Sunday, February 17, 2019

Will we see nuclear shadow threaten mankind on Groundhog Day?

Forget Punxsutawney Phil this February 2 Groundhog Day. The real freight will not be Phil seeing his shadow, signaling six more weeks of this horrendous winter. Instead, Punxsutawney Donald will emerge from his presidential lair and decide if the US will stay or leave the Intermediate- Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). Last November his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a threat to pull out of the INF in 60 days due to Russian non-compliance. That deadline falls on Groundhog Day. What's worse, US pullout from the INF threatens US pullout from the New Start Treaty which went into effect in 2011 and is being renegotiated to extend out to 2021. Punxsutawney Donald has called New Start a "one-sided, bad Obama Deal....and if countries are going to have nuclear weapons, we're going to be at the top of the pack." Nuclear experts fear such moves will make the nuclear problem "come back with a vengeance".

I'm not looking forward to this Groundhog Day. I'd sure settle for six more weeks of a cold, snowy winter...than six seconds of a nuclear winter.

The dangerous allure of bashing 'Medicare for All'

The usually reliable Trib pundit Steve Chapman completely mis-interpreted and mis-characterized the health care debate in his post 'The dangerous allure of 'Medicare for All'. What is particularly disturbing is Chapman's imagined belief Democrats are self destructing in coming out for universal heath coverage. He implies Obamacare (ACA), which provided health insurance to 17 million formerly uninsured, is a sensible system in sync with the American people, due to its being "an incremental, cautious program to provide insurance to more people, falling short of universal coverage." Wrong. 

The ACA fell long, covering just 27 million of the 44 previously uninsured precisely because it was incremental and cautious. More than that, it was a disastrous compromise Democrats were saddled with by a cruel Republican party determined to keep the private health insurance industry earning tens of billions yearly while tens of millions continue to go bankrupt, suffer degraded health and yes, die at private insurers' hands and their congressional enablers. Millions believed the heartless Republicans lies which greatly compromised the universal coverage Obama and the Democrats proposed in 2009. Now, instead of merely being satisfied with the baby steps taken to lift up the worst health care delivery system in the industrialized world, our populous is in tune with the Medicare For All Democratic presidential contenders. A recent Reuters survey had Medicare For All favored by 70% of respondents, with 85% of Democrats and a surprising 52% of Republicans on board. A Gallup poll revealed 71% of Americans rightly believe our health care system is "in a state of crisis".

I realize libertarian Chapman has an aversion to government supported universal health care. Had he been commenting about FDR's proposed Social Security Act in 1935 he likely would have titled his post, 'The dangerous allure of Social Security For All".

Perpetual war: the great uniter

A bi-partisan, pro war Senate faction passed an amendment to a broader foreign policy bill Thursday, demanding the US halt troop withdrawals in Syria and Afghanistan. The non-binding amendment expresses the "sense of the Senate that the United States faces continuing threats from terrorist groups operating in Syria and Afghanistan and that the precipitous withdrawal of United States forces from either country could put at risk hard-won gains and United States national security. Actually, the US is the biggest terrorist group in both countries, killing endless civilian men, women and children with our planes and drones. We are fighting illegally and immorally in both countries, squandering our diminishing treasure for the sake of US weapons makers, ambitious career military, and craven politicians who promote war first, last and always. Republican Senators are so pro war that 46 of 48 broke with President Trump to oppose his announced pullout. The only decent policy he's proposed in 2 years is the only one they have opposed.

Democrats voted 24 to 21 to easily pass the amendment. Whether they did that to smite Trump or simply maintain their pro war bonafides with the war party is irrelevant. Their pro war vote was a disgrace. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin missed the vote. Sadly, the otherwise progressive Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth voted for perpetual war in Syrian and Afghanistan.

It is a tragedy for America, and for the millions of innocents we kill, wound or tu

Van Houten, like Leopold, deserves parole

Van Houten, like Leopold, deserves parole

Kudos to the California Parole Board for recommending parole for Manson Family killer Leslie Van Houton who has spent the last 50 years locked up for the grisly murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca in 1969. At 19 Van Houton was the youngest of Manson's followers. Her crime and prison conduct bear a strong resemblance to another teen convicted of a grisly murder 95 years ago who earned parole after just 34 years of incarceration.

Nathan Leopold was also 19 then he joined his psychotic lover Richard Loeb to commit their infamous 1924 ''thrill killing' of Loeb's 12 year old cousin in Chicago's Kenwood neighborhood. The case is one of many termed the 'crime of the century' but probably deserves the honor for two reasons: it started the movement to end the death penalty, and, based on Leopold's amazing life during and after prison, argues eloquently against life imprisonment.

Graduate students at the University of Chicago in 1924, Leopold and Loeb, 18, fancied themselves Niettzschean supermen (Ubermenschen); men so gifted they were not bound by the normal laws of society. Their fascination with crime led them from petty theft to arson and finally murder, bashing in the head of young Loeb relative Bobby Franks. Satisfied they committed the 'perfect crime' it took only a week for their arrest. Within 4 months they were sentenced to life after pleading guilty.

