Show Them the Money

diogenes2

The FIFA scandal is just one more affirmation that it’s a pay-to-play world. It’s regrettable, of course, but it seems that’s how most folks like it.

They don’t want justice; they want an edge.

The pundits can wring their hands and cry shame all they want but it seems the great majority of ordinary folks shrug their shoulders and figure that’s just the way it is and they should learn to work with it.

If Diogenes and his lantern were around today, he would still be searching for an honest man. The spirit may be willing but the flesh is weak, as the Good Book says.

Most people would like to think of themselves as honest – until they get into trouble. If they have a brother-in-law in the mayor’s office, they’ll tap him to fix their parking ticket.

Sometimes this pay-to-play attitude is quite harmless.  Nobody gets hurt when three American businessmen shell out $150,000 to play a pro-am round of golf with Rory McIlroy in the Irish Open.  Indeed the cash goes to a good cause – McIlroy’s foundation, which supports children’s charities around the world.

But when a politician takes a substantial “campaign contribution” in exchange for shredding environmental protection laws, the consequences can be dire.

Unfortunately, that’s the way the political system works in the United States today. The Supreme Court decided that American corporations and individuals should be free to contribute as much as they like to their favorite politicians. I’m sure the generous donors expect to influence the way those politicians vote. Aren’t you?

The opportunity to get their pet agendas implemented has not escaped billionaires such as Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers. They’re reaching into their deep pockets to buy themselves a (Republican) politician or two. Left-leaning moneybags like George Soros and Tom Stayer have stepped in to bolster the Democrats.

That leaves you and me (with our nickels and dimes) on the outside looking in. American politics has become a high-stakes game.

It’s not just America, of course. Indeed, America only earned an “honorable mention” in a recently released list of the world’s most corrupt countries.  In his book, “Billionaires: Reflections on the Upper Crust,” author Darrell West reports:

The top one percent own about one-third of the assets in America and 40 percent of assets around the world. This concentration of financial resources in many countries gives the ultra-rich extraordinary influence over elections, public policy, and governance.

The burning question now is this: Is there any way of changing things for the better? We could hope for a massive revolt by voters fed up with blatant misgovernment. But in the prevailing climate of cynicism, voters are staying home in droves, apparently convinced that their vote is irrelevant.

President Obama suggested making it mandatory to vote. But that kind of change isn’t likely when the plutocrats are calling the shots, is it?

Click for the FIFA scandal.

Click for more on West’s book.

Click for a closer look at Wall Street’s tactics.

Click for more on billionaires in politics.

Click for more on mandatory voting.

 

The Elusive Truth

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The truth is elusive. Facts are not. And while assigning blame for the horrors in the Middle East is tricky, finding the facts is simply a matter of research.

So it’s not difficult to set Jeb Bush straight about the origins of  the movement now known as ISIS.

The Republican candidate for US President stated recently that ISIS did not exist when his brother was President.

The fact is that the movement did indeed exist. You can look it up.

Whether ISIS would have become the powerhouse that it is today if President Obama had pursued a different course in the Mideast is a debatable topic.

Jeb and his ilk would like voters to think that the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq caused the ISIS blight. But it is probably more sensible to argue that the invasion of Iraq, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the dismantling of his army were the underlying causes of today’s nightmare.

The real question should be: What does America do now?

I don’t like the idea of being mixed up in the Mideast, but I don’t see how we can avoid it after all that has occurred.

Like it or not, America is heavily invested in the region.

Does the next President “bomb ISIS back into the Seventh Century”? That’s what some Republican candidates are suggesting. But is that even possible?

Military experts tell us ISIS cannot be bombed into submission. It would take “boots on the ground” – lots of boots.

Whose boots, though?

President Obama would like it to be Iraqi boots. But there really is no such political entity as an Iraqi.  There are only Shia and Sunni living in Iraq. And Kurds.

The Sunnis in Iraq have more in common with the Sunnis in Saudi Arabia than with their Shia neighbors. And the Shia Iraqis have more in common with the Shia in Iran than with the Sunni Iraqis.

This division complicates politics throughout the Mideast. Especially since ISIS is a Sunni organization – a rogue organization but Sunni nonetheless.

The obvious response to ISIS is to arm the Kurds. They are formidable fighters and have no sympathy for ISIS. And they have proved staunch Western allies through the years. Unfortunately, politics interferes once again. The Iraqi government is dead against it. And so is neighboring Turkey, a traditional US ally.

The prospect of a heavily armed Kurdish population makes both governments quake in their boots. They have dominated the Kurds who live in their countries for generations and fear a regional Kurdish uprising once ISIS is defeated.

