Sense from Seattle

Common sense thoughts on life and current affairs by a Seattle area sexagenarian, drawing on personal experience, years of learning as a counselor to thousands of families and an innate passion for informed knowledge, to uniquely express sensible, thoughtful, honest and independent views.

Friday, December 31, 2004

Top 10 Concerns of 2004

As this blog shows, my main concern for America is that the Bush administration is taking us in the wrong direction on virtually every issue of concern. Instead of adding mine to the ubiquitous top 2004 stories lists, I am here identifying the top issues of concern to me in 2004 and the erroneous direction of the Bush leadership on these issues. These are not prioritized. I expect all of them to be under discussion in this blog in 2005.

  1. Bringing religion into politics - encouraging citizens to vote based on religious beliefs rather than on thoughtful analysis of the facts.

  2. Undermining civil liberties - using fear of terrorism as a basis for pre-emptively denying basic civil liberties.

  3. Advocating that the end justifies the means - using false pretenses to persuade others to accomplish an end that could not be accomplished with the truth (invading Iraq is one example).

  4. Disdaining scientific evidence if it conflicts with an intended political goal.

  5. Systematically working to disenfranchise black inner city voters.

  6. Undermining the role of the media by facilitating consolidation in the hands of the wealthy and subverting or attacking diligent journalism.

  7. Attempting to emasculate the judicial branch of the government by undermining public confidence, passing restrictive legislation and appointing sycophant judges.

  8. Disregarding the environment in favor of exploitation by the rich.

  9. Perverting political discourse by disconnecting what is said from what is done and then claiming that there is no disconnect.

  10. Making America the bully of the world.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Is the US Stingy?

In the immediate aftermath of the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, with scores of thousands dead and many more in danger of death from disease if immediate aid is not forthcoming, the United States, the richest country in the world with a gross national product per capita of over $34,000 [by comparison, the GNP per capita for Sri Lanka, the nation hardest hit by the disaster, is $850], reached down into its deep pockets and pulled out an initial $15,000,000 in relief aid, which amounts to a contribution of 5 cents for every man, woman and child in the USA. Shamed by the comparison with Ebeneezer Scrooge, the US promptly increased the figure to $35,000,000, a 7 cent increase.

America is not stingy with aid for vicitms of terrorist attacks on American soil. The 9/11 fund collected almost $7,000,000,000, or about $25 from every man, woman and child in America. The fund paid an average of about $2,000,000 to each 9/11 deceased victim's family

In fairness, Americans are a little financially strapped right now. Every man, woman and child of us has so far spent $556 for the invasion of Iraq, with many more bills to come for that fiasco. Here again, is the meter tallying the cost of the Iraq War:

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Christmas Compassion - Bush Style

"Many of our fellow Americans still suffer from the effects of illness or poverty, others fight cruel addictions, or cope with division in their families, or grieve the loss of a loved one," President Bush said in his weekly radio address. "Christmastime reminds each of us that we have a duty to our fellow citizens, that we are called to love our neighbor just as we would like to be loved ourselves," Bush added. "By volunteering our time and talents where they are needed most, we help heal the sick, comfort those who suffer, and bring hope to those who despair, one heart and one soul at a time."

President Bush, Laura and the twins then drove to an inner city soup kitchen in Washington DC where they helped clean tables, served food to the hungry and sat down to listen to the woes of the downtrodden. The nation was so inspired by the example of the first family that they quickly clamored for a Constitutional amendment to abolish the two term limit on the Presidency. "George, wake up, you are talking in your sleep again", exclaimed Laura.

George awoke from his dream and his mind was seized by thoughts of the bombing of the Mosul military mess tent and the terrible loss of life. He immediately resolved to not just talk the talk, but to walk the walk. After a quick walk of a few steps, he was in the mess hall of the Marines who guard him at Camp David, where he treated them to a Presidential photo op. Then on the 26th, he left for Crawford to extend his record for the most vaction time taken by any President in American history.

Back at the DC soup kitchen, the volunteers finished cleaning up and sent the photographer home. Though they were disappointed the first family did not even stop by for a photo op, they each took home a photo of the volunteers and their dinner guests and wonderful memories of the joyful Christmas they had shared.

