Sunday, June 28, 2009

An Early Summer Life In The Dominion

Between Confederation Day on Wednesday and the upcoming July 4 weekend in the States, it's a very quiet week in Toronto.

I suspect I'm the only resident left on my entire block right now - maybe in the entire city. The mad rush to pack up cars and toss kids in the back went on all day yesterday. The sound of tires squealing as people pulled out of their driveway was as if molten lava was oozing down the hill and if they didn't get out immediately the volcano would consume them.

But there’s one district in the great hairy metropolis that hasn’t been evacuated for the holiday week.

In the central core's gay village, 1-million-plus people are doing their best to catch all kinds of vile STDs and parasites as this is Pride weekend in Toronto, noted for its wide open, find it on every corner, sex-on-a-stick – oops, bad word choice – frivolity. Along with Caribbana at the end of July, Pride is the biggest tourist draw Toronto mounts - more bad phrasing, sorry - during the year. About half of the attendees come - another sorry word choice - from somewhere else and hotels as far away as Kingston and Hamilton are booked because hotels, motels, B&B’s, trailer parks and camp grounds everywhere in the metro area have been reserved for a year.

Actually, pre-event crowd estimates for Pride were closer to 1.5-million because the weekend coincides with the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York.

Given that city workers, including the good folks who collect garbage, are on strike coupled with the very hot, muggy weather we’ve had all week means that Toronto stinks and the detritus from Pride weekend won't help things.

But the week has been a boon for the city's humongous raccoon population as garbage is piled high in all of the commercial districts. The lakefront smells because the daily, algae and bacteria clearing, city motorboat run along the lakeshore isn't being done. Public transit is running because TTC workers are in a different union, but other than the cops, fire fighters, EMS and people who work in water and sewage treatment plants, there's not a city employee in sight. It also means no parking tickets are being written – a major city revenue source – because meter monitors work for Streets & Sanitation, not the police.

Meanwhile, the older I get the faster time moves.

It seems other-worldly that my sister, Janice, died 10 years ago next month. Her ashes are buried in my garden and, if it’s not raining, on July 30th I’ll put a candle in the ground at her final resting place, light it in the twilight, and sit on the patio recollecting totally out of sequence bits-and-bots of her, pictures frozen in my mind’s eye that may range from a day when I was five and she came home from the hospital; the ritualistic morning squabble over which radio station we listened to as we drove to U-High; her first wedding which was like living a Robert Altman film; Janice, who was maybe four at the time, kicking a neighbour in his groinular region because he kept pushing over her doll house; the last time I saw her healthy which was the weekend in 1999 she brought mother’s dog, Belle, to live with me after mom died.

Today also happens to be my father’s birthday so maybe I’m in a melancholy mood generally. Sorry for the prattle.

Friday, June 26, 2009

What’s With Cable’s “All Jack-O All The Time” News Coverage?

Yesterday’s solemn, over-the-top, wall-to-wall, commercial free coverage of Michael Jackson's death left me wondering if Archduke Ferdinand had been shot a second time.

Yes, Jackson once was an entertainment and music genius but he hadn’t done anything in years, yes, and his parents doomed him in childhood to a miserable life. But Prince is a music and show biz genius, too, yet he keeps his private peccadilloes private. And, besides, many of us had parents who doomed us as kids to something or another awful in adulthood.

Somehow, though, we didn't end up with totally unhealthy and unnatural – possibly illegal – attachments to young boys that Jackson thought was just fine. Nor did we dangle our own newborn by the ankles over a hotel balcony, constantly sponge off of other people in recent years because we couldn't afford our lifestyle, show up one day for a trial wearing pajama bottoms, become addicted to prescription medicines and rely on thugs from the Nation of Islam for security.

We didn’t end up wack-o Jack-o.

As news helicopters kept circling the UCLA Medical Center where Jackson died, one anchor after another talked about the “crowd” gathered outside the hospital to pay tribute.

First of all, there were maybe 200 people at any one time, hardly a crowd. In Los Angeles, a city of 3.8-million, you can get 200 people who are silly enough to worship the famous to show up for a garage door opening if it somehow involves a celebrity.

Second, the fact that he was quite possibly a pedophile was conveniently overlooked in yesterday’s “All Jack-O All The Time” coverage: The jury found Jackson not guilty, which doesn’t always mean innocent. Just ask former Sen. Ted Stevens. In Jackson’s case, the DA didn’t prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Fine. In our system he wasn’t legally guilty and I accept the fact. But let’s not forget that, in the early-to-mid 1990s, it was widely reported that Jackson paid untold millions to another family over the same issue involving their young son and, in return, the parents withdrew charges they’d filed against him.

Infamous Fascination

I’m not the first to note that America has become a culture obsessed by a macabre fascination with the infamous.

In the past 10 days alone, along with Jackson’s death we’ve been treated ad nauseum to coverage of tearful admissions of infidelity by Sen. David Vitter and Gov. Mark Sanford – with interest in Sanford multiplied by his colorful disappearance for five days followed by his convoluted, sniveling story of finding true, meaningful love in Argentina, of all places. Add widespread coverage of Ryan O’Neil saying that Farah Fawcett finally agreed to marry him as she lay days away from death, the marital traumas of Jon and Kate, and probably something about another trailer trash relative in the goofy Palin family, and cable news had no time left yesterday to give much coverage to, oh, Pres. Obama’s morning announcement on the energy bill moving through the House or following up on his news conference compromise with himself about the absolute need for a public option in health care reform.

The problem is ubiquitous.

Even the normally sober Juan Cole’s blog Friday morning was devoted to why Jackson was popular in the Middle East. At least Paul Krugman asked if any readers remembered Wilbur Mills and his “Argentine firecracker” in explaining that he wasn’t going to comment on the Sanford debacle.

Absurd Realism

As absurd as is the Jackson coverage, I’m realistic enough to know that something like the sudden death of a notorious celebrity draws viewers. Even Walter Cronkite and Ed Murrow recognized that fact. But they kept it in perspective, devoting the time the story deserved: A brief introduction, a quickly assembled bio, perhaps a clip of another celebrity saying how sad it all is, and that was that.

Still, I can’t help feel unsettled when Keith Olbermann is on air for hours, garbed Murrow-like in a vest and shirtsleeves as if telegraphing that Something Momentous Is Being Reported Here, talking gravely about what essentially is an Entertainment Tonight story.

It’s a shame when anyone dies prematurely. But it’s even more of a shame when the death is treated by the media as a major event, worthy of the kind of coverage given a state funeral or outbreak of war. When did we lose our perspective?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Yet Again, The Right Is Wrong – This Time About Cap-And-Trade Costs

Don’t conservatives, ConservaDems, the Republican Party and the rest of the “climate change is a hoax” crowd ever get tired of being wrong?

For several years, business lobbyists along with GOP and other right wing mouthpieces in Congress and on the air have been yowling that the US cannot afford what they claim is the gargantuan cost of various proposals to control global warming. Claiming an end to the world as we know it if any legislation passes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they insist that the cost will bankrupt every man, woman and child of us.

