The Human Decency Doctrine For Wartime Reporting

When did the Language of War become so insensitive and pop-'culturized'?

You hear it with everyone from Wolf Blitzer to Peter Jennings. It used to be that the use of 'trendy' Language in the context of war topics was left to, well, Bloggers and bloggerheads. But now, with mainstream media crossing the gap to pick up the nasty habit too, there's an atrocious banter going on around some horrific moments of Our lives -- that's right -- Yours & Mine.

Today's abuse is pretty hard to miss. With a devastating attack on a U.S. military base near Mosul, killing and wounding untold numbers of U.S. and coalition troops, contractors, and civilians, the news was promptly discussed as a "Lucky Strike" on Mosul.

Macabre to you too? I mean, whose side are they/we on?

Why, oh why, was it not called a "Massacre at Mosul?"

OK, we get it that from the Insurgents' perspective, any successful and unanticipated assault on troops like ours who were eating their meals, could feel like a 'high five' moment. But please oh please, do NOT report it as "High Five for the Insurgent Team" because folks, this is NOT football or basketball! [A Sunday morning news program included one jughead who was so enthusiastic in his play-by-play discussion of the unfolding of the campaign leading up to the January elections, that he used every football metaphor I've ever heard. Even the all-male panel was somewhat speechless for a second or two.]

The 'Lucky Strike' remark was bad enough but then the wolf-hound went on to question a retired General about the soft-sided facility where the troops were eating, if they weren't out there like so many, "sitting ducks."

Listen up, more than 20+ families are going to get some pretty awful news this week and having a metaphor like 'sitting ducks' anywhere in the archives is just plain boorish. Nobody needs to hear it or think it because better judgment should prevail by the professionals who are reporting news. If there is a news item or an investigation into the armoring of camps, then fine, relate that topic to their vulnerability. Where is Walter Cronkite when we need him?

For those of us who haven't been to A.N.Y. School of Journalism but have a Fair Amout of Common Sense and can educate those poor fools who couldn't be trained about what we know, here are our basic principles -- let's call it --

The Human Decency Doctrine for Wartime Reporting

1. No use of cliches, metaphors or pop culture references (songs, movies, games) in the coverage of military assaults, kidnappings, beheadings, prisoners-of-war, heroic acts, lost limbs, etc.

2. When in doubt about showing pictures of human remains or humans in shock in response to the remains of their comrades, err on the side of not showing. If it's newsworthy, 72 hours later, ask permission of the commanding officer, the troop shown, and the next of kin, if they have been notified and with a military chaplain present. [Note: you won't get past the first checkpoint.]

3. Do not use Toll-free number or Internet polls to ask Americans what should happen to Sadden Hussein or Chemical Ali. This is not the 'Bachelorette' and we don't want you to use the characters of war and us to become part of Your Sweeps Week.

4. If you have gone to the time and trouble to track down an Expert to talk to Viewers and their perspective is valuable, let him/her speak. Shut up already! Tell your sponsors that you may be going over the normal time for advertising breaks because Real Life just doesn't fit neatly around 30 or 60 second segments for cellular telephone service or department stores.

5. Cover (photograph and text with date) every casket that returns to the states. Every life matters. Show some respect. Show them coming home.

Do you have others to add?
Write and we'll send a new & improved list to the AP, the network owners, major network sponsors, and the FCC.

Let's stake our claim on this piece of the Airwaves. They were intended for You and Me.
Together, we can make a difference.


The Appointee -- Tuesdays at Ten

After another season of the Donald's, The Apprentice, it occurs to me that the White House could learn a lot about vetting their appointments to all sorts of positions including the cabinet, supreme court, and lesser crowns like ambassadorships. They could simply create a 'reality' tv show and let the country help weed out the candidates.

The recent embarrassment over NY's Bernard Kerik to Homeland Security isn't the travesty that the press is making it out to be. It would have been worse, sure, if he had already started the job. So, ok, enthusiasm ran high already, and in the 2nd term things got a tad sloppy with new people playing it a little loose on background checks. I don't think that 'bad' day [the day Kerik's sordid past hit the fan] begins to compare with the 'best' day in Baghdad, so why are we giving it so much newsprint? I don't think President Bush or Rudy G. should keep beating themselves up over it. Let it go already!

We can learn something from this, though.

We learned from the Clinton administration that nearly nobody is qualified to be Attorney General of the U.S. Save for missing a law degree, I used to think I could volunteer -- I never 'smoked' you know what (let alone had the inhalation issue to contend with), didn't have that nasty nanny-gate problem, but then, ooops, nevermind. . . forgot about dear Vera, the short-term house cleaner a life-time ago. She didn't want to report her income to the government and I didn't want to twist her arm about it so I didn't pay the 'employer's' part of the social security either. There I go, disqualifying myself from Attorney General. That was just one of Kerik's transgressions.

But just imagine -- if we had 100,000 candidates for the cabinet secretary of Homeland Security [The Apprentice gets 1 million applications; I'm assuming not nearly as many people would want this job as working for the Trumpster], and taking all sorts of prequalifications into account,we narrowed the search to 20.

Then, what if we planned a 20-week television program based on weeding out the undesirable candidates each week, pitting them against each other one by one, while we, the audience, learn more and more about them, their character, grace-under-fire pressure, and you know, whether they floss -- important stuff.

I think we'd have a hit all right. And we'd probably be no worse for the wear. We might even have a darn good Appointee for the position of whatever post we were trying to fill -- just name it -- the process works for any of them in the federal government.

Sure, we would still have the CIA and FBI clearances, newspaper leaks, old lovers' tapes discovered [a la Clinton], and quirks like practicing surgery on 'rescued' cats [see Sen. Frist online articles] but we would have a better chance of airing our dirty laundry in advance.

See, it's not that we couldn't wear dirty socks a 2nd day, but sometimes, well, you know. . .you just want to sniff them to be real sure.


Help the Troops & Their Families!

No matter your politics, there are U.S. troops around the world who are feeling the pangs of prolonged separation from their families and friends, many of whom are located in harm's way. Their conditions of daily living and survival at 'work' are not great; we all wish it could be better. Separating the causes and the finger-pointing for a moment, let us remember that there is something that we can all do. You pick what that something is and just DO IT!

FORGET THAT IT MAY NOT (PROBABLY WON'T) REACH THEM BY DECEMBER 25. They're still going to be there the day after, the week after that, and the month after that.
The need goes on. This is NOT just a Holiday appeal, Got it?

Whether it's a church activity sending sweatsuits to injured soldiers (there are too many to
list -- check with yours) or a centralized program to help those wounded with a variety of soft clothes and toiletries (see: http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/), if you want to support specific goods going to troops, there are programs for you.

Http://www.anysoldier.com provides a wide array of options for you to choose from all the way from care packages to program support. It's admirable how this program began; be sure to check it out. Even the hardest of hearts can't help but be moved by some of the needs identified by representatives of individual units that can be selected all the way from Branch of Service to Male or Female to nurses or soldiers. You can read their list of needs and then take a look at your own grocery cart each week and suddenly you just know you CAN make room to help these courageous troops whose return home remains uncertain -- some turkey jerky, baby wash/wipes for basic hygiene, or batteries -- the needs are not beyond your ability to help. Pick one; in your mind 'adopt a battalion' or a unit and do the best you can.

Another great grassroot effort that has evolved into an amazing organization can be found at http://soldiersangels.org/heroes/index.php You can read about their work and select from a wide array of ways to help out including returning troops and families who try to reach wounded sons and daughters to support them during treatment and recovery.

The Red Cross working with the Red Crescent Society has tried to administer aid to civilians in Iraq. Most aid agencies are, for the present, in too much danger of being killed or kidnapped to provide direct support of civilians. However, there is hope that there will be a time again when they can resume their aid. Contact your local branch of the Red Cross (see your telephone White Pages) and ask how you can best help, typically through a financial contribution.

If you live within 200 miles of a military base you will likely find outreach programs in the community that you can join and support. Sometimes these are administered through VFW, American Legion Posts, or other community groups. If you are interested in particularly helping young, struggling families of deployed troops then this may be the best route for you to offer assistance. Sometimes the gift of telephone calling cards, grocery store gift cards, and help with school uniforms for children can provide amazing relief to the parent left behind trying to stretch a check until next pay period.

Again, don't confuse your personal ideology with politics or government and what's at stake in supporting the human beings from our country who are in positions of extraordinary risk and discomfort. You CAN help a fellow citizen, a fellow human being, without risking whatever opinions you have because that is what being a caring human being is all about. Have the courage to try it today, if you haven't already made the commitment to do so.

Then, keep on giving, even if it hurts, because it hurts them a whole lot more.


Any Town, U.S.A.

Across the country, scores of World War II servicemen, their wives, and the nurses who tended the troops are dwindling daily. Any newspaper in Any Town, U.S.A. lists the obituaries of the men and women whose commitment to duty made all the difference in a grueling era of deprivation and fear.

Yet there are still precious souls among us who, upon casual conversation, can be persuaded to take us back in time -- their time at war, to their lives interrupted.

