Kill Obamacare? Are You Kidding?

Oh the suspense! Oh the drama! Oh the dazzling cut and thrust of scholarly debate! Where would the media be without such great theater? Yes, I’m talking about the Obamacare case being pondered by the highest court in the US.

But you won’t hear anyone on the bus talking about it. The man and woman “on the street” know better. They know instinctively that the court isn’t going to rock the boat at this stage.

It doesn’t really matter that Congress screwed up when they finally brought forth the thousand-page health care law, with all the twists and turns that “compromise” made inevitable. With the Republicans in ferocious opposition and the Blue Dog Democrats nipping at his heels, President Obama couldn’t get a single-payer health care law like Canada’s, so he got what he could.

Any child can read what the law says about subsidies to families that can’t afford to pay their premiums.  It says federal subsidies are available in states that set up health care exchanges. I don’t see how you can read that to say they are also available in the 36 states that opted out of the deal.

But the justices know they have to find a subtle shade of meaning to avert the catastrophy that literal interpretation of the law would precipitate.

I know Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito will vote to overturn the law. And Justice Clarence Thomas, like the department store mannequin that he is, will go along with whatever they say. They will do that, however, secure in the knowledge that their vote will do no harm this time.

The case will be decided in favor of the status quo.

It’s a given that Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan will find cause to uphold the law. They’re Democratic appointments, after all.

And Justice Anthony Kennedy will probably vote their way.  He’s known as the “swing” vote on the court. And he has been known to swing to the left.

Furthermore, I am willing to bet the farm that Chief Justice John Roberts will find some legal justification for the subsidies that 8 million Americans now receive under Obamacare – despite the stupid typo Congress left in the law.

With a presidential election coming up next year, the Republican stalwart is not going to infuriate those 8 million voters.

In yesterday’s New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin,  CNN’s senior legal analyst, speculates that although the chief justice has been silent so far throughout the hearing, he could have showed his hand when he suggested a precedent known as the “Chevron deference” might give the next President power to reverse the law.

According to Toobin:

A decision in favor of Obama here could be a statement that a new President could undo the current President’s interpretation of Obamacare as soon as he (or she) took office in 2017. In other words, the future of Obamacare should be up to the voters, not the justices.

That could well be the escape hatch John Roberts needs. But if that doesn’t work, I am sure he will find some other dodge – as he did when the individual mandate was challenged. (He christened it a “tax,” remember?)

He isn’t about to win this battle for his party at the expense of losing the war next November.

Click for Toobin’s article.


What a Poppy Show!



We Jamaicans have a phrase that we use to ridicule silly ego displays. “What a poppy show,” we say.

I can’t think of a more appropriate response to Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech. The Israeli prime minister bared his inflated ego before the US Congress yesterday, and it was not a pretty sight.

He was condescending and bumptious – and wrong.

If he hadn’t said the same things about Iraq a decade ago, he might even have been dangerous. But there’s another old saying that applies to Netanyahu’s message – “Once bitten, twice shy.”

To nobody’s surprise, Netanyahu wants America to go to war with Iran, just as he did with Sadam Hussein’s Iraq.

Back in 2002, when he appeared before Congress as an expert witness on Iraq, he warned that US intervention was necessary to avert a nuclear conflict that would be the end of the world. Yesterday he warned that a pact being negotiated with Iran would trigger a nuclear conflict that would be – you guessed it – the end of the world.

His speech drew standing ovations from Republican members of Congress. But nobody outside of the Republican base could possibly take Netanyahu’s “warning” seriously this time.

Netanyahu summed up his position on Iran as: “a better deal or no deal.”

But a better deal than what?

The Obama Administration is working with other world powers (Russia, China, Britain, Germany and France), to halt Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon in exchange for relaxed sanctions. Any such deal is not yet in sight, and the negotiations are secret.

Netanyahu cannot know what the “deal” is because there is no deal.

By appearing before Congress in defiance of President Obama’s wishes, and rattling his saber for the world to hear, Netanyahu made it even less likely that a deal will be reached.

But he gave himself a chance to show off. And he did just that.

He lectured Congress on Mideast history. He doled out foreign policy advice to the US and its President. He was the all-knowing elder statesman talking down to simpletons.