I imagine President Obama doesn’t want to alienate the Iraqi and Turkish governments. He has armed the Kurds to some extent but seems reluctant to create a really effective Kurdish opposition to ISIS.

I can understand this position, but I wish the powers that be had listened to Joe Biden when he proposed letting the Kurds have their own state within Iraq and dividing the rest of the country between the Sunnis and the Shia.

Trying to create a blended Iraq has failed utterly. The various elements are like oil and water – they cannot be mixed.

In such a volatile and complex environment, I shudder to think of the consequences if ham-handed politicians like Jeb Bush – who can’t even get their facts right – were elected President. The Mideast situation is far too delicate for amateurs to try and sort out.

Click for the origin of ISIS.

Click for more on the Iraq blame game.

Click for more on arming the Kurds.

Click for more on Shia and Sunni.

 

Really Sick Reality TV

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I never heard of the Duggar family until one of the 19 kids confessed to fondling some of the others, setting off a torrent of apologia from pundits like Mike Huckabee. I vaguely recall seeing “19 Kids & Counting” in the titles as I browsed through the Direct TV channel guide. But I had no interest in the topic.

Kids are not one of my major interests at this stage of my life. And, to tell the truth, I would find one kid more than enough to deal with.

I can’t stomach “reality TV,” anyway. I have never even seen an episode of “Big Brother.” I have no interest in the Kardashians or Bruce Jenner’s gender transformation. “Naked and Afraid” does not titillate me, and the idea of  “Naked Dating” fails to get my hormones buzzing.

But now that the stuff has hit the fan, it is becoming apparent that “19 Kids & Counting” is some kind of right-wing propaganda show promoting “family values” and decrying such evils as birth control and  “gay” sex.

I won’t burden you at length with my notions about sex, but I wish someone would enlighten me on the nexus between reproductive impulses and religion. (How sex and sin came to be conflated beats me.) It also seems logical to me that since God created gays, there should be a place for them in our world, and if they love each other, they should be encouraged to live happily together, not be reviled and persecuted.

What seems really sick to me is “reality” shows like that “19 Kids” program.

The surge of peeping-Tom programs on TV makes me wonder whether viewers are suffering from sexual repression, or from some other inadequacy in their own lives. But I’ll leave that to Dr. Phil to figure out.

As for 14-year-olds fondling other children, that’s a very delicate issue to contemplate. I bet it’s a lot more prevalent than you and I know.

I would consider this a private matter, not a hot political topic – and certainly not a matter to be thrashed out on television and in the press.

I am sure the justice system has appropriate procedures, and I would hope they include psychiatric counseling for the predator and the victims.

Certainly, the bleatings of people like Huckabee are among the least helpful responses.

Click for Huckabee’s response to the Duggar scandal.

Click for more on the scandal.

 

Why Aren’t You Running?

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If you were born in the USA – and even if you were born abroad with American parents – you can run for President. And why not?

This is a free country. You’re free to make a fool of yourself.

And, as they say in Jamaica, one fool makes many. You might get others to vote for you.

Who knows? You might even win the primary. Even the general election.

Imagine that. You could be President.

You might even make a good President.

Better than Carly Fiorina, I’m sure.

Better than Donald Trump.

Better than Ben Carson.

Better than Scott Walker.

Better than Mike Huckabee.

Better than Jeb Bush.

Better than Bobby Jindal. And Ted Cruz. And Rand Paul. And Marco Rubio…

Better than any of those eager candidates who are clamoring for nomination as the Republican Party’s presidential candidate.

So many Republicans want to be the party’s flag bearer that participation in the primary debates is being limited to the top ten candidates in the polls. (CNN is having a special debate for candidates who don’t make the top ten.)

What makes these folks more electable than you?

As far as I can see, it’s money. They have access to deep pockets. Some billionaire somewhere has an agenda in mind and tapped one of these folks to do his bidding.

So how about you? Surely you can dig up a billionaire and offer your services to him?

It’s the American way.

(Click on the illustration to enlarge it.)

Click for more on the debates.

Click for more on the candidates.

 

The Terrors of Texas

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I’ve never lived in Texas but from what I’ve read and heard, it’s a weird place. Where else in the civilized world, in the year 2015, would there be a bloody shootout between rival biker gangs? In broad daylight? Right out in the open for all the world to witness?

I used to visit Houston when I worked for a company that was headquartered there, but my experience of the local culture was limited to an occasional attempt to learn the two-step. I was shut up in an air-conditioned office building with fluorescent lighting most of the time, tapping away at my keyboard or enduring endless corporate meetings.