Here is an article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about the increase in the use of food stamps by the unemployed and the working poor since 2000:

Monday, December 20, 2004

Reinstating the Draft

In the book "Censored 2005", recommended to me by Teresa, one of the top 25 censored news stories is about reinstating the draft. Just before the election of 2004, Congress overwhelmingly voted to reject reinstatement of the draft. Nevertheless, as the book indicates, the mechanisms for the draft are being updated, fine tuned and put in ready status. The article can be read on line at

The Selective Service System has always been in place, but it had gone rusty in the last couple decades. Changes from near the end of the Vietnam War limiting college deferments to one semester or to one year for seniors, continue in place. But within three months of the 9/11 attacks, the US had quietly entered into an agreement with Canada to further regulate cross border traffic, including screening provisions to help catch would be draft dodgers.The Bush Administration has also quietly been filling the nationwide draft board vacancies that were previously given a very low priority.

The SSS has a plan in effect which calls for a status report to the President by the end of this coming March, with a potential draft date as early as June 15, 2005. Since 2000, a majority of the States have enacted legislation linking drivers license applications to SSS registration as a further net for catching would be draft evaders. I had to do a site search at the SSS site to find the map of States which have passed these laws, and the map I found had not been updated since 2001. The SSS does not seem to be broadcasting many of the things it is actually doing, but instead seems to be primarily interested in spinning for the Administration a yarn that no draft is in fact going to happen. I wonder if the new SSS head Bush just apointed is a more loyal spinmeister than the previous one. Other possible plans under consideration by the SSS include expanding the draft to include women and extending the draft age to 34.

The Rumsfeld concept of a small, quick Army utilizing a highly sophisticated arsenal of weaponry has been proved a failure for occupation missions. Any hope the Bush administration may have had, with regard to military invasions of additional countries, for troop support from other nations or for using indigenous troops to stabilize during a post invasion occupation, has been lost by the arrogant invasion and incompetent occupation of Iraq. Unless Bush stops further aggression, which is not entirely likely, more US troop are going to be needed for future US occupations. And even now in Iraq more US troops are needed. Recalling reserves and national guard, extending tours, stop loss orders and other devices are about used up. Dangling bigger carrots to entice new recruits is becoming less likely to succeed as the War in Iraq continues to be seen more clearly for the dangerous debacle it is. We are getting closer to the point where the draft card is the only one left to play.

Here is the SSS web site, where you can look around. You can also download the reports and plans with Adobe Acrobat.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

The Structure of this Blog

A blog is a public, personal journal to which readers can post comments. It is different from a forum, which is a group of topical bulletin boards where readers can post comments. A blog centers on tracking the thoughts of the journalist over time, while a forum tracks each topic chronologically. Sense from Seattle was conceived as a blog, but the journal entries have been on issues of such general interest, largely political, that the comments from readers have become a vital part of it.

The active participation of commentators has revaled a deficiency in the structure of blogs in general and this blog in particular. While forums usually include a feature to inform return visitors of any new posts or comments since their last visit, blogs usually do not have that feature. It is possible to add the "new post inform" feature to this blog, but the skill required to do so is a little over my head. I am now going to be informed by e-mail when a comment has been posted, but I know of no way to have the blog automatically notify other readers. I might try to post a periodically updated list of new comments, but otherwise it looks like readers on each visit will just have to scroll and check each article of interest for new comments. Once an entry is old enough to be bumped off the main page and put in the monthly archives, it seems less likely that readers will be checking it for new comments, so you may be disinclined to post a comment on an old entry. Journal entries generating lots of comments are probably ones that I should regenerate with new thoughts, to keep the subject on the main page.

For your information, here are some features of this blog you may have overlooked. At the end of each post is an envelope icon, which if clicked will enable you to e-mail the post to someone. At the bottom of the page is a counter to track the number of visits. It was added December 18th, and many of the initial visits it tracked were actually by me working on the page set-up. On the Navigation Bar at the top of the page is a search box which is supposed to search the Sense from Seattle site, but it is not yet producing results, apparently because Google has not yet picked up the Sense pages to index them.

