By Bernard Levy
(Note: The FCP's serialized presentation of the book, "A Bedtime Story," has fast-forwarded to Chapter 7. We bring you current in the continuing saga of Rancher George Bramble, his ranch hands, Don and Dick, and their prized bull, Iraq. We discovered in our last chapter, chapter 3, that Iraq's new behavioral problems involved lice infestation. Even after medication, Iraq is still unmanageable, but Rancher Bramble continues to believe that everything will be okay soon.
Daddy: "It's story time again, and I have the newest chapter of "The Tale of the Texas Bull Called Iraq and the Cow Named Econ. Kids, if you remember, Doc Harmy had given Iraq the bull some medicine to cure his problems. Let's see what's happening with Iraq."
Daughter: "And you'll tell us about Econ the cow and her baby?"
Daddy: "Of course. Look, here on the first page is Econ and her calf, munching grass. Her calf has really grown, and both of them look happy, don't they?"
Little brother: "Yes, they do, Daddy. Would you press the pop-up so we can see them standing on the grass?"
Daddy: "There, see them standing? Unfortunately, if you look at this next picture, Iraq is still snorting and running around and not behaving himself. You can see the worried looks on the faces of Rancher Bramble and his ranch hands, Dick and Don. Doc Harmy's medicine worked for a while, but Iraq is still having problems living in peace on the ranch. It seems like something else is bothering Iraq besides lice, because Doc Harmy's medicine is not working anymore."
Daddy turns the page. "Dick and Don are very upset with each other. They're pointing fingers at each other. Oh, look; they're not pointing fingers at each other but at Halli Burton. I guess she didn't do a very good job, and they're telling her to go. See her carry her suitcases and walk onto the ranch driveway and get into her car?"
Daughter: "Why are they sending her away? Has she been bad, too?"
Daddy: "I guess she wasn't doing a good job with Iraq. She's carrying some papers with her so she can get another job. That was nice of Rancher Bramble to say nice things in the papers about her.
"Look on this next page. Rancher Bramble has investors in the ranch who are getting upset with him about the condition of Iraq…"
Daughter: "What are investors, Daddy? They don't look happy, do they?"
Daddy: "No, they don't. In fact, they're very upset with Rancher Bramble and Don, the ranch hand. They're blaming Don for taking part in the decision to buy Iraq, since Iraq has cost everyone a lot of money and hasn't done the things that he was suppose to do.
"Look, they're telling Rancher Bramble that he has to let Don go, too, like Halli Burton. Rancher Bramble doesn't want to let Don go and is arguing with the investors. Wow! That's a big argument they're having, and you can see that even Iraq has stopped his snorting, puffing and running around to look at them. Maybe Rancher Bramble and the investors arguing like that will calm down Iraq.
"Well, I guess Don is going to leave the ranch, too. Look at the investors pointing fingers at Don to go." Daddy turns the page. "Rancher Bramble and Don are talking to each other, and Rancher Bramble puts a hand on Don's shoulder to show that he still likes him. Don has his suitcases packed and leaves the ranch in a very beautiful automobile. Look how black and long and shinny it is."
Daughter: "Daddy, don't you wish you could have a car like that?"
Daddy: "Not really. I love our car because it's comfortable, and both of you enjoy it as well as Mommy and me.
Little brother: "Yes, we really do. Except that there are a lot of sticky gummy bears under my seat. Can you get them out for me?"
Daddy: "I'll try. Look at Iraq, he's still running around, snorting and huffing and puffing. You can see that Rancher Bramble and ranch hand Dick are still puzzled. They don't know what to do." Daddy turns the page and says, "Oh, it looks like I need to go to the library again. Let's turn on the TV and watch the SpongeBob Smartpants show. It should be a good one. What do you say?"
Daughter and little brother, almost in unison, "Let's do it, Daddy. Let's have fun together."
Will Rancher Bramble and ranch hand Dick ever calm down Iraq? Will Econ and her baby continue to be happy? What role will the investors have in determining what to do with Iraq? Where will ranch hand Don go? Where will Halli Burton go? Hopefully, the next chapter will give us some answers.
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.
