Thursday, March 31, 2011

Unsung Citizen of the Month: An Air Force Lt. Col. is fighting a battle against religious right harassment and recruitment in the military

Honorable mention to Mikey Weinstein who is fighting a daily battle against the overt and often subtle tactics of religious groups on military bases to recruit acolytes.

"Zealots are trying to turn the military into a religious army." (The Nation) And Weinstein is fighting back.

There is a fine line between free exercise and the establishment clauses in the constitution. There must be a balance between the two. But does the military- by allowing religious groups the tacit right to recruit on bases- overstep freedom of religion and allow a number of evangelical groups the right to establish their brand of religion on a government property. Doesn't this put the US Government in the position of promoting one religion over another.

To allow one group to proselytize means that the military brass must give a forum to all religions to set up 'bases' on US military bases.

But are military bases the proper venue for religious recruitment?

Should we also open up Federal Office Buildings (of which there are thousands, if you include Post Offices) to various religious groups to have offices in which to disseminate their brand of spirituality?

Here are just a few notable quotes from the Nation's informative article on this issue. ( I urge my reader to click on this link to the Nation article and get involved in a discussion. ) Meanwhile here's some food for thought.

"The Christianizing of the armed forces, Weinstein believes, has implications for national security as well as for civil rights. In addition to ingrained anti-semitism, his work reveals a simmering Islamophobia in the ranks that, when flushed to the surface by media exposure, has been leveraged by jihadi groups overseas for propaganda purposes."

"The number of Muslim service members seeking Weinstein's help {he is a Lawyer who has worked as a Washington based corporate lawyer and counselor to the Reagan White House} has grown geometrically since the the 9/11 terrorist atttacks, and the cruel odyssey of Zachari Klawonn is a particularly ripe narrative for the jihadi mill."

"His battalion commander told Zachary Arenz that 'all Jews make bad soldiers' and that Judaism is 'incompatible with military service.' "

"The Navigators, an evangelical group at military academies, refers to its members as 'Government-Paid Missionaries for Christ.'

His watchdog group, Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) was founded in 2005 and has a client base of over 20,000 "mostly Catholic and Protestant--as well as Jewish, Muslim, Wiccan, atheist, and gay and lesbian--members of the military."

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Make Room for the new 'kid' in town: Welcome Wells Fargo to Stamford/Glenbrook Connecticut

Photo, courtesy of RJ Schwartz, taken 3/27/2011
about 10 days after it went up

Welcome to the new kid on the block.

Or, should I say the new 'team' along with his stagecoach and ponies.

This new bank is on Hope Street right next door to our venerable national institution, the Glenbrook Post Office, which was given a reprieve on life, after threats of its closing over a year ago.

Wells Fargo bought out the severely weakened Wachovia Bank chain in October, 2008 eclipsing Citibank's earlier bid. And now this 160 year old bank, synonymous with the growth of the west via pony express (indeed the bank expanded into the overland mail business in 1855), has arrived here on the east coast.

It's motto 'plastered' all over town in bus kiosks, newspapers, aviation journals (they do aircraft financing, too) etc is "Together we will go Far."

Good luck, Wells, you have had the good fortune of surviving many economic disasters. Perhaps, some East Coast banks can learn from your prudent and conservative national and global business practices that have survived the test of time.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Celebrating March Birthdays: Grover Cleveland who rose to greatness from Buffalo, NY

An oil painting of Grover Cleveland by
Swedish painter Anders Zorn, 1899

I admire Grover Cleveland (March 18, 1837-June 24, 1908) for several reasons--not the least of which was visiting his birthplace in Caldwell New Jersey-- a National Historic Site.

He rose to become President of the United States by first becoming Mayor of Buffalo in 1881 and then Governor of New York State. He is the only President to be elected to the highest office on two non-consecutive terms: the first one in 1885-1889 and the second in 1893-1897.

He was scrupulously honest and diligently fought against "political corruption, patronage and bossism." (wiki) Biographer Allan Nevins wrote, "in Grover Cleveland the greatness lies in typical rather then unusual qualities. He had no endowments that thousands of men do not have. He possessed honesty, courage, firmness, independence and common sense. But he possessed them to a degree other men do not."