I thank those who have been commenting and encourage other readers to comment if so inclined.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Social Insecurity for the 19th Century

In the first sentence of the preamble to the US Constitution, the founders of our nation indicated five purposes for the new nation, one being to defend ourselves from other nations and four having to do with the quality of our domestic life, embodied in these inter-related fundamental concepts: justice, tranquility, general welfare and the blessings of liberty.

At two times in our history, America was in danger of disintegrating. One, when the southern States tried to leave the Union over the issue of slavery, was prevented by the Presidential leadership of Abraham Lincoln and the military victory of the Union over the southern States. With the preservation of the Union, the ending of slavery and the adoption of Constitutional amendments to further guarantee due process of law, the US had updated its government to comply with the new realities of the 19th Century.

In the 1930's, when the under-regulated free market economy had collapsed in shambles, the Great Depression that ensued provided fertile ground for a revolutionary overthrow of our government. Under the leadership of FDR, appropriate economic regulations and safeguards were put in place to reassure the American people that our government did truly care about all of them and that we cared enough about each other so that we could work together to get through the Depression without the need to destroy our government. The reassurance worked and the economy finally recovered, though largely due to the War buildup, and most of the regulations and safeguards have remained in place. The US government had now been updated to meet the realities of the 20th Century.

Today America is facing a new danger, one that would try to take us back to 19th Century mentality. This danger comes from right wing reactionary ultra conservatives, led by George W. Bush, and their mission is to dismantle the regulations and safeguards that were put in place in the 1930's which have served us so well in meeting our Constitutional domestic purposes. In particular danger now is the Social Security System.

Let's be clear about this right wing agenda Bush is pushing. They want to privatize Social Security, first partially, but ultimately in total. They want to use their fuzzy math and fraudulent distortions to create a false impression that Social Security must begin to be privatized now or it will end up being totally bankrupt. These tactics have worked for them previously in fooling the American people into thinking the Bush tax cuts were something other than an enormous giveaway to the wealthy elites.

Who stands to gain by privatizing Social Securirty? The only ones for sure will be the upper crust. Large employers will reap huge profits by having their payment to employee FICA reduced, and if you think they are going to give that money to their employees rather than keep it for themselves, you must have voted for Bush. Financial enterprises will make huge profits in connection with the dealings involved in the investment of these private funds. Smart and unscrupulous financial manipulators will have a whole new pool of inexperienced investment funds to exploit.

Who stands to lose? Only one person falls into this category - the worker whose Social Security has always been there as a safeguard, not only for retirement but also for disability and survivor's benefits. A bad investment choice, a downturn in the market, or any number of other wrong moves could cause a significant loss.

We already have a tax deferred way for workers to privately invest funds for their retirement, and it has been working quite well for many years. I am speaking of your IRA, (Individual Retirement Account). For 2005, you will be able to contribute up to $4,000, plus an additional $500 if you are age 50 or over. A simple way to allow additional tax deferred private retirement investment, without curtailing the flow of funds into the Social Security System and thereby causing an immediate cash flow problem, is for Congress to increase the IRA limits.

Privatizing Social Security is part of a larger Bush/Right strategy to build an "ownership society" to replace what they mislabel as our current "entitlement society". Never mind that what we really have is a society with a proven effective framework of regulations and safeguards that promotes the general welfare in a just way to ensure domestic tranquility and the blessings of liberty for all and was good enough to get us through the 20th Century. The Bush/Right is not pleased that our Constitutional mission is being fulfilled; they want to see the wealthy elites have the right to take as much as they possibly can get, like it was back in the 19th Century.

Monday, December 13, 2004

The Search for Common Ground

The polarization of US politics has reached new extremes beginning in the 1990's when the Republicans were doing everything in their power to try to derail Clinton and they used the so-called Contract with America to elect new Republicans to Congress. The frustrating animosity that now prevails among many politicians has led many moderates in both parties to leave public office, usually by not running for re-election.

What we are left with has been aptly called a politics of blame, in which each side blames all societal problems on the other side. There is no serious concern for finding common ground to work from in solving problems. This is unfortunate, because joining an opponent in a search for common ground usually leads both to the higher ground where the vision is clearer and extends for greater distances. Working together on a higher level can be inspiring and can lead to further successful alignments and joint accomplishments.