We've culled our candidates for this week's issue to five. We start off with Wen Ho Lee, the former nuclear weapons scientist, who was accused of being a spy. Fired from his nuclear weapons scientist position at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, but never charged with espionage, he was kept in solitary confinement for nine months, then released in 2000 after he pled guilty to mishandling computer files. Although Mark Sherman of the Associated Press covered the story in June, 2006 of Mr. Lee's $1.6 million settlement, we've never read or heard whether the governmental officials, who accused him of spying and subjected him to solitary confinement, were ever charged with misconduct or, at least, reprimanded. Mr. Lee received $895,000 from the government for legal fees and taxes. As the AP article noted, he accused the Energy and Justice departments of "violating his privacy rights by leaking information that he was under investigation as a spy for China." Additionally, the AP and four other news organizations paid Lee $750,000 as their part of the settlement. The case against him was, at best, tenuous, if not nonexistent.
Yes, the press did screw up, and they paid their portion of the settlement because "(they) decided this was the best course to protect our sources and protect our journalists." Protect sources that were wrong? Score one for justice but, again, why no follow up on those who wrongfully accused and incarcerated Mr. Lee?
Just covered in the MSM, the Food and Drug Administration has lifted a 14-year ban on silicone-gel breast implants. This story was covered on all national November 17th evening newscasts.
Only one of the networks noted that a primary reason for the ban's removal was the determination by the FDA that the manufacturing processes for such implants are much improved. All of the newscasts gave the following reason for approval - tests and research had determined that such implants are safe. The FDA, according to an Associated Press article written by Andrew Bridges, "warned that patients probably would need at least one additional operation because the implants don't last a lifetime."
There are several hidden stories, including what pressures were brought to bear by implant manufacturers for clearance. One of the newscasts noted that at least 300,000 women would opt for these implants as soon as possible. I vividly remember the past litigation that resulted from implant patients. This story isn't over yet.
I have waited since June 13, 2006, when an Associated Press small blurb was published with the headline "Banks' reserves under scrutiny." It appears, according to the article, that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke communicated to the press that a "sweeping regulatory plan to improve risk management for the countries largest and most internationally active banks is important to make sure the U.S. financial system remains sound." I read a ton of financial and business print every month, but have yet to see a follow-up story. The last paragraph of the AP's article noted that "the aim of the proposal is to more closely match the risk in big banks' portfolio with the capital they hold in reserves." Hopefully, there will be no need for this hidden-away story to come to light.
The following story is most recent, having been covered November 18, 2006 in The Oregonian in an article written by Lisa Grace Lednicer. It appears that the former West Linn Finance Director was sentenced to eight years for theft of $1.4 million from the City of West Linn to "support a gambling habit and lifestyle that included clothing from Ralph Lauren, gifts and $17,000 worth of jewelry." This theft occurred over a five year period. She pled guilty to 57 counts of theft and first-degree aggravated theft. Addicted to gambling, particularly video poker and slot machines, Elma Magkamit, had no previous criminal record and earned $85,596 a year in her position as the city's finance director. West Linn, for all non-Oregon readers, is a city suburb of Portland.
She apparently had many enablers, including her husband, a small-business auditor, who wasn't a suspect in the thefts. However, "he often accompanied his wife during her gambling trips." The hidden story is how an employee of any governmental agency could continue to embezzle funds for a five year period without raising some suspicion on the part of those who should have overseen her position. As the article noted, "An accountant the city hired to prepare the paperwork for a required annual audit discovered Magkamit's thefts in April, while combing through the city's financial records." The instructive word in this quote is "annual." How in tarnation, being an old CPA/auditor, could this have continued to remain undetected for a period of time spanning many "annual" audits? Yes, persons in or working for government weren't doing their jobs. This problem is present in all levels of government; how about those Congressional Oversight Committees that have no sight?