I imagine that a big state like Texas has many different faces. But the one projected by the media is certainly bizarre. So bizarre that when I was offered a chance to work at a newspaper in Beaumont I recoiled in horror.

The incidents are too numerous to recount. From those rednecks dragging a poor black man to his death behind a pickup truck to that nightmare involving the Branch Davidian Christian sect, Texas has produced some of the most chilling news stories I’ve ever read.

It seems to me that Texas is not just a state but also a state of mind. Texans project an aura of in-your-face outrageousness, a willingness to embrace the unacceptable, to defy conventional behavior, to think the unthinkable and do the unacceptable.

It’s an intoxicating aura that has made the Wild West a global legend – and a lucrative entertainment commodity.

But in real life, it is sad and sordid.

What’s  most scary is that the violence and rebelliousness that so many Texans seem to admire is becoming more acceptable across the country – across the world.

CNN aired a program by Fareed Zakaria on Sunday explaining the rise of ISIS, and he observed that young men and women in the western world are more susceptible to enlistment by the barbarous organization because they have grown up playing video games and watching movies that glorify death and destruction.

I think he has a valid point. It is much easier to accept violence and outrageous behavior in real life if you have been immunized by make-believe horrors.

I have long wondered why children in America are shielded from sex but exposed to unlimited violence and wanton destruction in movies, video games and TV shows.

And I hope you won’t think I’m a conspiracy-theory nut if I wonder out loud whether some sinister force is choreographing this total-immersion culture of savagery and defiance.

Click for more on the biker brawl.

Click for the Branch Davidian story.

Click for the ISIS story.

 

Living in a Bubble

obama-fdr-new-new-dealI stand in the garden, propping myself up with the cane Sandra bought me, looking up at the China-blue sky screened by the lacy leaves of centuries-old oak trees, contemplating the statue of the Virgin Mary that my mother wrapped in a “crocus bag” and placed in the back seat of my car shortly before she died, and I thank God for His many mercies.

For I am privileged indeed to live in this bubble of serenity, buffered by fate from a world of pain and fear.

Of course, at 81 years old, I am no stranger to pain. For the past couple of weeks, I have been through more than my fair share of it. But when I think of the suffering inflicted on so many people around the world, I consider myself lucky.

Lucky to be alive. Lucky to  be walking – even with a cane. Lucky to have my wits – most of them anyway – about me.

Lucky to have no bombs raining down on my home, no soldiers breaking down my door.

And lucky to live in America while Barack Obama is in the White House, defending my interests every way he can.

In a world of turmoil, oppression and barbarism, this President will leave a legacy of compassion and common sense. He has not been able to do all that he would have liked to do. The forces of exploitation and greed have hobbled him. But he has done a lot in spite of the formidable opposition he faces.

Like spoiled children, too many Americans seem unaware of his accomplishments. The have-nots want more; the haves want none of his “liberal” policies.

It’s no wonder the rest of the world views America with bemused  astonishment.

As one of our  Canadian neighbors wrote in a letter to the editor just before the midterm elections that put Republicans firmly in control of Congress:

Many of us Canadians are confused by the U.S. midterm elections. Consider, right now in America, corporate profits are at record highs, the country’s adding 200,000 jobs per month, unemployment is below 6%, U.S. gross national product growth is the best of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. The dollar is at its strongest levels in years, the stock market is near record highs, gasoline prices are falling, there’s no inflation, interest rates are the lowest in 30 years, U.S. oil imports are declining, U.S. oil production is rapidly increasing, the deficit is rapidly declining, and the wealthy are still making astonishing amounts of money.

America is leading the world once again and respected internationally — in sharp contrast to the Bush years. Obama brought soldiers home from Iraq and killed Osama bin Laden.

You may not agree with all of President Obama’s policies but you have to admit he saved America’s auto industry, pulled the economy out of its worst tailspin in decades and provided an environment in which Wall Street is thriving. Unemployment is at record lows and health insurance is accessible to millions of Americans who were previously unable to obtain it.

You may consider President Obama’s policies a misguided adventure in “Nanny-state socialism.”  As for me, I am heartened by his continuing efforts to raise the minimum wage, curb gun violence, provide equal rights for women and minorities, and ensure humane treatment of undocumented immigrants.

I  have to admit that I am troubled by the drone strikes. But you may think he is too conciliatory with the forces that would do America harm. You may agree with those Republican presidential candidates who want Islamic extremists “bombed back to the seventh century.”