Yet again, the right is wrong.

A new study released by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office calculates the cost in 2020 of cap-and-trade at 18-cents a day per household.

That’s right: 18-cents. Per household. Math was never my strongest subject but I can use a calculator and, by my figuring, we’re talking about $1.26 per week. Most families spend more than this on ridiculously expensive Starbucks or Tim Horton’s or whatever coffee every day.

Put differently, for about $65.50 per year per US household, Douglas Elmendorf of the CBO wrote to Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) of the House Ways and Means Committee, we can create a system under HR 2454, known as The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, that is shown to make a serious dent in greenhouse gas emissions almost as soon as it is enacted.

I’m sure that Camp, the ranking Republican on the committee, was expecting a rather different answer.

Somehow, I doubt the answer he received will shut him – or the other “let the iceberg’s melt” crowd – up at all. Facts never seem to creep into their yammering.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

UPDATE: Americans Favor Public Health Care; GOP Keeps Trash Talking

A new New York Times/CBS News poll published Sunday morning shows Americans overwhelmingly support a public option for health care. And contrary to the view of Republicans on taxes, most Americans are willing to pay higher taxes to pay for universal coverage.

A whopping 72% of all Americans say they favor a government-administered plan to cover everyone. This includes 87% of Democrats, 62% of Independents and 50% of Republicans in the survey. Moreover, 57% say they are willing to pay higher taxes so everyone can be covered.

The original post appeared on Thursday.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The World Should Be Cheering Nico Pitney

More than MSNBC, BBC or CNN; more than The New York Times or The Independent; more than perhaps any other news outlet, the world should be cheering - and thanking - Nico Pitney.

For seven days, his live blogging at Huffingto Post of the Iranian election uprising has kept the world informed of what is happening inside Tehran and other cities. He’s become a link and a lifeline between heroic Iranians defying the authorities who find ways to send cell phone videos and Tweets with the latest raw footage and information.

Even better, like any good journalist, he works hard to verify information before posting it and, if he cannot, he says the information is unverified.

Moreover, Pitney is breaking news faster than the MSM can get it out. For example, on Saturday morning while Reuters was citing Iranian state media claims that the tomb of Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic, was hit by a suicide bomber, Pitney was blogging that the only people talking about the bombing was the state media. He’d received no confirmed reports from people in Tehran keeping him posted via Twitter. Hours after the alleged incident, Pitney was still unable to confirm the bombing but was carrying detailed information on which embassies were accepting people wounded by policy, the army, Revolutionary Guards and the Basiji militia.

On Saturday afternoon, he was passing along verifiable messages that presidential candidate Mousavi was on Jayhoon St., speaking to demonstrators.

As important, Pitney is showing the world what the streets are link, including this remarkable cell phone video of unarmed demonstrators squaring off against the heavily armed Basiji.

He posted another video that YouTube removed so Pitney uploaded it to the HuffPo server, showing a seriously wounded young woman who dies as the video is shot. Caution: The video is extremely graphic.

Pitney worked in relative obscurity until Rachel Maddow interviewed Pitney during the week. I tried reaching him today and was thanked effusively but told he’s too busy keeping up with the massive street fighting. It’s totally understandable; in fact, shortly afterward, he modified his g-mail address posting by asking people to not send him congratulatory notes because too many important messages from Iran were already clogging his account.

When the dust settles and journalism award time rolls around, let’s hope that his amazing work is recognised.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Italian Job: Border Police Seize $134-Billion In US Gov’t Securities

Although the story is being widely reported across Europe and Asia, it’s received scant media coverage in the US.

AsiaNews, along with other major media outlets outside the US are reporting that Italy’s financial police, the Guardia Italiana di Finanza, seized US government bonds worth US$134.5-billion from two Japanese nationals at Chiasso, located less than 50 miles from Milan on the Italian-Swiss border.

Other than a sceptical piece at Bloomberg News Wednesday, the seizure hasn’t been reported on in the US.

This is surprising because the haul includes 249 Federal Reserve bonds worth US$500-million each plus ten Kennedy bonds and other US government securities worth one billion dollar each.

The question business reporters should be asking is whether the bonds are real, meaning a foreign government is trying to quietly dump US Fed securities? Or are they counterfeit, a scheme to destabilize the American economy and currency during a period of economic crisis? But, so far, US financial journalists are as inquisitive about the suitcase full of bonds as they were about, oh, AIG’s dodgy underwriting practices, the sub-prime market, toxic assets in banks and Bernie Madoff before the lid on each was blown sky high.

Pyongyang’s Game?

In the 1990s, North Korea was caught running a huge and highly sophisticated counterfeiting scheme, printing what the Secret Service described at the time of the bust as excellent quality US$100 bills printed on undetectable yet not quite genuine paper, distributing the money mostly in Macao but also around Asia.

The counterfeit ring was shut down as was at least one Asian bank found to be active participants in the scheme. But it shows that the North Koreans have the capability to print superb if fake bank notes that are almost undetectable. With the United Nations’ new sanctions choking off Pyongyang’s access to hard currency, it’s entirely possible that the North Korean government hatched another counterfeit scheme to generate cash.

“We’re working with the Italian financial police to determine whether the securities are genuine or are part of a counterfeiting operation,” is all a US Treasury spokesperson tells me today before declining further comment because the matter is under investigation.

Privately, a source in the intelligence community says that if the notes are fakes, it makes sense that they would originate in North Korea.

“Pyongyang is smart enough to not try shipping nuclear or other material it knows we’re all looking for coming out of the country,” the source tells me. “We know they can print fake money no one other than experts can spot so why not print fake bonds?”

The source estimates that $134.5-billion in counterfeit bonds would produce a fast US$500-million to $1-billion in hard currency for North Korea when sold “and maybe a little more if they’re willing to shop around and wait a bit.”

Calling George Smiley

The Bloomberg article’s lead correctly says the news sounds like a plot straight out of a John Le Carre novel.

A rogue state is hemmed in on all sides and even its best friend, in this case China, is staring it down. Nuclear technology, its one exportable cash commodity, is suddenly on everyone’s black list. There’s a leadership crisis in the capital and hard-liners in the military are demanding money to pay for extremely costly nuclear tests and missile launches. Moderate elements need hard currency to buy black market food and medicine for the nation’s starving population.

And then everyone remembers the printing press sitting over in the corner, unused for a while but fully functional. All that’s required is obtaining three or four of the real bonds, spring the country’s best engraver from a dank political prison cell, and run off a few hundred billion of the US bonds.

All that’s missing is Connie Sachs, Le Carre’s alcoholic research expert with the world’s deepest memory rummaging through old files, passing notes to the mad Hungarian, Toby Esterhase, and George Smiley up in his pepper pot room on the fifth floor of the Circus pulling the strings.

The trouble is that the Italian border seizure isn’t fiction.

If the bonds are the real deal, then which government is fire saleing its stash of US debt obligations? If they’re fakes, who is trying to flood the market with counterfeit American government obligations?