Again, we waited several months to feature this story, anticipating that additional MSM coverage would be forthcoming. According to Griff Witte of The L.A.-Washington Post Service, published by The Oregonian July 12, 2006, "The Army is discontinuing a controversial, multi-billion dollar deal with oil services giant Halliburton Co. to provide logistical support to U.S. troops worldwide, a decision that could cut deeply into the firm's dominance of government contracting in Iraq." This occurred after "many years of attacks from critics who saw the contract as a symbol of politically connected corporations profiteering on the war." Interestingly, this comes at the end of Halliburton's contract. Halliburton, the article noted, had the sole rights to give the military many services including military meals, shelter and communications. Government audits revealed "more than $1 billion in questionable costs," although Halliburton officials denied the allegations. The Pentagon will split such logistical services among three companies. Most instructive is the article's ending sentence, "No contractor has received more money as the result of the invasion of Iraq than Halliburton, whose former chief executive, Dick Cheney, is Vice President."
The hidden question is what follow-up, if any, has taken place to debar Halliburton from entering in and performing contractual services with any federal governmental agency? It would be nice to know whether good ol' Dicky-boy's company is still receiving favored treatment.
The Latin phrase "Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?" - "Who will guard the guard?" - seems appropriate to finish this column. Where are the checks and balances in our lives today? Whose minding those who "mind the store?" Isn't the entire point of an annual audit, oversight committee or government agency to uncover inaccuracies, frauds and downright thievery and protect the public? Just think about the favorable financial consequences that would occur if our taxpayers' money was managed properly. Jeepers, deficits could be reduced, and necessary services could be provided.
by Bernard Levy
Although I have a large backlog of requests for pet advice, I found the following column on my desk about our editor's golden retriever writing companion, Cheddar. It's a very good example of how a pet not only can enhance the quality of your life, but can contribute to your goals. As I read the column, Cheddar's contributions were simply a pet's reactions during the day. But, more importantly, Cheddar was there and contributed in his own way to help our editor, the writer, work through a journalist's difficulty.
There are lessons in everything; goodness knows, I've learned as much from my pets as hopefully they learned from me. However, it seems to me that Mr. Levy understands the value and meaning of true friendship.
When a writing buddy, a real contributor to content and creativity, dies in your arms of cancer, part of you dies with him. Barley was my 24/7 writing assistant, a prod when things got rough and a joy when elation was the theme of the day. Cheddar has taken his place, and he's finally gotten with the program.
Under the desk and at my feet, he's there with suggestions and answers at the appropriate times. Take today, for instance.
I became paralyzed with the overwhelming number of subjects that needed to be covered. Paralysis for me is not writer's block; it's establishing a writing priority for the important issues.
And, so I asked Cheddar, "There's much more to be said on the midterm election results, but hasn't enough been said for now?" He opened and rolled his eyes - 'nuff said.
"Okay Cheddar, ol' boy, what about covering Iraq? Should we take a stab at what we believe our continuing involvement in Iraq should be or wait a while? What does it sound like to you?"
This, Cheddar implied, was worth considering. He stretched, stood and requested some serious rubbing.
"Right on. We've got one winner. What about the economy, the new records being set every day by the Dow Jones Industrial Average? Does the real economy - the one that you and I work and live in - match what's happening on Wall Street? Is this a subject I should get into?"
Cheddar's response was immediate. With tail wagging and motioning for a cookie, he knew a unique column idea when he heard one. His approval merited the cookie and backyard access, for reasons known but unspoken.
Cheddar has more than a peccable knowledge of the world and the earthshaking, serious events taking place. His writing suggestions considered and weighed, both of us knew my day's work was clear; paralysis was broken, and the words were flowing.
What, you say that Cheddar was just fulfilling his needs and contributed nothing?
Oh, ye nonbeliever. Cheddar's contributions made more sense than those political, shoot-from-the-hip maxims and party line dribble flowing from our so-called legislative representatives and others in "high government." Cheddar doesn't deal in half-truths, political innuendo and chicanery.
Oh, but you say that he deals in self-serving actions. Yes, I'll give you that one. But who is he hurting or deceiving? Not the American public, not the community and surely not our neighborhood. His communications are direct and honest.
Wouldn't it be delightful if our politicians could learn something from Cheddar? If they communicated honestly with the American public and worked to serve the needs of the citizens and not their own special interests, I would gladly give them cookies - good ones, too - and immediate access to our large backyard. God knows, they're probably full right up to here and need to relieve themselves.
Hope springs eternal but, in our feckless political environment, it's apparent that reality is maneuvering for one's own benefits and agenda. If Cheddar does that, his actions are clear and nonhurtful. His love is unconditional and true, not tied to lobbyist perks and campaign contributor pressures.
