They use to refer to John Kerry as a flip flopper when he was running against George W. Bush for the presidency. Now both Bush and Ben Bernanke, in a matter of a week, change their stance on the state of the American economy. Only last Friday did the two come to terms with a reality the rest of the United States was living.

President Bush on Friday acknowledged more starkly than ever that the economy has slipped into trouble, dogged by falling home prices and turmoil in financial markets.

“Our economy obviously is going through a tough time,” the president told the Economic Club of New York in a morning speech at a Midtown Manhattan hotel.

Shortly after Mr. Bush spoke, Ben S. Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, issued fresh warnings about the gathering wave of home foreclosures while pledging new regulations to limit the impact and crack down on predatory mortgage lending.

“Foreclosure rates have increased substantially,” Mr. Bernanke said during a speech in Washington before a meeting of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.

“Behind these disturbing statistics are families facing personal and financial hardship and neighborhoods that may be destabilized by clusters of foreclosures,” Mr. Bernanke said. (NYT)

I’ve never expected anything from our president. As Maureen Dawd points out, “Boy George crashed the family station wagon into the globe and now the global economy. Yet the more terrified Americans get, the more bizarrely carefree he seems.”

But Bernanke is someone I respected. He doesn’t come from a family that made most money by owning oil companies, like the man who appointed him. And he is an intelligent individual that understands, and has always been fascinated with, economic depression and the Fed”s role during these times. He wrote “Essays on the Great Depression“.

One would think Bernanke would be more in tune with the struggles of middle and lower class American families. But we’ve yet to see him take any real action to slow down their affliction. Instead, he bails out rich douche bags breaking his own conservative rule about the Fed interfering too much in the financial markets.

The Federal Reserve seemed to toss out the rule book altogether when it assumed the role of white knight, temporarily bailing out Bear Stearn.

Mr. Bernanke has become Wall Street’s most important and most powerful friend. Many executives are praising him for his creativity and willingness to act boldly. (NYT)

Back in 1998, when the Long Term Capital Management hedge fund required a Fed-arranged bailout, Bear Stearns refused to join the rescue effort. Jimmy Cayne, then chief executive at the firm, told the Fed to take a hike. (NYT)

A U.S. commander said Tuesday he is “deeply ashamed” by the Marine killings of Afghan civilians in March and reported that the American military has made condolence payments to their families.

“Today we met with the families of those victims: 19 dead and 50 injured,” said Col. John Nicholson, commander of the 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, deployed in eastern Afghanistan. “We made official apologies on the part of the U.S. government” and payments of about $2,000 for each death. (AP via USA Today)

Old news, but I only came to learn of it during my commute back from work on NPR two days ago. Turns out the U.S. military makes condolences payments — officially called “solatia” payments (unofficially also “martyr” payments) — to the families of those accidentally killed during combat fire.

The Pentagon has set $2,500 as the highest individual sum that can be paid. Most death payments remain at that level, with a rough sliding scale of $1,000 for serious injury and $500 for property damage. Beginning in April of last year, payments of up to $10,000 were possible for “extraordinary cases” but only with a division commander’s authorization.

The report, titled The Department of Defense’s Use of Solatia and Condolence Payments in Iraq and Afghanistan (pdf),” offers a particularly coldblooded example of how payments are estimated, drawn from CERP‘s operating procedures: “Two members of the same family are killed in a car hit by U.S. forces. The family could receive a maximum of $7,500 in CERP condolence payments ($2,500 for each death and up to $2,500 for vehicle damage).”(WaPo, 06/18/07)

Some pics of these condolences payments being made from this article that makes it sound okay:

I’m frankly at loss for words. Can’t figure out what aspect to begin commenting on first. I don’t believe monetary apology to be valid after any wrongdoing. But let’s suppose that your life situation is desperate, and you make the trip to the official place to get ‘reimbursed,’ how far does $2,500 really go? Take any of the following scenario for instance, what do you suppose the money given to the victim’s family could most effectively be used for?

Approximately $8,000 was paid by the Pentagon to two children who lost their mother when the taxi in which she was traveling came under fire. The vehicle was said to have run a checkpoint. The children were alongside their mother when she died and were also injured. A measly “condolence” payment of $500 was paid to the family of a deaf man shot outside a museum in Samarra and a larger condolence payment of $2,500 was granted to the parents of a 4-year-old girl who died when a bullet fired from a Humvee struck her.

In what the U.S. military said “negligent fire,” an Iraqi ambulance driver was shot dead on his way to a bomb scene by a coalition soldier. The dead man’s family was paid $2,500. (AmericanFreePres)

Iraq Body Count, a Web site that reputedly maintains most accurate account of casualties of the war, reveals more instances where American military has put a supposedly justified price on lives or limbs lost. Please also read these two articles on the NYT, and listen to a report on NPR to learn more.