And why aren’t Americans being told about this?

Walter Cronkite Is “Gravely Ill”

Former CBS News anchorman and broadcast news great Walter Cronkite is said to be gravely ill and nearing death.

Cronkite, once The Most Trusted Man In America according to a Gallup Poll at the time, is 92 and TVNewser reports that CBS began updating his bio last week. The network is said to be preparing a special on his life to be broadcast when he dies.

Cronkite, who anchored the CBS Evening News for 19 years until Dan Rather’s political manoeuvring inside the network’s news division forced him into retirement in 1981, brought America good news and bad, knitting the nation together during times of stress as well as happy times. He’s also the single most-important reason I decided to become a television news reporter when I was still in my early teens.

Uncle Walter, as he was affectionately called by friends and total strangers, always seemed to be there for us. When he told us about the Kennedy Assassination, he struggled to keep his composure because he knew if he lost his cool, the country would as well.

And, a few years later, it was Walter who again told America about another tragedy, the assassination of Martin Luther King.

Walter shared joyous times with us, as well, like when he became almost giddy at the moon landing.

Cronkite’s reporting from Viet Nam absolutely turned the tide of public opinion about the folly going on interminably in Southeast Asia. When he told America the truth about how badly the war in Viet Nam was going, and said Washington was lying about it, Pres. Lyndon Johnson turned to then-aide Bill Moyers to say, “If I’ve lost Cronkite on this, I’ve lost the nation.”

If Edward R. Murrow invented TV news reporting, then Walter Cronkite made it a force in America’s daily life. It was because he gave everyone who toiled in the fertile, green vineyards of broadcast reporting a compass, a direction, a role model to aspire to become. During the course of his nearly 20 year reign behind the anchor desk, television news – network and local – achieved its peak, not just of influence but, more importantly, of credibility.

He was a giant and, for countless reasons, his likes will never be seen again. Instead, we have nincompoops like Bill O’Reilly, Chris Mathews, Joe Scarborough and Sean Hannity bringing disgrace, disrepute and despair to a profession that Walter Cronkite made honourable.

And that’s the way it is.

h/t to Hoffmania

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The GOP Keeps Trash Talking Health Care

Like when it rolled out its laughable 18-page “budget” five months ago that forgot to include any numbers, yesterday John “Man Tan” Boehner, Eric “Ralph Wiggums” Cantor and a handful of other Congressional Republicans unveiled a four page health care “plan” Wednesday that not only had no numbers, it had no substance, no ideas – good or bad – and the closest it came to being a plan was calling it one on the cover.

Not wanting to lose the spotlight to their colleagues in the House, three Republican Senators – John Kyl, Mitch McConnell and Pat Roberts – were busy introducing the Preserving Access to Targeted, Individualized and Effective New Treatments and Services (PATIENTS) Act of 2009. Their bill would prohibit Medicare or Medicaid from using “comparative effectiveness research to deny coverage.”

In layman’s language, this means Medicare would be compelled to pay for useless treatments. This comes from the same claque that prevented Medicare from negotiating drug prices when Republicans controlled Congress and the drug benefit was being introduced.

The trio actually launched this idiotic piece of legislation with a straight face, not noticing it is the silliest thing to come along since Nancy Reagan’s astrologer told Ronnie when to make policy speeches. As Paul Krugman points out Thursday morning, there are four insane components to the Republican’s latest piece of garbage:

1. Republicans who rail against wasteful government spending are taking action to prevent the government from … reining in wasteful spending.
2. Politicians who warn that the burden of entitlements is killing the federal budget are stepping in to block the single most painless route to reducing the growth of entitlements.
3. They’re doing it in the name of avoiding “rationing of health care” but they’re specifically addressing taxpayer-funded care. If you want to go out and buy a medically useless treatment, Medicare won’t stop you.
4. These same politicians are opposed to expanding coverage because it’s evil for government to “ration care” by only paying for things that work; it is, however, virtuous to ration care by refusing to pay for any care at all.

“You’re assuming people watching CNN are thinking,” a staff member to a Republican Senator tells me this morning. “We’re simply trying to make the point that government-sponsored health care is a terrible idea.”

Which Bureaucrat?

Trash talk was heard all over Capitol Hill Thursday and Friday.

Wednesday’s GOP talking point was warning about “inserting bureaucrats between you and your doctor,” and it was repeated at least a half-dozen times by interchangeable Republican faces popping up on cable news and C-SPAN.

Uhm, shouldn’t Republicans watch something besides Fox News occasionally? It is insurance company “bureaucrats” who keep inserting themselves between patients and doctors, denying coverage or treatment for people who are ill. Earlier this week Keith Olbermann treated us to the latest outrage: AIG, US Airways liability insurer, is telling a survivor of the airline’s Hudson River crash that she and her three year old daughter would not be covered for psychological counselling to deal with the on-going trauma of watching themselves almost die.

Yes, it’s that AIG. The one we own. One of us should tell AIG that even the Pentagon finally is treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

As for bureaucrats and medicine, I’ve had three grandparents and two parents covered by Medicare between the time they turned 65 and when they died – some in their late 80s and early 90s. Combined, they enjoyed 130+ years of Medicare and not once were any of them ever told by a “bureaucrat” they wouldn’t be covered for treating one ailment or another. They never waited to see a doctor nor did a “bureaucrat” dictate to their physicians which treatment to use or what medication to prescribe.

Oh, and by the way, dear Republicans: Not even the strongest proponents of a universal, single payer health care reform package is suggesting that doctors, nurses and other health professionals will work for the government. So why are you comparing them to postal workers and the Department of Motor Vehicles the way you did Thursday? Are you crazy, stupid or just plain liars trying to scare Harry and Louise into opposing health care reform one more time?

“OK, so likening a public plan to the DMV is an exaggeration. So what? The point is to stop this thing cold,” the Republican staffer admits reluctantly. “No one likes bureaucrats and everyone hates the Post Office and DMV. It’s a good ‘word picture’ that people who watch cable news can understand.”

So the answer to my question is: The GOP is happy lying to scare people while they try scoring a false point.

Paying Billions Already

What the viewers disparaged by the GOP don’t understand is they’re already paying for universal coverage, of sorts. An article published Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine reports that we’re already spending $43-billion annually treating the 50-million uninsured Americans.

But care is an uneven hodgepodge of federal, state and local programmes, and much of the money is spent poorly or in the wrong place.

The report, co-authored by Linda Blumberg and John Holahan says, “Care provided in this way varies considerably by locale and does not amount to continuous, comprehensive care for the uninsured, nor do all the uninsured have access to such publicly subsidized services.

“Once everyone has health insurance coverage, either public or private, these funds can be redirected to help finance a new system that includes income-related subsidies for care provided in efficient health systems,” the article maintains.

Blumberg and Holahan call for a mandated public system, noting that research shows that without mandates, many people will remain uninsured because premiums will gobble up too much of their income – as much as 30%, according to the article, or about the same as rent or food.

