Friday, February 25, 2011

Presidential Pardon

Even though I am conservative, I have never understood the love affair with Ronald Reagan. Yes, he came across at times as a humble man who loved his country. But the greatest? Debatable, especially if one lived during his days in the White House or have read accounts of his administration. Recently, I finally got around to reading historian Michael Beschloss' Presidential Courage, languishing on my bookshelf for a few years now, which chronicles major issues and decisions presidents since Washington have had to face. The final chapters discuss Reagan, an objective and critical analysis of his administration in dealing with the Soviet Union and the “end” of the Cold War. Certain points Beschloss raise are indeed frightening, including indicators that Reagan indeed suffered from the onset of Alzheimer's while still in office.       

Americans Say Reagan Is the Greatest U.S. President (Gallup)

Embarrassed Republicans Admit They've Been Thinking Of Eisenhower Whole Time They've Been Praising Reagan (The Onion)

Of course, the overall point is that it is a stressful and, at times, pitiless job being president. As Beschloss’ title suggests, it takes courage. Currently, 44 men have held the distinction; a plethora of others have declined even running for the position. As our second president, John Adams, said, “No man who ever held the office of president would congratulate a friend on obtaining it.” His own son, John Quincy Adams, preferred a return to Congress than to seek the presidency again – a sentiment Lyndon Johnson also hailed when he became president.

Who is the greatest president? I have my favorites, and I am glad to see that all five make Gallup's poll. In no particular order:

      1. George Washington
      2. Abraham Lincoln
      3. Theodore Roosevelt
      4. Dwight D. Eisenhower
      5. George W. Bush

Why these five? All leaders who withstood pressures from the opposition concerning their policies, and all maligned during their presidencies. Yet, three (Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt) overlook the Dakotas from atop Mount Rushmore in tribute of their greatness. Two (Eisenhower, Bush) were considered aloof and affable during their presidencies, yet one (Eisenhower) has since been vindicated by history as a not-so-aloof effective leader during multiple crises. Undoubtedly, it will not be long before the tide of history turns for the other, whose due credit for influencing current events in formerly oppressed regions has been eschewed by mainstream media and revisionists solely in favor of the current administration. The fact that love ‘em-or-hate ‘em George W. Bush comes in at #10 on Gallup's poll – out of 44, and higher than his more admired, and latest Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, dad George H.W. Bush – seems at least an indicator.

©2011 Steve Sagarra

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Happy Birthday, Famous Dead Person!

A weird phenomenon, celebrating the birthday of a person who long-ago passed away. This is especially true of celebrities and historical figures, succumbing to the mortal coil years, decades and even centuries ago. It is understandable wanting to commemorate through remembrance the life lived, but is it necessary to expound upon the abstract of “had they lived…”? To ponder about this or that in terms of such seems ridiculous, and for one reason:  the individual in question is dead.

Take Jules Verne, and what would be his 183rd birthday this year. Some have entertained the idea that had he lived to see 2011, the prolific writer of science fiction would notice many of the incredible creations of his imagination having come to fruition. That’s fine, speculating on the merging of fiction and reality. What would be even more fantastical though is Verne reaching his 183rd birthday, and living to see 2011! Frankly, it takes away from Verne’s foresight in his time that has seen the development of those ideas in our time. Had Leonardo da Vinci lived to the 20th century, he would have seen many of his inventions as well; he also would be over 500 years old. That though is why men like da Vinci and Verne are recognized as visionaries, because they never saw the fruits of their imaginations in their own time. Instead, generations have passed the torch as a natural progression of human existence to make it happen.

In the case of some, rather than celebrate their birth we reflect on their death. This seems more natural, if not more reasonable. Remembering how they were, rather than how they might have been had they lived. When was John Lennon born? Off the top of my head I have no clue, but I can tell you he died December 8, 1980. Forever 40 years old. (I looked it up.) Had he lived, he might have been a Justin Bieber fan; we will never know though, because a deranged stalker murdered him before the pop sensation was even born. The same is true of many others whose death overshadows their birth in remembrance – John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King instantly springing to mind, as well as the 27 Club. Shortened lives whose impact is recognized more in their passing than in their beginning. We cannot know what might be had they lived.

Definitely, the world would be a different one had any deceased person lived to celebrate more birthdays. The truth is every birthday reached also reminds that we are all one year closer to the greatest equalizer. If you care to celebrate thereafter…just make sure you get me something nice. After all, it’s the thought that counts.

As for George Washington…happy birthday Mr. President, 279 years old today had you lived!

