Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Relative threats - tsunami versus Vioxx

The Drudgereport uses two ! and one ? to exclaim that as many as 45,000 people may have been killed by the tsunamis. For a little perspective, let's remember that Dr. David Graham, a Food and Drug Administration researcher, notes that as many as 55,000 people died from taking Vioxx.

Vioxx -- a drug no better than aspirin or ibuprofen at controlling arthritis pain. Vioxx -- yet another drug, like HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy), relentlessly advertised on TV, something that no other nation like ours allows.

Killer tsunamis are rare. And the truth is that people can do little to protect themselves. Drug scandals like Vioxx are becoming quite common. And the sad truth is that U.S. citizens are supposed to have the power to change the way their governmente behaves, but that power has been abdicated to the corporations.

What does the mainstream media do about these relative threats? Reuters has dispatched its newsgathering minions to airports worldwide in the hope of finding new amateur footage of the waves rolling in to feed the story for a few more days.

That same media machine ignores people like Ralph Nader who tried to tell us the truth about Big Pharma. The only time he's allowed on TV is to answer the question about whether he is just a spoiler.

My goal is not to denigrate the victims of the tsunamis. It is to remind us that Scott Peterson and killer waves are not the real threats we face, though you wouldn't know it if you rely on mainstream media to help you figure out what matters.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Supporting soldiers/glorifying war

If the Left learned one thing from Viet Nam, it was not to hold the soldiers accountable for the idiocy of their commanders. Watching CNN on Christmas Eve, there was an unrelenting succession of heartwarming stories about our soliders in Iraq, told with compassion if not reverence for our "brave men and women" putting their lives on the line for us.

While showing us the lives of the footsoldiers caught up in our war machine is admirable, the media barrage risks going beyond storytelling to glorifying war as a way to solve problems. Commentators seem hell-bent on reiterating the government line that the solders in Iraq are saving us from having to fight terrorism here, though the lack of attacks on our soil in the intervening years since 9/11 may instead be evidence that al Qaeda is not the international juggernaut we once supposed.

How refreshing amidst all this propaganda about war to find the Washington Post article on the Christmas truce of 1814, when Allied and Axis forces at the front line spontaneously put down their arms and celebrated together. As a survivor said, had it been left to the front-line troops, the war might well have ended there.

The article speculates about why there have been few cases since -- the advent of impersonal modern warfare and the death of the idea that the enemy are also "gentlemen." Yet my job shortly after graduating from high school in 1962 was to research a local educator. Doing so meant scouring the microfilms from seven local Jackson, Michigan, newspapers from 1900 to 1930. The Kaiser and the Huns were hardly treated as gentelemen. In fact, there were barely considered human.

Yet there is a worrisome difference, it seems, when the enemy is of another race. Beginning with Korea, then Viet Nam, and now Afghanistan and Iraq, there is a sense that it is easier to abuse, torture, and kill people with a different skin color. The previous century was the bloodiest ever in terms of civilians as well as soldiers killed in political conflicts. It would seem the media would serve us better by honoring our soldiers without crossing the line into pro-war propaganda, particularly as communication and transportation technology remind us how small and diverse a world we really share. Wouldn't that be a suitable Christmas message?

Thursday, December 16, 2004

The answer: 4 minutes 36 seconds

And the question?

How long was I able to shoot video at the subway station at Reagan Airport in DC before the cop showed up to ask me what I was doing?

"Is it against the law to shoot video here?" I asked.

"It's legal as long as you don't use a tripod," he responded. Huh?

On my return trip, I hauled out the trusty videocamera at the airport in Detroit and succeeded in scaring the hell out of my fellow travelers. I left my camera case open and walked 15 feet away to shoot people on the moving walkway. By the time I returned a minute or two later, my seatmates had demanded that the gate attendant get a security guard to come check me out. "Everyone's a junior security expert today," he whispered to me.

For a country that has not suffered a terrorist act since 9/11, we sure are jumpy.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Kerik's nanny problem

Joining Zoe Baird, Bernard Kerik has a "nanny problem"that is at least part of the reason he withdrew his nomination to become head of Homeland Security. And again our immigration policy highlights the problems and the hypocracies.

Kerik long ago joined the wealthy elite (he also made $6.2 million on his Taser stock options - the real scandal) whose membership often includes seeking to save a few bucks by hiring an undocumented nanny. To save even a few bucks more, Kerik also failed to pay the requires taxes on her wages.

While he waxes eloquent about how she loved his kids, the truth is that he apparently liked child care on the cheap and he also likes an employee who dares not ask for much without risking deportation. So we again get a glimpse of how the rich are still willing to screw over the poor just to hang onto a few more dollars they will never live long enough to spend.

We also get a lesson in how the millions of undocumented workers who live among us drag down the wages at the lower end of the wage scale.

Charting an ethical and moral course on immigration is no easy matter. Listening to CNN's Lou Dobbs hammer home the anti-immigration theme each night often means that you find yourself accepting parts of the argument, at the same time you want to take a hot shower to wash off the stink of finding yourself in the company of nativists like Pat Buchanan.

If you open the U.S. borders to all comers, the result would be a surge of millions of the most desperate and unskilled workers escaping oppression everywhere else. Earlier this year, when Ralph Nader spoke at Michigan State, a Communist Party member challenged him to adopt an open border campaign plank. The ever-cerebral Nader looked at the young man like he was promoting belief in a flat earth. Yet there is no denying that the millions of undocumented workers already here serve as a stick to keep low-wage workers from asking for more, though chucking them out is not only unfeasible but inhumane.

What we have is the worst of both worlds. The Federation for American Immigration Reform says that there are at least nine million undocumented workers living among us. Bottom line is that we are not going to deport them all. Deny them driver's licenses and other benefits of our society and all you do is harass them and make their lives more miserable while they hang our drywall and take care of our kids. Auto insurers might enjoy be delighted to avoid paying claims on uninsured drivers, but you will not find that families who have been here for decades will opt to go home just because you make their lives tougher than they already are.

We need a mix of immigrants with various skills from all over the world to fulfill the American dream. When we demonize those who do so by hook or by crook instead of waiting in line, we are forgetting that these are the people with the courage, the brains, and the tenacity we need. The challenge becomes how to accept if not welcome them without encouraging an influx of newcomers who outstrip our economic and ecological carrying capacity.

Friday, December 10, 2004

We Like Mike for the People's Choice Award

Visit Michael Moore's site and follow the link to vote for Fahrenheit 911 for best picture in the People's Choice Awards. Mike is actively campaigning for the award since the right wing has been trying intimidate the Academy Awards into ignoring his movie. As with voting in Ohio (the joke used to be Chicago), vote early and vote often.