Conceding that some federal subsidies will be needed, “most will go to the poorest and sickest – those who are most likely to enrol on a voluntary basis. Thus, a mandate will (also) bring healthier people and those with higher incomes into the system at a relatively low incremental cost, as compared with a voluntary approach with the added benefit of government financing redirected from the programs that currently cover uncompensated care.”

Whatever talking point the GOP rolls out today in its fight to keep America sick, remember that Republican staff people on the Hill admit all the party is trying to do is create scary “word pictures” to frighten the average cable news viewer. Republicans have always been good at twisting emotions and playing on fear. It’s past time for progressives to borrow a page from the Republican playbook and talk emotions, not just facts and figures.

The Curious Incident Of A US Extradition In The Night

Guest post by Denis Campbell, editor of The UK Progressive.

Gary McKinnon of Crouch End, North London, England was branded a ‘cyber-terrorist’ by the US government and, in 2002, was arrested for hacking into Pentagon and NASA computers.

The US Justice, Defence and Homeland Security Departments have been fighting a seven-year long battle to extradite McKinnon to the USA where he is charged under the 2003 UK Extradition Act. If convicted on terrorism charges, he could face up to 60 years locked-down, 23-hour per day, in a US SuperMax prison. While many differ on likely length of sentence, this is the same kind of prison convicted shoe-bomber Richard Reid sits on a hunger strike hoping to kill himself. Gary openly admits his guilt of computer mischief and he did hack into US government computers.

Now before jumping to the obvious conclusion thinking “a (then) 36-year old man should know the difference between right and wrong” and setting your “fry him” righteous jaw and mind firmly shut, you need to look, Paul Harvey-style, at “The Rest of the Story.”

At 43, Gary has lived with an until-recently undiagnosed case of high-functioning autism known as Asperger’s Syndrome. The disease was first discovered and labelled in the late 1990s and was made famous in the 2003 best-selling novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. Until the book, where a low functioning Asperger’s sufferer teenager sets off on a journey to find his dead mother, few ever heard of this syndrome. Famous Aspergers sufferers include American actor Dan Ackroyd and acclaimed Scottish artist Peter Howson – both of whom have spoken out on Gary ’s behalf.

Aspergers sufferers such as Gary make diagnosis more difficult because they often possess very high intelligence in specific areas such as math, computer science or physics. They are mostly reclusive and can become hyper-obsessive. One thinks of Dustin Hoffman’s character Raymond in Rain Man as an example.

Gary’s mother, Janis Sharp, spoke of a Christmas dinner where he put a large computer on the family dining table and could not understand why everyone was so upset. His logical but insensitive response was “well it’s my holiday party too isn’t it?” Indeed, it is the honesty of an Asperger’s sufferer – “often to a fault” Janis said – “that can be to their own detriment.”

When Gary spoke to UK computer crimes authorities in 2002, he could only speak truth. This is also why plea deals are abhorrent because it means admitting guilt to something he feels is untrue. Without a lawyer present, he freely admitted to UK police to looking around in government computers of all kinds because, “They were very nice to him.”

At the centre of the growing row between the UK and US is a demand to have Gary stand trial in the US despite his diminished capacity. Many in the UK want him to stand trial here. They launched a successful UK campaign that Kevin Anderson, blogs editor of The Guardian, took exception to the media blindly taking McKinnon’s side in their coverage of the case. He objected to the myths of imprisonment in Gitmo, portrayal of US anger at his extradition fight and widely reported belief that US authorities wanted McKinnon to “fry.”

Not Innocent

No one is suggesting he is innocent.

They are talking degrees of punishment and the curious use of the 2003 Extradition Act, which gives the Crown Court little leeway and they must extradite UK nationals on ‘suspicion’ of terrorism; anyone the UK seeks for extradition residing in the US requires probable cause. Too, cases involving extradition normally involve someone who has committed a crime and has fled that jurisdiction and must be forcibly brought back to stand trial. Gary McKinnon never left the UK.

The problem is the Act has been used in the non-terror cases of Alex Stone, an alleged child abuser whose charges were dropped after spending 6 months in a US jail; Ian Norris of Morgan Crucible, whose original price-fixing charges were dropped but still faces extradition on obstruction of justice charges; and The NatWest 3, bankers extradited and found guilty of wire fraud – the government’s old mafia conviction standby charge. They currently serve 37 month sentences in US prisons.

Even David Blunkett, UK Home Secretary when the Act was negotiated and passed, never foresaw this level of interpretation and believes it should not be used in Gary’s case because, after 9/11, the Bush Administration labelled everything they could terrorism. Politicians here and in the US were not keen to attack these cases for fear of looking soft on terrorism. Too, this issue grabbed its biggest headlines after the Spanish and 7/7 London Tube terrorist bombings, so the issue was high on everyone’s mind.

Little Green Men

Gary McKinnon is completely obsessed with the existence of UFOs and convinced the government covered them up.

He is a self-described “bumbling computer nerd” who wanted to know more about them in the Pentagon files he hacked. He was a big fan of the 1983 feature film War Games where a youthful Matthew Broderick accidentally breaks into a Pentagon computer and nearly converts a war simulator into a real global thermonuclear war.

As a 17-year old boy, Gary wondered, could that really be done? When he and many others proved it indeed could be, especially after 9/11, McKinnon became the poster child for lax DoD computer security.

Many DoD and NASA computer systems lack firewall protections an,d as Gary has said repeatedly,“one could easily see the IP addresses of other hackers from China , Russia and other places around the globe whilst in there.”

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates noted that the Pentagon has thousands of cyber attacks daily on its systems. Gary became upset when he could not find what he was looking for and started leaving notes and traces of his entry calling the US government “liars” for discrediting the existence of UFOs and lax 9/11 air security.

His original UK charge in 2002 was not an extraditable offence. After passage of the Extradition Act and showing an unwillingness to plea bargain to a lesser offence, then federal prosecutors Scott Christie and Ed Gibson upped the ante claiming McKinnon caused more than $700,000 in damages, deleted passwords and put a Naval defence system at risk, all denied by Gary and his defence lawyers.

He was re-charged as a cyber terrorist when extradition prospects were seemed automatic under this new treaty.

Appeals to The House of Lords and EU Court of Human Rights were denied or not heard. This left Gary’s defence team with very few options.

But the Asperger’s diagnosis did two things: It opened the door for a judicial review of both the Crown Prosecution Service’s handling of the case, which was heard last week, and the Home Office’s recommendation of accepting such an unbalanced treaty.

Karen Todner of lBritish law firm Kaim Todner serves as Gary ’s lawyer. Mrs. Todner was tenacious on Gary ’s behalf and hired leading human rights solicitor Edward Fitzgerald. In his brief Fitzgerald said, "the decision (to extradite) is procedurally flawed and unlawful for it wrongly fails to consider and analyse important expert medical evidence concerning the effects of extradition on the claimant and his mental health."

This is the real game changer.