It's interesting to hear the rationale for which service branch was selected. "Well, I knew I could use my mechanical engineering and machinery talents on a naval ship and frankly, I didn't think I would be much use with a gun. At 6' 4" I just figured I would be a splendid target, that's all," and the like explain why Earl entered the Navy instead of the Army as many of his New Jersey friends and neighbors did.

A couple of those Jersey fellows were Earl's high school buddies and before the war they practiced an extracurricular skill as a team -- acrobatic leveling or balancing. At one time (the now near-90 year old man was regaling me with stories encompassing the heart of a century), Earl was on his way to becoming a professional leveler. I never knew this term. But when Earl explained it to me, I could imagine how the performers who climbed higher and higher on top of him needed to count on the steady stance of the underpinning form of their colleague -- Earl. Earl, the human leveler.

As he talked, Earl's eyes twinkled remembering those days and I could almost see in my mind's eye the shapes of bodies climbing higher and higher to the sounds of awes from the audience. I felt goosebumps.

For a time it surely seemed that Earl and his band of brothers were headed for the professional performing circle. Favorable auditions were granted and they felt at age 18 the world was just beginning for them.

And then the U.S. entered WWII and the performance artists placed their skills in the hands of their country instead.

Earl and I talked about the twists and turns in one's life, how doors open and close without our awareness that sometimes they are altering our lives forever. That he would, post-war, meet a gal, Margie, in his college town, who shared his old love of acrobatics, herself using a trapeze at times, seemed almost too good to be true. Their love was immediate and he was overjoyed to discover that he could level her just like he had leveled the fellows a few years before. And so life was good for them.

As we talked over old times and how he came to become an engineer in Silicon Valley instead of the circus performer traveling on-the-road, lovely Margie walked over grinning to ask him a simple question. "What's the name of our road?"

Earl answered her gently and she happily walked back to her friends. His eyes weren't twinkling as before when he told me that Margie now has Alzheimer's Disease. But they still danced the night away at the holiday party with other retirees who returned to celebrate the occasion with fellow workers. We were grateful Earl and Margie were there.

And I was so thankful that he shared this and other vignettes of the lives of the WWII generation at a time when I'm communicating with soldiers in Iraq and some are struggling to adjust to life after Iraq. There's never a comparison between wars, eras, nor people of course.

I am reminded that real courage is born of those who serve. And those who keep a level head while continuing to 'Level' their beloved through the storms and trials of disease are heroes indeed, because their course too, like soldiers, is uncharted, yet steadfast.


Nixon's Right Hand Man Tells Troops to Suck It Up

Some news days are almost too surreal to believe. Today was one of them.

Chronicling both Pres. Bush and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's flights of fury to Camp Pendleton, CA and Camp Buehring, Kuwait respectively allowed them to acknowledge the time-honored Pearl Harbor Day occasion with real troops, not just veterans. And of course, it was to buck up the morale of the troops, the ones already there and bone weary and those who are dreading going even with all of the honorable duty talk in the world hanging over their heads.

Not surprisingly, Pres. Bush's visit was, well, presidential. Pendleton has lost around 270 Marines in Iraq. Camp Pendleton understands what sacrifice is. During the emotional visit with family members and troops, he gave the broad appeal to all Americans to help out however they can with military families. So many Americans have been doing this from the first troops' deployment; he hardly had to ask, but it was a good, strategic request of the whole country in case anyone out there has had their heads buried in P. Hilton videos. He was in fine form, truly presidential. It was only a shame that he didn't send somebody else to Kuwait instead of old Rummy.

It's possible that there are many factors at play with Rumsfeld. Age, too many years with pharmaceutical companies, and the obvious -- he's got a 'lock-in' now as a lame-duck Defense Secretary so perhaps he thinks he's untouchable. After all, did you vote for him? Think about it. How do you impeach a Defense Secretary?

Well, Secretary Rumsfeld did not prepare enough for the tone of his encounter with troops in Kuwait. You know, the kind of drill that we all learned in Business 101 -- "Worst case scenario: what do you do if the cash register jams and customers are lined up at the door?" Duh. You have to be prepared for thoughtful, seasoned, and accommodating responses to your 'customers. . .'

Like it or not, Rumsfeld, that congressional-go-lightly Princeton fellow who kowtowed to Nixon all through his Watergate days (somehow never getting burned himself), is more than a little OUT OF TOUCH with reality, the kind of reality that troops know in the field. This is the same Rumsfeld who never got the tiniest bit dirty in bloody combat himself, lucky devil. His brief aviator days in the mid-1950's allowed him to miss WWII, Korea & Vietnam. Talk about luck.

Two major points stuck in the craw of troops in the audience. Too bad more women weren't there; he might have been hissed off the stage (kidding).

1. A serious and well-presented question was asked about by a true 'Volunteer' [that's what Tennessee troops are called historically] as to why they still have inadequate supplies of armor for their vehicles. Just imagine what Pres. Bush might have said way over at Camp Pendleton. I suspect he would have said something like, "It's my understanding that we're nearly up to full capacity with supplying armor for military vehicles, but I take your question seriously and we will look into it."

Not old Rummy. He just cracked that verbal whip right back at Army Spc. Wilson and said,
"You go to war with the Army you have."

"Arguments of convenience lack integrity and inevitably trip you up."

Let's face it, that whole audience in Kuwait had Rummy's number and was just too darn polite to carry him to his Limo in pieces.

2. The 2nd Hot Button issue that's on many troops' minds and is more than a bit sensitive as lawsuits flurry about like a Nor'easter is the "stop loss" problem which means the effective use [or abuse] of soldiers preventing them from retiring or quitting when their time is up. It's pretty hard to not know about this from newspapers and TV programs where disabled veterans are being dragged out of their homes, 4' 8" 60-year old grandmothers are being hauled back to training, and mothers of infants who thought they had fulfilled their commitment are now in uniform. Oh yeah, it's a sensitive issue.

To say that we don't have a Draft is, in light of all of this, just a plain Lie. We may not have a lottery like we did in the 60's & 70's (yet) but we have a draft, de facto. It's just that the people taking it on the chin are those already in the military and those who have ever been in who could in any way be hauled back by some technicality.

So when Rumsfeld was asked about how much more of this "stop loss" power they were going to use on troops who would otherwise be eligible to retire or quit, quick to answer, the Defense Secretary just said that this was a good, sound principle and
"It's nothing new, it's been well understood by soldiers."

But that presumes that all of these people could simply be misguided, crazy, or wrong. But maybe something ELSE was "well understood" by these soldiers, something RUMSFELD SAID:

"I can't tell you if the use of force in Iraq today will last five days, five weeks or five months, but it won't last any longer than that."

What do we make of this Secretary, the counselor to Nixon, Reagan's envoy to Saddam Hussein (remember when he was our friend?), a man on the board of a global technology group for nuclear power stations off North Korea (remember, the Bad Guys?), and curiously the CEO of Searle who might be called "old Bitter & Sweet" who got FDA approval for an artificial sweetener by the name of aspartame. Rumsfeld's very proud of his achievements for turning business profitability around -- usually, like at Searle, it's at the expense of the jobs of rank and file workers.

Do you think Rumsfeld got the war confused with a giant Widget Factory and by losing troops and not shipping all of the supplies needed he can demonstrate greater profitability? Wow, that's tough talk isn't it, kind of like calling someone guilty of war crimes.
But, to Quote RUMSFELD:
"Prune -- prune businesses, products, activities, people. Do it annually."

But what's clear is this: Rummy's a man who loves the Business of war but only tolerates troops. Can we afford to have a Secretary of Defense who is so indifferent, antagonistic, if not hostile to the men and women who implement his plans? Is he really the Best and Brightest that our Country can find for this important job?

I'd go back to Kuwait and ask some of the men and women who spoke up at the Secretary's apperance -- ask them who they would be inspired to follow. I have faith in my fellow Americans, something that Donald Henry Rumsfeld does not share. He was not forthcoming like that Tennessee 'Volunteer' at Camp Buehring.

No, Rumsfeld did not resign at the end of the first term like so many other cabinet members. But just because he didn't offer his resignation does not mean that our President doesn't know how to request it. Let's give President Bush our support NOW to help Secretary Rumsfeld retire. We don't want to 'stop loss' him now, do we?

And if it helps ease into it, LET'S REMIND RUMSFELD OF SOME OF HIS OWN WORDS:
"Be able to resign. It will improve your value to the President and do wonders for your performance."


Killed in Service

There will be many more analyses, investigative hours, and possible charges over the recent report that NFL player turned-soldier Corporal (Army Ranger) Pat Tilman was killed last April by ‘friendly fire’ in Afghanistan. The tragedy of his death stands alongside the collective tragedies of more than 1,400 coalition troops as of this writing.

When you step one hour, one day, one week or one year away from the fact of the individual case what remains is this – he or she is dead, just the same. However, wherever, and whenever the loss, the loss remains as true and real to those who know what loss really is.

Not all deaths are reported and counted in the same way, however. And the “KIA” (killed in action) numbers are the ones we, the public, tend to watch closely. (It makes me wonder if COs are given performance evaluations in which their mortality counts are a measure of their success so they don't want those car accidents, heart-attacks, and drug overdoses to drag their record down.)

