Creatures Great and Small

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As Christmas approaches, we remind ourselves of our duty to love one another, and to preserve and nurture the world we live in.

An essential element of that world is wildlife. As Pope Francis said recently, animals are God’s creatures, too.

Yet, as a new – and harsh – political era dawns in America, we must face the sad reality that the country’s wildlife is in grave danger.

I received an email from the Center for Biological Diversity this morning spelling out the threat to wild creatures posed by America’s new Republican Congress. Here’s an excerpt from the message:

The new Congress is already licking its chops to cripple the Endangered Species Act, take wolf-killing nationwide and deny protections to animals and plants teetering on the edge of extinction.

They want to reverse the victories we’ve won under the Act to protect wildlife and wild places from the clutches of industry. We stood in their way, so they bought themselves a Congress. Destroying the Endangered Species Act is what Big Oil, Big Ag, mining and heavy polluters demand as payback for their flood of cash that got these right-wing bullies elected.

Even before they officially hold the reins of power, the right-wingers have launched a crusade against Mother Nature. As the email noted:

The spending bill passed this week was full of attacks on the wild. For the second time ever, Congress interfered to keep a species from being protected — before it was wolves, now it’s the sage grouse. It’s not just about wolves or sage grouse, though — it’s an ugly attempt to go after the Act and all wildlife in peril. They want politicians, not scientists, to decide whether species are in danger.

As you might expect, greed reigns supreme in a Republican Congress. These people are driven by the  lust to ravage the earth’s bounty, to consume and destroy, to plunder and loot, without a thought for succeeding generations, without a sigh for the beauty and tranquility they sacrifice.

In such a political environment, organizations like the Center for Biological Diversity are our last line of defense.The center’s lawyers fight legislative attacks on the Endangered Species Act in court. And the group’s scientists provide factual ammunition for these battles.

Thankfully, the center is not alone. There are several organizations devoted to defending Mother Nature. The National Wildlife Federation, for example, reports victories in their fight to save America’s bison, bears, meadowlark, mountain lions, “and so much more.”

Needy children, impoverished veterans, the homeless and all of the human creatures abandoned by a callous society may understandably take precedence at this time of giving. But animals deserve a place in our hearts, too.

Supporting wildlife and wilderness preservation groups is one thing “we the people” can do to protect what’s left of our birthright from soulless looters.

Click for more on the Act.

 

Doing the Right Thing

It seems that President Obama finally woke up. His dream of “one America” – the fictional country he described in that famous speech of his – is just a memory as he strides into the final two years of his presidency, alone and unafraid.

The mild mannered professor stepped into a phone booth and emerged as a superhero.

Let the bad guys beware.

His decision to end the cruel and unfair Cuban embargo has enraged the American supremacists who have mistreated Latin America for so long, supporting bloodthirsty dictators and exploiting the resources of neighboring sountries as if they had some kind of sovereign claim to them.

Let the Jeb Bushes and the Ted Cruzes – and even some Democrats like Robert Menendez – rage and fume. The new Obama isn’t about to mind them.

They speak for the Cold War generation. The President speaks for the majority of today’s Americans. And he is fortified by the knowledge that he is doing what’s morally right.

While the old Obama settled for compromises like Obamacare, the new Obama is shooting for the stars. And he is doing it his way.

The executive order to shield millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation is another example of the President’s new approach. Of course, it is galling to those Americans who would rather have a permanent underclass, cowering in the shadows, to exploit. But, while the old Obama might have heeded their protestations, the new Obama has ignored them.

For the past four years, the President has tried to reason with such people, tried to effect change through negotiation and persuasion. But he learned the hard way that you can’t reason with bullies, especially when their lack of intelligence renders them immune to logic.

In Bloomberg Politics today, Lisa Lerer puts it this way:

Liberated from campaign politics, Obama is seeking to cement his legacy as the transformational leader he promised to be eight years ago—and in the process he’s angering  lots of people in Washington. Where he once looked to Lyndon B. Johnson, a president known for achieving sweeping change through legislation, he’s now far more interested in the legacy of the Roosevelts, two administrations that pioneered the strong use of executive power, those who’ve spoken with him said.

America’s first black president isn’t running for reelection. The Constitution decrees that he ride off into the sunset in 2016. So he is free to do the right thing, and if other people don’t like it, they can lump it.

This new approach seems to be working for him.

