that Protects Politicians and Corporate Executives." Perhaps Ms. Rice and Messrs. Cheney and Rove have gone to that secret laboratory in the Runnamuckah Hills in eastern Oregon to obtain the necessary coating used to insulate politicians and corporate executives from legislative and financial investigations and lawsuits. Who knows? There may be such a laboratory in the United States which indulges in that type of activity.

President Bush is another story. Again, I refer you to our first issue's column, "The Bush Way," to give you some insight into his mannerisms and reasons for his actions. His vitriolic attacks on Democrats, emphasizing time and time again that Democrats are soft on terror and electing a Democrat will weaken our national security, were not only without merit, but without any consideration for the wellbeing of the United States. If our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are unduly concerned with the results of the election because of these past pronouncements by President Bush, he has not only done a great disservice to our troops, but has, in fact, exhibited an anti-American attitude that plays into the hands of the terrorists.

I particularly enjoyed Mr. Bush's recent statement on television, particularly in conjunction with his meeting with Nancy Pelosi when he said, to paraphrase, campaigning is finished, now governing begins. Golly, I thought that he was the President of the United States even during the campaigning. He was under the duty, actually a fiduciary duty, to all the people of the United States to act responsibly and reasonably. It's one thing to campaign hard and effectively; it's quite another to exhibit a mean and malevolent attitude that actually defines a person and his or her character traits.

If you were to call candidates "dirty, rotten Jews" during a campaign effort and the elections result in success for those candidates, gaining their confidence and cooperation to achieve common goals may be quite difficult, if not impossible. Mr. Bush should understand that everything doesn't go in elections; elections are not football games; he has a duty as the recognized leader of the free democratic world to consistently set a moral and ethical example in conveying his thoughts.

President Bush is a devout Christian - I believe the correct term is a born-again Christian - and it was Jesus who emphasized the importance of taking the moral ground by "turning the other cheek." Can President Bush do that, or, at least, become effectively consolatory to those whom he has so vigorously insulted? Only time will tell, but the tremendous whupping that the GOP and President Bush took in the elections is clear.

What does the election mean to the American public and Congress? Did the American public vote for Democrats or did they vote against GOP candidates? The so-called politically-astute commentators and analysts vary in their opinions, but we believe that there is value in all of their statements. Bush's war in Iraq was first and foremost on the minds of most American voters, and the American public not only voted against Republican candidates regarding this issue, they also voted for Democrats, hoping that the course of the war would change. Interestingly, the war in Afghanistan was not a major topic of concern, but our efforts for a lasting and meaningful democracy are going badly.

The economy, while apparently quite good overall, has real weaknesses and many of the voters are not benefiting from the Bush administration's pandering to the rich, superrich and corporations, particularly those who are involved in defense contracts. Again, President Bush has done everything in his power to minimize the importance of increasing our efforts against global warming, protecting the environment, providing meaningful healthcare to all of our citizens, and emphasizing an effective federal energy policy and programs.

The "resignation" of Rumsfeld was incorrectly categorized by the news media. He didn't resign; he was flat-out fired. But the most interesting part of this - a hidden story - is that President Bush, within minutes after the announcement of Rumsfeld's termination, announced his candidate for the Secretary of State, Robert Gates. Wow!

The decision to change a Secretary of Defense during war is a decision that's not reached quickly and without serious thought. Even President Bush was prepared. It's clear that President Bush has now gone back to dear old daddy for help. We may never know the true story, but the facts are clear; James Baker, former Secretary of State to George H.W. Bush, Sr. and current co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group, whose report on possible future actions to be taken in Iraq will be issued shortly, and Mr. Gates are all part of H.W.'s close circle of political advisors and former administration members.

The report card is in; our current president is a lousy president; I don't think there's another word for that.

Now, to Congress. Democrats have established themselves as the majority party in both houses, combining with two independents, one of which is former Democrat Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, to control the Senate. In reality, Democrats cover the complete spectrum of political thought and inclinations. As Will Rogers said, "I am not a member of any organized party. I'm a democrat."

Many of the new members of Congress - remember, they replace many long-standing Republican incumbents - are more conservative than those incumbent Democrats who will chair important committees. Hopefully, the Democrats will band together on many important issues, but voting may require - really should require - reaching across the isle to garner votes necessary to pass legislation. I applaud the new Congress because I believe it must represent a fresh start in cleaning up Congressional ethics and helping to set the country back on the course that will benefit the American public as a whole and not special interests.