Further, we can’t help but marvel at the slug-sticky trail left by those (official investigators?) whose tangled webs were well practiced to confuse or deceive us (to mix metaphors while mangling a quotation along the way) about the truth behind the big 'incidents.'

And that brings us back to Corporal Tilman. Much will be made of this friendly fire incident because of Tilman’s high profile case – he was well known, highly admired, fondly respected and loved by many.

But there are also lesser known cases of friendly fire that we ought to study just as earnestly if we are to learn anything about our commitment to troops and to truth.

Take Marine Corporal Jason David Mileo, for example. Mileo, from Pasadena, Maryland, survived the April 2003 assault on Baghdad but was mistaken for an enemy soldier when he was killed. It took a year for military investigators to lay partial blame on Cpl. Mileo (!) for causing the confusion that led to his own death.

According to the U.S. Central Command, Cpl. Mileo (at the time, unarmed) had removed his flak jacket and helmet and was smoking a cigarette – conduct violations – when he was shot in the back by fellow Marine snipers and spotter. Yet, the report, a full year in the making, absolved military responsibility by saying:

“Even though no one event or person was the catalyst for Corporal Mileo’s death, one break in the chain of events may have spared his life.”

Hmmm. . .I'd like to know who wrote that line; it's sort of Zen-like, kind of out of touch with the Reality that most of us know and live with.

Counting ‘friendly fire’ deaths is perhaps the hardest count of all because of the admission of guilt and the implicit responsibility (public outrage, loss of support for the war, lawsuits, to name a few) that accompanies it. But it’s hard to tell the survivors of those who died from accidents, ‘noncombat weapon discharge,’ disease, or even suicide that their loved ones’ deaths were not brought on at least in substantial part by their service to their country.

It’s time that the algorithm change. Since the U.S. Civil War, at least, military deaths have been tracked by disease, accident, suicide, death-in-combat, murder, among other categories.

But just as we don’t send out brightly dressed fifers and drummers in advance of marching troops anymore because it doesn’t fit modern warfare techniques, we need to stop segregating deaths-in-service by cause.

The aggregate death count – the total count of souls lost -- is good enough for me because they all matter, even those whose futile destinies lay in their own hands by their acts.

After we’ve seen the movie based on the death of Cpl. Tilman, try to remember the movies that you won’t see – of young fellows like Cpl. Mileo whose father's thoughts should linger with us all:

“His death was noble because he was a soldier who willingly went into battle to fight for freedom and liberty and he fell. And he lost his life.”

What else is there to say? The count with Tilman and Mileo?
Two more were “killed in service” of their country.



Milbloggers & the 'Experts'

[The following letter was sent to a Northeast newspaper to set the record straight on their reporting.]

Dear newspaper editor,

Thanks to the Internet, we're reading your newspaper in Baghdad as well as in Arizona. Your November 21, 2004 article ("Dispatches from the front") warrants some serious clarification for readers.

You see, as it is, the reporter might have left you with the impression that a Milblog by the handle "Life in this Girl's Army" was an easy kick-back "college kid's diary." On the contrary. Those of us who have kept up with Sgt. Lizzie's writings know that this Blog was a creative and expressive outlet for her and a way to stay in touch with family and friends.

Along the way (and not part of her own plan, I might add) she's educated perfect strangers like me and connected us with other Bloggers, creating a pretty powerful network of that old American spirit. You remember -- people extending their hands and helping each other as they best can.

Multiply the power that comes from someone like Sgt. Lizzie! Just imagine, because of her, in a small way I've helped a horribly injured soldier get his family to Walter Reed; 'adopted'
the family of a deployed Marine for holiday support; sent telephone calling cards to soldiers; and helped a returning reservist's family who unfairly lost his stateside job get back on their feet. Again, I say, multiply the power that comes from Sgt. Lizzie's impact on others.

Well, yesterday, Dec. 4, in that foreign soil, wearing her uniform in service of her country, Sgt. Lizzie's truck hit an IED. (We learned from her mother who updated her Blogsite.) You see, no one in Iraq is a "college kid" as you suggested. No one is exempt from great peril, pain, suffering, and death.

Sgt. Lizzie was injured, was hospitalized, but she was lucky; her comrade, the driver, behind her, God rest her soul, was not so blessed.

It would do a gross disservice to the military personnel who serve in Iraq or elsewhere in the world in harm's way (as well as Sgt. Lizzie, in particular, since she was identified in this article) if your information was not updated for readers.

"Dispatches from the front?" Not such a simplistic article to write, now is it?

You see, just like looking in our rear-view mirrors, "Objects may be larger than they seem." When you read a Milblog in the future, do not trivialize what you do not understand.

Santa & His Grinch

Doesn't seem fair on top of everything else to be picking on Santa, does it?

But out there, in shopping malls and department stores around the U.S., thousands of children line up to sit on Santa's lap and tell their innermost secrets and wishes for the Christmas season. Turns out, this is good for business too. You see, Santa Claus helps bring in numbers of shoppers who spend extra time and dollars that keep the private sector as profitable as possible. That profit comes at our expense -- yours and mine. So, Santa's visitation is also being underwritten by you and me and the impact of our hard-earned dollars is seen in those centers of shopping delight. My thought is this: I 'own' part of Santa and you do too!

Here's what's on my list for Santa this year. Instead of telling children of soldiers who are deployed in military service in Iraq and elsewhere that their parents (who cannot afford the rip-off 'studio portrait package') may not use their own cameras to take a couple of their own photos of their kid on Santa's lap, welcome dependents of Military Families warmly and with Dignity to a modest giveaway package that won't break anybody's corporate bank account. That is, try a little human kindness. Give a little for goodness sake. For some of these families the 'kid-on-Santa's lap picture' was going back to Iraq with the troops for their next deployment -- any day now.

Don't make me name names you corporate Grinches! Get your magic marker and a poster board and mark up the latest special for Military Troops and Their Families (with ID of course) your best offer and win some goodwill and additional business besides.

Because the war will be over someday, so we hope, and some of us won't forget what corporate citizens do for our troops and their families when it matters.


4 Degrees of Separation

Until 1947 the U.S. had a peculiar succession plan should disaster strike both the president and the vice-president. The reins of power in those days were to be turned over to the senior cabinet official -- the Secretary of State.

For many ponderous reasons, Congress debated this situation for years and finally enacted a law in '47 which placed 2 additional persons between the the White House and the Cabinet, in the line of Succession, that is. First the Speaker of the House would be the next in line for the office of the presidency and if he or she was unable to serve, it would turn to the Senate president pro tempore.

Clearly having ELECTED representation closer to the succession plan was at least part of the intent. Otherwise, you might end up with something unexpected, like someone, say who's never run for city council, never served a day in military service, never raised a family, or never sat around town hall tables listening to constituents and helping problem-solve their difficulties. You might end up with someone without a clue of diplomacy. You might also end up with someone in the Oval Office who doesn't have a close grip on what most of us call a sense of 'reality' -- a sense of the responsibility for the heartbeat of the nation.

In looking back at the days of the Cold War, the Kruschev regime, the dreaded 'duck & cover' atomic bomb drills of grade school in the 1960's, it's worth reflecting on the people who have held the office of Secretary of State. What negotiating skills, interpersonal warmth and appeal, and modern-day knowledge coupled with wisdom and savvy judgment from a long career did he or she bring to the U.S. - International table?

At any dinner party, you're going to be hard-pressed to get anyone to name 6 out of the last 12 Secretaries of State. They seem to matter a lot when they're in office. When they're gone, unless they're Henry Kissinger who never tires of the limelight, they mostly wait to collect their Presidential Medal of Freedom. Of course, there are exceptions.

What you notice, though, is that nearly all have had lives of deep public service long before being asked to fill the office of Secretary of State. Military service is just one component of public service such as seen in the histories of Dean Rusk, Wm. Rogers, Kissinger, Cyrus Vance, Warren Christopher, and notably Colin Powell. Although in the case of the first woman, Madeleine Albright (the first female Secretary of State --under Clinton), she did not serve militarily. Some Secretaries of State also had distinguished careers as elected officials such as Christian Herter (Gov. of Mass., & Congressman) and Edmund Muskie (Senator). Visibly serving the international diplomatic community through UN appointment is another way in which Secretaries of State in-the-making (in hindsight) have 'earned their spurs' such as William Rogers and Madeleine Albright.

Some recent Secretaries of State have served their administrations well beyond that office. George Schultz uniquely racks a resume as Sec. of State, Sec. of Treasury, and the Sec. of Labor crossing decades of service. James A. Baker III not only served as White House Chief of Staff, he was chair of the president's Economic Policy Committee and was Undersecretary of Commerce.

One cannot help but come away with a view that the last 40+ years worth of Secretaries of State is quite impressive no matter whose administration they served politically. It is not a merely partisan matter. The breadth of talent, personal command, wherewithal, meaningful interpersonal connections and genuine goodwill to draw upon all contributes to a tidy dowry that any Secretary of State brings to bear in the office.