What a poppy show!

Click for Netanyahu in 2002.

Click for Netanyahu yesterday.

Click for reaction to the speech.

Click for what’s really going on with Iran.


Do You Know Who You Are?


I just had a fascinating chat with a young lady named Joanni Davis Thomas (above,left). She told me things I didn’t know about my extended family. No, she wasn’t in Lakeland or anywhere in Florida. She wasn’t in Jamaica. She was in Panama.

That’s right, Panama.

My cousin Scott (Graham) (above right) suggested I “friend” her on Facebook, and when I did so, Joanni and I exchanged the usual pleasantries. Then she asked me what I knew about various family connections. It turns out she was researching her family tree.

Her grandfather moved to Panama from Jamaica in the 1940s, she said, and she was curious about her Jamaican ancestry.

So how did she know Scott? Did they meet in Belize, perhaps?

Scott is my late cousin Tony’s son and they had moved to Belize from Jamaica many years ago. He now lives in England.

But it was nothing like that. Joanni found out she was Scott’s cousin through a DNA match.

They were related through my father’s uncle’s wife, Aunt Florrie.  He was the Rev. W.T. Graham.

Aunt Florrie’s maiden name was Constantine. Yes, we’re related to Mitzie (Eddie Seaga’s ex-wife). And Bustamante. The great Jamaican leader used to visit Aunt Florrie when we lived on Constant Spring Road.

That’s the way it is  in Jamaica. Check back far enough and you’ll find you’re related – by blood or marriage – to just about everybody on the island.

I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the way it is all over the world. Check back far enough and you’ll be surprised at the things you will find out about yourself.

Go ahead. Get a DNA profile and find out who your relatives are and what mixture flows in your veins.

I suspect that if we all did that, we would rid ourselves of a lot of silly notions. And the world would be a better place.

Click for more on DNA profiling.

Click for more on our family tree.


Life in the Twilight Zone

internetSandra is convinced that I live in the Twilight Zone, and I don’t blame her. I have experiences that defy all accepted concepts of reality.

Today, for example, I got trapped in the virtual world of my internet provider’s “customer service.” My head is still reeling from the experience.

You will recall, if you read my blogs, that I decided to give up on Verizon because it seemed I was spending more time trying to restore my internet service than I spent using it. The provider I chose was EarthLink.

They were offering high-speed service at $29 and some cents a month.

As scheduled, a service truck showed up and a technician installed the requisite cables and modem. The truck had a Bright House logo on it, and the service guy explained Bright House did the Earthlink connections in my neighborhood.

I gave the guy a check for the first month – $29 and some cents.

A few days later, I received a package from EarthLink in the mail, welcoming me profusely and offering me Norton virus protection for an extra $6 a month. I accepted the offer and duly loaded the CD they enclosed.

When I received my first bill, it was from Bright House, not EarthLink. And when I contacted EarthLink, they said I was not their customer because I was “unavailable” when the service man came to hook me up.

Nothing I said would persuade them that I had EarthLink. So I called Bright House.

No, Bright House insisted, I was not their customer. They were simply billing me for EarthLink.

I was getting internet service with no problems so I decided to go on using whatever it was I was getting – EarthLink, Bright House or whatever.

Then this morning a big, red warning sign flashed on my screen. Norton was cancelled!!! I was vulnerable to cyber attack!!!!

I called Bright House and spent what seemed like hours going round and round with their customer service folks. Nothing I said could convince them that I was their customer. I finally suggested they change my account to Bright House since Earth Link didn’t have me as a customer.

Surprise! A supervisor named Marcus told me that internet service would cost me $54 a month as a Bright House customer. That’s the same internet service I am getting for $29 and some cents. The service Bright House bills me for.

I thanked Marcus for his help and went to my EarthLink page, where I was able to chat online with a customer service rep named Sebastian Norcia. I should send a transcript of that chat to the FCC – or perhaps to the TV Comedy Channel.

It’s several pages long and includes exchanges like this:

Sebastian Norcia: You have signed up cable Internet services through EarthLink. Yes but I get a bill from Bright House. The bill includes $6 a month for Norton. This morning I was notified that my Norton service was cancelled.  I phoned Bright House and they say I am an EarthLink customer, not a Bright House customer. But when I called EarthLink earlier, they said they do not have me as a customer because I was not available when the serviceman came to hook me up.