In many ways, Gary’s disease reveals an intellectually and emotionally naïve child locked in a man’s body. His mind is both his biggest friend and greatest enemy. As Scottish artist Peter Hoswon said in a Scotsman interview with Gerri Peev, "Gary has the more anxiety-prone form of Asperger's, which I fear means he will not be able to survive life in an American prison. I have to be blunt: he will not be able to cope and will turn suicidal. He is not a terrorist, nor a threat to national security, but just a vulnerable Asperger's man whose complex mind caused him to make a mistake. Individuals like Gary should be protected by us and nurtured, not made a scapegoat for the sins of our police state society."

Gary’s curiosity took him to the place of trying to see if he could do it. Aspergers sufferers tend to believe what they read or hear and their desire for truth is so strong it overcomes all other rational thoughts and emotions. Indeed as he became more and more obsessed with the UFO conspiracy, his then girlfriend became very concerned for his well-being as Gary stopped caring for himself, even stopping eating and bathing – all hallmarks of Aspergers.

The legions of supporters for Gary include Peter Gabriel, Sting, US Shuttle Commander Clark McCleland, David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, former Iranian hostage Terry Waite, Peter Gabriel and Graham Nash of Crosby Stills and Nash, along with dozens of MPs and celebrities.

The US has a flawed history of understanding or even admitting mental illness in court. Because of this lack of understanding, prosecutors fight it tooth and nail. A defendant found not guilty by reason of insanity goes down in the loss column.

It taints a prosecutor’s record to have someone sent to an institution or psychiatric prison facility. A federal prosecutor speaking on condition of anonymity said, “Having a defendant found not guilty by reason of temporary or true insanity hurts the prosecutor. We need big winning records in high profile cases to move up the ladder politically or find top security positions when we leave …” (Indeed Gibson and Christie now run security across the UK for Microsoft Corporation).

“It’s tough to become a top paid white shoe firm white collar criminal defence attorney or be elected as a District Attorney or state Attorney General without a solid record of conviction in high profile cases,” this US prosecutor said.

As his mother, Janis, said, “People with Asperger’s are highly intelligent but cannot cross a busy road because it is so terrifying for them. Asperger’s is invisible in many ways and its sufferers can seem incredibly normal. The Pentagon had no firewalls or security, that’s an insult to the people who died on 9/11. How could the biggest superpower in the world not have firewalls? Gary was stupid, he left notes on the system but why extradite him because of a sense of embarrassment?”

If convictions are the yardstick upon which a prosecutor can strut, the question becomes should an impaired person be extradited to face horrific charges where a sentence in the UK would be more proportional?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

“We Don't Have Mousavi Supporters; It's Now All Of Iran ...”

This is a report on Tuesday's demonstration for Mousavi in Tehran written by an eyewitness who lives in the city. It appears this morning at Informed Comment, the daily blog of Middle East authority Juan Cole.

Cole explains in an introduction, “I was sent this by an academic, but will not give the name to avoid any repercussions for the individual.”

Today, under slate skies and despite official warnings that the permit to march had been denied, against rumors that orders had been given to shoot to kill, they came. They came by the tens if not hundreds of thousands, marching east to west along the many kilometers of Enqelab Street to Azadi, or Freedom Square. "It would be dishonorable, na mardi, to not go," a young couple explained. "We have to go." Another man asks who is going, what is going on? He is told that the "Mousavi-chiha" are marching starting at 4. He laughs, "Mousavi-chiha nadarim, hame ye Iran hastand!" We don't have Mousavi supporters, it's now all of Iran...

That they came to Azadi, a place where thirty years ago the Revolution pivoted towards victory was fitting, for as much as the election campaign had been about who best represented the revolutionary values of Iran, Islam, and the late Imam, the push and pull of the past few days between opposition and Ahmadinejad forces has been a struggle to lay claim to authenticity. Authenticity that lies in the imagined and lived past, places, and practices of the Islamic Republic. It is as if whomever can get to the important places and rituals first and stay there, hang onto them, will win. So at night, beginning at 9 pm, we hear shouts of "Allah Akbar!" from the rooftops, just like in the fall and winter of 1978-1979. We have marches to sacred spots like Azadi and appeals by all sides to the memory of Khomeini...

In the crowd there are families, young and old. One cannot help but notice the large presence of women of all ages. The typical daily life of the capital is out here together, the homes, sidewalks and boulevards abandoned for this shared space. There is word that the crowd is millions strong; we know that it stretches eastwards to Imam Hussein Square. It is an incredible occasion - by comparison the state-organized 200,000 strong anniversary march that takes place every February starts from around Ferdowsi Square, several kilometers closer in to Azadi.

The mood in the crowd was positive, reminiscent of the joyous celebrations of the final week of the campaign. The chants are up-to-date, changed to reflect the new circumstances in Iran, the things that we did not know before Friday's vote. "Hale ye noor e ro dide, rai e mano nadide?" A reference to the light of the hidden Imam that Ahmadinejad claimed to have seen, roughly translated to rhyme, "If he saw that light, why didn't he see the vote we cast with all our might?!" And, "Ta in Ahmadi nejad hast, in ghaziye ijad hast!" Until this Ahmadi is here, this commotion will not disappear!

There are new signs as well. Written in English, "Where is My Vote?" (I can't help myself, the idea for an Al Gore-Mir Hossein Mousavi buddy film pops into my mind, "Dude, Where is My Vote?"). Another: 2 x 2 = 24 million, a play on the bogus economic measures touted by Ahmadinejad during the debates, now updated to reflect the equally dubious election results.

The procession passes through an underpass and just as there is great pleasure in honking the car horn in tunnels these many people send up an enormous cheer, echoing off the walls. From dark to light the crowd emerges from the underpass and looks back to see what they have done. There is above them stretching across the tunnel a dissonant sight, a sign with the visage and message of the Supreme Leader. He watches over this protest in the manner of TJ Eckelberg.

The crowd knots and comes to an absolute standstill. They are pressed against each other, Cochella and Woodstock in one. Slowly, slowly the people move forward and see that the cause for the standstill is Mehdi Karrobi. Karrobi whose almost 400,000 votes was the most telling sign that something was seriously amiss with the vote count (he counted more registered activists and supports in his campaign machine alone). Karrobi, a former member of Imam Khomeini's inner circle, who during the presidential race four years ago famously protested that "I was in first place during the vote count, took an afternoon nap, and when I woke up I was suddenly two places behind Ahmadinejad." The 72 year-old cleric stands atop a car surrounded by body guards, blessing the crows with blown kisses.

As I have noted before, what is remarkable about the Mousavi and opposition marches is the orderly disorder. These are not rallies or events in the manner that we are accustomed to in the United States. There are no official Mousavi volunteers guiding the crowd to the designated rallying points, college interns filled with coffee and day-old pizza. The movement is self-directed. Mousavi had asked his supporters to march but to march respectfully, to not give any excuse for violence. The crowd is abiding. Along the nearly kilometer length of a basiji base, the cry goes up: Shoar nagoo! Don't shout slogans! Hands are up held up instead. It is quiet. Here and there a voice, unable to restrain itself, begins to scream "Allah Akbar! Allah Akbar!" He is met instantly with hisses and whistles - saket! saket! quiet! quiet! - and the voice falls silent again.