I would go a step farther: he not only possessed sterling qualities--he expressed them consistently, unwaveringly, unfailingly.

He acted on and acted out his principles, which won him the attention of party leaders in an age of rampant corruption, graft and dishonesty.

Here are a few of his quotes.

"It is better to be defeated standing for a high principle than to run by
committing subterfuge."

"A truly American sentiment recognizes the dignity of labor and the
fact that honor lies in honest toil."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Forgotten Millions here in America and how to help them and the suffering municipalities

The world's attention is now focused on the tragic loss of life in Japan and the consequent spread of radioactivity throughout the Island.

The world's attention is riveted on the U.S. quasi-unilateral intervention in the Libyan civil war in an effort to stem Kaddafi's bloody battle to reassert his control over the rebels eager to depose him.

Long forgotten and relegated to second class status are the millions of Americans--nearly 1/6 of our workforce--those who can't find work and those working part time--who have been passed over.

According to Paul Krugman of the New York Times: "There are almost five times as many unemployed workers as there are job openings: the average unemployed worker has been jobless for 37 week, a post-World War II record."

But there is hope on the horizon.

In an editorial in The New York Times: "A Chance to Build Again," the editors outline a proposal presented by Senators John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts, Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) of Texas and Mark Warner (D) of Virginia. This is a proposal that would put thousands of our jobless citizens back to work. It builds on Roosevelt's 'pump priming' projects during the great depression.

In short, the plan outlined last week would help repair the crumbling infrastructure of our country. There are over 85,000 dams in the county; the average age is over 50 years . When one is repaired, two more become seriously weak. What is more, "cities far and wide are discharging billions of gallons of untreated wastewater into rivers and lakes, and more than a quarter of all bridges are either deficient or obsolete."

The senators envision creating an infrastructure bank to lend seed money to begin much needed repairs. Private investment would be encouraged and the initial $10 Billion from the treasury would be given as loans. Repayment would be facilitated by largely investing in projects that would return money to the cities, such as "toll bridges and tunnels, water systems backed by ratepayers and energy projects built by utilities, governments and corporations."

In an era when so many cities and states are cash strapped, this plan would be a practical way to jump start the economy.

The only question is why this plan was not conceived much much earlier during this severe recession?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Pilot in Command: To fly solo or with passengers, Part II

In Part One, I covered two situations where, acting as pilot in command of my own plane, my decision to take along a single passenger was based upon two factors: had that person flown with a private pilot before in a small single engine and whether he/she was comfortable flying as my companion in my Archer II.

The next situation you might encounter is when two new variables are introduced.

Instead of one passenger, you now have two or more to ferry in your single engine.

Secondly, should you invite passengers who have never flown in a single engine before?

These two factors were involved in a concrete situation I faced.

In the summer of 1982, I was contemplating piloting my intended, her mom and daughter from Auburn, California to Eugene, Oregon to celebrate our wedding.

There was one problem. No one had flown in a single engine before and the adults were obviously nervous about making the 500 mile, 4 hour trip at 8,000 feet. I came upon a compromise plan. We would rent my 'ex' plane (now back at the FBO who originally sold it to me) and fly a short cross country to test the waters.

There were four of us and as we took off from Auburn Municipal on a perfect VFR day, I could sense the nervousness of my passengers, especially the 7 year old. Take off went smoothly and despite some summer thermals, we landed at Chico Municipal airport some 35 minutes later for some light refreshments. The return trip went smoothly.

The following debriefing told the 'story' I needed to hear.

My debriefing session, conducted as we drove back to Carmicheal, revealed the following. The seven year old confided to me she almost felt like throwing up. The mom confided she felt uncomfortable with the chest and shoulder restraints (belts) and my wife to be, well-- she felt very nervous because of her mom.

Well, I decided if such a short trip was uncomfortable for 2 of my 3 passengers, how much more so would they 'suffer' during the much longer trip, even with one landing along the flight path.

I was faced with a no-brainer and scratched the idea of turning a 9 hour drive into a five hour flight.

