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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

April 22, 2008


Dear Friends (Again)

It is time we steered by the stars, not by the lights of each passing ship.

I first became acutely aware of this metaphor, and began to ponder its significance in the political climate, when I read then-Senator Al Gore’s 1992 book: EARTH IN THE BALANCE, Ecology and the Human Spirit. The context, as Al says in the book, was the post WWII era when a lot of thinking of the “what-do-we-do-now” type was going on:

“…Our leaders [do not] seem willing to look as far into the future as did Truman and Marshall. In that heady postwar period, one of Marshall’s former colleagues, General Omar Bradley, said, “It is time we steered by the stars, not by the lights of each passing ship.” This certainly seems to be another time when that kind of navigation is needed, yet too many of those who are responsible for our future appear to be distracted by such ‘lights of passing ships’ as overnight public opinion polls.”

In that “heady postwar period”, I was aware that the thought had been expressed, and the metaphor certainly resonated with this WWII navigator. But I was then focused on my firm convictions that the United Nations was THE answer to prevention of future wars, and that the next president of the U.S. had to be Adlai Stevenson.

Between that time and today, I have naturally had ample time to nurture my convictions and to learn to live with the way the US has consistently (particularly under Ronald Reagan) ignored the UN. I have now almost recovered from the defeats of Adlai Stevenson, George McGovern, Walter Mondale and Al Gore. Certain things, however, will remain forever burned into my memory circuits and I hope you will bear with me as I establish some background.

My wartime experiences extend from “Pearl Harbor Day” - when I was a newly-appointed Aviation Cadet, ready to start navigation training on the Monday morning following FDR’s Day of Infamy speech - to my 29th combat mission in a B-24 over Tokyo Bay, over the battleship Missouri, and over the ruins of Tokyo and Nagasaki. That flight was on September 2, 1945. The next day, General McArthur and the Japanese envoys signed the papers of surrender on the deck of the Missouri - ending WWII.

I think it was not so much the war’s destruction, the savagery, the suffering, and the fighting, killing and dying that stayed so vividly with me – as it was seeing at first hand the utter devastation at Nagasaki, that turned me permanently into an anti war activist.

It was a silent planeload that flew back to our base on Okinawa that day and I felt that - to a man - we were determined that such a thing should never happen again.
So there you have the principal reasons I am so firmly convinced that war is not the means of solving complex problems and I have been particularly dismayed at how We The People have now allowed ourselves to be led by the nose into the bloody morass of the occupation of Iraq.

In light of all this, I believe I can now expand a bit on Al Gore’s conclusion about the distractions of “those who are responsible for our future.” On one level, I have the feeling that no one – particularly no one in the Bush administration - is taking responsibility for our future. On another level, I am aware that a growing number of responsible people are working toward solutions to our problems on a global basis and understand what must be done.

My vision of what steering by the stars means today is that we do what is right and good for the country and the planet, not such lights of passing ships as that which is expedient, or that which is calculated to help “win” the next election, or that which pleases those we refer to so euphemistically as the “Special Interests.” They are, after all, the ones who supply the money and the influence and thus effectively run the country.

One of the first things mentioned in current campaign rhetoric is health care. In my opinion, we will never have a satisfactory, affordable, system until we remove the insurance companies from the medical process. Yes, the HMOs and their ilk will have to go out of business for the same reasons the buggy-whip manufacturers had to go out of business when the automobile was invented. But will any aspirant for the presidency dare to say so, or dare to suggest – as intended by the Constitution – that Congress, and thus the people, run the country instead of the “special Interests”? No, the big lobbyists are prepared to do everything and anything possible to defeat that candidate – and we all know it.

What then? you ask, is the answer?

My vision of the oval office on January 20, 2009 sees a person – of whatever color or gender – who has had “The Balls” to stand up to the corporate powers and turn them into partners in the governing process. This person is not impressed with the mythology and trappings of the imperial presidency but is prepared to be the no nonsense chief of the executive branch of a re-conceived, de-politicized government, operated strictly in accordance with the Constitution (three co-equal branches) and dedicated to a stated national purpose: to preserve, protect and defend not only the constitution but also the planet – the only one we have and upon which we must continue to live.

Who is this person? From my perspective, it sure as hell is not the pro-war John McCain. Obama and Clinton show no signs of measuring up. Al Gore (who I thought we elected in 2000) comes to mind but he seems to have other goals. Surely, in this large and great country, there is a person who can lead the country once We-The-People adopt a course that points us away from the impending environmental and financial disaster.

Those of you to whom I have earlier outlined these thoughts have said it sounds good but it will never happen. That is true. It will never happen unless we try.

-Carroll S. Rankin

Khaki or Orange?