As Ms. Lerer observes:

The decision to go his own way has allowed Obama to regain control of a second term hobbled by domestic mismanagement like the bungled roll-out of the healthcare website and foreign crises such as the rise of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

Of course, the President’s power is limited by the Constitution. But he seems prepared to use what power he has in the pursuit of a better America, a better world. History will applaud him for it.

Click for the Bloomberg article.

Click for more on reaction to the President.

 

Bienvenidos, amigos cubanos!

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I recall hearing, when I was about six or seven years old, that my mother’s father, Mass Con, had lived in Cuba. I think he was managing a sugar cane plantation. The thing that struck me most about the story was that he had told my mother the children in Cuba went stark naked when they were very young, but wore boots because of the snakes.

We didn’t have any poisonous snakes in Jamaica. The “sly mongoose” had wiped them out (before turning on the bird population – and on Bedward’s chickens).  So I was quite envious of the Cuban children who had such exotic lives.

When our family visited my mother’s Aunt Lucy in Kingston, I would sometimes see groups of Cuban sailors walking down Belmont Road to the docks. And my mother used to take me to Cuba Elegante to get my hair cut.

Later,  in my teens, I would sit on the verandah at Paradise Estate and try to make out the Cuban coastline on the horizon.

What’s more, I have listened to more Cuban music than I wanted to hear. The Cuban radio stations overwhelmed the Jamaican airwaves, and when I lived in Haiti, they were even more dominant.

Many, many years later, after I had come to live in the United States, my grown daughter, Grace, married a really nice young man, Frank, who had been airlifted out of Castro’s Cuba as a tot. They have two of the finest sons in the universe, Jonathan and Adam.

So I feel as if I have a special relationship with Cuba. It’s a wonder CNN hasn’t called on me to provide expertise on the latest breaking news from the island.

And I know you can’t wait to hear my expert views.

At the risk of antagonizing Frank’s brother, Manuel (and Senator Marco Rubio), I applaud President Obama’s decision to end America’s economic embargo of Cuba.

No, I am not a Communist.

But I have long wondered why America punishes the Cuban people, who have always seemed so friendly to America, because they’re ruled (whether they like it or not) by a Communist megalomaniac.

It seems quite unfair to me. I suspect successive American regimes perpetuated the Cuban embargo because they were reluctant to infuriate the thousands of refugees who had left their lives and belongings behind to escape Castro’s bloodbath.

But a lot of water has flowed under that bridge. Fidel is an old, old man. Cuba is still Communist but not as aggressively as it used to be. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cuba adopts more of a free-market approach once it reopens its doors to American trade.

The end of the Cuban embargo will be good for America, too. I just read an article in Salon.com spelling out the economic opportunities for American business, especially in Gulf Coast communities like New Orleans.

So, let the anti-Castro faction rage if they must. Let the Miami streets ring with their wrath. It’s time to welcome the Cuban people back into the brotherhood of the Americas.

Click for the Salon article.

Click for more on the end of the embargo.

 

Is This Really America?

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When I read that 51 percent of Americans approve of the CIA torturing prisoners, I wonder what country I really live in. Of course, it could be the poll that skewed the results. The answers people give depend on the way the questions are asked, after all. But there’s the troubling possibility that the poll is accurate.

I am led to believe there may be truth in the finding when I see that 80 percent of Republicans gave torture their approval while most Democrats disapproved. It’s no wonder they call us bleeding hearts!

(Don’t you find it strange that the great majority of Republicans call themselves Christians?)

What’s with these people? Are they (some of them, anyway) secret sadists?

And if so, how do we “normal” people deal with fellow-citizens who harbor such perverted tendencies? How do we relate to neighbors who might be getting off on “50 Shades of Gray” and consummating their relationships with dog collars and whips?

And voting Republican to boot.

My religion tells me I should love them anyway.

But, Lord, you know it ain’t easy.

I don’t enjoy pain, and I don’t enjoy inflicting pain on anyone else. I think torture is monstrous. And torturing someone – even to prevent an act of terror — is morally wrong. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

It’s as simple as that, Dick Cheney.

I am no saint. And when I read that barbarians have slaughtered more than a hundred children in a Pakistani school, I am as filled with rage as anyone. My instinct is to call for blood. An eye for an eye! A tooth for a tooth! Lay waste the offenders’ landscape, leave not one stone on another, not one barbarian alive. And, yes, make them suffer as they have made others suffer…

But when I search my heart, I find a different answer.