So why are so many people, even those close to the president, having a giant Rolaid moment over his insistence that Dr. Condoleezza Rice (he nicknamed her "the Warrior Princess") is the best "American face to the world" and her nomination for Secretary of State should be expediently supported by Congress?

Recently both Pat Buchanan and Jay Rockefeller (a contrast, let's agree) shared their deep concern over President Bush's nomination of Dr. Rice. (Calling this to question is akin to calling the president's judgment to question; otherwise. . . why go there? The president's deep attachment to Dr. Rice is unsettling, though.)

Their reasons were different, however. Buchanan felt that a Secretary of State must be independent of the White House to be effective. That is, he or she must be able to bristle the White House from time to time if he or she is doing the job well. There's just too much at stake to be a 'Yes man/woman' token spokesperson for the White House. He didn't think that Dr. Rice could be independent. Rockefeller, on the other hand, felt that Dr. Rice's lack of 'sterling' success as a Leader in the NSA would hamper her ability at State and that she wasn't sufficiently 'seasoned' to step into 'shoes that big' (my metaphor, not his). That Dr. Rice's driving influence in international politics should be her professor/mentor, Dr. Albright's late father, Josef Korbel, is just a little more of the peculiar.

Dr. Rice has spent the last recent years grooming the president on foreign affairs particularly. They work hand-in-glove. Heck, they work so closely that she sometimes has been heard to slip and refer to him as her "husband." It's all understandable. And it's also understandable that his zealous laudatory remarks about her illustrious career would cause her to weep on stage. True, I can't picture Kissinger weeping for Nixon, but then it's an emotional time, right?

Having worked for years to see women and minorities advance in public service careers, this is a time when I want to feel good about the appointment of Dr. Rice. I don't though. She might make an amazing undersecretary to the Right person, who, though, I'm not even entertaining because the die is cast, I know.

Is she truly the BEST American to represent the U.S. to the world diplomatically at this critical time? No. It's simply not possible. Look at her credentials. Look at her performance. Look at her historic profile. We know more about her background in academics, ballet, piano, song, and sports than can be fairly articulated by a panel of spokespersons for her as a diplomatic leader.

Where are her supporters -- besides the Bush family that is? Bring out Al Haig, Kissinger, Albright, Baker, Schultz, and deeply examine what former Secretaries of State know must be present for a Sec. of State to make it work on the global front. Who knows better than they do?

Poll some of our strongest allies. We surely have some, right? Shouldn't we care what some of our allies think about, well. . . Anything?

Every cabinet appointment, especially Secretary of State, should not be the opportunity to pay back historic thanks for sticking around and working hard. Think about it -- who will turn the lights out in Texas at this rate?

Not long ago, 'Condi' Rice said in an interview that she would not stay for Bush's 2nd term. Of course, she was with the NSA then. After Powell's departure, is Condi really the answer? I think in fairness to her, the president should cut her some freedom and let her return to academia where she can write about an amazing four years. Because the next four will only read tragically for her, if not the nation, and we can ill afford that now.

Dig deeper Mr. President, you will find the likes of a Colin Powell, George Schultz, or William Rogers if you just scan the horizon beyond your security blanket.

Don't bring us a Warrior Prince or a Warrior Princess; bring us a Secretary of State worthy of the office and the responsibility. Bring us someone who will tell you to take a weekend and go home to Crawford when Karl just wants to meddle in world diplomacy just because he can.

But most of all, in that remote possibility, that you, VP Cheney, Speaker Hastert, and Senate Pres. Pro Tempore Stevens have all eaten a bad batch of oysters some weekend at Kennebunkport, appoint a Secretary of State who will be able to stand and deliver.

We deserve it. We ask it. To be clear, we demand nothing less. After the bad oysters, it's just 4 degrees of separation for the Sec. of State since 1947 -- to the Oval Office.


Saving us FROM Private Ryan?

November 11, Veteran's Day, is already an emotional day for many of us. It's a day of remembering, of honoring those whose contributions in service of their county is brought full center once a year, once again.

Veterans come in all shape and sizes. Some are hospitalized; some don't remember much due to dementia type diseases or brain injuries in combat. Yes, some towns still put on remarkable parades to honor veterans and their families who made contributions on the homefront. Thousands of little flags blow in the winds across meadows and over hills of national cemeteries and town plots of the entire country.

Describing the concept of Veteran's Day is practically like describing Mom's home-made apple pie. Try to find someone to quarrel with it. Pretty dang hard to do. Ma's pie's not likely to go away anytime soon; neither will Veteran's Day.

Then this year, it got squirrely on us thanks to the lawyer-laden Federal Communication Commission (FCC), chaired by Michael K. Powell, coincidentally the son of General Colin Powell. Long before Michael Powell headed the FCC, he became a veteran who was injured during his military service. [Later he became an attorney. Then he was VP's Dick Cheney's policy advisor.]

It merits knowing a little more about the FCC because in anticipation of their Sanctioning (= Big $$ Fine) a television network, many tv stations felt they could not take the risk to show a particular movie due to its Violence and Profanity. This movie is particularly relevant to Veteran's Day and has garnered numerous awards and is recognized as one that has touched both the intellect and hearts of millions including veterans who have seen it since its release a few years ago -- "Saving Private Ryan."

The human miscalculations of war, military ego, human misfortune, life on the razor's edge, noble intent, pursuit of honor, execution of orders, doing the 'right thing,' the interminable legacy of memory on survivors, and putting another's life before your own are all insights learned from a cinematic portrayal of the World War Two D-Day Invasion. In gatherings of friends of a certain age, it was nearly impossible in the months following the movie's release not to have heard the remark that someone's father or uncle had experienced a significant break-through in repressed war memories and after a half century was beginning to talk about what happened so long ago. Peace, for war survivors, was coming although it had taken the shank of life in coming.

Now imagine that in 2004 TV programmers thought that a time when we have troops in harm's way and we have a Veteran's Day right at hand, an unabridged showing of "Saving Private Ryan," might be a good thing for people to see. Of course, we all know that the On/Off switch still exists on television sets and the channel changer button still permits a modification should someone not care to see the programming first displayed.

For my part this time (since I've seen "Ryan" twice), I watched the HBO special, "Last Letters from Iraq," a shorter yet powerful 1-hour program based on actual families and the significance of portions of actual letters they read out loud. The program did not intend to be representative of all of the 1100+ US troops lost in Iraq; it just meant to tell a story of loss, of some of those lost in the line of duty. It was provocative and did its job. I will remember it always. I wiped my eyes in reverence knowing that this hour-long program could be and might be 3-hours long someday soon.

I imagine anyone watching "Private Ryan" in the regions that had the guts to show it were wiping their eyes too. Were they harmed for the watching? Nah?

Were small children really up late watching it? Nah. . .can't imagine it.

Might they have observed an act of violence if they were in the room or heard what we now call 'expletives deleted' for a swear word. Hmmm -- yeah, might have, but probably no worse than heard in the neighbor kids' big brother's bedroom or walking across the high school basketball court during gym class.

And on the other hand, what if a high school English writing class had shown the HBO program "Last Letters Home?" Would anyone have been ruined for life? I don't recall any profanity. There were signs of family frustration and descriptions of learning about loved ones' deaths in painful ways. Families would need help with grief management for a long time to come. Would this disturb a student? I'd hope so. It would mean they are human after all. Should everyone see such things? Without hesitation, yes. Family and community pain is also a cost of war.

Moments, episodes, singular events of sorts are rarely ones that have such power for defining the totality of our lives. We are already 'set' in some direction; we are not aimless in all walks of our lives. And on this course, we just have to 'get a grip.'

But the FCC is the the Ultimate Judge and Jury of What will be in Your Interest and Mine. The commission serves 5-year terms by request of the presidents, with only 3 may be members of the same political party -- which indicates party affiliation is an explicit need-to-know issue.

Besides Chairman Powell, the other FCC commissioners are attorneys except for Michael J. Capps (PhD U.S. History) and Jonathan S. Adelstein. Kathleen Q. Abernathy and Kevin J. Martin both have prestigious law schools and bars behind them.

As a matter of the FCC's 'process engineering' it is not clear why the networks and stations perceive such a hostile relationship with them when they at best want to understand clearly the rules so that they will be on the 'right side of the law.' However, the FCC does not permit them to 'float' a scenario in advance for them to respond to, such as the "Saving Private Ryan" scenario; they will let them know afterword. Later would be. . . well, too late, unless you're Daddy Deep-pockets! So there's a kind of lunacy built into the system that is supposed to be working for you and me that must be extricated.

Listen, do we think there won't be at least a few movies made about our war in Iraq? Do we think that they won't contain scenes of violence and that to be authentic you might not hear profanity? Come on; you can practically get that by listening closely to the imbedded reporters' remarks real-time.

And how do you think it will play to those faces OVER There? Remember them? The ones who fight for us? The ones who dream of us and crave our approval of their performance? The ones who write those "Last Letters Home?"

If we can't let 'Private Ryan' have his due in a cultural setting, it sends the wrong message to present-day troops about what their stories will mean to us when they need to be heard and whether each of them will matter. Get it?