How do we know where to go? When to go? SMS or texting is down, the internet is spotty and cell phones have become unreliable. Still, Tehran has always been a city where information gets passed around easily. For all of the complaints and anxiety that life has become too modern, that people are living alone in great apartment towers instead of with their families in homes, the citizens of this city find ways to know, to be in each other's business. Conversations come easily even amongst strangers, more so now than ever. Men weave through the crowd, telling us what's next. "Come tomorrow to Vali Asr at 5! Tomorrow! Spread the word!"

Compare this to the Ahmadinejad rallies that we have seen. Yesterday, Mother's Day in Iran (an appropriate day given Ahmadinejad's persistent claim to be the "defender" of the vatan, or motherland) the Ahmadinejad groups held their own rally and show of force in Vali Asr Square in central Tehran. Their numbers are not few---the crowd filled the square and stretched south for at least a kilometer. But this action is more organized, mobilization by memo as one observer put it. Word goes out in the mosques, bonyads, and ministries that there is to be a gathering and they come, organized by section and arriving in chartered buses and vans. Unlike the Mousavi rallies, their Great Leader is present both in person and in stereo. Audio equipment is set up to so that we might hear his message and the speakers tell the crowd where to go afterwards. The atmosphere is no less festive, no less family-oriented than the opposition rallies. But the numbers are less and the movement less sustained. There is, perhaps, less to lose for this group, less sense of outrage and danger.

Back on Enqelab, the sun slips under the clouds and light begins to fall sideways across the crowds, hands turn golden in the last part of the day. Dasta bala! Dasta bala! Hands in the air! Hands in the air! All arms are up, spread into the familiar sign of victory. The crowd reaches the square but cannot enter, does not need to enter, this spot will do. On either side of a nearby underpass a call and response begins, arms and legs hang over the guardrail, bodies lean over the road that runs several meters below. From one side of the underpass: "Mir Hossein!" From the other: "Ya Hossein!" From one side: "Mir Hossein!" Now from the other: "Ya Hossein!" Cars and motorcycles raise the alarm, young men with green scarves over their faces ninja-style run and hop between the traffic. They urge the crowd and cars on, MC style. Two large passenger buses emerge from under the tunnel and the drivers lay on their horns, making the crowd go wild, they love it. It is all noise. The cheer goes up, "Gofte boodim age taqalob bishe, Iran ghiamat mishe!" We told you that if they cheat, Iran will explode!

We leave the square and head north along Jenah Expressway towards Ariashahr or Sadiqia Square. It is only at this point that the enormity of what is happening becomes clear. In the diminishing light there and stretching towards the rising foothills that mark the upper reaches of Tehran one can only see person after another. Cars and buses that have made the mistake of turning into this crowd have been engulfed.

The story takes a bad turn; all does not end well. Seeing the camera around my neck, several people rush up to me, frantically urging me to go take pictures, shouting that they are killing us all! Behind a wall, in an alleyway set off from the road, a confrontation is taking place between one spike of the crowd and basiji forces, holed up in a base. There is the unsettling pop-pop-pop of gunfire, a plume of black smoke rises into the sky. A crowd is gathering in the alley and men rush forward to throw rocks while others tell them to stop, stop, that's what they want! A police officer, alone, rushes in to help, brought in by part of the crowd. Suddenly he is surrounded, confronted violently by angry protestors. A great confusion ensues as water bottles and rocks are hurled at the cop; 10-15 men form a perimeter around the officer to shield him their hands up begging the crowd to control themselves to let this man pass, he has come to help. During the worst moment, we see the terrified policeman pressed against a courtyard wall, his hat has been knocked off, he shouts that he is here to help. Finally, thankfully, the situation is controlled, the police officer joins in the chanting, and he is allowed to go into the alley to help.

The chant goes up, the same as was used during the 1979 Revolution: "He who kills my brother, will be killed by me!"

The wail of an ambulance. A boy, he could not have been older than 14, is rushed through the crowd, carried sideways at the head and the legs by three men. Foam is coming out of his mouth and his eyes. There is no way of knowing for sure but there are reports that 5 to 7 people have been shot, have been killed right here in this spot. I see a young man hold up his right hand, it is covered in blood...

They found a way to make it last. Everyone says that in a few days the protests will be stopped, what's the point of going out, but when the moment comes everyone is here. To stop this now would take a tremendous display of violence and thus far, blessedly, that has not happened.

Still, at this point, the crowd remains uncertain...An apt if unimaginative metaphor would be a school of fish. Everyone moves in one direction, then suddenly shoulders drop and they run for their lives the opposite way. Riqdan! Riqdan! They're attacking! The mass looks back and sees that there are already hands held up beckoning the crowd to stop, to come back, to be brave and not run.

Fear. It would be an unfair mismatch if fear were to disappear. Do not believe the lie that this is a story of middle-class, urbane Iran set against the great multitude of obdurate peasants, the supposedly authentic Iran. That is a myth, what Juan Cole has called the "North Tehran fallacy," no different than the bogus notion that Middle America is the True America. Iran's heart and voting population lies in its cities as much as in the countryside. It was in the cities that the 1979 Revolution took place, and the 6-8 million new voters that showed up at the booth to vote, many for the first and only time in their lives, did not emerge from Iran's diminishing villages.

Tehran is fast becoming two. In the late afternoon and lasting until around dinner time it is a place of peaceful civic celebration, a disneyland of political action for the whole family to participate. At night, the mood shifts abruptly, and the capital becomes a battleground, a city in which fear stalks on motorbikes mounted in helmeted pairs.

It is like a dream. We wake up in the morning, our legs and voices sore, wondering if this is really happening, anxious for what will come next.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Walsh Is Right: Bill O’Reilly Is A Nasty, Vile Man Who Enables Crazies

The good news about Fox News blubber mouth Bill O’Reilly is that he speaks to only a teeny, tiny percentage of the country; the bad news is part of that small and dwindling group actually thinks he makes sense and then goes out and kills people because they believe his vile, hate-filled rhetoric.

Much as a woman who is battered by her husband but won’t leave him or press charges is an enabler of the brute’s actions, O’Reilly may not have pulled the trigger in the Holocaust Museum or in Dr. Tiller’s church but he – and others such as Operation Rescue’s heinous Troy Newman, the bulbous, bilious Rush Limbaugh, batty Michelle Malkin who’s on record justifying racial profiling and interning Japanese-Americans during World War II, and the just plain goofy Ann Coulter – are enablers who give voice and authenticity to crazy people who do the shooting.

It is time for all of us to call these loose cannons what Joan Walsh of already did: Hateful, vile people whose words enable violence among the conservative fringe.