My advice is to to use common sense whether to take passengers along with you. You are the pilot in command and it is best to learn about the psychology of your prospective passengers. (A tennis friend of mine from San Franciso lost her husband somewhere over the forests of southern Oregon as he and 3 business partners were on a flight in a small plane from the Bay Area to Washington state.)

It's best to know yourself, your own psychology and flying proficiency level before even contemplating taking passengers along.

Flying for business or pleasure is still a serious business.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Surreal Scenes of Nightmarish Events from Japan to the United States

We are being bombarded with images, scenes, late breaking events about the disaster in Japan.

Here are just a few of the surreal scenes that have struck me.

North Bend, Oregon on the Pacific Coast of the United States saw an evacuation of many residents in the wake of the Tsunami. They were already fleeing at the end of last week as they feared 'fallout' from the fast moving wave of water.

The tsunami had been clocked as moving over 500 miles per hour about the speed of a large passenger jet and is capable of traveling thousands of miles.

The wave of water has been reaching a height of up to 80 feet.

Up to 1/3 of Japan, an Island with a population 4 times that of California, is without power.

Many Japanese companies have shut down plants. Toyota and Honda have reported closing down its manufacturing facilities until Thursday morning (or even longer). Fujitsu, Sony and Canon were shutting down some or most of its factories (depending on which conflicting reports you choose to believe)

The New York Times, providing the most complete eye-witness coverage I have even experienced along with alarming graphs (Anxiety and Need Overwhelm a Nation) , reported a northern Japanese driver surviving the fast moving bullet-like tsunami. He was driving over 70 miles per hour and the massive wave was gaining ground on him. How he survived is another story.....

Stay tuned for more impressions from this global tragedy!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Pilot in Command: Tips about taking passengers on 4 seaters: Part I

Video Courtesy of Mark Haya

Although many pilots enjoy flying solo, there are times when you will be faced with a choice of flying alone or taking a passenger or several passengers

I have experienced single and multiple passengers in my four seater. Here are considerations you must determine before making your decision.

First, keep in mind that as a general rule a VFR pilot is prohibited to take passengers for" compensation or hire" with a few exceptions (see AIM/Far 61.113).

There were three times when I elected to take one or more passengers with me when I was flying my Archer II. Two occasions involved ladies who I knew for a fact had flown with other pilots and had felt comfortable. I alerted each one about thermals (upward and downward drafts of air) we would encounter along the way. That did not seem to bother either of them.

My first passenger Carol I had known as a business associate. We had flown to a company party which involved a short 1.3 hour flight from Oroville to Hayward. She felt very comfortable during both legs of the flight.

So when an opportunity arose to catch the Shakespeare festival in Visalia barely two weeks later, I did not hesitate to invite her. This time the flight was 2.6 hour in near perfect mid-day VFR conditions;however, we encountered moderate thermals. No problem, for the two of us.

The other passenger Hillary was a friend from Eugene, Oregon who had invited me to a family party in La Jolla, California. She was a cool passenger who was more than eager to arrive in a private plane escorted by a friend.

The flight would take over 5 hours with a stopover at Bakersfield (BFL) for a fuel and pit stop.

When we took off from Bakersfield, our destination airport, Montgomery/San Diego (MYF) was fogged in. However, just as we were crossing the Tehachapis, a check of the weather at Montgomery indicated that the fog had lifted and at about 15 miles out, ATIS indicated that the airport was under VFR conditions, an opportunity to execute a near perfect landing.

My passenger Hillary was very comfortable on the trip back under perfect VFR weather. The highlight was flying the Pacific Ocean corridor skirting San Francisco and its environs. The natural beauty of this leg was spread out in front of us like an indelible diorama.

End of Part I. To be continued

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Eric Foner, Columbia University Historian on Lincoln's views on slavery: Part II

(for Part I, click here.)

Before I begin the second part of Foner's lecture at UConn, Stamford, it is fitting to ask one key question. Why did he write another book on Lincoln? There are already 8 to 10 thousand books on the president; perhaps no other president has so much scholarship devoted to him.

He answers the question succinctly. It's a matter of narrowing the focus on how radically Lincoln's position on slavery changed. So on to Part II.