Hopefully, the new Congress will make real progress in righting the American ship that has listed badly and is in serious danger of being grounded in both global and national shallow waters.

 

A Bedtime Story for People of All Ages:
The Tale of the Texas Bull Called Iraq and the Cow Named Econ - Chapter 3

By Bernard Levy

(Note: Rancher Bramble and his ranch hands, Don and Dick, are still puzzled why their bull. Iraq, can't be tamed and become a member of the democratic ranch community. When Rancher Bramble, Don and Dick finally read Iraq's purchase papers, they discovered Iraq had serious internal problems when they purchased him. Daddy is reading the next chapter to daughter and baby brother.)

Daddy: "Gather 'round, kids. I just got chapter three of "The Tale of the Texas Bull Called Iraq and the Cow Named Econ." Let's read it together."

Daughter: "Does this new book have pictures and pop-ups like the other ones did?"

Daddy: "Yes, it does. Here they are. See, Ranch Bramble and his ranch hands, Don and Dick, looking at papers and scratching their heads. They know why Iraq, the bull, had some past problems, but they can't figure out what the new problems are. See Halli Burton giving Iraq medicine for his old problems, but the medicine is not working anymore. Iraq is doing bad things again."

Baby Brother: "Like when I take my crayons and draw on the walls?"

Daddy: "Yes, something like that. You see, Rancher Bramble paid a lot of money for Iraq and he wants to see his investment in Iraq pay off. He …"

Daughter: "What about the pretty cow Econ? How is she doing?"

Daddy: "Look at the next page. There she is, smiling and chewing grass, although you get the feeling that perhaps everything is not alright. See the little calf following her? That's her little baby girl, and she looks healthy and happy, too. However, the grass is getting dry because of the hot summer weather, and there's no rain in sight. Rancher Bramble and ranch hand Dick are a little concerned about whether Econ and her calf will continue to be happy and healthy, but the big worry right now is Iraq.

"They finally asked for advice from old Doc Harmy, the veterinary doctor who, in the old days, use to take care of the horses the Army Calvary soldiers used. He is very old and very wise. See him examining Iraq?"

Daughter: "He looks very old, but he probably knows a lot of medicine that can help Iraq. Isn't that right, Daddy?"

Daddy: "Well, Rancher Bramble and his ranch hands sure hope so. After Doc Harmy examined Iraq, he asked Rancher Bramble several questions, including what other animals were friendly with Iraq before he became angry and bad again. Rancher Bramble told the doctor that Iraq had made friends with many of the ranch animals, including Oinky, the pig. Doc Harmy decided to also examine Oinky.

"See, he's examining the pig, and you can see that he found something. See the light bulb in the bubble over his head?"

Daughter: "Yes, you told us about that once before. That means he has an idea and has learned something, right?"

Daddy: "Very good, daughter. He found that Oinky has lice, tiny little creatures that are harmful to animals and people. These little insects actually suck blood and…"

Daughter and Baby brother, almost in unison: "Ugh! That's terrible! I hope none of those insects got on Econ and her baby."

"See, there's Doc Harmy telling Ranch Bramble, Dick and Don the reason for Iraq's problems now is that lice have infected Iraq."

Baby brother: "Can Doc Harmy help Iraq? Can he give him some medicine to make him well again, like when Dr. Figgett gives us when we're sick?"

Daddy: "Well, he's going to try. See, he's going into his medicine bag and picking out some medicine for Iraq. However, the lice have infected Iraq badly, and it's going to take some time before he can get better."

Daddy turned to the next page and saw that the next chapters were missing.

"Children, we're going to have to read something else, because I have to go to the library again. Or, would you like to watch your SpongeBob SquarePants videos?"

Daughter: "Oh, yes, can we, can we?"

(Will Doc Harmy cure Iraq? Will the blood-sucking lice be killed? Have the blood-sucking lice taken too heavy a toll on Iraq's now-fragile health? Are the other problems that Iraq had cured? The next chapters will tell.)

 

Fun Interactive Programming - Professor Von Rumproast's Workshop:
It worked for kids; why not adults?