A psychiatrist tells me that the ranting, raging voices on the far right – like the killers themselves – all seem to suffer from a common, distorted view of the world, triggered by something called “insufficient attachment disorder.” Developed by Dr. John Bowlby in the 1960s, essentially the idea is that infants who do not develop a secure attachment to their parents early in life can end up as fuming adults who don’t trust others – especially those who disagree with them – and can feel some degree of paranoia, often lashing out angrily at the world in ways both socially accepted and, sometimes, unacceptable.

Like gluing doors shut on women’s health clinics, killing doctors in church, storming the Holocaust Memorial to kill everyone in sight, or spouting utter claptrap ad nauseum on television. Witness O’Reilly’s over-the-top reaction to Walsh Friday when she appeared on his show to discuss the Dr. Tiller killing:

Meanwhile, outfits like Operation Rescue continue to issue press releases that sanctimoniously proclaim it “… will continue to help lead the fight against abortion through peaceful and legal means.” The June 8 statement by Operation Rescue’s general counsel apparently means it’s alright for the organization to post home addresses and phone numbers, and e-mail contacts, on the internet of health professionals performing perfectly legal medical procedures so the crazies can target them.

These holier-than-thou words contradicted by the group’s hateful actions fit the definition of “enabler” held by every 12 Step group in the world.

For example, OR’s “senior policy advisor,” Cheryl Sullenger – who did federal time for being caught with explosives in her car – reportedly has been interviewed by the FBI in connection with Dr. Tiller’s murder since the supposed killer had her name and phone number sitting like a plastic Jesus on the dashboard of his car when he was arrested. Apprently, she’s said on television that she provided Dr. Tiller’s coordinates to the shooter.

Co-conspirators? Unlikely. Enablers? Absolutely.

If I were as crazy as the lunatics on the right, I’d post the residential addresses and unlisted phone numbers that I have of O’Reilly, Limbaugh, Malkin and Coulter with this article so people could go picket their homes. I don’t because, as Richy Brockelman used to say on The Rockford Files, “the thing of it is is this …” Progressives don’t hate the world so we don’t post people’s private information on the web for every lunatic to find and jump in their car with a shotgun under the front seat or explosives and firebombs in the trunk.

Even though O’Reilly et al are vile people who don’t deserve it, we do know where to draw the line. Too bad they don't.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Dealing With von Brunn: Not Getting Mad, Just Being Happy

One of the more unusual letters to the editor that I've seen for awhile is in today's Washington Post, from a Jewish family who bought Holocaust Museum shooter James Von Brunn's house in New Hampshire.

To The Editor:

James W. von Brunn - racist, domestic terrorist and anti-Semite - never knew that when he and his then-wife sold their Lebanon, NH, home in 1982, they sold it to a Jewish family.

The von Brunns had moved to Maryland before we looked at the house and he was incarcerated when we bought it, imprisoned for attempting to hold hostage members of the Federal Reserve Board. When we moved in, we realized we'd bought it from an anti-Semite survivalist because he'd left behind several boxes of anti-Jewish books. We immediately added them to the trash.

Anyway, James W. von Brunn, we want you to know we took great pleasure in living there despite the hate-filled man who occupied it before we did. We celebrated Passover Seders, exchanged Hanukkah gifts and raised two wonderful Jewish children there.

GAIL CHADWICK, June 12 2009

Like living well, happiness is the best revenge.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Health Care Folly: Insurance Co’s Bet Big On You Smoking To Death

In so-called “public service” ads appearing on TV and radio, or in print and on the intertubes, many health insurance companies urge people to stay healthy by quitting smoking. The company that provides a supplemental policy to me that covers things not paid by Canada’s national health even e-mailed a helpful PDF brochure with a quit smoking plan.

Guess what? They don’t mean it. None of them do. In fact, they profit if you don’t quit.

A new study just published in The New England Journal of Medicine documents how major health insurance providers in the US, Canada and Britain hold billions of dollars in stock in companies that sell cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Wesley Boyd, the study's lead author, found that at least $4.4-billion in insurance company funds – which come from premiums paid by policy holders – are invested in companies whose highly profitable subsidiaries are major producers of cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco.

"Despite calls upon the insurance industry to get out of the tobacco business by physicians and others, insurers continue to put their profits above people's health," writes Boyd, a Harvard Medical School faculty member.

Joining a loud chorus of people saying the same thing, Boyd concludes, "It's clear their top priority is making money, not safeguarding people's well-being."

Gee, ya’ think?

Billions Of Dollars

Collectively, the health insurance industry controls nearly $4.5-billion of tobacco company stock – a nice down payment on basic universal health care coverage.

Prudential is the worst offender. It has nearly $1.7-billion invested in big tobacco. Its insurance arm, which sells both health and disability coverage, has $814-million in British-American Tobacco stock and another $513-million sitting with Imperial Tobacco while Prudential Financial sits on $186-million of Philip Morris-USA stock, $69.4-million of Reynolds American and $8.8-million in Lorillard.

Canada’s Sun Life, which offers a wide range of group and individual supplemental health plans, is second on the “please smoke our investments and die” list. It has more than $1-billion invested in tobacco companies, including Philip Morris-USA and Lorillard.

Other insurance companies cited in the article holding big chunks of tobacco stock include New York Life and MassMutual. Northwestern Mutual, which sometimes calls itself “the quiet company” but it may have dropped the ad slogan when its wheezing and hacking, smoker’s cough got too loud, also makes the list with a comparatively paltry $253.8-million in stock in big tobacco.

The supreme irony in this is that the insurance companies make money both ways: It charges smokers higher premiums for buying the very products that profit the industry’s investment portfolio.

“Smokers lose twice over," Boyd writes with just a trace of irony.

Not Trustworthy

How can an industry that profits twice from people smoking themselves into ill health or an early grave be taken seriously when universal health care is being discussed?

By most common definitions, the industry has a very basic conflict of interest. And you don’t have to torture the definition of “conflict of interest” the way Yoo and Bybee tortured the word “torture” to reach this conclusion: The industry simply is not a trustworthy, honest negotiating partner.

No wonder I get a bad case of the creeps whenever I read that Sen. Max Baucus not only is negotiating with insurance companies about health care reform, he’s actually listening to them. This is akin to listening to Sarah Palin teaching teenaged girls on how not to get pregnant. Ronald Reagan lecturing Paul Krugman on economics. AIPAC helping negotiate a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem. It’s a total non-compute.

Baucus would be much better served listening to the wise words of the robot in the old TV series Lost in Space, who proclaimed at least once each episode, “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!”

So would we.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Obama’s Cairo Speech; Receives Standing Ovations (Video)

As the White House signalled in advance, Pres. Obama’s speech this morning contained no new policy proposals but did call for a new beginning in relations between the US and the Moslem world.

The White House website posts the text of the speech, and C-SPAN carried the speech live in the wee hours of the morning in the US.

Courtesy: C-SPAN

Monday, June 1, 2009

Goodbye, GM

A guest post by Michael Moore

I write this on the morning of the end of the once-mighty General Motors. By high noon, the President of the United States will have made it official: General Motors, as we know it, has been totaled.