In my heart of hearts, I know love – not torture – is the answer. I believe Americans would be less at risk if the government spent their money on foreign aid instead of bombs and bullets, drones and spooks. Killing others, the good along with the bad, can only breed more hatred, more terror. Imagine how surprised those conspirators in Yemen and Pakistan would be if Uncle Sam took the money he spends on arms and bought food for their children.

Imagine, for example, how much good could have been done with the $81 million the CIA gave those two creeps who thought up the torture program. That kind of dough buys a lot of humus.

Dream on, you might well tell me.

But aren’t dreams the path to a better world? Isn’t it dreaming that sustains us when dark clouds gather overhead? Without dreams, where would we be? Back in the cave.

As a Christian, I am admonished to do good to those who hate me. I am instructed to love my enemies, bless those who curse me and pray for those who persecute me.

And I promise to try and love my neighbor as much as I love myself.

Even if they approve of torture.

Even if they wear boots and carry whips in the privacy of their bedrooms. Even if they vote Republican.

But, Lord, give me the strength.

Click to read about the poll.

 

Wall Street’s Boy

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Back in the 1700s, America was unfortunate enough to have Benedict Arnold. Now, the country has Kevin Yoder.

Benedict Arnold’s plot to surrender the fortress at West Point was thwarted. Kevin Yoder’s plot to give Wall Street the keys to America’s treasury was not.

The way I see it, this poor excuse for an American congressman betrayed the people he is supposed to represent.

According to the Huffington Post, it was Yoder who sneaked a toxic rider into that $1.1 trillion spending bill that Congress rammed through last week to avoid a government shutdown.

The rider was written – word for word – by Citigroup. As I’m sure you know,  Citigroup is one of hose too-big-to-fail banks that hold America hostage. They suborn the country’s interests to their insatiable greed.

These “big banks” use the American people’s pension funds and savings to gamble on risky stocks, and when they lose, they get bailed out by the government.

After the practice caused global economic collapse in 2008 – and plunged America into its worst recession since the Great Depression – Congress passed a law that included regulations forcing the banks to set up separate agencies for their gambling binges. They were obliged to risk their own money – not the public’s.

It’s this legislation that Yoder’s rider repeals.

Senator Elizabeth Warren and other progressives in Congress fought fiercely against repealing the regulations. But the leadership of both parties, including President Obama, bowed to Wall Street’s power (the financial industry donates hundreds of millions of dollars to political campaigns). And Yoder’s infamous rider survived.

Not surprisingly, I read in the Huffington Post article that Yoder’s most generous campaign contributors are in the financial industry.

The article quotes several critical comments from Yoder’s Kansas constituents, and his craven act could possibly spell the end of his political career. But as one of the comments on the article points out, he is assured of a lucrative job if he is voted out of office.

This swinging door between Washington DC and corporate America is one of the most glaring defects in the nation’s political system. It undermines any hope that “we the people” could expect honest representation from those we elect.

Click for the Huffington Post article.

 

News I Didn’t See on TV

I didn’t see it on TV or read about it in the news, but it might be the most historic event that occurred in America recently.

No, I don’t mean the march on Washington and the nationwide protests over police atrocities and racial profiling. I don’t mean the horrific revelations of CIA torture. I don’t even mean the audacious give-away to Wall Street that was pushed through in that trillion-dollar spending bill.

The media gave those lots of coverage.

I’m talking about the national fast food workers strike.

I got an email today informing me that in some 200 cities across the country, thousands of workers walked out of McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Taco Bell and so on last Thursday. It was the largest fast food strike in history, according to the email.

The fast food workers were joined by underpaid, unrepresented workers in home care, airports, convenience stores and other low-wage segments of society.

They want to be paid $15 an hour. And they want to be able to join a union without fear of retaliation. Does that seem like too much to ask?

Strikes in the fast food industry have been erupting in various cities for the past couple of years, but they don’t seem to be getting the attention they deserve. Perhaps the nationwide walkout will send a message to America’s employers that their employees are mad as hell, and aren’t going to take it any more.

While stocks soar, businesses rake in record profits and CEO salaries climb into the megamillions, pay for the folks doing the actual work has flat lined.

And the billionaires have succeeded in capturing the political system, leaving little opportunity to change the situation from the top.

But, as politicians endlessly reiterate and don’t really seem to believe, society changes most effectively from the bottom. And the fast food strikes look to me like that kind of change.

