Monday, January 25, 2010



The earthquake in Haiti, by way of television, has given the world a glimpse of what it is like to live and die in abject poverty. Granted much of world's peoples have lived and died in poverty for centuries. But in 2010 such poverty should be unthinkable.

The Haiti we see on our screens is unfortunately symbolic of much of the history of that half of Hispaniola, at least since the Spanish sea captain Christopher Columbus of Genoa sailed into their waters.

The next four hundred years, Haitians as a people, seemed just born to die. Napoleon's France made it a slave state. In 1804 both African and local Indians, rose up and defeated the French, becoming independent Haiti.

As Haiti slaves celebrated a new start, the North American leaders, administrations of Washington, Adams and Jefferson were on trainer wheels, doing their best to make a go of it after their hard-won freedom from the English.

You would think that men who had just stood up against "taxes without representation, would be at the front of the celebrating freedom parade with their newly free Caribbean neighbors.

No. The U.S. government sided with the French against the slaves in their victory. (Choosing the wrong partner at the dance has been one of our worst traits.)

We even agreed with the French that the loss of all those slaves and produce cost them money and demanded the Haitians pay France for that loss. That kept the Haitians in debt for years. We went along with a blockade on Haiti.

Also the U.S. government was a nation that allowed slavery. The Dred Scott Decision by the Supreme Court of 1857, declared slaves were property, not persons. The plantation owners and politicians in all the free and slave states feared such a revolt in their prosperous cotton fields down south.

U.S. President Andrew Johnson (the same one who forced great sorrow for American Indians. Remember the Trail of Tears.), in 1868, he suggested the annexation of the whole island of Hispaniola -- present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic -- to secure a US presence in the Caribbean. (No one was interested.)

From 1914 to 1935 American troops kept the "peace" in Haiti. Peace as in Cuba and other South American countries allowed U.S. corporations to drain them dry and give them nothing. (Sounds familiar?)

To make matters worst U.S. troops have twice (1991 and 2004) deposed and overthrown the democratly elected government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Vanessa Buschshluter, of BBC News, Washington wrote: "It would be nice if Aristide were a saint. It's comfortable to take the side of a saint. But he isn't one."

When Aristide (elected by popular vote) was president, many died with only a few being brought to justice. Historians tell us Aristide did not start out to be a brutal dictator, even though he was an improvement over Francoius "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude ("Baby Doc") Duvalier. Such is just a glimpse of the past.

Now, without latrines, electricity, water, hospitals or government, comes the fear of cholera. The world-wide response to the human suffering in funds and people for Haiti shows that most of the world still cares for the less fortunate and the stricken. This help must continue for at least a decade.

The hard-working, good people of Haiti deserves better than their former leaders and from foreign interference. With the earthquake more people around the world know how desperately Haiti needs and deserves a solid new start. With helpers, even from our perceived enemies, of doctors, nurses and specialists of all kinds a better world can emerge. Pray and pass the plate again.

Today, January 29th, is the 222nd founding of today's Australia (know by some as Anniversary Day and by others as "Invasion Day.")


Sunday, January 24, 2010


Whistle-blowers face uphill battle

When you hear a whistle in a football game, you know somebody did something wrong. It is the same way in the real world.

A whistle-blower is a person who raises a concern about wrongdoing in an organization. This person usually is from that same organization. This misconduct may be classified in many ways. For example, a violation of a law, rule, regulation and/or a direct threat to public interest, such as fraud, health/safety violations, and corruption. (These facts were lifted from various encyclopedias.)

Daniel Ellsberg, the former State Department analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, brought the truth of the Vietnam War to light. Ellsberg blew the whistle on the practices of deception by the Johnson and Nixon administrations, leading to less public support for the war.

A more recent case, is the one of Katharine Gun, a former employee of Government Communications Headquarters, a British intelligence agency. In 2003 she leaked top-secret information to the press concerning alleged illegal activities by the United States and the United Kingdom in their push for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Her life was actually in danger for making public what was actually going on in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq.

