John Wayne is the Duke. Elvis is the King.

John Wayne's Holster: June 2008
John Wayne's Holster
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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Still Think the Iraq War Is Not About Oil?


Photo Credit: INFORSE
The Middle East, with two-thirds of the world's oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies," .” ~ Dick Cheney, 1999, CEO, Halliburton.

GW Bush is an oil man. That’s his thing, although he has not been very good at it. GW is also a politician. That’s his other thing, and he hasn’t been very good at that either. Not to be deterred, Bush resorted to the so-called “double-negative” principle (i.e. two negatives resolve to a positive), combining his chosen paths in the hope of achieving something.

Fast forward to 2001. Bush got himself elected President (sorry Al, although it may seem like an inconvenient truth, GW won the election fair & square). Oil money played a big part in his campaign. For example, Exxon Mobil donated $1.2 billion, and BP Aamco donated $0.8 million. Shell Oil has also spent a few dollars on Bush over the years. As such, Bush owes them a big debt of gratitude (debt being the key word). But how to pay them back? Hmmm?

Fast forward again. This time to 2003. Shock and Awe is underway. The US has invaded Iraq.

Ostensibly, the war in Iraq was/is about a lot of things, such as: removing Saddam Hussein from power, stabilizing the region, finding WMDs, safeguarding the world from terrorism, fighting them over there instead of over here, liberating a repressed people, bringing democracy to the region, etc, etc. At some level, a few of these things are true – but not really. None seem sufficient to justify a war of the present scale.

One thing the war was not about, so we were told, was OIL!

'It has nothing to do with oil -- literally nothing.' ~ Donald Rumsfeld, Nov. 14, 2002.

In reality, no one in their right mind believed that. Of course the war was about oil (and money). Obviously, the administration could not come right out and say it. It had to maintain the façade that the war had some more noble, albeit quixotic, goal.

Now the truth comes out. Iraq's Oil Ministry has just announced that no-bid contracts are about to be offered to four Western oil companies (Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP) to service Iraq's largest fields. Well I'll be...Isn't that a coincidence. Those companies were also BIG donors to the Bush campaign.

Spokesmen for the oil industry maintain that the forthcoming efforts were designed to “help rebuild Iraq’s oil industry. An Iraqi oil ministry spokesmen added, “the no-bid contracts were a stop-gap measure to bring modern skills into the fields.”

The rationale for awarding the contracts is “ to increase oil production by half a million barrels per day”. The revenue (some of it anyway) will be used for reconstruction.

Wow. Sounds really selfless. This must be that compassionate conservatism thing we have been told to expect. The oil companies are really going to go to Iraq to help the nice people get their lives back together. Will someone please pass me a Kleenex?

How stupid do the administration and the oil people think we are? Well, I suppose the answer is quite obvious. Doesn’t anyone read their history books anymore (1, 2)? If anyone thinks the oil companies are going to go in, set things up, and then go back home, they must have just fallen off a turnip truck.

Since the discovery of oil in the Middle East (1920s), western oil companies have maintained their imperialistic presence in the region. And they made lots of money doing it. It didn’t take the Middle East long to realize they were being exploited, and shortly after WWII, they began to nationalize their oil industries, much to the dismay (and lost revenue) of the west. The west made a number of attempts to regain their access to the region’s oil. Coups were orchestrated, leaders went missing or were assassinated, and western-supported puppet regimes were established.

Then, in the 1970s, it all blew up. OPEC began price gouging, raising the price of oil 700%, to an outrageous $22 per barrel, and thereby spawning the energy crisis. Not wanting to miss the party, Saddam cashed in and nationalized Iraq’s oil industry. Saddam also had designs on gaining a foothold on the majority of the regions oil. With this aim in mind, he sought to re-annex Kuwait in the early 90’s. The west had enough…

Entrance, stage right: George W. Bush.

In a nutshell, all of our dealings with Iraq, from Desert Storm, through Shock & Awe, to today, have only really been about one thing - re-establishing western hegemony over the region’s oil.