Maybe we're at a point where we don't need the FCC anymore. We may need something for checks and balances, but this kind of tyrrany shouldn't cause the whole USA so much heartburn. Take a Tums instead and do something constructive with your annoyance at Big Brother's zealous oversight once again.

You can email the commissioners by going to their website, www.fcc.gov.

Go ahead, you know you want to; just do it -- Share your thoughts with them!


Free Turd Blossom!

Third-term President Bush (oops, that's 2nd for W and 3rd for their dynasty) implores all Americans including the 55 million people who voted to oust him from office to get behind him. [Note: that was on Nov. 3; by the 4th the tone had chilled considerably.] I think they will. No matter who sits in that oval office, Americans are watching closely, now more than ever.

With particular attention now we're watching the coming announcements of the 'changing of the guard.' The proverbial lazy susan spins on the table -- cabinet positions are up for grabs. Re-up or not? Some have performed poorly. Some are just lackluster, but fecklessly harmless on the surface--not particularly competent, but as good as any placeholder. Others, though, have done damage and they need to go. Ah, the president, the RNC, and even Laura & the Twinsters know who they are. Aren't performance reviews part of public record for government employees? Well, they should be.

But, it's a whale of a time (you know, like you'd see off Kennebunkport in the summers?) to pause and reflect on what a 2nd term is or can be.

Presidential historians, if they're to be given a nickel's worth of credit believe that *this* is when Legacy is Made. What will your Legacy be President Bush?

Here's a thought to help you in this pursuit. Besides considering the rotation and replacement of Cabinet posts, think of this as an Opportunity for a Change of the White House 'guard.' You know, the people who have had your 'back' for a few years and may have injected either intentionally or accidentally a little too much of their personae into your words, style, and decision-making need to enjoy some retirement, some fresh air, you know, a life outside of the inner circle.

Here's a thought: why not Free Karl Rove! Yes, liberate Karl Rove from the shackles of the Washington establishment that have surely consumed his life these last many years. He's done his time as a public servant; we don't want to see anyone drop over in their office you know.

Karl. . .well, he's tough on the outside, of course, we all know that. But you know, his psychological profile is really quite fragile. Damn, he could make an up-and-coming psychiatrist rich, just helping him untangle his convoluted life. Let's face facts: just don't know that old Karl can really take it any longer. It wouldn't do your presidency any good to find Karl flashed in a compromising position on the front page of the Post shown on a boat in the Bahamas with a cute blonde on his lap swigging margaritas, would it? Let's face it, men under endless duress can reach the end of their limit and start to, well. . .do aberrant things, you know, like sitting under the wheels of Air Force One, to name a recent example. We'd hate to see poor Karl, the orphan, the former nerdy & pathetic friendless kid who didn't graduate college (but, wait, didn't he get a military deferment for college?) who somehow became your Senior Intelligensia, multiple-married Karl might just blow his cork or something on L St. some afternoon. Hey, here's your buddy -- mano-a-mano, don't let him down!

Sure, his campaign dirty-tricks are legendary starting from his youthful days (Manchester Guardian, March 9, 2004) but who among us doesn't have a few 'indiscretions', right? Well, sure, he took his lessons to the road and advised people cross country on the How-To shenanigans and political ploys of the likes of the Segretti-Nixon maneuvers (W. Post, Aug. 10, 1973), but heck, he never told anyone to model him. Karl just told them how not to get caught. Hey, he was young. But, was there ever someone looking out for him when George H. W. Bush took him under wing, saved young Karl from himself (practically speaking), and hauled his arse to Tejas, where he learned to hang and twang with his new 'family.' Talk about falling into a shitload of luck! So even if he's not formally educated, he got the education of a lifetime there in Texas while helping the 'family' and then Laura take his 'brother' by the shirt-tails and groomed him into what's now our Commander in Chief. Voila! Like so much magic, good luck had finally come Karl's way and you can't blame any poor soul who was cursed with his lot in life for grabbing, clinging onto those Bushes, right? But. . . it's time to get back to that Legacy Thing. Sometimes, when people are just hammering away year after year they lose touch with judgment. Really now, for a fellow like Karl, after all, to be the creator of the new Moral Compass of our country is something right out of Mad Magazine.
He's served a valuable purpose being First Buddy, your Chief Advisor, and an intimate one at that. Imagine being able to speak for our president, metaphorically he can climb inside W's brain and finish his sentences for him. Now that's a pal for ya'. Heck, they're so close, Pres. Bush even has 2 Nicknames for Karl -- don't even know that sweet Laura has more than 1 (but in this case she might be grateful). The President calls Karl the "Boy Genius," and you can imagine how that triumphant sound feels rolling over Karl's proud shoulders in meetings when he's outfoxed the hunters. The 2nd nickname is named after that flower found all over Texas trails that just sort of springs up from cattle dung -- "Turd Blossom," Karl's called. That good ol' Turd Blossom -- well. . . he's been quite a Senior Advisor and an awesome political campaigner. But the campaigning is over now for you and it's time for a Fresh Start with some fresh blood and some clean, fresh records, not tarnished with some tawdry pasts that muddy up those lonesome trail streams like you find all over cattle-dung-bound Texas.
So, please, be humane, FREE KARL ROVE from his demons and from the burdens of the White House and serving you so intensely. You know it's true; he can't separate You from Himself and frankly, some of us think that's just bordering on a kind of sickness.

We're behind you Mr. President; we've got 'your back' now. See, we've got your best interests at heart because trust us, they're OUR best interests too.


The Power of the Red, White & Blue

A parade is best enjoyed by two or more. Thank God, the election is over and no matter how we voted, individually, we voted and it's over -- for four more years. Turn off any channel that's already talking 2008 -- too soon! We need national recovery, national healing, unity of purpose, and getting back to the business of the country's business. While the media commentators kept a lively pace for hours through the night and into the morning, flipping their visual aids of maps with whirling red states and blue states, those beige, and some 'green' ones around the gills, finally. . . i t i s o v e r. No matter how it has concluded or even if it had ended differently, it takes more than 'red' states alone or 'blue' states alone to be the USA. That grand old flag has room for both colors and we need to remember that Division is what made our country fall once before from within. So HERE'S to the Parade that we all need, real or imagined, to celebrate that IT's over and we can reclaim some normalcy again.


"Take a Good Look At My Face. . ."

Sometimes a tune gets stuck in your brain like: "People say I'm the life of the party 'cause I tell a joke or two; Although I might be laughing loud and hearty, Deep inside I'm blue; So take a good look at my face -- You'll see my smile looks out of place; If you look closer it's easy to trace the tracks of my tears." and then I just wait until it takes me where it's apparently supposed to. In this case, to -- www.militarycity.com.

This is an all-too handy site for looking up what are called the "Faces of Valor" -- the fallen in Iraq.

Since we're up to more than 1,100 U.S. fatalities now it's way past time to get to know some of these faces and clusters of faces more closely than we have heretofore. Some weeks, they dropped so quickly, it's seemed like a blur, didn't it? And if you don't have an immediate member of your family or a friend or an associate overseas in harm's way then "collateral losses" can feel, well, foreign. So I suggest you pull up a good map while you're at it. There are many online, such as the www.defendamerica.mil/iraq example. This isn't going to cost you a penny, just a few moments of your thoughts, your conscience, and possibly your prayers -- of course, that's all up to you.

In my case, having tracked all sorts of soldiers stories and groupings of soldiers incidents, I decided to take a closer look at all of the fatalities associated with the military base closest to my home. Within 300 or so miles of any of you, though, there's got to be such a military base. Why don't you follow along and replicate my exercise?

You look down the list and notice obvious characteristics such as those below. You can't help but wonder about the men and women whose names appear. With many there are pictures too; sometimes they were smiling.

> surname (ethnicity)
> rank
> unit assigned
> age
> home state
> enemy fire, accident, 'friendly fire,' under-investigation, suicide (an inexplicably high rate which nobody in the DOD wants to talk about)
> location killed

And then you take a highlighter and Dot the map where they fell. Then look back on the U.S. map and Dot the map of the hometowns where flags were at half-mast and families were left broken apart forever. Such a condensed area where they fell and such a sprawling country we are.

My list is long. Only a couple were our 'own' local residents. My list is made up of your Marines from DuQuoin, Illinois, Vancouver, Washington, Milford, Mass., Scio, NY, Mountain Grove, Missouri, Jefferson, Ohio, Ottawa, Kansas, Edinburg, Texas, and several other states. You shared them with us right here for awhile before sharing them with the Nation and then the World. Now they rest with the warriors of all time and God himself rules dominion.

Take a moment and get to know them before they go. Should they ever appear in a newspaper near you, get to know their faces. Remember their dependent children if you can (financially) and the myriad of lives forever compromised by their devotion to duty. Their execution of orders, of delivering democracy to the post-war occupational defenses of an unforgiving land, leaves an endless "track of tears."

The beat goes on. . .

Do I See A Hand Up At the Back?