Years ago, as a young man growing up in Trenton, New Jersey, I recall a pig farmer in, I believe, Secaucus, New Jersey, who ran for president. His name was Harry Krajewski. His running mate was always his favorite pig (I forget his name). Harry's presidential campaign drew many guffaws and numerous passing remarks at Carmine's Barbershop on Warren Street. But, you know, Harry and Pig may have been on to something. Unfortunately, I don't have any numbers on how effective they were in capturing the farm vote. If Harry was elected, his administration would have given the term "pork barrel" real substance.
I don't intend to run for office with Cheddar, but we do make a heckava team, doncha think?
By Bernard Levy
Let's begin with the Bush Administration and some fun stuff. Bush wants to be a leader on human rights, but it's clear that few nations are inclined to follow his lead. When President Bush most recently addressed the UN, he received an even more lukewarm response to his messages than he did five years ago. He apparently believes that whenever he speaks, he is presenting a very important message and people should heed what he says. But, let's look at his words and actions. On Monday, October 23, 2006, Associated Press writer Deb Reichmann noted in an article that, "The Bush administration is saying it has no plans for radical shifts in the Iraqi war policy or for ultimatums to the Iraqi government despite election-year pressure to change course." This was two weeks before the elections. Yet, immediately after the elections, wouldn't you know it; Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, "architect of the unpopular war in Iraq," was fired, and President Bush announced his replacement within hours of the firing. Robert Gates, a former head of the CIA, is his replacement, and the winds of a definite change of Iraq war strategy are blowing.
The above is but one example of the great variance between President Bush's words and actions. If a child sufficiently tells his parents that he has done a and b, and the parents discover that the child has not done either, it is the parents' duty to take action to bring into compliance sonny's words and actions.
The FCP views the American public as the collective parent and President Bush as the child. This is entirely contrary to President Bush's viewpoint. After six generals, who had served under Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, called for Rumsfeld's resignation, John W. Dean in his April 21, 2006 online FindLaw Legal Commentary noted that, "Bush simply told reporters in the Rose Garden that Rumsfeld would stay because 'I'm the decider and I decide what's best.' He (Mr. Bush) sounded much like a parent telling children how things would be: 'I'm the daddy, that's why.' "
We agree with President Bush that he is the leader of the executive branch of the federal government. However, his power in that leadership role is not unfettered, and it is not limitless. He must be held accountable for his decisions and the actions resulting from those decisions.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice represents another child whose words and actions differ. In early October, 2006, shortly after Bob Woodward's book on the Bush administration, "State of Denial," hit the streets, she disputed being forewarned of the 9/11 attacks. We don't believe her protestation because she stated that she "did not remember the emergency meeting with Tenant (George Tenant, then CIA Director) on July 10." That meeting, by all accounts, was an important briefing and did take place.
Recently, Ms. Rice discussed the issue of the serious decline of press freedom in Russia with Russian President Vladimir Putin. There's no doubt about it; Putin is reverting to the prior policies of Russian leaders in repressing dissident groups and voices. But, as President Bush's message was basically ignored at the UN, Ms. Rice's concerns fell upon deaf Russian ears. Her effort to promote the American way of life and the right in an open democracy for dissent differs from her own administration's actions in putting on hold those basic civil liberties and rights guaranteed us by our Constitution.
A recent article by William C. Mann of The Associated Press noted that, "Rice said, 'President George W. Bush has promised that we will certainly make adjustments to our policy in Iraq' (and) 'we will certainly look to new ideas' … 'but the American commitment to the goals that took us to Iraq remain absolutely steadfast, and that is what is important.' " She didn't use the words "stay the course," but the message was clear. However, the appointment of Robert Gates and his statement that he favors meeting with Iran to help resolve the current Iraqi crisis is totally contrary to President Bush's and Secretary Rice's continuing positions. Our Secretary of State seems to be out of the loop and her words are not only meaningless but purely political posturing. And, the world community knows it.