It appears the things are proceeding according to schedule.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Patriotism: The Last Refuge of Scoundrels


Photo Credit: Prairie Pictures

Woo-hoo! It’s the 4th of July! Well, almost.

As the nation prepares to celebrate its 232nd year of Independence, we must stop and remind ourselves of the great price our forefathers paid to secure the freedom we enjoy today. In most of the towns and cities across the nation, there will be flags hung out on the front porch, picnics in the back yard, parades down Main Street, and concerts & speeches in the town square. Most of the revelry will focus on our history. The founding fathers will be resurrected, and the talk will focus on patriotism.

That got me to thinking (always a dangerous thing). What exactly is patriotism? And what role does it play in our present lives?

According to Merriam-Webster, patriotism is defined as a “love for or devotion to one's country.” Sounds like something we should all aspire to.

I should think most Americans would like to claim to have at least some level of patriotism - however shallow that may be. Singing the National Anthem at the ball park is swell and everything, but I don’t think that doing so necessarily makes one patriotic. Nor is blindly supporting the actions of our government.

It seems to me that patriotism requires more than that. If one truly loves one’s country, he/she will demand that his/her country champion a higher standard, and hold it accountable when it violoates that standard. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn summed it up best, stating, “Patriotism means unqualified and unwavering love for the nation, which implies not uncritical eagerness to serve, not support for unjust claims, but frank assessment of its vices and sins, and penitence for them.

If only such men were alive today.

Instead, we have a Congress composed of careerist politicians who act as agents for corporate interests, be they national or global. Acting as such, the Congress has betrayed those who voted for them – those people whom they maintain they represent. The Executive Branch of our country is no different. Here again, corporate interests reign supreme. The Oval Office has been reduced to a lobby for moneyed interests.

This betrayal of America is evidenced by the sell-out of American workers through so-called “fair trade” treaties like NAFTA, GATT, and CAFTA, tax-payer funded bail-outs of both the automotive and airline industries, the bilking of investors by the cancellation of K-Mart stocks, the tax breaks giving to large corporations, the deregulation of the banking system, the surrender of our monetary system to a private interest - the Federal Reserve System, tax payer-funded government subsidies to private corporate interests. The list goes on…

And now we have this on-going war in Iraq. Certainly, one could make some argument that military action in the region was in the best interest of our National Security. Saddam was a destabilizing force in the region, and he conspired to assassinate former President Bush. Taking him out seemed prudent. And I supported the action. Well, now Saddam is gone. The lice-ridden would-be-king was dragged from his spider hole and hoisted up to the rafters like a piñata. Mission was apparently accomplished. Yet, we are still there. And still nation-building.

Maybe national security was not the real issue after all. Perhaps securing access to oil was the issue. As was creating a more stable political environment for corporate ventures. All this was and is being funded by the taxpayer, and paid for with the blood of our soldiers and the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians. Meanwhile, the oil industry and corporate interests rake in the profits.

Going to war is no small feat. It requires a lot of support from the citizenry to get the Congress to authorize such action. So just how did the current administration garner the public support that made going to war possible?

For starters, they orchestrated a brilliant campaign that turned the notion of true patriotism on its head. The flag was dragged out, displayed prominently, and waved freely. Falconers released their trained eagles to soar over public gatherings while the band struck-up its repertoire of Sousa marches. Emotional speeches memorializing past heroes, warnings of imminent dangers, and pleas for immediate action were made against this star-spangled back-drop. It was a performance that would have made Himler envious. Anyone questioning the motives or objectives of the government was cast as unrealistic or cowardly – even a traitor. In a nutshell, the expression of true patriotism was made to seem, well - unpatriotic.

Nazi Luftwaffe Commander, Hermann Goering summed the strategy up best, stating, “Naturally the common people don’t want war…But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along... All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.

So that's patriotism for you. Blind allegiance to one's country. Unquestioning support to official policy. Right or wrong, the best nation on earth.