Well you can't say they aren't inventive. The Bush administration has come up with a new way of solving two problems with one stroke of the pen: They're allowing criminals into the Army.

It's like killing two birds with one grain of Iraqi sand.

In all, our Army and Marines combined have allowed in nearly 28,000 convicts who might mot have been allowed to serve in our nation's armed services had we not so desperately needed them. Think of it as the new Dirty Dozen (the Lee Marvin WWII movie in which a small band of condemned soldiers were given a shot at redemption if they served in a suicide mission)... times about 2,300!

In a troubling, anonymous statement, a Defense Department official had this to tell the Washington Post:

"We're digging deeper into the barrel than we were before... Would I like to see the waivers lower? Yes."
-A Defense Department official speaking on condition of anonymity because he hadn't received permission to speak

It's more like we're digging into the bottom of the barrel instead.

And of course, there is no choice but tot take these felons and serious misdemeanor criminals to join our armed forces, especially if, somehow, President Bush throws us into a new war in Iran, as has been reported. According to that same Defense Department official, the same rigorous standards apply to felons and other criminals applying to the armed services as before. They have to get the approval of officers as high as two-star generals to get their applications accepted.

So just how do these Generals get to meet our new soldiers anyway? Do they have dinner with them; go to a movie; or maybe on a long weekend with their respective families?

As former Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld might say, "Who knows?"

"The thing is, you've got to give people an opportunity to serve. We are growing the Army fast, there are some waivers . . . it hasn't alarmed us yet."
-Lt. Gen. James D. Thurman, the Army's operations chief

That is, of course, unless they happen to be gay or piss off someone in the White House.

"The numbers seem pretty clear to me that we are lowering standards, and it's difficult for me to see how that wouldn't have a negative impact on the quality of the force,"
-Christine Wormuth, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies

But we should be used to that by now. after all, lowering the standards have become a Bush administration "standard" since 2001.

And with the current state of our military, we can look for more no-bid contracts to Bush's (and McCain's?) "base of haves and have mores". And we can look forward to even ore sacrificial lambs to be brought to the slaughter.

-Noah Greenberg

Still Criminal After All These years


Little attention has been paid to the role of military analysts in promoting Bush policy. Today, a scathing article was published in the NYT "Behind Military Analysts, the Pentagon’s Hidden Hand" by DAVID BARSTOW:


I summarized the highlights of this article below.

The White House and Pentagon recruited a group 75 retired officers to promote Bush's military actions in the media. The members of this group were selected based on their ties to the defense industry and adherence to neoconservative ideology. This group met frequently with the Pentagon and White House to strategize on media propaganda. The members of this group used their insider access for personal financial gain though no direct quid pro quo was established.

One member of the group, General Vallely admits to using psychological operations against the American public! To quote, from the article:

"Many also shared with Mr. Bush’s national security team a belief that pessimistic war coverage broke the nation’s will to win in Vietnam, and there was a mutual resolve not to let that happen with this war.
"This was a major theme, for example, with Paul E. Vallely, a Fox News analyst from 2001 to 2007. A retired Army general who had specialized in psychological warfare, Mr. Vallely co-authored a paper in 1980 that accused American news organizations of failing to defend the nation from “enemy” propaganda during Vietnam.
“'We lost the war — not because we were outfought, but because we were out Psyoped,' he wrote. He urged a radically new approach to psychological operations in future wars — taking aim at not just foreign adversaries but domestic audiences, too. He called his approach “MindWar” — using network TV and radio to 'strengthen our national will to victory.'”

This group attacked critics of the Iraq war. For example on April 14, 2004 when a group of Generals criticized the Iraq war, Rumsfeld called them in for a meeting. To quote from the article:

"A transcript of that session, never before disclosed, shows a shared determination to marginalize war critics and revive public support for the war.
“'I’m an old intel guy,' said one analyst. (The transcript omits speakers’ names.) 'And I can sum all of this up, unfortunately, with one word. That is Psyops. Now most people may hear that and they think, 'Oh my God, they’re trying to brainwash.'' ”
“'What are you, some kind of a nut?' Mr. Rumsfeld cut in, drawing laughter. 'You don’t believe in the Constitution?'”

Well, we all knew that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld laugh at our constitution. Now, here is the kicker. General Petraeus met with this group just two weeks ago!

Two weeks ago General Petraeus took time out from testifying before Congress about Iraq for a conference call with military analysts.

Mr. Garrett, the Fox analyst and Patton Boggs lobbyist, said he told General Petraeus during the call to “keep up the great work.”

“Hey,” Mr. Garrett said in an interview, “anything we can do to help.”