In the Vice Presidential Debate, Dick Cheney took everyone by surprise when he said that as President of the Senate, he goes there every week they are in session and that he had never met Senator Edwards before the night of the Debate. Cheney meant to cast aspersions on the Senate attendance record of Edwards. Of course it was actually a false statement meant to capture a headline. Like much of what Cheney says, when this statement was later investigated and found to be untrue, it was corrected on the back pages. However, the investigation into this Cheney statement revealed something else which should have been taken very seriously but was not discussed in any depth by the media.

What the investigation revealed was that on Cheney's trips to meet with the Senate, the meetings were closed meetings and he only met with Republicans. Democrats were not allowed to meet with the man who is by our Constitution the President of the Senate. All the Senators chosen by the American electorate in all 50 States should be entitled to meet with the President of the Senate, but the Bush Administration, again in contrast to one of the false mantles Bush claims, chose to be dividers and not uniters, excluders and not includers.

By contrast, the truly bi-partisan 9/11 Commission set an excellent example of how people of different parties can choose the higher ground and work together with clearer vision and impressive and potentially long-lasting results. The work of the Commission has received much deserved praise and many of its recommendations for intelligence reorganization have now been passed into law (with tepid support from the White House and over the objections of quite a few Republicans in Congress). Unfortunately, as more moderates become discouraged and leave Congress, the likelihood of Congressional bi-partisan seeking of common ground diminishes.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Grumbling from the Troops

Poorly armored vehicles are a major concern among U.S. troops getting ready to go to Iraq. Wednesday in Kuwait, during a visit with troops waiting for orders, one soldier caught Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld off-guard with a question many wanted an answer for. Specialist Thomas Wilson of the Tennessee National Guard received cheers from fellow troops when he asked pointedly, "Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles, and why don't we have these resources readily available to us?"

"As you know, you go to war with the army you have," Rumsfeld responded, "not the army you want or wish to have at a later time." Later a pentagon spokesman claimed that the problem has been worked on over the months and that three out of four humvees are now armored, saying the fact that commanders did not anticipate the need for more armored vehicles in Iraq until well after the announced end of major combat operations did not reflect poor planning on the part of Pentagon leaders, as some critics have alleged. "Combat planning is not a crystal ball; it’s not predictions," the spokesman said.

A recent 60 Minutes story from Iraq explained that the major problem is that the retro armor jobs, whether junkyard or professional, do not armor the underside of the vehicle, which is the most vulnerable to roadway bombs. If Rumsfeld or the top brass are going to personally ride around Iraq, you can bet they make sure their vehicles are armored, including the underside. But I doubt they take to the Iraqi roads; it is safer for them to stay in Kuwait.

I heard the exchange on NPR this morning and was struck by the boldness of the question, but even more so by the spontaneous cheers of the other troops. Discontent with war and warmakers usually starts with draftees, but in their absence recalled reservists and national guard are the next most likely to grumble; I know, because I was one at the time of the Vietnam War. Yet another parallel to Vietnam has been observed.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Magnet America

The support our troops mantra is in part a classic diversionary strategy intended to undermine any legitimate opposition regarding the entry into or conduct of a war, fanned further by commercial interests profitting on the sale of support our troops paraphenalia. Magnet America, of North Carolina, started in 2003 by a member of a family that owns a chain of Christian bokstores, seems to be the top commercial enterprise selling the yellow support our troops ribbons seen on so many cars lately. Here is their home page: .

Business people often use a good cause as a business generator, saying "a portion" of net proceeds goes to the cause, without ever saying how small the portion is. Looking around the Magnet America site, there is an indicator they have donated $42,000 over three months to help provide phone service for our troops to call home. Typicaly, they give no indication what percent of their profit that represents. Attributing the Christian 10% tithing approach to Magnet America would indicate the profit they kept from the ribbon sales in the same three month period would have been $372,000. At $3.00 per pop for individual ribbons and probably with an inflated shipping and handling charge added, it is likely Magnet America is making loads. An article in a Charlotte newspaper indicated claimed sales of over 1,000,000 ribbons between April and November. Just think how many more troop phone calls home could have been made if people would have sent their $3.00 to the phone service cause rather than to Magnet America.