Foner asks how Lincoln and Stephen Douglas differ on the interpretation of the phrase that "All men are created equal?" in the Declaration of Independence. The latter politician held that the phrase did not apply to blacks. Lincoln on the other hand believed in the tenet. The question is how to define "equal." He held it was the right to improve one's condition in life, the right to the fruits of one's labor, the right to improve one's condition in society. He felt the majority of society could regulate civil and political rights such as the right to own land, vote, etc.

Early on Lincoln believed in colonization; slaves should be encouraged or required gradually to leave the country for Africa, South America or the Caribbean. The elimination of the black population meant not having to deal with the question of their status in a bi-racial society. (This was essentially the position of Thomas Jefferson and Henry Clay both anti-slavery slave owners.

(In researching the roots of the proposal for colonization, I delved into Foner's latest book on Lincoln, The Fiery Trial (W.W. Norton & Company, 2010) Here the author relates that " the most avid Republican promoters of colonization were the Blair family." The patriarch of this clan was Francis P. Blair editor of the Washington Globe, the voice of the democratic party. Francis, who was a close adviser to President Andrew Jackson, was part of his unofficial 'kitchen cabinet" and "exerted enormous political influence in the 1830's and 1840's."

Thus Blair Senior, who switched to the Republican party and his sons Frank and Montgomery were " self important, indomitable and as critics of slavery living in slave states, courageous." In 1856, Frank became the the first Republican representative from a slave state in congress; two years late, he began freeing slaves inherited from his mother. The family envisioned itself in the forefront of the movement to rid the upper south of slavery and the "black presence."
The Blairs saw colonization as a cornerstone of the Republican party and tied this plan to "gradual, compensated emancipation in border states where slavery was weak or in decline."

Frank wanted Missouri to take the proceeds of land sales "to purchase the state's slaves and transport them to Central America." (page 124)

Indeed, notes Foner, Lincoln urged 'free blacks' to leave. Whereas some politicians like Clay believed that blacks were a dangerous group and criminally inclined, Lincoln felt they were entitled to rights as previously discussed. He faced squarely the fact that the country was racist and thus there could never be racial equality.

However, the reality was that most blacks did not want to leave. So he urged gradual emancipation which meant that the children of slaves would be free, perhaps after 20 years. Slavery was protected by the constitution and by state laws and thus the US government could not easily free them.

And then there was the reality that slavery could not be abolished without the consent of the slave owners. So this fact necessitated gradual emancipation and monetary compensation for the property rights to the slaves.

The Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863 involved a complete reversal of his earlier views: Freedom was immediate, there was to be no compensation and no colonization.

Foner asks what led to the reversal? (This is the subject of his new book!)

First, the border slave states, Kentucky, Missouri, Delaware and Maryland, would not adopt the gradual plan. Second, the blacks did not want to leave. Third, slavery was disintegrating; when the Union army invaded, the Southern slaves ran to the protection of the army. Fourth, as the war progressed some 200,000 blacks joined the Union army and navy. Fifth, the black soldier status forced a change in Lincoln's attitude. Their fighting for the nation gave them a stake in the country. He felt why would they enlist unless we gave them promise of freedom.

Foner is a relaxed and enjoyable speaker easy to follow and very knowledgeable about his subject. He urges his audience to learn more about Lincoln and slavery by searching for answers in his new book.

Indeed, this is exactly what the blogger has been doing.

A hearty thank you to the History Department at UConn for sponsoring this lively learning session entitled The Estelle Feinstein Memorial Lecture. (Professor Feinstein was a leading history professor at UConn.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Kudos to Bing West on our Exit Strategy from Afghanistan

I urge my readers to pay attention to the message and rational of Bing West (a Vietnam Marine combatant and former assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagen administration) in his new book, The Wrong War. His major premise is that we cannot the war in Afghanistan through the counterinsurgency strategy which underlies the increase of troops (the 'surge') which Obama ordered last year.

He argues that the beefed up war involves two purposes that are at odds. First we are over there to build a nation winning the hearts and minds of the civilian population by giving tribal chiefs and locals money and expertise to build up their infrastructure: their political structure, free elections, their own security forces, schools, municipalities, etc.. Second, we are fighting a war against the terrorist attacks of the Taliban.