Then the following year, 2004, Joe Darby, a member of the United States military police, alerted the U.S. military command of prisoner abuse in the Iraqi Abu Ghraib prison.

Whistle-blowers frequently face reprisal - sometimes at the hands of the organization or government which they have accused. Fear for their lives was evident with the cases of Ellsberg, Gun and Darby.

The accused usually fights back against whistle-blowers. Take this month's trial of Bradley Birkenfeld. He was absolutely essential to a landmark tax-evasion case against the Swiss bank UBS's cheating the USA Treasury out of $100 billion a year.

Whistle-blower Birkenfeld, on January 8, 2010, began serving a 40 month sentence in a Pennsylvania Federal Correction prison. His revelations were welcomed by the Treasurer Department and Internal Revenue System. Then the rich bankers and the tax-evaders turned on Birkenfeld (who worked for UBS) who became the only one to go to jail.

Leading Anti-Corruption Groups have requested a Presidential Pardon for him. International anti-corruption groups have joined the case. The open letter to President Obama requesting commutation for Mr. Birkenfeld in order to "reverse the devastating impact Mr. Birkenfeld's case will have on international law enforcement efforts."

Mr. Birkenfeld’s attorneys issued the following statement: “An American tragedy. A disgraceful miscarriage of justice. An insult to every honest American who must work hard and pay their taxes. The imprisonment of Bradley, is shocking and unjustified. ... It will have a radical chilling effect [on other bankers] to step forward and expose fraud. This is devastating to any efforts to expose the use of illegal offshore bank accounts by criminals who want to avoid taxes.”

New York Post writer Juan Gonzalez wrote: "Only Birkenfeld, ends up in jail - the No. 1 example of injustice and hypocrisy in the age of Obama."


Saturday, January 2, 2010

REEL and REAL Versions of Politics

Why can't real politics be more like reel?

"The world has been shaved by a drunken barber" says the Colonel (Walter Brennan) in the Frank Capra film "Meet John Doe." Brennan is the side-kick of Gary Cooper in this 1941 movie of common people and the power-hungry upper-crust during the Great Depression years.

In the film, a public relations scam to increase newspaper circulation, turns sour for Cooper's character, a humble, honest kid from the farm. Brennan's character wants to leave the city and the "heelots" (heels) he blames for the downfall of good people. The "heelots" are his name for people who are corrupted by wealth.

Which reminds me it is January again and time for the U.S. Senators to give themselves another raise. If no senator objects their raise is automatic. What a deal for our dedicated public servants. They care less that tens of thousands of Americans are out of work, laid off, and cheated by jobs going overseas. Blessed by Congress factories and jobs keep going overseas. No longer is just a profit acceptable, they must make mega-profits. They are top-notch "heelots."

The anti-establishment Brennan character fears his buddy Cooper is getting corrupted with the luxury and money. He tells Cooper, "You're gonna get used to a lot of stuff that's gonna wreck ya ... I've seen guys like you go under before, guys that never had a worry. Then they got ahold of some dough and went goofy ... and there you are – you're a heelot yourself."

The world of today is not that different from the 1941 film. The Colonel, a vagrant anti-social tramp, is skeptical of the power hungry, greedy "guys in charge." That attitude is growing in the hinterland. (Not the corporation-sponsored tea-bag parties – their anger is misplaced.)

Corruption and dishonesty, extra-martial affairs don't even get a powder-puff slap; no shame to having pockets bulging with re-election cash; no regulation laws enforced; ethics committees never meet; the legislatures give speeches to the walls; don't think for themselves and do little research or they would not say the things they do. (Molly Ivins has been gone three years this month. She said of Congress: "It is silly, vacillating, with no earthly idea what to do unless it has an opinion poll in front of it." Molly may be gone, but congress is as Looney as ever.)

Molly would have agreed with Thomas Carlyle, who said, "The greatest of faults, is to be conscious of none."