America being a land of capitalist competition has led to inroads on the Magnet America bonanza, per the newspaper article. Cheap foreign made ribbons (Magnet Americ's are made right there in NC) now available in many retail outlets have contributed to reduced sales for Magnet America, leading to the layoff of 30 of the 55 order takers. But don't worry, because the business founder is quoted in the news article as saying, "We all know that God has blessed the business to allow us to be in it." He added, "Hopefully sticking with quality will allow us to be around".

War is Heck

Son Chris points out that some are saying the way the Iraq War is being presented in the US media should make us change the famous quote to "War is heck."
Hiding the true horror of this war seems to be a concocted goal of the Cheney-Rumsfeld-Bush chicken hawks [remember, none of them have actually been in war and most never even were in any armed service]. Embedded reporters, rules on not showing caskets, false claims of avoiding civilian casualties, suppression of friendly fire reports and downward skewing of troops wounded figures are some manifestations of this concoction.

We are now seeing some of the wounded, cleaned up and valiantly working on therapy at Walter Reed Hospital, but what a different impact it would make to see them at the point of receiving their wounds, like it really is when it happens. In lieu of seeing the flag draped caskets returning, we can watch respectful acknowledgements as is frequently done at the end of the News Hour on PBS, where photos of the deceased are shown in silence, giving their name, rank, age and hometown.

We are also starting to see some photos of civilian victims, though since the insurgents are not in uniform, it is easy to assume the dead Iraqis were insurgents, as the U. S. military is obviously doing. Pictures of dead and wounded women and children, always the more numerous victims of war, are harder to digest, and there may be women insurgents, just as there are women fighting in our uniform. Children have in fact been used as soldiers or human shields in past wars, so it could be happening in Iraq. Hitler had his Nazi Youth and the American Revolution had its junior patriots as poortrayed in Johnny Tremaine.

Of course the insurgents are taking Iraqi lives also, adding to the confusion as to who actually killed the dead Iraqis we are shown. Wounded Iraqis might be a source of evidence if they know who caused their wounds. There have been a few reports from hospitals where doctors treating the wounded say their patients claim the Americans did it to them -but again how do we know they were not insurgents?

The overwhelming concern of the American public for the safety of our troops, and the total lack of concern for innocent Iraqi civilians does not surprise me. The welfare of the crusaders and invaders is always paramount to those back home. In fact, in spite of atrocities that do get committed by some on all sides in war time, the troops on the ground, seeing firsthand the horror being experienced by civilians, often show a greater concern for those civilians than do those back home.

Based on the Vietnam experience, the images that will cause the American public to demand our troops get out of Iraq will be images, not of dead and wounded Iraqis, but of American troops bleeding and writhing in pain and of American families weeping over the death of their family member in uniform and saying it was not worth it and no other American family should have to go through this.

By the way, the full true quote comes from William Tecumseh Sherman, the Civil War General who survived that horrible War in a time when Generals actually took to the battlefield and many of them were killed in action. In a graduation address to the Michigan Military Academy in 1879, Sherman said, "War is at best barbarism ... Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance and desolation. War is hell."

Saturday, December 04, 2004

We Need Better Voters

One of my favorite common sense political maxims came from an unlikely source, the arch segregationist joke of a Governor of Georgia for part of the 1960's, Lester Maddox, who said we could not have better prisons until we have better prisoners.

With George W. Bush apparently having won the 2004 Presidential Election, I submit we cannot have better Presidents until we have better voters. The Harris Poll of October 21, 2004, showed significant numbers of likely voters held beliefs about Iraq that were not only unsupported by any credible evidence, but in some cases were actually unsupported by any evidence whatsoever and flatly contradicted by overwhelming evidence.

Cheney kept sneaking in his undocumented claim of a possible tenuous link between Saddam and AlQuaeda, but the Harris poll went much further in asking if there were strong Saddam links, to which 84% of Bush voters said yes and 37% of Kerry voters agreed. The belief that Saddam helped plan and support the 9/11 hijackers was held by 52% of Bush voters and 23% of Kerry. The Bush-Kerry voter mistaken belief that Iraq had WMD when the US invaded was 58 to 16 and the mistaken belief that several of the hijackers were Iraqis was 40-31.
The Harris poll link for these questions is at

A CNN obit of Maddox, who died in 2003, includes a fascinating account of the "fluke" election that brought him to office, defeating Jimmy Carter in the primary and later becoming Carter’s "strange bedfellow" Lieutenant Governor when Carter took his turn in the Governor’s office.