Had they been poor and/or black, Leopold and Loeb would surely been executed. But they were rich and white; allowing them to hire the 'attorney for the damned', Clarence Darrow, who took their case to promote his opposition to the death penalty. His 12 hour summary convinced the judge in their sentencing hearing, resulting in seemingly certain life in prison. Their landmark case began the long, unfinished journey to abolish capital punishment; gone now in 18 states.

Loeb was killed by a fellow inmate in 1936. Leopold, a genius, added 12 languages to the 15 he'd already mastered. He made significant contributions to improving conditions at Statesville Penitentiary, including reorganizing the prison library, revamping the schooling system, teaching its students, and volunteering in the prison hospital. In 1944, Leopold served as guinea pig for a prison malaria study. He was deliberately inoculated with malaria pathogens and then subjected to multiple experimental malaria treatments.

Leopold's exemplary conduct won him parole in 1958 after serving 34 years. He relocated to Puerto Rico where he became an X-Ray technician in a church hospital. He went on to earn a master's degree and taught at the University of Puerto Rico, became a researcher in social services in Puerto Rico's health department, did research in leprosy, urban renewal and housing, and traveled extensively to research a book he published on Puerto Rico bird life. He married a widow in 1961 who was with him till his death at 66 in 1971.

Nathan Leopold's case argues not only for abolishing capitol punishment, but for modifying our sentencing guidelines to offer a path for similar offenders to demonstrate both their rehabilitation and their readiness to rejoin society at some point. Nobody lost when Nathan Leopold was paroled after 34 years. No potential murderer thought that 34 years imprisonment was a fair trade to kill someone. As much as Nathan Leopold gained from his freedom, society achieved even more.

Van Houton has also led an exemplary life behind bars these past 50 years; earning a masters's degree and heading up programs to council troubled inmates. California should stop wasting tax dollars further confining a woman seduced into murder as a teen by a psychopath. She is no threat to society. Her release further debunks the foolish concept of life without parole without consideration of rehabilitation.

The Board's recommendation goes to Governor Gavin Newsom in 150 days. He should act justly and mercifully, returning Van Houton to the society she forfeited half a century ago. Our better angels will be pleased.

Uncle Sam major destroyer of Venezuelan people

We should all be deeply ashamed how our government adds to the terrible suffering of the Venezuelan people. Much of their suffering is due to incompetent, corrupt political leaders. Some is due to sinking oil prices affecting 95% of their exports. But a major factor is crippling US sanctions designed to rid the US of a hated socialist regime targeted for change since the election Hugo Chavez 21 years ago. US propaganda hides our mendacity and the truth about Venezuelan governance from the American people. While the US plotted Chavez' demise, he was reducing extreme poverty there from 40% to 7% by providing improved health care, education and food assistance. But when oil prices sank after Chavez's death in 2013, the US used its worldwide economic clout to deny critically needed credit relief. Trump's new round of sanctions in 2017 pulled $6 billion from their economy the first year. UN Special Investigator Alfred De Zayas studied the crisis that year, determining US sanctions constituted "economic warfare", recommending the International Criminal Court investigate US sanctions as "crimes against humanity".

The US claims it will bring US style democracy to the starving people of Venezuela. The vast majority of Venezuelans want removal of cruel US sanctions, access to international credit, and end to criminal threats of military intervention. They want to eat and to live free from the fear Uncle Sam represents. Never has 'Yankee Go Home' been more appropriate.

Walt Zlotow
Glen Ellyn

The effects of alcohol and tobacco on the body

That was the title of the talk I gave my 7th grade class 61 years ago. Buried in my aging brain for decades, It surfaced reading the hilarious scare stories decrying the push to legalize recreational cannabis in Illinois. Back in '58 we newbie teens were tasked with a 15 talk on a serious subject. I picked booze and tobacco because of my confusion whereby most adults condemned them to us kids while imbibing themselves. Three years earlier my buddies and I tried ciggies we could easily purchase at any local store as long as we had the quarter per pack fare. Fun for just a couple of weeks, we gave up trying to find isolated areas to inhale out of those pesky grownups' prying eyes. Though booze was still several years off in '58, I decided that the twin vices would grab my classmates attention, and it sure did. I spent the entire talk armed with research from the encyclopedia and Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature, the internet of its day. After reciting the lengthy list of devastating effects on our one and only bod, a pert classmate raised her had and asked "Can you die from smoking"? I replied "Of course" though I really didn't believe that myself, as my eventual 7 year pack a day habit verified.

If I could offer a 2019 version of that long ago talk, I might title it "How cannabis can relieve dozens of medical conditions and is substantially safer that alcohol and tobacco as a recreational drug." Yet today, tens of millions in 17 states are not even allowed to legally access cannabis for painful and debilitating physical conditions. And in 40 states over a hundred million are forced to give their recreational cannabis money to the criminals profiting from its bizarre and harmful illegality. One effect of national cannabis legalization is that usage of the true health evils, alcohol and tobacco, will continue to decline. Let's work for the day Illinois becomes legal cannabis state number 11...and not bring up the caboose of a truly sane, national cannabis policy train.