You've heard it, someone saying, "I got out of jury duty by telling them. . ." Of course, there are a few valid excuses for not serving a civic role like jury duty. Mostly, though, people are just escaping personal inconvenience and putting their burden on someone else. Shame on you. Shame on me. But the country needs more than jury duty volunteers; they needed us during this election as poll workers. See, we were a half million poll workers short and that's not trivial given record electorate turnout. Unless we permit Privatization of the Election Poll Workers (Holy Gadzooks, what a great business plan!), we can't expect that companies are just going to let workers mosey on down to 'help out' out of the goodness of their hearts. Nah, won't fly. We can DO so much better. While we're examining how to DO better, put people to work, and build a better Democracy 'Plaza' [and I don't mean the one in NYC], we need to think about EQUITY -- sharing the responsibilities of democracy, b e y o n d the domestic front. If we can get workers to jury duty, then to election/poll duty, we can get them to International Service duty too. You know, let's give more of those 18-30 year olds who are serving abroad a break to come home for awhile while you and I temporarily fill positions in the commissary, supplies, laundry, transport, medics, chaplaincy and the like. Heresy? Nah. . . Just think about it. All of these major corporations that have invested millions in corporate training directed at following procedures, filing reports, customer service, and quality engineering like Dell Computer, Southwest Airlines, Starbucks, Walmart, Ford, Merck (they may have some time on their hands), and P&G. These are all skills that the military would highly value in non-combat roles. A month's exchange could be wildly enlightening to civilians about BOTH the needs of the military and those of occupied people. Going back to wearing that skimpy blue vest might look like heaven on earth after wearing 40 lbs. of armour. But most importantly, it's a way to give back and to share the load -- you know -- what we do when we act upon our civic duties by serving on Juries, by Voting and apparently by participating in bringing Democracy to another country. . . ready or not.


The Tao of Fonzarelli

Early in Geo. H. W. Bush's presidency (the father), he pined for a "kinder, gentler nation," wishing that we-the-People were more like the Waltons (remember the depression-era barefoot clan in the hills who never had health insurance?) and less like the Simpsons. The power of TV, pop culture, even made it into the consciousness of the elite heads of state.

Nobody's recently suggested that we hunker down with the Waltons' reruns as we enter the final hours of the election race, but for my money, I'm thinking we'd be better off with a dose of Happy Days anyway. You know, the wisdom of the Fonz could go a long way about now. Or what about Gary Coleman's 'Arnold' ("what [are] you talkin' about?"] to help us decipher last minute political statements? That scenes from MASH remind us of parallel real-time inadequacies of troops' protection in Iraq would keep you up at night though. Art imitating life, you know.

Just another chunk of time and then another until we-the-People can pick up the pieces and move on in some direction or another without the political ads, 11th hour accusations, and the not-so-subtle appearances of OhnoOsama Productions.

Sigh. . .click. . .click. . .click. . .on one of these channels 'Touched by an Angel' must be playing right now.


West of the Rest: Secession Now!

While this post will become dated shortly after the national election, the spirit of the message should linger with a portion of the nation for a long time afterward. Notice how the long-standing "red" and "blue" states have now been joined by "Purple" states? Scared pollsters, reluctant-to-commit electorate, and hourly-breaking wacky news items all combined to take some states that were thought of as 'understood' before [ = where their Electoral College votes were going] and now thrown them up in the air.

The configuration of the United States map starts to look more than a little schizophrenic especially since some of us west of the Rockies have never counted on Anybody's radar screen as being significant -- no matter our Latino votes, our Gay electorates, or our numbers perished in Iraq (all sub-themes of this election). We just haven't mattered in this election, once again.

Let me be clear -- NO jet fuel has been wasted on trekking to my state (or neighboring states) to win my vote by Anybody.

Since some of us are sick of being 'Beige States' -- transparent to the national agenda -- it bears asking that hard question that was raised in the years leading up to 1861. Shades of Jefferson Davis. . .

Right now, one state, CA, has relative bipartisan support for a governor who could probably win a western states Nation coalition as President. With a new Nation identity, we could start fresh with constitutional rules so that immigrants like Arnold -- who compose so much of our western population -- can assume western national leadership positions.

The old boys club of Yale and Princeton just don't cut it out here. We need people who represent us and count us on their radar screens.

See, it's different out here; it's not just about the time zone or the weather. Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, Nevada -- well, we'd have to figure where to draw the line -- are relatively sympathetic to economic, commerce, and social needs of OUR Region. We GET that the rest of the country enjoys Bashing us and to a large extent Excluding us from their mindshare.

If we can't be Red, Blue, or even Purple at a time like this, then it's time we wake up and ask why we're hanging onto an old scheme that served old railroad barons one hundred+ years ago.

I'm sick of being Beige in 2004 just like in 2000. Aren't you?


Tsk tsk TSA

Most of us like a good party, but few of us get to bill the federal government for it while awarding ourselves for our clever ingenuity. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) did just this in November 2003 but somehow like so many things it only came to the public's attention in recent weeks. Why is that?

See, a half-million dollar party ($461,745) would often catch our attention if say, the Bureau of Engraving, held such an affair. The details of the party's expenses include some chokeworthy items like $3.75 per soft drink and $81,000 for awards plaques. Heck, most software programs have award programs built-in and any Staples, Office Depot, Target,or CVS can sell a certificate frame for $3.95. I think they should have contacted me; I could have saved them about $80,000 on that line item alone. (And hey, I could get a darn good case price of Sam's Club sodas for what they paid for a single can.)

But the Washington D.C. Grand Hyatt affair got expensive because, you see, lodging, flights, taxis, and per diem allowances for schlepping these people from all over the country was expensive for the 3-hour event. Seems like poor managerial judgment to me when a central location outside the District, in a cheaper rent neighborhood, like St. Louis, would have been far more egalitarian.

Even better, why couldn't a few executives with the technology available today have held a live televised awards announcement for those who could tune in and others could catch it on rerun?

However, the big insult to other long-standing and hard-working federal employees was that 76% of eligible TSA high level managers got bonuses ($16,477 on average) compared to federal departments generally who gave bonuses to only 49% of their eligible managers ($12,444 on average). By stark contrast, less than 3% of TSA's non-executive employess, of which there are more than 50,000, received financial bonuses.

OK, bad party (or way-good party depending on where you stand). Who's accountable?

Well, once again, no line is forming to take the leap into the croc pit for this one. TSA's Leadership Council has some distinguished looking names associated; maybe they need to spend a little time getting 'dirty' with their troops, micromanaging a bit so that they instill some cultural norms about spending your money and mine.

But in case it just doesn't happen naturally, you can write them, you know, and demand that they take action to see that this doesn't happen again.

Jonathan Fleming is TSA's Chief Op. Officer; Tom Blank is the Chief Support System Officer; Carol DiBattiste is Deputy Administrator (with her legal and investigatory background, can't fathom that she's not getting to the bottom of this mess); and Ret. Rear Admiral David M. Stone, Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for the TSA.

This party aside, you need to get to know the TSA organization and these folks. . . they work for you and me.

Sometimes. . . we need to remind them.

Shall we Dance?

The long line backed up leading to the security stations at one of the Detroit Metro terminals. It creeped ever so slowly as the layers of TSA staff performed their specific tasks. I knew that when I reached the first stop, I would be sent to the 'Outer Banks' -- that distant, but much shorter line -- due to the "SSSS" branded on the bottom of my boarding pass. This was their clue that I needed Extra security screening.

You see, I could be/might be/must be a Higher-than-Average security risk. Why? I was flying on a 1-way ticket, plain and simple.

I also knew that by moving to that station that was immediately awaiting me (I felt so special!), I would have a little something 'special' awaiting me by virtue of my gender.

You see, several weeks ago some Chechnyan woman got on airplanes in Russia and they had bombs strapped to their bodies, apparently in/near their bra-range it's presumed. The outcome was dreadful; more than 90 lives were lost. According to some reports, though, these women bribed their way on board, so how extra security could have helped them is unclear. But TSA has implemented procedures for extensive pat down searches which includes using an open hand (not just wanding with a device) around the body paying particular attenting over the chest and around the breasts. [Note: this makes me think that my long held bias against underwire wear may become obsolete if TSA has their way. . .]

I've had this procedure before because I travel fairly often and unfortunately for me, my needs require for cost-savings and route, the use of 1-way tickets. On one quiet day at an airport somewhere in the U.S. a TSA staffer said he felt bad that people with 1-way tickets are persecuted, but he had heard that they're trying to ratchet up some form of clearance system so that if my frequent flyer club, my neighbors, my mailman, my high school algebra teacher, my Aunt Polly, and 3 business associates all vouch for me, I might be able to bypass this 'extra' layer of security.

Actually, I'm not complaining; I'm resigned to it. Most of us, seems to me, are resigned to our personal liberties and dignities being whittled away. That resigned malaise is far worse than the effects of not getting the flu vaccine.

But on that particular day, last week, after my security search, the female agent and I finally had to laugh because you know, you get to know someone for those few moments they're exploring your body parts. Perhaps it was the madcap mood of the moment, but finally I snickered, "Wanna go steady?" and she howled with laughter. Hey, we all have to get along as best we can.