The Values Thing

At the risk of sounding like George Bush the First disdaining "The vision thing", I am beginning to think "the values thing" as a factor in the 2004 Presidential election has been overblown and improperly identified.

John in Phoenix sent me Joe Klein’s article, "The Values Gap" from the November 22 issue of Time, wherein Klein attempts to analyze the exit polling on the role "moral values" and "traditional values" played in the minds of voters. Klein talks about the middle class squeeze and overworked parents turning to religion for an antidote to the trash being spewed at their unsupervised children. I agree with Klein about the squeeze and parental concern, but think he should also have mentioned how the Republicans have been purposely working since the 1960's to undermine the faith of the middle class and the poor in their own government as caring about them and their children, as mentioned in my post Econ 101 on November 19.

The "values" thing is vague. I expect what it really meant to the voters who relied on it to cast their vote for Bush was more specific, namely the same things you can hear the right wing preachers ranting about: "evil" things like gays, abortion, sex, drugs, lazy entitlement mentality. Using vague code words like "values" in connection with Bush was intended to line him up with opposition to these evils, without running the risk of losing "values" voters by getting into specific questions. What about Cheney’s daughter; what about the health of the mother being endangered by birth; is procreation the only moral purpose for sexual relations; is Rush an evil drug addict or only another conservative in need of copious painkillers; is a single mom who finds it cheaper to stay home and supervise her kids than take a minimum wage job and pay more than her income for day care lazier than a rich woman with no children but many housekeepers?

When asked at the third Presidential debate whether he believed homosexuality is a choice, Bush showed the "depth" of his study of the subject, one on which he supposedly felt knowledgeable enough to champion the first constitutional amendment in history that would restrict civil rights rather than expand them (the ban on gay marriage), when he responded to the moderator, "You know, Bob, I don’t know. I just don’t know."

The third debate transcript is worth reading again to see how much more a man of sincere religious values Kerry came across compared to the fount of "value" platitudes Bush seemed to be. Interestingly, Bush used the name "God" only twice, once in response to the role his faith played in his policy decisions when he said"I believe God wants everybody to be free", and then at the end when he closed with "God Bless You." Kerry used God’s name seven times, twice in the context of discussing gay persons when he said that "God made them" and "we are all God’s children", once when he said about abortion he believes it is "between the woman, God and her doctor", once when he said the "test of public service" is that "here on Earth God’s work must truly be our own", and three times in his closing remarks saying first, "with faith in God...I believe we can reach higher"and ending with "God Bless America".

In the middle of his closing remarks, Kerry very accurately stated what seems to me the legitimate position a Christian public servant should be taking at this time in America, " the two greatest commandments are: Love the Lord, your God, with all your mind, your body and your soul, and love your neighbor as yourself. And frankly, I think we have a lot more loving of our neighbor to do in this country and on this planet. "

The transcript of the third debate can be found at the Washington post site here:

The Downward Spiral toward Theocracy

John in Phoenix provided a copy of a Barbara Ehrenreich comment in the November 29, 2004 edition of The Nation. Barbara was one of the panelists mentioned in my Divided We Stand post which can be found in the archive for the week of October 31.

Barbara points out how the right-leaning evangelical churches are offering social services to persons in need, laced with shameless religious proselytizing. The plan seems to be to continue to dismantle government provided social welfare programs and appropriate that funding for the so-called faith based programs that are run by these churches. Taxpayer money would be spent making religious converts who in turn would politically support the right wing church agenda.

Progressives, liberals, Democrats, seculars and all who are repulsed by the spiral should, according to Barbara, take a lesson from the early Christians who stood against Rome with their bodies, hearts and souls. The first step is to re-claim Jesus on the true side of the issues, such as in opposition to pre-emptive war and upward redistribution of wealth. Secondly, spiral stoppers should re-embrace their own social service outreach programs as an antidote to the church based ones and as a springboard to revitalizing taxpayer funded programs free from religious preaching.