This is an absolute outrage. Congress should be calling out the administration on this propaganda.

-Robert Scardapane

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2008 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter made good on yet another of his campaign promises on April 10th by taking on the gun lobby, and Harrisburg, with a vengeance. Nutter proposed five strict new gun laws that would affect Philadelphia, but not the rest of the state. New York has a similar program for gun control, as Hillary Clinton outlined in the presidential debate at the Constitution Center on April 16th.

City Council members Darryl Clarke and Donna Reed Miller sponsored a bill to enact the laws on April 11th. It is significant that despite other long-standing ideological differences, every single Council member voted to pass the laws. That statement–a unanimous passage in City Council by members from as diverse areas of the city as the Northeast and North Philly, South Philly and Germantown, Kensington and Roxborough all responded similarly. That signals the urgency every person in the hierarchy of Philadelphia city government feels about the gun violence in our town. City Council has been known for its contentiousness on a myriad of issues, but from Kenney to Tasco, Verna to Rizzo, the response was the same: Get the guns off the streets of Philadelphia.

The laws proposed by Mayor Nutter are simple and succinct and crafted specifically to address the gun-violence issues facing Philadelphians. These laws do not infringe on the rights of non-criminal citizens to own a gun–or even more than one gun. Nor do they infringe on the rights of non-criminal citizens to own hunting-related weaponry. The five new laws are:
1. Permit authorities to seek a judge’s order to remove guns from people declared to be a risk to themselves or others. (This law would cover mentally ill people like Seung-Hui Cho, a student at Virginia Tech, who killed 32 fellow students and himself on April 16, 2007.)
2. Ban people who are subject to a protection-from-abuse order from owning guns. (A majority of women who obtain protection-from-abuse orders against their husbands or boyfriends become victims of gun violence after the order is filed. Police departments nationwide, including Philadelphia’s, require that any police officer who has been the subject of a protection-from-abuse order surrender his or her firearm.)
3. Require gun owners to report to police theft or loss of a gun within 24 hours of the discovery. (Statistics show that more than half of all gun crimes are committed with stolen guns.)
4. Ban possession or sale of assault or contraband firearms within city limits. (Police nationwide have urged bans on assault weapons and hollow-point bullets that are not used in hunting and which pose special threats to law enforcement.)
5. Limit firearm purchases to one a month and require buyers to obtain a police certification that they have not purchased another firearm within the previous month. (This law was first proposed in 1995 by then-Mayor, now-Gov. Ed Rendell.)

It’s difficult to imagine how a non-criminal Philadelphian could complain about any of these new laws, but–sadly and predictably–the NRA (National Rifle Association), which has held the city and nation hostage to its outrageous pro-gun philosophy for decades, has objected vociferously. The NRA even went so far as to assert, when Cho went on his shooting rampage at Virginia Tech a year ago, that severely mentally ill people should not be barred from purchasing weapons.

On April 17th, NRA attorney C. Scott Shields demanded that District Attorney Lynne Abraham arrest both the Mayor and the entire City Council for “official oppression.” Abraham said she has no intention of arresting either the Mayor or members of City Council. However, on April 16th, Abraham did say that she could not enforce the new laws because they were unconstitutional according to a ruling by the state Supreme Court in 1996, when Rendell made a similar effort to control gun sales in Philadelphia. The ruling stipulates that within the Commonwealth all gun regulation is administered by the state, not municipalities. Abraham said that while she “agreed totally” with the spirit of the laws proposed by Nutter, as District Attorney she was bound by the state regulations. “I know that the ordinances are invalid and unenforceable according to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania,” Abraham said.

On April 17th, Common Pleas Court Judge Jane Cutler Greenspan formally suspended enforcement of the laws until a hearing to be held on April 28th. Sources close to Greenspan said that she was hoping to find a loophole to allow the laws to be enforced. However, City Solicitor Shelley R. Smith noted, “Our analysis suggests these laws are defensible . . . if we are sued in court.”

FOP president John J. McNesby, long a proponent of gun control in Philadelphia, gave a wink and a nod to the new laws, saying only that it would be up to the District Attorney and Police Commissioner to sort things out, but that police officers would obey whatever rules were set for the city. Local police officers favor the laws. Police have faced numerous assaults with illegal weapons in recent months with several officers wounded and Officer Chuck Cassidy murdered while on duty.

When the question of gun control was raised at the Democratic presidential debate at the Constitution Center on April 16th, Hillary Clinton was asked specifically if she supported the kind of laws the Mayor had proposed. She explained how well similar laws had worked in New York, where New York City is controlled by one set of gun laws while the rest of the state has a different level of gun control. Clinton noted that “police officers in Manhattan can feel safe that they won’t be facing assault weapons” while hunters in the rest of the state would be free to hunt with the weapons of their choice.