He firmly believes we are fighting a losing battle with the former aim (the counterinsurgency), which is based on his living with our troops on many different war fronts in Afghanistan over the course of 8 visits in the last three years.

Our marines and soldiers are putting their lives, their hearts and souls in building bridges with the local populace.

But our ideology is wrong. We think that by sacrificing our boys and girls-- in fighting terrorism to build up a democratic state and handing out millions of dollars in direct aid--the Afghan people will be willing to do the same for their country and this is just not happening. The Afghans are wary of trusting us as they of their own government. They are happy to take out money and show little or no appreciation.

We need to focus exclusively on our military mission, he argues.

Dexter Filkins who reviewed the book for the New York Times deserves commendation as does Tavis Smiley who interviewed West on his show this past Wednesday.

In his interview with Smiley, West foresees us beginning to withdraw our troops this summer with the remainder, well below the current 100,00, to offer training to Afghan soldiers and security forces to fight their own war against the isolated attacks that the Taliban is known for. At the very least, 40,000 troops can protect the capitol city Kabul. And we will also save million of dollars. He says,"I don't think we'll ever win the hearts and minds of the Pashtun chiefs over there. Most of those tribes are hurtling headlong into the 10th Century."

This gradual exit scenario would constitute a 'victory' for US forces-- now in our 10th year in the longest war in US history.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

More on the theme of "The Inside Job" Winner of the Oscar for Best Documentary

It seems that the winners in the world economic crisis of 2008 are not the innocent victims of the subprime mortgage crisis--millions of American homeowners whose homes are in default and foreclosure -- but those who actually implemented caused and ran companies that lent outrageous sums of money to mortgagors to buy homes that any prudent credit analysis/check (if one had been done) would have summarily rejected.

A recent article from the New York Times under the title Biggest Fish Face Little Risk of Being Caught reports that according to a Los Angeles Times article 'prosecutors had concluded that Mr. Mozilo's {Angelo Mozilo co-founded Countrywide Financial in 1969 and ran it for the next 40 years) actions 'did not amount to criminal wrongdoing.' "

(Note: Countrywide Financial Corporation was ranked number 1 among subprime lenders nationally, originating $97.2 Billion worth of these loans between 2005 and the end of 2007.)

Other corporate bigwigs who may have wittingly or unwittingly participated in the massive subprime fraud include Richard Fuld (who presided over the demise of Lehman Brothers) and
Joe Cassano who was head of the financial products unit of the American International Group (AIG) who had a passion for credit-default swaps. (Remember the huge Fed bailout of AIG to the tune of 85 Billion dollars.)

It appears that both aforementioned executives will also be off the hook of the the US Department of Justice probe into their participation and culpability in the economic crisis.

In late 2010, it was announced that the SEC and Mozilo had negotiated a settlement of $67.5 million, the largest ever financial penalty assessed against a chief officer of a public company. (This was after he sold his stock in the company in 2007-2008 for twice that amount!)

So, who are, indeed, are the winners in this financial morass which continues to plague the world's economy?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Quotable Oscar: .."three years after our horrific financial crisis caused by massive fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail..."

The above quoted comment was made by Charles Ferguson, producer of "The Inside Job" which won the Oscar for Best Documentary at the 83rd annual event held last Sunday in Los Angeles.

According to wikipedia the subject of the movie is the global financial crisis of 2008, which is now in its third year; (some communities such as Phoenix currently have about 70% of their homes under water, meaning the value of the residences has plummeted below their underlying mortgages.)

"It {the movie} features research and extensive interviews with financial insiders, politicians, journalists and academics...." The film goes on to explore how "the development of complex trading such as derivatives market allowed for large increases in risk taking that circumvented older regulations that were intended to control systemic risk."

How many of us do not remember Senator Carl Levin's harsh remarka to Daniel Sparks executive of Goldman Sach during hearings in April 2010?

"...600 million dollars of Timberwolf securities is what you sold. Before you sold them this is what your sales team were telling to each other. Look what your sales team were saying about Timberwolf : 'Boy that Timberwolf was one sh---y deal..' "

" Does that bother you at all?"