The little old lady in the wheel chair behind me looked rather shaken as she came through, though. She was able to stand briefly and they explained the process of the search; she looked momentarily alarmed and I could see she was looking for her daughter who had not come through yet. I reassured her that I survived it and she would too and just sort of hung around and murmured nurturing sounds while they finished. I offered to help her get her shoes back on and about that time her daughter, who's apparently not a frequent flier, arrived for her personal screening.

Daughter, though, was not listening carefully; instead she was looking backward to this strange lady (Yo) helping her mom get her shoes on when suddenly she realized someone was cupping her bosom and her head spun around in shock! Poor thing. I thought she might have the big one, so I offered, "It's ok, won't take long, they have to do this . . ." "Why?" she implored my direction. Well, I did the best I could and said, "Some bad ladies in Russia brought us to this it seems, sorry, but it won't last long."

She asked if I worked for TSA. HA! Just another fellow passenger in life.

Well, I've got a lot more 1-way trips in my future and so do many men I know. And here's what I'm thinking might get us to some, well, better place, you know as human beings. I've never been a rumormonger but maybe there's a purpose for everything under the sun. So here's the rumor I'd like to ask each of you to tell at least 2 people you encounter in the next day.
"I forgot the name of that country, but I heard that the young men on the plane who were on a suicide mission, terrorists-in-the-making apparently, strapped explosives to their testicles. It was awful; so many were killed. Now TSA will be open-hand examining the genitalia of every man boarding an airplane because they have so many 'hiding places' you see and since the attention is presently turned to women, no one would expect this. Thank God we have security planners to anticipate such atrocities, to help us prevent same here and to keep us safe during these trying times."

Wow, do I feel safer already.


Brain Fog to the Finish Line

More than 2 weeks ago the Iraqi government's representative to the Ministry of Science and Technology's Planning and Following Up Directorate, Mohammed J. Abbas, informed the United Nations that tons of high explosives were missing in Iraq. Notifying the UN watchdog monitoring group,The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was relevant in that this group had last inventoried the facility 30 miles south of Baghdad and tagged & sealed the explosives in January 2003. They returned 2 months later and verified that the tagged explosives were still there. It was reported that when Coalition forces entered the vicinity in April '03 they found nothing close to the quantity of materials specified in the report with the IAEA seals according to a news item of the American Forces Press Service (Oct. 26, 2004). The rest of this story has become evolving news for us and 'coincidentally' a lost-presidential debate opportunity. Presumably the DIA, the CIA, Homeland Security, and yes, the White House knew this, though, long before you and I.

So, looking back -- the U.S. did not find WMD in Iraq. But Condy insists that they had the evil intent in their minds to build them and use them. Pre-crime convictions apparently make us safer.

However, we DID have an enormous stockpile of explosives [or proximate access to it]. But who was in charge of those explosives? Didn't the 'buck' stop on somebody's watch? Wonder if it's on a job description or an Org. Chart? Why isn't anyone offering themselves up? You know, this would be a good time for a sacrificial goat (wink, wink, Rummy, if you're picking up the vibes).

I'm beginning to think that there's a psychopharmaceutical answer to a big part of this -- you know, the 'brain fog' of this question --the "Dumb & Dumber" of it all. It's time the public have the right to see the open medical records of all federal and military officials involved with any operations in Iraq, looking specifically at their use of prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications. See, I think WE can help THEM with their Brain Fog if they'd only let us.

What if we learned that, say, 22% of the analysts funneling information to decisionmakers were on Ritalin and coincidentally regularly take Antihistamines. Add to that their alcohol consumption (moderate to high) and periodic use of Anti-depressants [Typically during the Fall and early Spring]. Hmmm, that could be verrrrry interesting.

Take a different population, say Generals (3-birds up), cabinet heads, the right hand men and women of the oval office and look again. How many have lives outside the office? How many have someone or something to live for, like children, mates, churches, hobbies, future dreams to pursue? How many moral charges are buried in their pasts? What's their profile with Anti-Depressant, Anxiety Meds, Beta-Blockers, Seizure drugs, Sleep Meds, Pain Meds, Alcohol Use, etc? At what hours do they make their most significant decisions? At the onset of medicine intake or in the waning hours? What kind of dietary needs are being met? High protein? Caffeine?

What I'm getting at is, What is fueling the human engines that's driving our war?

Well, maybe it will turn out that we're 'recycling' the munitions/explosives in the promulgation of the war effort and just forgot to log it. You see, we sent all kinds of engineers, well-diggers, truck-drivers but it appears we forgot to send the most important of all -- Accountants with darn good Administrative Assistants. Maybe they were the 'jewels in the crown' -- the guards to the cache, you know? Some honest, independent groups to keep track, if not keep control of the comings and goings of where stuff went and who had control of it. Heck, go through the yellow pages of Kansas City or Boise and almost anyone with a license would do.

Because the 'leaders' at the top? Well, they're sort of confused, "working hard," kind of distracted, and overwhelmed. They're offended that questions about those misplaced explosives are staying on our minds in the waning hours of this campaign. Come what may, these questions are going to continue after the election. Win-lose. . . machts nichts as the Germans say -- on this score, "matters not." This and much more America will get to the bottom of. You know, part of D.C. is aptly called, historically-speaking, Foggy Bottom. There's a whole 'nother district within the District of Columbia and it should be called, Foggy Top. It's 6 p.m. Foggy Top. Do you know where your Xanax is?


Elm & Maple -- raking this fall

Like those interminable drips of the faucet, each tree keeps dropping another basket of leaves hourly keeping the rakes flying in the neighborhood. But the busiest rakings going on are occurring the last days before the presidential election. Who knew that raking the national 'yard' could be so uncomfortably felt on so many levels?

No candidate can hardly endure the marathon of adrenalin rush. And there's got to be at least one batch of salmonella left out there at some campaign stop awaiting one mouth's mugging for a camera shot. But the bellyaches of campaign roads and 'toads' [or fried frog legs, hey, I was working on a literary thing here], are nothing compared to the Mother of Indigestion going on in families all over the country. You know, that indelicate subject that Peter Jennings, Diane Sawyer, and Larry King won't be covering -- political dissent within families. Oy. . .

I don't believe that our family can be all that unique. We just don't have a support group to turn to when we need it most. And presidential elections -- while only every four years -- last at least a year long, in truth. That's a lot of time to figure out how to conduct family get-togethers peacefully, respectfully, and without letting the air out of each other's tires.

I hardly think of myself as a die-hard political partisan. I've been a member of each party as the times and spokespersons 'spoke' to me. I've never believed in the logic of a 'straight ticket' for the 'sake of the party.' I'm just way too independent. I study as many issues about each individual and subjects as I can and form my own opinion. I am not swayed by talking heads nor are negative campaign ads and vitriolic speeches of any party effective on me. I realize, though, that everybody does it.

In the last month of every presidential campaign the lowest common denominator in the human condition will reveal itself to the public forefront, plain and simple -- I just expect it.

Ok, let's get back to what we do in our real lives in the meantime.
We each have choices and we have other elements of our lives besides these elections.
Life goes on.

Except. . . that you find yourself biting your tongue and leaving a room to slap yourself silly in the bathroom when you hear a family member who vociferously supports one candidate, let's call him Elm, telling a young child a political joke that disparages the other candidate, let's call him Maple.

You know that you have choices. You can -- do nothing; laugh as though it is funny (which is a lie if you don't feel it); challenge it; tell an Elm joke promptly to balance the scale; tell the adult family member in private that children deserve the chance to learn and grow without prejudicial influence politically from so-called 'jokes' (which she/he may not agree with for that matter), transcend into a Zen moment and/or go to the bathroom (leave the room first, though).

See, it's really not about humor. It's about bullying and there's no comfortable way to respond to a political pit-'bully.' The pundits behind the tv screen are suddenly the people who are eating your mother's meatloaf recipe while posturing, gesticulating and waxing imperiously proud and full of themselves. How did this happen? When did we start to mirror 'them?' Those late night politicos or wannabes who create polls or respond to so-called polls in order to make 'news' that's supposed to generate a new pulsecheck out of us. Argh!

Loving our family members as we do, in spite of themselves (some might say) and their political opinions, we don't need to 'win' an intrafamily 'election contest.' We're already comfortable in our own minds and in our own political shoes. "Can't we all just get along?" to quote someone from a Civil Rights movement I think years ago.

It's just that hearing babies-in-the-cradle taught to say "Elm" or "Maple" as their much anticipated first word seems wacky-wrong to me.

Oy. . . pass the Pepto Bismol!

Let us all rake our own yards well -- to mix a few metaphors (and possibly to quote that movie character Chauncey Gardener).


Newsprint: cut to fit the cages

Sometimes it takes that random sidetrack trip around the U.S. to help calibrate the nation. These travels, particularly when confined in a town like Detroit, to pick on one, suffering with an upper respiratory infection and unable to fly as I am now, means that you will end up reading newspapers that are not your normal reads. That is, if you're a reader, didn't bring adequate reading materials for an unexpected week on the road, and are sick of cable tv, you will inevitably deposit 50 cents in the motel lobby newstand every morning.

Why is it like a foreign country out there?