Sebastian Norcia: No, you are a Bright House customer. They provide you the ISP services, and EarthLink provides you the free web mail at no additional cost. Is this the Twilight Zone?

After further chit-chat…

Sebastian Norcia: Okay, right now I can see that your cable services and your Norton service are inactive. However you are getting billed from Bright House. How do you reconcile that? Obviously, I have EarthLink or I couldn’t be talking to you.

Still, Sebastian insisted I should call Brighthouse. I finally persuaded him that talking to Brighthouse again wouldn’t help solve my “issue.”

We went round and round for an interminable time, and Sebastian finally promised to have a “Cable Team” contact me to iron out the issue. Meanwhile, he would arrange for me to get the free trial month that Norton offers everybody.

He didn’t answer my question about the Twilight Zone.


When Labels Mean Nothing

Bruce Rauner


Rahm Emmanuel (at right, above) is a Democrat. Bruce Rauner (at left) is a Republican. So they say, anyway. But their political philosophy looks the same to me.

According to a Reuters story :

The two have been close friends and even political allies, with Emanuel appointing Rauner as chairman of the city’s tourism agency soon after he became mayor in 2011.

They’re having a spat at the moment. Rauner is sticking it to Chicago now that he’s governor of the state. And, because he is up for re-election as Chicago’s mayor, Emmanuel is obliged to say unkind things about Rauner.

But the leopard doesn’t change its spots. They’re still the same breed of political animal.

Rahm Emmanuel is a big shot. He once ran the White House for President Obama. And he talks tough, like Jimmy Cagney or Edward G. Robinson in  those old gangster movies.

The Chicago mayor is certainly no bleeding-heart liberal. He is a Big Business believer who privatizes public services every chance he gets. Here’s a writer’s view:

Emanuel’s tenure as mayor has been defined by the kind of aggressive anti-union and pro-corporate initiatives that were once the exclusive purview of the GOP. And politically speaking, the fact that public union membership tends to be disproportionately African-American certainly didn’t help.

That doesn’t spell Democrat to me. But what do I know?

Rudy Giuliani used to be a Democrat. Now he is a right-wing Republican. What happened? Did he have some kind of epiphany? Or did he see a brighter future if he switched labels?

Charlie Crist used to be a Republican but he switched labels to run for Florida’s governor as a Democrat. What happened?  Did the Republican Party drift so far to the right that it left no room for Charlie? And did the Democratic Party drift so far to the right that Charlie could find a home?

Whatever it was, the voters didn’t buy it. They put Rick Scott back in the governor’s mansion. Rick Scott!

How do we keep our faith in democracy after something like that?

If the Democratic rank and file took their democracy more seriously, they wouldn’t let counterfeit candidates carry the party’s banner. They would turn out for the primaries and make sure the folks who get nominated really support the Democratic platform.

The Republicans – especially the Tea Party crowd – are starting to pay attention.

What’s wrong with the Democrats?

Click for the Reuters story.

Click for more on the mayor’s race.


What Do Dreadlocks Signify?

Zendaya Coleman, an 18 year-old Disney Channel star, wore dreadlocks to the Oscar Awards (photo above) and drew the following remark on E! News Entertainment from fashion critic Giuliana Rancic (at left):

(She) looked like she smelled of patchouli oil…or maybe weed.

Ms. Coleman was understandably offended.

She called the remark “a large stereotype” and said she chose the style “to remind people of color that our hair is good enough.”

I am sure that Ms. Coleman smelled of expensive perfume. And I am sure she was not only beautiful but also squeaky clean.

And I know, as the young entertainer pointed out, that all kinds of people – even children – wear dreadlocks these days.

But I wonder whether dreadlocks have become a pro-marijuana symbol in the minds of some Americans. And, if so, what’s wrong with that?

Many American states are legalizing the use of marijuana. So is my native country of Jamaica.

I don’t know what “patchouli oil” is but I know a little about marijuana. And, as far as I can tell, it’s rather innocuous. It certainly seems a lot less dangerous than alcohol, which is legal just about everywhere.