©2011 Steve Sagarra

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Giving Due Credit For Mideast Uprisings

Could not have said it better myself. Not Chris Matthews idiotic statement; Noel Sheppard's, of NewsBusters, argument for its idiocy. As Sheppard astutely points out, the seeds of today were planted long before the Obama Administration. Matthews obviously has not kept track of the President's, and equally his predecessor's, record on the issue of democracy in the Middle East, nor considered the internal factors throughout the region for current events that has caught the entire world by surprise. The typical political clamoring for credit - by no means, nothing new in politics at any level - is akin to those who maintain Ronald Reagan toppled the Soviet Union and won the Cold War. Reagan gets credit because he was president at the time it happened, and not necessarily from any influence of his administration. Only people with a narrow understanding of history and the forces at work make such absurd generalizations.

Sheppard makes another valid point on the situation:  taking credit, publicly on record no less, means taking the blame as well if things go against expectations. Again though, it depends on one's viewpoint.  

"The Egypt Warnings Obama Ignored," by Jackson Diehl (Washington Post)

"Social Media Sparked, Accelerated Egypt's Revolutionary Fire," by Sam Gustin (Wired)

©2011 Steve Sagarra

Friday, February 11, 2011

Toxic Consumption

Recently, I have become conscientious regarding the ingredients of certain consumer goods, specifically food and cosmetics. By no means am I fanatical about it, just more aware. Still, I have taken to read the labels of items more closely…discovering that curiosity truly does kill the cat. Unbelievable some of the ingredients listed in even the purportedly nutritious foods, giving credence to theories concerning links between certain products and health conditions. If it is not out of my way or perhaps a few dollars more in price, I will gladly sacrifice for the seemingly healthier choice. That said, there are limits to my quest – working within a budget so as not to spend a fortune, and not running all over town trying to find items free of these questionable ingredients.

After watching Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 documentary Super Size Me, I completely stopped eating McDonald’s®. A choice on my part, which I do not seek to instill in others. In my youth, I was able to eat it; as I have aged, not so much. The last few times eating it I had similar reactions as Spurlock when he first started his experiment:  discomfort in my stomach, and especially in my chest. While food naturally can give upset stomach and indigestion from time to time, it should not feel like a heart attack every time only minutes after consuming it. If given the choice of fast food joints, I prefer somewhere like Subway®, where I, at the very least, feel that I am getting a fresh product with nutritional value.

The two areas I have become seriously adamant about are bath products and pet food. Read the ingredients on a majority of either of these daily-use products, found in abundance at most retailers. Like millions of people, I have had sporadic skin problems (redness, dry skin, etc.) over the years, trying numerous products and altered diets in search of a permanent solution. Some worked for a time, most did not. Then, a few months ago I read about sulfates in bodywash, shampoos and other bath products; essentially, you might as well wash with sulfuric acid. Researching deeper, I found that EVERY product in the local grocery stores contained these highly toxic chemicals. Perhaps explaining how no matter what I switched to, the skin irritations continued. Currently, I am trying my hand at sulfate-free bath products, difficult as it may be to find and on a budget. (One that I am currently experimenting with is Nature’s Gate®, which I did find at a conveniently located grocer for a modest price.)

As for pet food, many brand name manufacturers should be ashamed. Brewers rice, corn gluten meal and animal digest – all non-nutrient fillers, and all common ingredients in a majority of traditional pet foods. Brewers rice, though sounding intoxicatingly delicious, is not actual rice but a byproduct of milled rice. Corn gluten meal, while a byproduct of processed corn, can also be an organic herbicide. Yes, herbicide. In pet food. It gets worse. Animal digest – sounding somewhat akin to regurgitated vomit – is a bouquet of specified OR unspecified parts of animals, with no quality control over contamination or the source. Meaning any variety of animals could comprise the contents of the “animal digest,” from euthanized shelter animals to roadkill. Yum. There are even products containing propylene glycol. Though approved as a non-toxic food additive for both animals and humans, data indicates propylene glycol can be toxic to both dogs and cats in certain doses. Any time the words “can be” is used, I simply replace it with “is.” Why? Because it is also used as a non-toxic antifreeze and coolant in industrial applications – certainly any part of a balanced diet, human or animal.

Again researching, I came across Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Pet Foods®. Immediately, I became a fan. Why? Duh – Tom Bradford, Eight Is Enough…the original Dickie V! No, no, no, the ingredients. Reading the label, I am able to discern exactly what is in it without having to investigate further. Here are the first few items listed on the standard formula:  Chicken; Brown Rice; Lamb Meal; Oatmeal; Barley; Salmon Meal; Potatoes; Carrots; Chicken Fat (as opposed to the typically unspecified “animal fat”); Tomato Pomace; Natural Flavor. Hmm, natural flavor…what a novel idea. Not once did I need to question any of these ingredients, their function at once recognized and understood. Even the listing of minerals and vitamins, while a bit overwhelming, is understandable without head scratching. No brewers rice, no corn gluten, and certainly no animal digest or antifreeze…er, propylene glycol. All natural ingredients, all understandable upon first read.