Well, I love this country too much to follow the lemmings over the cliff. I consider myself as American as John Wayne and apple pie. But please, please, please, do not call me a patriot!

Father of the Year


I'm Not A Real Father, But I Play One on TV

I was surfin’ the web this afternoon trying to catch up on the news. I stumbled upon a headline in the New York Daily News which quoted country music has-been Billy Ray Cyrus saying that he was “surprised” by the photo of his daughter, Miley Cyrus' (aka Hannah Montana), that recently appeared in Vanity Fair.

The provocative photo portrays the 15 year old Cyrus apparently topless and wrapped in a silk bed sheet.

Although one has come to expect images such as these depicting celebrities in suggestive poses that reveal their soft-core charms, one must not forget that Cyrus is a child. What makes it worse is that her father and her manager were on the set the day of the shoot. Proud papa Billy Ray even appears with his daughter in some of the photos.

When asked about the controversial photos during a Today Show interview, her father stated, “I wasn’t there at the time”. Referring to the subsequent publication of the sleezy photo, he added, "I was surprised when I saw it ... but, hey, that's life. Stuff happens."

He sounds real concerned, doesn’t he….

There are two questions that immediately come to mind.

First, what exactly were you surprised about Billy Ray? Annie Leibovitz was shooting the photos for crying out loud. She is well known for taking controversial photos of scantily clad celebs. She took the now famous “last photo” of John Lennon (Rolling Stone, Jan, 1981) appearing naked and clinging on to Yoko Ono, the infamous photo of a naked and pregnant Demi Moore (Vanity Fair, Aug, 1991), and more recently photos of Angelina Jolie naked in the bath tub, along with nude shots of Scarlett Johansen and Kiera Knightly (all in Vanity Fair, Feb, 2006). And in case you didn’t know, that’s the same Vanity Fair in which your daughter’s photos were to appear.

Suprise!

Second, why weren’t you on the set for the entire photo shoot? Annie Liebovitz was shooting the photos for crying out loud (see above). You were apparently there long enough to have your own photo taken in the embrace of your daughter. I guess once you got your own free promo, you didn’t have time to hang around.

Look dude, you had your shot at fame with “Achy Breaky". Your 15 minutes was up along time ago. Now you are pimping your daughter to promote yourself on your second lap around the track. You don’t seem to be the least bit worried that your 15 year old little girl is being marketed as a lap dance.

What kind of message are your trying to send her? Whatever it is, it seems like she is receiving it loud and clear! In case you didn't know, there are already revealing photos of Miley in her underwear floatin’ around the web. I also found this one. And this one. She apparently took some of them herself. And while were on the subject, you might as well know about these pics too. Here’s one of her playing tonsil hockey with a gal pal. And here’s another charming one taken after a few beers.

Sadly, Miley seems to be well on her way to becoming the next Paris Hilton, or Britney Spears. How long will it be until we get a glimpse of “Sasquatch” when she is getting out of a limo? When can we expect the first trip to the trendy and fashionable rehab? But like you said, “…hey, that's life. Stuff happens.

So... I guess that’s okay with you, as long as it helps sell your CDs. And it looks like its working too. I just checked Amazon and I see your Greatest Hits (er, Hit) - CD has shot up the sales charts and is now ranked at a towering #139,147.

Way to go dad!!!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Celebrating 40 Years of Hypocrisy


Photo Credit: Bennetton Talk

This year (2008), the Catholic Church is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the publication of Humanae vitae - a papal encyclical released by Pope Paul VI which outlined the “Church’s teaching on birth control and the sanctity of human life as properly contained within the marital relationship”.

Essentially, HV reaffirmed the Church’s position that the use of all forms of artificial birth control, such as condoms, are immoral. They justify their position on the grounds that such acts are contraceptive. According to HV, contraception is defined as, “any action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act [sexual intercourse], or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” (HV 14). In other words, every conjugal act must be open to the possibility of creating life.