The Wonderful World of Business by Jim Penn

For decades, Sesame Street and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood educated and entertained kids with enjoyable characters and meaningful learning experiences. If it worked for our children, why not us?

Let's pay a visit to Studio 6 in TelevisionLand for the first taping of Professor Ferdinand Von Rumproast's Workshop.

(The Professor enters his workshop before a live audience.)

"Why can't I ever find my keys? Oh well, I'll use a credit card to trick the lock. Ah, there, it's open."

(He enters, places his briefcase on the desk, looks over some papers, shrugs his shoulders and walks to his golf equipment corner when he notices the audience.) "Oh, good morning! Thank you for coming. Since this is our first program, we'd like to introduce our many friends and neighbors. I'll just sing a few words of our opening song.

"It's a wonderful fiscal quarter, a wonderful fiscal quarter, a wonderful fiscal quarter in the businesshood. Won't you be my partner?

"Now, let's meet our cast. First, there's Gimmie, The Entrepreneurial Bird. Yes, he really is a big bird. Gimmie, please present yourself to our audience."

(An American Bald Eagle with a John Huston-type booming voice steps into view.)

"Thank you, Professor. My ancestors took part in this great country's development. Big, unfettered business is important to our progress. Why, I…"

"Thank you, Gimmie. As you can see, Gimmie is very forceful. Contrasting Gimmie's style, we have Little Orphan Contractor, whom we call L'il Cee.' L'il Cee, please come out and say hello to our audience."

(A freckled-faced, energetic woman wearing overalls with a heavy tool belt appears.)

"Thank you kindly, Professor. I am a businesswoman prepared to work hard and do a good job. If I can't do it today, I'll do it first thing tomorrow." (She sits down at the conference table.)

The Professor continues, "Now, I'd like to… Hold on. I think I hear Nellie from the Deli. Nellie delivers for the restaurant around the corner. She's an expert on transportation and customer service." (Nellie enters pushing a food cart.)

"Hey, Professor. Ain't it a little early for lunch? And who are all those people out there? I'm not a sideshow attraction, you know; I have lots of important delivers to make. So, who ordered the ham on rye with a side of slaw?"

"Thanks, Nellie. We'll take it from here." (Nellie leaves her cart and exits.) "Nellie will bring us current on the food service industry in our next show.

"Now, let me introduce our professionals: Harold, CPA Superhero; Martha Coverage, our insurance expert; and Bernie, the attorney."

(Harold and Martha enter from opposite directions. Harold stands behind the conference table, and Martha whispers in the Professor's ear.)

"Bernie, the attorney, can't make it today. He's meeting with Ethical Annie regarding his client, Lester Looter, the much talked-about CEO who's prominently covered in today's headlines. On our next program, I'm going to ask Bernie what he can tell us about Lester Looter.

"Martha, tell us what you do."

"Thank you, sir. Martha Coverage is my name, and insurance is my game. In our business, it's always something, like Rosanna Rosanna Danna on Saturday Night Live always said. If it's not one disaster, its another driving up insurance prices. I try to give my customers the best coverage for the buck." (She turns to Harold.) "What about you, Harold? How's it going in your profession?"

(Harold displays his blue cape with the CPA Superhero emblem to the audience and assumes a Superhero stance.) "Holy profit and loss! It's a financial jungle out there. Sometimes I think computers have minds of their own, what with overstated revenues and understated expenses. You've got to watch those computers like hawks. I meant no offense, Gimmie. Why just the other day…"

"Thank you, Harold," said the Professor. (He turns to the audience) "Each day we'll introduce you to a new letter and a new number. Today, the letter was written by Henrietta Hocklebein, chief accountant and whistleblower in the case against excessive billing by telephone companies. She'll probably lose her job over her revelations, but if she does, we'll get her on the show. We'll post her letter on our bulletin board, and she's agreed to let us show it to our viewers, which we'll do at the end of the show.

"Today's number is the new postwar estimate for rebuilding and defending Iraq, $600 billion. If I did the math correctly, that is 60 percent of a trillion dollars.

"That's our first show. So long for now, and," (the Professor gathers the cast together and sings) "Tomorrow, tomorrow, we hope that it'll be better than today, today…"

(The lights dim on Studio 6 to loud applause from the audience. Henrietta Hocklebein's letter is the background for program credits.)