Of course, it is up to every individual to choose what chemicals go in and on their body, and to become more aware of the impact. Otherwise, we might just be consuming the poison hemlock without notice.

*Disclaimer:  In no way am I affiliated with nor am I being paid by Subway®, Nature’s Gate® or Dick Van Patten. Unfortunately. Claims made are based on personal experience and preference, and should not be construed as advocating an agenda for or against their products and competitors.

 ©2011 Steve Sagarra

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Seeing The Hieroglyphics On The Wall

With Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak announcing he will not seek to remain in power with new elections, an opportunity exists for the United States and its allies, particularly Israel. Despite the genuine risk of an anti-Western government taking power à la Iran in 1979, the U.S., on the heels of Mubarak’s announcement, must now fully embrace the populist revolt that has occurred in Egypt. In spite of setbacks in reforming the governments of both Afghanistan and Iraq from despotism to more egalitarian systems, the U.S. is still the beacon for spreading democratic principles to other nations receptive to them. Egypt, the once-thriving beacon of civilization itself, is no exception to that influence.

An elected official and a pro-Western leader who has provided support in U.S.-led actions in the Middle East, including the 1991 Gulf War and the on-going War on Terror, Mubarak’s regime can hardly be considered democratic. Operating under a referendum election system, the Egyptian constitution restricts who may run against the president. In fact, Mubarak has won successive elections without any opposition candidates since 1987; even after restrictions were amended to allow other candidates in 2005, Mubarak was nominated and confirmed by parliament without facing a single challenger. Further, the country has operated under emergency law since 1967, allowing the extension of police powers, suspension of rights and information censorship (hence, the recent Internet blackout during the current crisis). Even more, political activities including the rights of assembly and unauthorized organization are sharply circumscribed, with the government permitted to imprison individuals without cause or due process for an indeterminate length of time. All with state-run media – three newspapers and television – towing the president’s agenda.

On the other hand, the U.S. must also maintain the delicate diplomacy the State Department has skillfully applied during the course of the unexpected crisis. Reformation of Egypt’s government from Mubarak’s 30-year reign must not be seen as the imposition of the so-called “American imperialist doctrine” that would play into anti-American regimes like Iran, North Korea and Venezuela. Change of the status quo, as it already has occurred, needs to continue growing from the Egyptian people themselves, with the hand of the U.S. firmly yet unassumingly extended in friendship and aid as the country transitions. The odds of the situation developing into another Afghanistan of the 1990s – in which the anti-Western Taliban seized power after a bloody civil war, exasperated by international interference from the likes of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran – is more than just academic.

Ominously, the Egyptian crisis comes as Tunisia and Yemen are experiencing populist revolts against similarly long-standing authoritarian, yet pro-Western governments as well. The question is, when the protests end and the smoke clears will it be the bleak world of 1979 that witnessed the ascendancy of the Islamic Revolution in Iran or the promising world of 1989 that witnessed the toppling of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union? As Mark Twain remarked, “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” Only a matter of seeing the writing on the wall as to the way in which that history will turn.

©2011 Steve Sagarra

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Sin Citi

Increasing APRs without warrant after card members opt-out of the changes in terms, distortion of facts to cover up breaches of the Card Member Agreement and outright falsities made in lawsuit affidavits against card members who dispute the matter. This is Citibank, whose parent company, Citigroup, was bailed out by the American taxpayer with $45 billion.

It is time Wall Street is held accountable, same as they demand from their account holders. The recently released report of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission demonstrates that Citigroup attempted to offset their multi-billion dollar losses through such practices like increasing interest rates, while attempting to hide the losses in a scheme, in the FCIC’s own words, “to manipulate its financial statements.” If they were consciously willing to do that unchecked, what else were they willing to do? No doubt, they began raising interest rates and fees in their Citibank credit card division to cover losses of the parent company.

In spite of this, Citibank continues to strong-arm account holders into egregious terms and rates in the face of legislation to curb such practices. By finding in favor of them in any legitimately disputed lawsuit – 1,757 lawsuits filed in St. Louis County alone over the last two years, a 400% increase from the previous nine-year period – courts reinforce the corporate greed and policies that continue to plague the American economy. Instead, they should be, and need, to protect the consumer rights of hardworking American taxpayers who bailed-out corporations, like Citigroup and Bank of America, and still feel the burden.

©2011 Steve Sagarra