I mean, I can't even get my favorite comic strip (For Better or For Worse, by a Canadian, just across the bridge for heaven's sake) in the Detroit News and Free Press.

There's a lot that could be said but I just want to pick on an actual edition, the October 23, 2004 Detroit News and Free Press. [Editors, you see, make all sorts of decisions about what articles get into the papers, their length, and their positioning relative to other articles. It's my guess they get paid pretty well for their judgment on these points too. I contend some of them have gotten lazy and may be overpaid.]

In the first section, "A," or "Nation/World," follows "Local News" for some reason. There are different theories about how people relate to their worlds I suppose; top-down or bottom-up. If someone only had time to read one section only aloud to their carpool van each morning (Hoo-HAH, Scoozehmehwha, that wouldn't be the Michigan Way!), which section would a growing globalized world want to know about? Oh, I digress. . .

Three pages are challenged here: 3A, 4A, and 5A.

Margaret Hassan, the kidnapped director of the international aid group CARE was covered with a sorrowful photo and the caption, "Aid Worker pleads for her life." This is a tragic story still unfolding, perhaps is by now even unforgiveably, brutishly, settled.

Then there was the tragic case of a lovely 21-year-old baseball fan, Victoria Snelgrove, who was killed in the riot-like conditions in Boston following police pepper-spraying/pelting. About her death her father said, "she was a bystander, she was an exceptional person."

And, the third story of comparable space and size is one that might appear any October in some small town weekly, "Surgeons' knives to meet pumpkins." You probably get the gist of this 'news item' -- a lot of carved 'victims' for charity fundraising.

I just don't think the pumpkin story should have taken the prominent position of page 3, followed by the potential beheading on page 4, and the death on page 5. It's not a good measure of newsworthiness.

But then, don't get me started. You see, when you flip back to page 11A you can't help but notice two obituaries side by side: "Badminton Champion," and "Funeral for soldier today." They are actually called "death notices," which means they are paid for privately (often written so as well, even if edited by the paper). The family who is Able to do so pays for each word by word. No doubt genealogists treasure the items found in the sizeable (10"x10") article of the 85-year-old's badminton player's obit., like her youthful picture (~17 yrs. old), mention of every safari, and her beloved badminton awards.

Yet, I couldn't help but feel humbled by the tiny 1"x3" pictureless notice of the soldier killed in Iraq near Ramadi when his Humvee hit a roadside bomb Oct. 14. See, he was just 22, so he hadn't done a lot of living yet; although he did leave a son behind. I would have had liked to have known much more about his sports, his hobbies, a fund to contribute for his young son, and what his dreams were after his years in service to the U.S.A.

Ah, the choices that newspaper editors makes --

Pumpkins versus Beheading; Badminton versus Bomb detonations. . .

It just makes me want to claim a refund on my 50 cents.


Starting small; be American Smart!

We can all make a big difference upon international trade and keeping jobs in the U.S. by starting with our littlest consumers. It's our responsibility, really; just like teaching kids to look both ways before crossing the street.

Take a look at the label on that plastic pumpkin, that cute t-shirt, the bicycle attachment, the pinwheel he or she wants to carry in the town parade. Get into the habit of scrutinizing where things are made and consider your alternatives.

Every manufacturer and every department store has a customer service department as well as web-site that in theory are looking for your opinions. Let them hear from you AND your 6 year old daughter or son.

"Dear Store XYZ,
I wanted to buy a pair of tennis shoes for gym class at school; I really liked your pink ballerina character ones but then my Mom/Dad showed me the label that said they were "made in China." We know that many times children around the world have to work like slaves to make products like these tennis shoes so cheaply and it makes me really sad. I won't buy them or support a store that carries them. And you know my friend, Andy? Well, his Dad has been out of work for 2 years and we've talked about how he would really like to have a good job making shoes or notebooks for kids going back to school. Why don't you give those jobs to people in my neighborhood?"

It's out of control. We've got to go back to the basics and influence the youngest consumers who can also carry important messages of trade/commerce in the marketplace.

It may take you a few moments longer to complete your shopping but you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you shopped 'American Smart.'


Relocate this, EC

It comes on very good authority that there is a loosely structured movement afoot and it's brought on by nothing less than a complaint heard in many parts of this country this year and four years ago,

"I'm sick and tired of my vote not counting because I'm in a state where the Electoral College is already 'figured out' so it really doesn't matter if I knock myself out to vote in a downpour on election day or not. . ."

The sentiment is quite widespread and it's common among baby boomers who are now child-free, into our/their early retirement, second or third careers or are free-lancing or worse yet, are west-coast transplants who can move literally anywhere in the country and are eager to do so. Why not? Most of them/us weren't born out west anyway so why not cash out and head for an affordable lifestyle in a state where they/we can see their/our vote 'count?'

What does that mean for you Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and others? Well, it goes like this. For years, we've taken it on the chin. We've heard the snide remarks about your perceptions of our 'attitude' and guess what? Now, we're going to be like Mr. Rogers; we're going to welcome ourselves to your neighborhood!

We're going to run on your school boards, your town councils, your state assemblies, and yes, Congress.

Most importantly, we will be a viable and visible voting presence so if you have gotten a little bit slack out there in the hinterland, you might want to lick that lead on your pencil tip come November as practice because come 2008 it's going to be a whole different ball game.

We're movingon.now!

Just their Wives, One Pantyhose Leg at a Time

Few walk alone, especially those men at the top who live in that big white house.

Did we really think Jackie didn't know that Jack was a rabid cheater?
That Lady Bird didn't need to plant all those pretty roses as all those handsome soldiers fell dead in Vietnam.
Or that Pat didn't endure being an abused spouse, physically and emotionally?
Was it so peculiar that Betty turned to drink for the company that sticks around -- the bottle?
Or that even Nancy found peace, comfort, and built their schedules around the answers of clarovoyants?
How did Hillary keep smiling in the face of repeated infidelity and public humiliation?
And how could Laura expect to be exempt from addressing publicly the day she recklessly took a young life in Midland, TX and ended another family's best dreams forever?

Those fellows; we confuse them with something more than they are, more than they can be. They are mere mortals.

And the women who stick by them? Likewise. Let's not confuse their riches, their children, their poise, or their make-up with what's at stake in the U.S.

We know that future First Ladies can busy themselves planting more rose bushes, but there are plenty of gardens and mazes out there already with names memorializing many fine young people whose laughter won't infect this world again.

Enshrine those who can't get health insurance while they short-change themselves medication or a home health visit to change an essential wound dressing.
Enshrine someone who's carrying out this nation's duty abroad.
Enshrine someone who dies needlessly from influenza this year when it could have been avoided had our leaders been held accountable. In spite of an election, they won't be.

Just don't enshrine politicos and their families because they happen to be on all the television screens and carry the titles that should go with honor in that white house now behind the barricades on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Don't confuse them with the real heroes and heroines of this nation, that's all.


The Power of "F"

No point in calling or getting up early to drive to the clinic on the east side or the Costco on the other side of town.

You're just not gonna get that flu shot this year. Sure, you need it. Yes, you qualify in that urgent category.

Sorry, when you're a country like the U.S., national health care is just not a priority. Can't predict if Canada will bail us out of our mess either. Hey, how easy have we made it for their low-cost pharmaceutical drugs to flow across the border?

Leaving devilish public policy out of it, the head of the CDC off the chopping block for the moment, etc., I suggest that you don't have a caniption over it -- there are there many things you can do. Let's keep our wits about us for heaven's sake!

1. Starting now, don't leave your house until March 21, 2005.

2. About #1, so you have a job? Consider sick leave or anticipatory sick leave. This will put a crimp on the nation's economic growth multiplied by a few million but we can take it.

3. If you must leave your house, wear a mask, gloves, and avoid human contact of any exposed period of time.

4. Avoid any intimacy (you know, the kissey stuff) with anyone who's been outside your 'pod' environment.

5. If you have children who attend school outside the 'pod' then consider a boarding school' for them for the next 6 months. Writing letters builds character.

6. Or. . .Conversely. . . Live dangerously-- just do it, go out there, screw the immunization (or lack of).

7. Realize this: you will get sick, maybe very sick. Don't panic. That's why there are hospitals; enter one when you need it, don't be heroic.

8. Of course, long before hospitals, if you don't have a physician, pick one, any one! Even a Scrubs kind of doctor is better than nobody (maybe even FAR better) in a pinch.

9. Remember the Power of "F." Fluids + Flushing = a (better) Functioning YOU!

10. Don't forget the Obvious -- Wash those Hands America! If you're not washing your hands at least 10-15 times daily (after every sneeze, bathroom visit, ear & eye scratch, pet pat, baby diapering, escalator handrail, public doorknob, office bathroom door push plate, etc.), then you're letting us ALL down! [A good 'wash' is both hands placed under warm running water for at least 20 seconds with rubbing liquidy suds. Paper towels for drying is better than cloth during flu season.]

Hey, whether you like any of the ten points above or not, don't forget to vote!

Be sure to get an absentee ballot, though, and if it happens that the old public policy devil crosses your mind when you're voting, let your conscience (not your kleenex) be your guide.