Since the time of its publication, HV has often been the center of a great deal of controversy and criticism, from both Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Many feel that the Church has no right to intrude on activities that take place between two married persons in the privacy of their own bedroom. Others feel that it is precisely these kinds of issues where the guidance of the Church is sorely needed. In recent years, secular opposition has increased in light of the spread of HIV, as well as other STDs.

I will leave the argument about condoms and the spread of AIDS for another time. That is a completely different issue that is focused on disease prevention, and more often than not occurs in a context outside the marital relationship. Arguments about contraceptives and extra-marital affairs will also not be addressed here – at least not directly. Similarly, post-conceptual means of birth control, for which there can be no moral justification, will not be discussed.

The issue that I would like to address is that of the use of artificial contraceptives within the confines of marriage. Essentially, the Church teaches that, “…each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.” (HV 11). Having said that, the Church recognizes that there is more to sex than just having kids. Accordingly, the so-called “marriage act” has a two-fold significance, the unitive significance and the procreative significance. As such, “…the fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life.” (HV 12).

Okay, fair enough. The Church has clearly stated its position, and backed it up with sound principles based on natural law. Or have they?

Certainly, I think one could argue that any sexual act, even within the context of marriage, that treats the sex partner as a mere object, or a vehicle by which one obtains self-pleasure, is immoral. Similarly, a relationship that treats a spouse as an incubator for growing children should also be viewed as such. But what about a loving relationship wherein a couple wants to limit the number of children they conceive, either for economic or health reasons. Or perhaps to devote the proper amount of time to the children they already have. Is it really responsible parenthood to continue to churn out child after child after child? Or is a couple wishing to limit their family size supposed to avoid all manners of sexual relations in order to remain moral?

In order to address this problem, the Church has created “something” that, in my opinion, is a loop-hole. They have cloaked this escape chute with shallow academic sophistry. As such, they have severely contradicted themselves and exposed the inherent errors in HV’s core teaching. That “something” is Natural Family Planning, or NFP.

NFP essentially states that, “…married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile, thus controlling birth.” (HV 16). This clearly is a contradiction of HV 12, which expounds on the so-called inseparable nature of the unitive and procreative aspects of the marriage act. Moreover, by limiting sexual intercourse to naturally infertile times, one is clearly intending to avoid conception. In other words, such acts, by their very nature, are contraceptive. There are no two ways about it!

Self-righteously, the Church responds to such criticism of NFP by maintaining that it is natural, and therefore good. Because no artificial barriers are used, it is said that those practicing NFP still remain open to the possibility of conception. However, it should be pointed out that Church proponents of the NFP have long promoted its use over other artificial means by pointing out its superior effectiveness of 98-99%. Condoms and other artificial means, as have been shown by multiple studies, are less effective than NFP. Under these terms, it can be logically argued that sex with condoms or diaphragms remains more open to the possibility of conception than sex as prescribed by NFP guidelines.

Those not wishing to engage in the “nature” argument have claimed that the Church’s teachings on NFP are misunderstood. They point out that NFP is not intended for routine use by couples, but rather should only be used for “just reasons”, whatever that means.

I think it should be readily apparent to any unbiased reader that these responses from the Church are nothing more than syllogistic slights-of-hand. The Church can dress the issue up any way they like, but the intentions of both the artificial and "natural" actions are the same. The means don’t justify the end. The whole story is reminiscent of the way the Church repackaged divorce, and resold it as annulment.

That being said, I think something about the nature of the argument gets lost when statistics and numbers start get tossed around. The focus of the original argument is birth control, and whether its use is to be considered licit or illicit. If the Church wishes to remain consistent, then the answer is quite clear.

When you boil it all down, the goal of NFP, like that of condom use, is to avoid pregnancy. As such, if the use of condoms and such devices is illicit, then the practice of NFP must also be deemed illicit. If on the other hand, the Church recognizes that couples may have legitimate reasons for limiting the number of children they wish to conceive, then they must make allowance for contraceptive methods that are practiced within the confines of a loving relationship and that do not harm existing life.