These are not random protests by an unorganized rabble. The movement is backed by the Service Employees International Union, which is among the few labor organizations with any clout left in America. It was the SEIU that emailed me about the strike.

While the November midterm results rule out any chance of President Obama getting the national minimum wage ($7.25 an hour) raised, strikes by underpaid workers could give wages a boost across the board. You know how it works. When the lowest-paid get more money, the rest of the work force also benefits.

These are restless times in America.

With politics failing them, the abandoned members of America’s underclass are taking matters into their own hands.

For America’s sake, I wish them success.

Click for a rare news story.

Click for a video of the strike.

Click to support the movement.

 

America’s Jeanne d’Arc

Elizabeth_Warren_Nov_2_2012joanIt’s easy to be cynical in today’s America. The stomach-turning revelations of CIA torture… The unpunished slaughter of unarmed black men by white cops… The vast and widening income gap between the rich and the rest of us… The Republican triumph in the midterm elections… The lackluster voter turnout…

At such a time, idealism might seem somewhat silly. When things get this bad, you are tempted to go with whatever works. Why stick your neck out? Nobody will appreciate it.

I can understand why President Obama and Harry Reid would hold their noses and push for the rotten spending bill that’s before the Senate. When they say the good in the bill outweighs the bad, I can see where they’re coming from. Congress hasn’t passed a budget in years, and the government needs money to keep operating. The alternative to compromise could be chaos.

And then you see Elizabeth Warren (photo top right),  standing up for what’s right, speaking truth to power, mincing no words, accepting no compromise.

And, surely, your cynical pragmatism is replaced by a call to arms.

You might recall (as I did) the story of Jeanne d”Arc (illustration bottom right), the 15th-century French martyr who called out the flaccid Dauphin and rallied France against the English invaders.

For, make no mistake, the Wall Street elite are every bit as dangerous to America as the English soldiers were to France. It is no exaggeration to call these financial manipulators enemies of the state.

The President and leaders of both political parties were lobbying Congress to approve the 1,600-page bill with its toxic last-minute rider giving Wall Street dangerous access to the nation’s savings, pension funds and taxes.

Senator Warren would have none of it.

No, she declared, Americans would not want their representatives to hand over the keys of the Treasury to the Wall Street barons. “Instead of passing laws that create new bailout opportunities for too-big-to-fail banks, let’s pass…something…that would help break up these giant banks.”

The Warren speech was a clarion call for action to cure the blight infecting America.

And it has hit a nerve.

TV pundits and the Internet hailed the speech as one of the most memorable in America’s history. And the Huffington Post called it:

The speech that could make Elizabeth Warren the next President of the United States.

Is America ready for Elizabeth Warren? Stay tuned.

Click for more on Senator Warren’s speech.

Click for more on the spending bill.

Click for more on Jeanne d’Arc.

 

Cheap Gas, No Rules

There’s a new day dawning in America, and it reminds me of the Roaring Twenties. One huge development is the collapse of oil prices. I just read that oil is trading at less than $60 a barrel, and I filled the Grand Marquis’ tank yesterday for under $30 (it wasn’t quite empty,. but still…).

The Energy Department keeps slashing its prediction for next year’s gasoline prices across the U.S. The latest prediction I read was $2.60 a gallon. That’s the lowest in several years.

I’m sure you know that cheap gas boosts the overall economy by reducing shipping and transportation costs, and by leaving the public more money to spend on other things.

According to ABC News:

The U.S. economy, helped by a stronger job market and falling oil prices, should enjoy the fastest economic growth in a decade next year, according to a panel of top business economists.

Meanwhile, Congress is stripping away the rules that curb reckless trading on Wall Street.

Already, I’ve noticed that with the Republicans coming into power, rules are going out of fashion. The compromise to keep the government funded for another year includes looser regulation of businesses – and even of truck drivers. And Congress is cutting the budgets for agencies like the IRS and EPA to the bone, so tax cheats and environmental violators have a lot less to fear.

Yes, America, welcome to the free market. Say goodbye to Nanny Government.

It’s time to party!!!

Of course, parties cause hangovers. And I expect America to have the mother of all hangovers from the coming binge.

Cheap gas means more driving – and more pollution.

But that’s just the beginning.

There are less obvious consequences of the decline in oil prices. Cheap oil means less enthusiasm for development of alternative fuels.  So we can expect more pollution and more horrific climate change. (Don’t look to the EPA to keep the polluters in check. The agency won’t have the funds.)