 

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.

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  The October 15th edition of ABC World News noted that the federal government's current budget calls for $600 billion dollars in health costs, approximately 25% of the total budget. Not earthshaking news to most of us, we knew that federal government health costs were high, but this amount illuminates the Bush Administration's and Congress' lack of efforts to take more appropriate measures to lower the costs of health providers and drug companies. The Medicare Supplemental D Program didn't include any provisions to "encourage" pharmaceutical companies to lower costs to Medicare recipients. Even the Veterans Administration takes measures to get the best medication for the buck in this regard. Why hasn't this been done, you ask? I can't answer that, but surely it must be due to misfeasance, malfeasance, or, at the very least, nonfeasance.

* * * * * * * *

  A New York Times news service article by Steven Erlanger appeared June 18, 2006, in many newspapers, including The Oregonian. The Oregonian's headlines read, "With cash cut off, Gaza sinks deep into poverty. "The first half of the article dealt with the human suffering in the Gaza Strip due to cessation of the funds that had been supplied to the Hamas-led Palestinian authority. Palestinian suffering resulting from the lack of funding has been enormous. As of mid-June, "The United States and the European union, the major donors of some $1 billion a year in aid to the Palestinian authority - half its income - say that Hamas is a terrorist organization, and unless it agrees to recognize the right of Israel to exist, forswear violence and accept previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements, aid will mostly stop."

  As recent as November 8th, a spokesman for the Hamas-led government, Ghazi Hamad, stated that Israel must "cease to exist." To put this statement in context, this was made after an Israeli shelling which killed 18 Palestinian civilians in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. The Israelis have admitted this shelling, stating that it was due to technical error and profoundly apologized for the loss of lives. A small consolation for such suffering, but the Israelis, in fighting for Israel's survival, are continually attempting to knockout Hamas missile sites and terrorist activities.

  However, on November 10, 2006, Ian Fisher of The New York Times News Service reported that "Hamas committed Friday to folding its eight-month government if that would restore the international assistance that was cut off after it won Palestinian national elections earlier this year." The lengthy article also noted that "On one hand, Prime Minister (Ismail) Haniyeh (who would likely resign soon) suggested that any new government of national unity would be able to satisfy the demands of Israel and other donors, which include recognizing Israel's right to exist. …. At the same time, Haniyeh said that Hamas would remain a key player that would never waiver from principle." At least, there's some movement and some hope on both sides. I never could understand why the surrounding Muslim nations have not come forth to take up the assistance deficiency to aid the Palestinians and its government. This is, indeed, another hidden story.

* * * * * * * *

  Our last hidden story is brought to light in an article published October 8th and written by Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar of The L.A. Times - Washington Post Service. He focuses on something that many believe, but don't have the facts to say is true, namely the Food and Drug Administration needing additional funds to adequately test drug safety. Following the time-tested conservative approach to government - "The best government is the government that governs least" - many of our important governmental agencies lack the necessary funds to do the jobs they are suppose to do. So, what does the FDA do without adequate funds? As the article notes, " 'We have to do difficult triage about which ones we are going to follow up on,' said an FDA official closely involved with the agency's budget, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity within the Bush administration." Doesn't that sound a lot like teenagers who communicate with their friends they should tell their parents about a current problem, but telling their parents would just upset them? Wouldn't it be refreshing to have a government where the services necessary to protect our citizens are funded adequately so that they can fully do their jobs? This is a significant hidden story because only a quarter of the truth is exposed, and three-quarters remain below the surface, like an iceberg.

 

Editorial - The Real Role of Government

By Bernard Levy

Politics is the art of manipulating facts to the advantage of the elected official speaking.

Politics is the science of ascertaining what citizens need and want, but then working hard to give lip-service to their requests and giving them something less desirable and often what they don't particularly care about.

Politics is the mechanics of positioning a politician in the public eye to gain favor and acceptance, helping to ensure that the politician will remain in office.

To quote that past sage of the political scene, Will Rogers, "A man's thoughts are naturally on his next term more than his country." And, following that observation logically, he offered, "Once a man holds public office, he is absolutely no good for honest work."