Lastly, I don’t mean to compare but, I would like to point out the amount given to the families of victims who lost their lives on the space shuttle Columbia in 2003: $26 million. This is far too sad for me to disrespectfully end the post with the usual clever comment. Because even these families likely are not satisfied, and would much rather have their loved ones returned, instead.

Lately I’ve watching quite a lot of this special series running on the BBC World Channel called “Happiness Formula.” Coincidentally, The show began around a time I was making a few major modifications in my own personal life, right after realizing what I value most — happiness and close ones.

First I started with getting in touch with all those that have had an impact in my life, throughout my lifetime. I spontaneously e-mailed and phoned a lot of folks from middle school and high school, old family friends, old professors, and family members from the motherland. Almost all of them responded with the same enthusiasm I reached out to them with. We agreed it was unfortunate that we’ve lost touch — which was mostly due to laziness and life getting in the way — but to have spoken to each other again was a genuine delight.

Secondly, I quit my job. And replaced it for a one that pays less, makes me work harder for longer hours, and is a further commute. But all of my new colleagues are so incredibly cooperative and fun to be around, that to be in their presence, it’s truly a pleasure.

Mind you, I don’t have any negative feeling towards my previous coworkers. Rather, some of them have become, what I believe, long term friends. I’m really referring to the complete work environment that existed there. Sure, it paid more. And I was recognized by thousands. But to not have a peace of mind was proving to be detrimental to my well being.

Going back to the BBC special mentioned above. I learned that Bhutan measures its progress based on the country’s gross national happiness, contrary to the traditional measurement — gross domestic product.

While conventional development models stress economic growth as the ultimate objective, the concept of GNH claims to be based on the premise that true development of human society takes place when material and spiritual development occur side by side to complement and reinforce each other. (Wiki)

And the BBC series also mentioned that

Britain is less happy than in the 1950s – despite the fact that we are three times richer. (BBC)

Strange, isn’t it? But it makes sense though. I just wished I realized this perspective a few years earlier. I would’ve not had any gray hair at such a young age.

Regardless, I’m glad I know now to make decisions weighing in what I treasure most: sanity, happiness and the company of good people.

On Oct. 8 of last year, four men lured 29-year-old Michael J. Sandy, an interior designer from Williamsburg, N.Y., to meet with them at the parking lot of Plum Beach with the intentions of robbing him. Their strategy was simple: the foursome believed since Sandy was gay, he wouldn’t resist to robbery. Nor would he likely report the crime. On the day of the meeting, things did not go according to plan. Rather, they turned for the worst.

When he arrived he was set upon by the others. Sandy bolted for the nearby Belt Parkway with his attackers in close pursuit.

They caught up with him in one lane of the highway and as Sandy broke free he was struck by a car, sustaining massive head injuries.

The 28 year old died a week later after his family instructed doctors to take him off a life-support machine. (link)

District Attorney Charles Hynes claimed this was a hate crime. He said, “He was murdered because he was gay.”

In a twist, one of the perpetrators, 21-year-old Anthony Fortunato, claimed that he himself was not straight. He said, “I could be homosexual or bisexual. … I was leading two complete double lives.” Fortunato even had three men testify to his newly claimed sexual orientation.

All three said they met Fortunato through internet chat rooms. Two of them said that when Fortunato arrived at their homes he was wearing a bra and women’s panties.

“To my shock he was wearing ladies’ undergarments, he had a bra, if I remember correctly, and a G-string,” one of the men, Henry Rudolph testified.

Fortunato has been convicted of manslaughter in the second degree as a hate crime as well as petty larceny. The three others were similarly convicted.

If you’ve had a whiff of the journalism industry within the past few years, you’ll realize it’s a little influenced, to say the least. Used to be that if something was sponsored in a newspaper, it would’ve blatantly had the word “Advertisement” on top. Now you have to decipher if something is worth your time or not, by flipping through pages to make certain if the product mentioned in the article is advertised or not. I’ll tell you from experience: likely, it is.

This interesting clip is part of a worthwhile documentary called, “The Corporation.”

There are some old school (and some naive young) journalists that detest this practice, and are quickly shut down if they speak against it. Reasons being very simple: bills to pay.

The thing is, newspaper industry is a business too. And with the internet being the source for all things instant, including news, its understandable the reasons for not jeopardizing advertising dollars during a time when you are loosing all your target audience to the web. Consequently the newspaper (and t.v. news) industry is slowly loosing its integrity, some might say.

Read the rest of this entry »