As I sit here in GM's birthplace, Flint, Michigan, I am surrounded by friends and family who are filled with anxiety about what will happen to them and to the town. Forty percent of the homes and businesses in the city have been abandoned. Imagine what it would be like if you lived in a city where almost every other house is empty. What would be your state of mind?

It is with sad irony that the company which invented "planned obsolescence" -- the decision to build cars that would fall apart after a few years so that the customer would then have to buy a new one - has now made itself obsolete. It refused to build automobiles that the public wanted, cars that got great gas mileage, were as safe as they could be, and were exceedingly comfortable to drive. Oh -- and that wouldn't start falling apart after two years.

GM stubbornly fought environmental and safety regulations. Its executives arrogantly ignored the "inferior" Japanese and German cars, cars which would become the gold standard for automobile buyers.

And it was hell-bent on punishing its unionized workforce, lopping off thousands of workers for no good reason other than to "improve" the short-term bottom line of the corporation. Beginning in the 1980s, when GM was posting record profits, it moved countless jobs to Mexico and elsewhere, thus destroying the lives of tens of thousands of hard-working Americans. The glaring stupidity of this policy was that, when they eliminated the income of so many middle class families, who did they think was going to be able to afford to buy their cars? History will record this blunder in the same way it now writes about the French building the Maginot Line or how the Romans cluelessly poisoned their own water system with lethal lead in its pipes.

So here we are at the deathbed of General Motors. The company's body not yet cold, and I find myself filled with - dare I say it - joy. It is not the joy of revenge against a corporation that ruined my hometown and brought misery, divorce, alcoholism, homelessness, physical and mental debilitation, and drug addiction to the people I grew up with. Nor do I, obviously, claim any joy in knowing that 21,000 more GM workers will be told that they, too, are without a job.

But you and I and the rest of America now own a car company! I know, I know -- who on earth wants to run a car company? Who among us wants $50 billion of our tax dollars thrown down the rat hole of still trying to save GM? Let's be clear about this: The only way to save GM is to kill GM. Saving our precious industrial infrastructure, though, is another matter and must be a top priority. If we allow the shutting down and tearing down of our auto plants, we will sorely wish we still had them when we realize that those factories could have built the alternative energy systems we now desperately need. And when we realize that the best way to transport ourselves is on light rail and bullet trains and cleaner buses, how will we do this if we've allowed our industrial capacity and its skilled workforce to disappear?

Thus, as GM is "reorganized" by the federal government and the bankruptcy court, here is the plan I am asking President Obama to implement for the good of the workers, the GM communities, and the nation as a whole. Twenty years ago when I made "Roger & Me," I tried to warn people about what was ahead for General Motors. Had the power structure and the punditocracy listened, maybe much of this could have been avoided.

Based on my track record, I request an honest and sincere consideration of the following suggestions:

1. Just as President Roosevelt did after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the President must tell the nation that we are at war and we must immediately convert our auto factories to factories that build mass transit vehicles and alternative energy devices. Within months in Flint in 1942, GM halted all car production and immediately used the assembly lines to build planes, tanks and machine guns. The conversion took no time at all. Everyone pitched in. The fascists were defeated.

We are now in a different kind of war - a war that we have conducted against the ecosystem and has been conducted by our very own corporate leaders. This current war has two fronts. One is headquartered in Detroit. The products built in the factories of GM, Ford and Chrysler are some of the greatest weapons of mass destruction responsible for global warming and the melting of our polar icecaps. The things we call "cars" may have been fun to drive, but they are like a million daggers into the heart of Mother Nature. To continue to build them would only lead to the ruin of our species and much of the planet.

The other front in this war is being waged by the oil companies against you and me.

They are committed to fleecing us whenever they can, and they have been reckless stewards of the finite amount of oil that is located under the surface of the earth. They know they are sucking it bone dry. And like the lumber tycoons of the early 20th century who didn't give a damn about future generations as they tore down every forest they could get their hands on, these oil barons are not telling the public what they know to be true - that there are only a few more decades of useable oil on this planet. And as the end days of oil approach us, get ready for some very desperate people willing to kill and be killed just to get their hands on a gallon can of gasoline.

President Obama, now that he has taken control of GM, needs to convert the factories to new and needed uses immediately.

2. Don't put another $30 billion into the coffers of GM to build cars. Instead, use that money to keep the current workforce - and most of those who have been laid off - employed so that they can build the new modes of 21st century transportation. Let them start the conversion work now.

3. Announce that we will have bullet trains criss-crossing this country in the next five years. Japan is celebrating the 45th anniversary of its first bullet train this year. Now they have dozens of them. Average speed: 165 mph. Average time a train is late: under 30 seconds. They have had these high speed trains for nearly five decades -- and we don't even have one! The fact that the technology already exists for us to go from New York to L.A. in 17 hours by train, and that we haven't used it, is criminal. Let's hire the unemployed to build the new high speed lines all over the country. Chicago to Detroit in less than two hours. Miami to DC in under 7 hours. Denver to Dallas in five and a half. This can be done and done now.

4. Initiate a program to put light rail mass transit lines in all our large and medium-sized cities. Build those trains in the GM factories. And hire local people everywhere to install and run this system.

5. For people in rural areas not served by the train lines, have the GM plants produce energy efficient clean buses.

6. For the time being, have some factories build hybrid or all-electric cars (and batteries). It will take a few years for people to get used to the new ways to transport ourselves, so if we're going to have automobiles, let's have kinder, gentler ones. We can be building these next month (do not believe anyone who tells you it will take years to retool the factories -- that simply isn't true).

7. Transform some of the empty GM factories to facilities that build windmills, solar panels and other means of alternate forms of energy. We need tens of millions of solar panels right now. And there is an eager and skilled workforce who can build them.

8. Provide tax incentives for those who travel by hybrid car or bus or train. Also, credits for those who convert their home to alternative energy.

9. To help pay for this, impose a two-dollar tax on every gallon of gasoline. This will get people to switch to more energy saving cars or to use the new rail lines and rail cars the former autoworkers have built for them.

Well, that's a start. Please, please, please don't save GM so that a smaller version of it will simply do nothing more than build Chevys or Cadillacs. This is not a long-term solution. Don't throw bad money into a company whose tailpipe is malfunctioning, causing a strange odor to fill the car.

One hundred years ago this year, the founders of General Motors convinced the world to give up their horses and saddles and buggy whips to try a new form of transportation. Now it is time for us to say goodbye to the internal combustion engine. It seemed to serve us well for so long. We enjoyed the car hops at the A&W. We made out in the front -- and the back -- seat. We watched movies on large outdoor screens, went to the races at NASCAR tracks across the country, and saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time through the window down Hwy. 1. And now it's over. It's a new day and a new century. The President -- and the UAW -- must seize this moment and create a big batch of lemonade from this very sour and sad lemon.

Yesterday, the last surviving person from the Titanic disaster passed away. She escaped certain death that night and went on to live another 97 years.

So can we survive our own Titanic in all the Flint Michigans of this country. 60% of GM is ours. I think we can do a better job.

Micheal Moore can be reached at