If only Shakespeare were alive today, he'd have a field day with the comedies and tragedies taking place in Washington, D.C. For instance, an Associated Press article published in late September, 2006, noted that "convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff's billing records and emails listed 485 lobbying contacts with White House officials over three years, including 10 with top Bush administration Karl Rove, according to a Congressional report obtained Thursday." True, not all the contacts were successful but, on balance, 485 contacts mean something; he clearly was led to believe that he had an entrance into the White House unless he was "the mother of all lobbing pests."
Finally, for the readers that didn't understand the importance of President Bush's use of signing statements or the overwhelming use of such statements and their clearly questionable constitutionality, I refer you to John W. Dean's article in the July 14, 2006 edition of the online FindLaw Legal News and Commentary column. The link is http://writ.news.findlaw.com/dean/20060714.html. For those younger readers, John Dean was the White House counsel in the Nixon administration who served prison time for his misdoings relating to the Watergate scandal. He served his time, totally cleaned up his act, and is an excellent political and legal commentator; he knows his "stuff."
Specifically, to quote just a small portion of his article, signing statements are "technically … are statements by the President accompanying his signing of legislation. In this Administration, however, signing statements have been used as a dodgy practice of telling the Congress to go to hell. Rather than vetoing bills, Bush has issued vague statements to try to cut them off at the knees, even as he purports to give them legs. These statements say, in essence, that he may or may not enforce this or that provision of a given law, depending on whether he thinks the provision is unconstitutional." I encourage you to read Dean's columns in FindLaw.
Regarding Bush's exaggerated use of signing statements, there's some disagreement as to how many signing statements he's issued, but "in over six years in office, Bush has not vetoed a single bill." His use of signing statements far exceeds the use by any other president.
I love this country and have been taught to honor and respect our Constitution. Obviously, President Bush never learned to do so, even though he took an oath to uphold all laws, including the Constitution. How can he flaunt the laws - not recognizing legislation passed by Congress that he signed into law - and expect people to obey the law and follow his leadership? And now, you know the rest of the story why, when Mr. Bush speaks, the world community doesn't listen. The words and the music don't go together.
As the winter solstice looms on the horizon and we're poised to give thanks, we decided to publish some reflective viewpoints. They have been collecting dust in our files for some time. I recently contacted the author and sought permission to publish. The author agreed under the condition that their authorship remains anonymous. Here they are for your enjoyment.
The Changing of the Colors
I am a leaf upon a tree,
And there are other leaves with me.
It is Autumn.
The other leaves are turning red,
but I am resistant to nature.
My fate is mine to chose;
My life is mine alone to lose.
It is Autumn.
The other leaves are turning brown,
but my stem is strong and firmly attached.
The winds blow strong and ill;
The other leaves have caught a chill.
It is Autumn.
They are falling to the ground,
but I have the strength to sustain me.
The tree is bare, and I alone remain.
All my friends are gone; life is not the same.
It is almost Winter.
The birds tell me of bad times to come,
and I know now what I denied before.
Purple clouds drifting through the multicolored sky.
Darkened cliffs sliding silently into the sea.
Glass and metal walls establishing roads for the
runaway stains of tarnished roofs.
One silent person looking through the window - me.
Time for leaving, wrapping up business for the day.
Sounds of autos churning, homeward-bound in the streets.
Glass crackling, floors groaning and buildings creaking,
putting themselves at ease for the evening.
All business stops for the time being.
Objects merging together as the sun disappears,
the sky following its lead.
Trees at ease in darkened solitude, providing
for their own nightly needs.
The night completes itself, and the only window
vision is my mirrored self.
The events of the day have had their say only to
live again in papers and memories.
As I sit at the sea's edge,
My thoughts are separate from the sights
of the ocean at dusk.
The smell of the ocean's colors pass me by.
The specter of cancer living in one so dear,
My mind's not mine alone to clear.
The half-circled sun is swallowed by the sea;
What better place for me to be.
Thickened clouds of darkened light,
Lungs no longer breathe delight;
Overwhelmed and unprepared for natural fright.
The sun sinks lower and vanishes,
And all things lose their daytime glow.
Is something happening for me to know?
The daytime of one's existence must go
And enter a place we've yet to know.
How foolish for me to anger and fear
The pending death of one so dear,
When guidance and insight are so near.
The absence of life is not an end;
It's only our selfish viewpoint
that it offends.