This combination of art, science and mechanics is getting nastier, more polarized and more distant from what government and elected officials' jobs really are. Do you want to know why this is happening? It's quite simple: most politicians cannot agree what services government should provide. As strongly communicated in the film "Cool Hand Luke," "What we have here is a failure to communicate."

Let's define what government's job is.

  • Government must provide those services for the public that the public cannot provide for itself. Okay, you're right; we have to identify who 'the public' is and, secondly, those services that only the government can give us.

We've identify four categories in the term "public:" 1) the general populace - those ordinary Janes and Joes - who make up the majority of us and constitute the "workforce" employed in both private industry and government; 2) the industrial and commercial complex. These include corporations, both profit and nonprofit, and government; 3) the upper echelon of society, those individuals and families that range from the upper class bordering on considerable wealth, to the overwhelming wealthy people, usually the gated-community types. Although these people can financially fend for themselves, they have the clout and desire to seek as much assistance from government as possible in order to hold onto as much of their wealth as they can. Of course, there are exceptions to this categorization, but this group is constantly concerned about the quantity of their wealth; 4) Those persons and families who fall in the lowest socio-economic strata and include welfare recipients, the disabled and those who simply cannot work for whatever reason, are advanced in years and living on the mercy of social security and assistance, the homeless and the unemployed who seek to find employment but are unsuccessful.

Now, the key to defining the services that government should provide is to identify the needs and wants of the four categories above. The definition for determining what government services the public should receive varies somewhat when we discuss state, county and municipal government activities as opposed to the federal government.

In considering only the federal government, it must provide for our safety and protection from other nations and individuals who seek to harm us. This is a given. However, the strategies, tactics, programs and costs that the federal government employs to provide these services are usually the subjects of debate and differences.

The American public needs the federal government to ensure an equality of treatment and consideration for all Americans, such as enforcing our Constitutional guarantees including the right to vote and the right to be protected from persecution for differences in gender, age, race, religion and disabilities. These areas have created the most polarity between our two major political parties and their various factions.

It took both legislation and landmark court decisions to help eradicate racial and gender discrimination. It also took federal legislation to provide persons with disabilities access to public services, facilities and employment opportunities.

The key to reasonable legislation, supportable under the law, is for the legislators and the president to think beyond election terms. Life does not exist in two, four, or six year terms, except for the political lives of officeholders. The failure to provide for adequate medical care today for those in need will cause those persons to seek emergency medical aid, which will increase the cost of health services. For the want of an effective prosthetic device, such as false teeth, a person can develop intestinal problems caused by the inability to properly chew food, which could easily result in many tens of thousands of dollars of medical care that could have been prevented by a simple new set of false teeth. Legislators think in terms of immediate budget considerations, not longer-term taxpayer cost realities.

It is clear that the four categories comprising the "public" expect different things from government. Legislators need to heed a lesson from the grade school teacher who instructs students in learning fractions; often to solve a fraction problem, you must find the common denominator. That's a start in government. Usually, the primary issue focuses on cost of government and how that cost is to be divided among the various necessary services. Make no mistake about it; we at The FCP strongly believe in a balanced budget, both federally as well as locally, regionally and statewide. Accompanying that conservative fiscal philosophy is the need to provide the funds necessary to fully do the jobs that government should be doing, including oversight, research, inspection and implementation of the law. Government, as well as business organizations, must run effectively and efficiently. Unfortunately, government does not have to account to its shareholders as corporations do. Yes, I know; the shareholders of federal government are its taxpayers, the electorate. However, the electorate's interests are subject to the powerful lobbying efforts which often defeat good government.

Government has to call a shovel a shovel; if the need is present, it should be fully funded. The excuses often given for not fully funding projects are that the government is wasteful and the legislators do not know whether the funds will be honestly and reasonably used. That, of course, is specious and fallacious reasoning; the legislators should provide the oversight necessary to ascertain that the funds are so being used.

And so it goes. If the conservatives are interested in conserving our tax dollars as much as possible, then they should be less interested in pork barrel legislation and more overseeing the workings of government. Those interested in providing effective human-designated services should be interested in seeking the most effective and efficient way of serving the needs of the people. Government is not an easy job, but it can be made much easier if the participating legislators and administrations would approach the questions presented honestly and directly. No more rhetoric without substance; no more actions without meaning. Let's hope that the fresh air blowing into the chambers of Congress will have a meaningful result.