You and I may not always agree. (The results of the midterm elections make it clear that the majority of America’s voters don’t share my views.)

And, as an American, you are entitled to your opinion, and entitled to express that opinion verbally and in the voting booth.

But I beg you to bear in mind that we live in a bubble and bubbles are fragile. Our ballots should be labeled “Handle With Care.”

 

A Callous Congress

Amtrak

 

I wonder whether the voters who put rhose callous politicians in control of Congress feel shame and guilt in the aftermath of Tuesday’s horrendous Amtrak tragedy. I believe they should.

For, surely, those voters are indirectly guilty of causing the eight deaths (so far) and dozens of injuries resulting from the crash. As guilty as if they had mindlessly let that train speed off the tracks.

A vote is a precious privilege. It should be exercised responsibly. By electing politicians who disregard the dangers of an unsafe infrastructure, they have put unknown numbers of their fellow-citizens at risk.

In my view, it is futile to argue that they were not aware of the danger when they filled out their ballots. As responsible citizens they should know what the candidates on their ballots stand for.

Polls show that a majority of Americans favor funding the repair of America’s crumbling roads and bridges and the maintenance and construction of mass transit facilities – the kind of maintenance that would have prevented Tuesday’s grisly tragedy.

Yet a majority of America’s voters put a political party in power that opposes responsible funding of the nation’s infrastructure.

It is no secret that the Republicans who now control Congress  couldn’t care less about hungry children, the disabled, the aged – or any of their fellow-Americans who must suffer the consequences of their callous policies.  And, surely, it is no secret that these Republicans have repeatedly blocked the kind of funding that would have averted Tuesday’s horror.

Their objective is to slash the national budget and reduce taxes for the wealthy – regardless of the cost in human suffering.

As Senator Charles E. Schumer said in his rebuttal of Speaker John Boehner’s attempt to dodge the blame for the Amtrak crash:

Experts have made clear that Positive Train Control could have prevented the tragedy in Philadelphia.

(Positive Train Control is a system that monitors the speed of trains while they are in transit and can intervene automatically to brake the train if necessary. It was not operational where the crash occurred.)

Schumer added:

It is simply a fact that insufficient funding for Amtrak has delayed the installation of PTC, and to deny a connection between the accident and underfunding Amtrak is to deny reality.

Schumer is right, of course. It is “simply a fact” that every passenger railroad in America doesn’t have Positive Train Control because Congress will not approve the necessary funding. Here’s how the New York Times describes the political process:

In 2008, Congress ordered the installation of what are known as positive train control systems, which can detect an out-of-control, speeding train and automatically slow it down. But because lawmakers failed to provide the railroads access to the wireless frequencies required to make the system work, Amtrak was forced to negotiate for airwaves owned by private companies that are often used in mobile broadband…. But (officials said) the railroad struggled for four years to buy the rights to airwaves in the Northeast Corridor that would have allowed them to turn the system on.

It is also “simply a fact” that Denocrats were in control when Congress mandated the safety system. And it is “simply a fact” that a majority of America’s voters put Boehner’s party in control of Congress in subsequent elections – either not knowing or not caring about the likely consequences of doing so.

Click for more on the Amtrak crash.

Click for Amtrak’s explanation.

Click for Schumer on infrastructure funding.

 

Raising a Red Flag

michelle obama

 

First Lady Michelle Obama has set social media buzzing and drawn fire from the Glenn Beck faction for telling students at Tuskagee University about the racist insults she has endured during her time in the White House.

But she simply told the truth.

In her commencement address, the First Lady said that while Americans have made obvious progress in race relations, there’s more work to be done. She noted that she has had to deal with personal attacks during her time in the White House. One sketch showed her with a “huge afro and machine gun,”  she said. And she was described as “Obama’s Baby Mama” and one of his “cronies of color.”

She warned graduates that:

The road ahead is not going to be easy.  It never is, especially for folks like you and me.  Because while we’ve come so far, the truth is that those age-old problems are stubborn and they haven’t fully gone away … And all of that is going to be a heavy burden to carry.  It can feel isolating.  It can make you feel like your life somehow doesn’t matter … And as we’ve seen over the past few years, those feelings are real. They’re rooted in decades of structural challenges that have made too many folks feel frustrated and invisible.  And those feelings are playing out in communities like Baltimore and Ferguson and so many others across this country.

Was it “polite” to mention these things? Some people might not think so. They might think it more polite to avoid “making a scene.”

But when racism is as ugly as it is in America today,  it’s time to “make a scene.” When so many young, black men are getting killed because of racism, politeness is not an option.