And, with Wall Street free to loot and pillage, let the buyer beware! Those feckless speculators will be gambling with your pension funds and when they go bust – as you know they will – the government will have to bail them out. Again.

I know I sound like a party pooper, but you know what the old folks say in Jamaica:

Chicken merry, hawk near.

And you might have learned in school what came after the Roaring Twenties. That’s right, the Great Depression.

Click for more on gas prices.

Click for more on cheap oil.

Click for more on the US economy.

Click for the compromise spending bill.

 

Time to Clean House

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I usually agree with President Obama, but when he insists that the CIA does a great job, I wonder what he’s talking about. America’s intelligence agencies are the most costly – by far – in the world, and it seems to me they do a lousy job.

And it’s not just because they have engaged in such loathsome practices as torture, although that alone should disqualify them from any kind of praise.

Their record stinks.

They missed Nine-Eleven. They missed ISIS.  They were wrong about Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction. They messed up in Benghazi…

Indeed, it’s hard to come up with anything they’ve done right.

As Spencer Ackerman wrote in The Nation back in 2008, America’s intelligence community is “a sprawling apparatus devoted to covert action, subterfuge, disinformation and lawlessness.”

If I were President Obama, I would be ready to clean house. It’s time to start over.

Recent revelations about  the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program are almost too horrific to be believed.

Imagine hiring two psychologists (and paying them millions) to devise and inflict the most fiendish kinds of torture on suspected terrorists.

Yet that’s one way the intelligence community spent American tax dollars.

To compound their offensive conduct, the CIA has repeatedly lied to Congress about the program and its ineffectiveness.

The President should heed Senator Mark Udall’s advice and weed out the intelligence officials who were involved in the horrific torture scandal. It’s shocking that some of these monsters are still getting paid with taxes from the people they shamed.

A thorough review of America’s intelligence operations seems long overdue. The President owes it not only to the people of America but also to an outraged world.

Of course, this would go only part of the way to addressing the global outcry. There remains the question of accountability at the highest levels of government.

I wouldn’t be surprised if some international agency were to initiate judicial proceedings against the Bush Administration officials who authorized the program. And I wonder how the American justice system will deal with the repugnant revelations that are making headlines around the world.

Click for Senator Udall’s speech.

Click for more on the torture consultants.

Click for more on the CIA’s failures.

 

The Running of the Bulls

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As America braces for a Republican Congress, Wall Street is already reaping its reward for funding the midterm election winners. First to go are some of the curbs on the kind of reckless trading that precipitated the global economic collapse in 2008. This concession was part of the price Democrats are paying to avoid another government shutdown.

You can bet this is only the beginning. The big banks have an insatiable appetite and they’re preparing for a legislative banquet.

Apart from Senator Elizabeth Warren, there are few voices sounding the alarm. (The voices crying in the wilderness include Senator Sherrod Brown, Representative Maxine Waters and Representative Alan Grayson.)

Even President Obama seems resigned to the inevitable. He keeps on appointing bankers to oversee the big banks.

His latest nomination is investment banker Antonio Weiss as Treasury Undersecretary for Domestic Finance. Weiss’  tasks include overseeing financial reforms enacted as a result of the economic collapse.

Senator Warren is trying to block this appointment.

Nobody else seems worried when the people who dictate America’s monetary policies and the people who profit from those policies are one and the same.

Isn’t that conflict of interest?

But that’s not the whole story. Wall Street owns Congress. And it’s not just because the bankers contribute so much to political campaigns. Most members of Congress are millionaire investors, themselves, with a stake in Wall Street’s success. It isn’t hard to guess where their sympathies lie.

Those too-big-to-fail banks were supposed to underwrite the national – and global – economy, providing the investment dollars for trade and development. But cunning financiers have discovered other ways to enrich themselves, and these tactics are not always in the best interests of the rest of the world.

Their tactics are far too complex to describe in a blog. They include  a kind of gambling that involves bets on bets on bets.

What makes it so immoral is that the money they gamble with includes pension funds and government-guaranteed deposits.  When they win, they keep the loot. When they lose, your savings and taxes are raided to pick up the tab.

Most of us are lost when it comes to discussing such Wall Street “instruments” as “warrants, options, derivatives, and rights.” The few insiders who understand such mysteries take full advantage of our ignorance.

We desperately need champions like Senator Warren who understand the intricacies of the financial world and have our interests at heart.

Click for more on the deal to avoid a government shutdown.

Click for more on Wall Street in politics.