Remember the film, "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington," with Jimmy Stewart acting like a senator should act. Seventy years later this films reminds us our leaders need to have character and integrity. Alan Alda's 1979 film "The Seduction of Joe Tynan," reveals how extra-marital affairs ruin character and make them unfit to be trusted with affairs of state.

The 1948 film, "The State of the Union," revealed how the finest man seeking public service can be twisted, abused and used by those wanting to control. Fortunately Spencer Tracy comes to his senses before he is completely controlled by the greedy and powerful heelots.

Film classics, great theater, with hints to the wise for those who pay attention. Paraphrasing the "My Fair Lady" song "Why can't a woman be more like a man?" I ask "Why can't a the "real" public servants be more like the "reel" ones?"


William C. Brann Attacked Again

AS IT APPEARED in the San Angelo Standard Times and Brownwood Bulletin, Friday, Jan. 1, 2010

There is no rest for the wicked, so goes the saying; even a 112 years after his demise? Just before Christmas the tombstone of William Cowper Brann was vandalized and stolen from Waco's Oakwood Cemetery.

Brother Brann was one of a kind. The following will catch you up on him, then and now. Charles Carver's 1956 biography of Brann begins with "They wouldn't let him rest, even in his grave." Now can be added the thief of his tombstone.

Brann was an extremely opinionated newspaper publisher in Waco village in the 1890s. His paper in Austin had folded and he sold his press for $250 to a fellow writer, William Sydney Porter (who later became famous as O. Henry), and moved to Waco where he had much greater success.

Brann founded "The Iconoclast" with the stated mission “to expose Frauds and abolish Fakes, to make unrelenting war upon Humbugs and Hypocrites.” He found fame, as one writer reported, “in a flat-roofed Texas town whose intellectual glory was a Baptist college and whose answer to arguments was ropes and revolvers.”

Brann was despised by most of the town's citizens. Bob Dardin, Waco author, said, "The people who hated him read him out of self-defense ... they wanted to know what he was going to say." He once portrayed the Baylor College as "the alma mater of mob violence ... a chronic breeder of bigotry and bile."

He once said the only thing wrong with Baptists is they don't hold 'em down long enough when baptizing 'em. The war of words ended when the students kidnapped Brann and tried to hang him. The faculty is said to have saved him. He mocked the regents. He wrote that he hoped the school would not continue to “manufacture ministers and Magdalenes." (Magdalenes was his term for "fallen women").

He gave the college president, Rufus Burleson, nightmares with his "investigative" journalism. Seems a Brazilian priest had converted to the Baptists and sent a his daughter, Antonio Teixeira, a promising teenager, to study at Baylor. Soon afterwards Brand discovered she was mostly used as a servant in the president's home. A real scandal was uncovered, but best leave that for another column.

"The Iconoclast" had subscribers around the world. His financial records shows invoices from England, Australia and Japan. Some years his monthly circulation was close to 120,000. It sold for $1.00 a year, or ten cents for an individual copy at the Old Corner Drug Store or the old McClelland Hotel. Local newspapers, like the Waco Daily Telephone and Waco Tribune-Herald, were no competition for Brann. The also were not as bias.

A few called him a walking dictionary; the Prairie Voltaire or the Wizard of Words. He was endowed with a great vocabulary as his grandson said of him: "I feel such a deep-seated respect for his talent, but I would have used that talent differently if endowed like he was."

Brann was shot down by a disgruntled critic and is buried in Waco's Oakwood Cemetery, also home to three Texas governors and two Confederate generals. Brann's grave is the most visited in the cemetery. Possibly because someone shot his tombstone soon after his burial.

He was shot in the back by real estate developer Thomas E. Davis while Brann and W.H. Ward walked down Fourth Street between Austin and Franklin avenues. (A bronze plaque marks the spot.)

Critically wounded, Brann turned and emptied his six-shooter into Davis, who died the next day. Davis told authorities he was mad at Brann’s attacks on Baylor, where his daughter was a student. No moral to this column unless it would be wise to take heed and think twice when disparaging Baptists. Happy New Year --- may it be one of the best ever.