Tribalism is as old as mankind. But civilized people rise above such primitive impulses and learn to accept each other as human beings despite differences in skin pigmentation and ethnic origin.

The recent surge in racist incidents is evidence that civilization is under siege in Western society. While information and technology have exploded, education in its real sense has dwindled. As the world gets smarter in math and science, it seems to get dumber in the humanities.

I’m sure you’ve noticed how vulgarity is being embraced in popular culture, from marketing and entertainment to politics and even religion.

Meanwhile, economic injustice has bred an angry populism, which in itself is long overdue, but which has become contaminated in some instances with a kind of barbarism.

And the election of America’s first black President has created a backlash among some uneducated white Americans – an ugliness that is tolerated and encouraged by political opportunists.

In such a society – in such a world – it’s entirely appropriate for the First Lady to raise a red flag.

Click for more on the speech.

Click for the right-wing response.

 

Scott’s Forked Tongue

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I didn’t vote for Rick Scott. I don’t see how anyone could. But the majority of Florida’s voters don’t see things my way. They re-elected the man as our governor.

Now, they’re getting what they deserve. Lousy government.

Even Republican allies are at odds with this sorry excuse for a governor. The Legislature, which has large GOP majorities in both houses, can’t pass a budget.

A major reason is a disagreement over Medicaid expansion, which Scott has both supported and opposed. The Senate, backed by hospitals and business groups, wants to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, but the House is blocking it.

Scott is among the loudest naysayers. He is even suing the Obama Administration to stop the Medicaid expansion program.

He was once an ardent supporter. Two years ago, he declared he could no longer “in good conscience” oppose the expansion, which would provide health care coverage to nearly a million Floridians.

Back then, he claimed, he was experiencing a change of heart because of his mother’s death. But, as he now admits, he was really just trying to sweet talk the Obama Administration into letting Florida privatize Medicaid. The ruse worked. Private companies now manage Medicaid benefits for more than three million Floridians.

Scott seems to have forgotten his mother’s death, and obviously couldn’t care less for the benefits Obamacare could provide for Floridians.

The state now pays 40 percent of Medicaid costs and the federal government pays the rest. With the proposed expansion, the federal government would foot the entire bill at first, and 90 percent later on.

And a billion-dollar federal grant that defrays hospital care for indigent patients in the state expires June 30 unless the Legislature can reach a deal with the feds on Medicaid.

Scott tried to persuade the folks in Washington to keep paying for indigent patients even without the deal on Medicaid. But you know what they say about “once bitten, twice shy.” The feds weren’t about to get taken again.

Legislators must pass a budget by June 30 to avoid a government shutdown. And if they don’t accept Medicaid expansion, how are they going to compensate for that missing billion dollars? Probably by leaving homeowners like me with higher municipal taxes or reduced services – or both.

I don’t think anyone believed Scott could be trusted. A health care company he operated had to pay a fine of more than $1.5 billion dollars for cheating Medicare. Remember?

But I bet the folks who voted for him didn’t think they were going to be caught in the political crossfire between this double-dealing sweet talker and the feds.

Click for the AP story.

 

Who Listens to Ted Cruz?

Ted-Cruz-books

As the list of presidential hopefuls grows longer and longer, the media must decide who is worth listening to among the myriad voices clamoring for attention.

I heard on Rachel Maddow’s show the other night that there are more than 300 candidates already, and I bet there will be more.

Obviously, it’s impossible for the media to give all of them a soap box.

Among the Republicans, the pundits have identified about 30 “credible” candidates. And on the first page of the leader board is Ted Cruz.

So the media must be convinced that Cruz has a constituency. And he did get elected to the US Senate. But I can’t think of many voters outside of Texas who would pick him as their President.

Cruz says and does the craziest things. I suppose he thinks he is pandering to the extreme Republican base. But why would folks who revel in racism and bigotry vote for a Canadian-born candidate whose father comes from Cuba?

It seems bizarre that a Hispanic who was born in Alberta would run on a racist, xenophobic platform.

I don’t think he can count on most Hispanics voting for him, either. The name Cruz may sound undeniably Spanish, but, generally, Cuban-Americans have little in common with other Hispanics in this country. They’re a separate political entity – and they have their own candidate, Senator Marco Rubio.

Anyway, I don’t think many of the Cuban-Americans I met in Miami would vote for a candidate whose father fought for Castro.

So why does Cruz get so much attention from the media?

I suppose crazy talk and absurd posturing attract readers and viewers. But it wears thin after a while.

I just change the channel now when Cruz shows up on my TV.

Click for more on 2016 candidates.