It should be noted that New York City has 8.2 million people within its five boroughs. Philadelphia has 1.5 million within its city limits, excluding the near suburbs. New York is the largest city in the country, Philadelphia is fifth largest. New York had 494 murders in 2007. Philadelphia had 400. Yet New York City has nearly six times the population of Philadelphia. Philadelphia ranks as the most murderous big city in America. While the murder rates in every other of the top 20 cities have consistently decreased, Philadelphia’s has consistently risen.

Some question the rationale for Nutter’s aggressive stance on gun control. Having lived in Lower Germantown, which has one of the highest murder rates in the city, for almost 20 years, I applaud Nutter’s actions.

The availability and accessibility of guns in Philadelphia presents huge problems for those of us in the inner city. If we had the same gun control laws as New York City, we could halve our murder rate–just as that city has done since it enacted similarly stringent laws.

On February 17th, I was returning home with from celebrating my birthday at a restaurant in Germantown. Three blocks from my home, my friends and I saw a young man carrying an assault rifle, as if he were going hunting in the woods in the Poconos. It was 10pm on a Sunday night in Germantown. As we drove through the intersection of Queen Lane and Morris Streets, we called police to report seeing a guy with an assault rifle. An hour later, the lead story on the 11 o’clock news was that Philadelphia Housing Authority officer Craig Kelley had been lured out of his bullet-proof booth and shot. He was shot four times, at point blank range. His bullet-proof vest saved his life. The shooter–the same young man we had called 911 about–was 17-year-old Zahir Boddy-Johnson. He was charged with attempted murder and numerous other offenses. Boddy-Johnson has a long rap sheet, including weapons possession and will be tried as an adult.

But how did a 17-year-old obtain an assault rifle?

Boddy-Johnson, like so many other teenagers in Philadelphia who have illegal guns, might have bought it out of the back of an SUV that has been known to sell guns in different areas in my neighborhood, including Fernhill Park. Boddy-Johnson might also have bought his weapon from the illegal gun dealer who lives a half block from me. Or he might have had his mother or girlfriend buy it for him. The District Attorney’s office reported that a majority of guns recovered from felons in gun-related crimes were bought by the felons’ mothers and girlfriends.

Mothers in Charge, a Philadelphia group of women who have lost family members to gun violence, asserts that guns are often rented out by the hour to teens. These guns are often used in drive-by gang retaliation shootings.

No doubt the NRA and its monied supporters will focus their resources on getting Nutter’s laws tossed out. They will rattle on about the sanctity of the Second Amendment and the infringement on the rights of law-abiding guns owners. But here’s my question for the NRA and their supporters: Why do law-abiding gun owners need to buy more than one gun a month? Why do mentally ill people need guns? Why do men who abuse their wives need guns? Why do law-abiding gun owners need assault weapons? These are the areas the Mayor is trying to address–not the hunters or the antique gun collectors, but the people who are selling weapons–including assault rifles–to 17-year-olds.

When we saw Boddy-Johnson calmly walking away from the man he had just shot four times with his assault rifle, the rifle in plain view, I had said to my friend who was driving. “Don’t stop–just drive. I’ll call 911.” I was afraid that if a guy carrying an assault rifle out in public on a Sunday night saw us, he would shoot at us.

Those who object to the Mayor’s new laws should come to Lower Germantown for a few weeks and listen, late at night, to the sound of automatic weapons firing. Or check out the shell casings littering the sidewalks near the two elementary schools within blocks of my house.

Without that illegal weapon, Officer Kelley would not have been shot and 17-year-old Boddy-Johnson would not be facing a 20-to-life sentence in Graterford. Mayor Nutter is right. The laws he enacted would protect all Philadelphians–even the criminals, like Boddy-Johnson. Virginia Tech was a quiet suburban school before Cho’s rampage, when he shot 111 bullets in six minutes. No one is safe from illegal guns. Not even the NRA.

In response to Suburban Racism, Dorothy Schwartz writes:

Your comments about who won't vote for Obama are discouraging, but not surprising. On the other hand, I've been surprised by whites who do plan to vote for him, and some who are ardently campaigning for him, people I wouldn't have expected to do so. My experience in northeast Philadelphia, going door to door for him in mixed neighborhoods was encouraging; people who planned to vote for him (or who said they would) ran the gamut from Eastern European Jewish to Black to Hispanic.

And Madman responds:

I agree, but you said "mixed neighborhoods". I was referring to more affluent areas of Suburbia.

However, I am both ENcouraged and DIScouraged at the same time myself.

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-Noah Greenberg