And it doesn’t smell that bad – kind of musky, I suppose, not what a young lady would choose for an evening out, but certainly not rank.

What was really rank was the fashion critic’s sneering attitude.

Click for more on the story.


Bringing up Barack – and Rudy


Nobody commented on my recent blog about Rudy Giuliani’s verbal slap in the President’s face. But I still think it’s worth discussing. So here I go again.

This is what the former New York mayor said:

I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America…  He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.

What I find stunning is not just the part about President Obama not loving America. Who knows what that means? As Lawrence O’Donnell pointed out on TV last night, “love” is a slippery word, impossible to define.

But we all know what someone means when they say we weren’t “brought up” right.

It’s a phrase I heard often when I was growing up in class-conscious Jamaica. And if you’re from Jamaica, you know class has a lot to do with color in that society. Generally speaking, the lighter your skin the higher your social status. (I say “generally speaking” because, throughout history, some of Jamaica’s most distinguished sons and daughters have been very dark-skinned.)

Now, Rudy Giuliani is Italian so his complexion is lighter than Barack Obama’s, whose father was Kenyan.

But who in their right mind would suggest that Giuliani comes from a better home?

For most of his childhood, Barack lived with his grandparents, Madelyn and Stanley Dunham (shown during World War II in top photo, and with Barack in later years, below). His grandfather was an active service  veteran, his grandmother worked in a munitions factory to support the war effort.

Giuliani sought several deferments to avoid going to Vietnam, and none of his close relatives were veterans, as far as I was able to find out. In fact, according to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett, five of Rudy Giuliani’s uncles found ways to avoid service in World War II. So it doesn’t look as if the “Nine-Eleven mayor’s” folks were very patriotic.

And that’s not all.

Rudy Giuliani was brought up by a father who – according to several sources – broke legs, smashed kneecaps and crunched noses’ for a loansharking operation in the 1950s. He served hard time for a stick-up and was involvedin a Brooklyn gunfight in the 1960s.

OK,  you think I’m going with the Italian stereotype, right? Yes, I know that just because your name sounds Italian it doesn’t mean you’re in the Mafia. But facts are facts. Public records can usually be trusted. And those records show that Giuliani’s father, uncle and cousin all had ties with organized crime. Indeed, his cousin was killed in a shoot-out with the FBI.

(Of course, even if you don’t have an Italian last name, you can still be connected to the mob. According to David Halbfinger and David Kocieniewski of the New York Times, New Jersey governor Chris Christie has the same kind of ties as Giuliani. They say the brother of Christie’s aunt’s husband, Tino Fiumara, is a ranking member of the Genovese crime family who was twice convicted of racketeering.}

However you look at it, Rudy Giuliani had a lot of nerve criticizing the way the President was brought up. Giuliani’s family probably was a lot richer than Obama’s. And as a successful lawyer and businessman, his own net worth is $45 million.

But being richer (or lighter-skinned) doesn’t mean you come from a better home.

From all accounts, Barack Obama grew up in a decent home.  His grandparents were hard working, patriotic Americans. Both his American mother and Kenyan father were law-abiding people. So, too, was his Indonesian stepfather, with whom he spent a few years (from age 6 to age 10).

None of them had a criminal record or anything close.

Rudy Giuliani cannot accurately say the same about his family.

Click for more on Giulani’s family.

Click for the real Rudy Giuliani.

Click for more on Obama’s grandmother.


The Glaring Oscars Cop-out



Come on now, do you really believe “Birdman” was the best and most significant cinematic event of the past year?

You haven’t seen the film? I am not surprised. I haven’t and I don’t know anyone who has. Besides, the reviews don’t make it sound  all that great. Here’s what The Guardian newspaper critic has to say:

In its attempt to create a satire reaching for wit and originality, Birdman touches on but mostly skirts around several different themes: The inability of an aging actor to adjust to a changing environment, the nature of our true identity beyond the roles we play in life, the art versus entertainment conundrum, and the inordinate worship of celebrities in contemporary culture.

Unfortunately, despite an Oscar-worthy performance by Michael Keaton in a welcome return to the screen and the film’s engaging moments of true energy, Birdman does not pause long enough between the drumbeat of a jazzy score by Antonio Sanchez, the lugubrious strings of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, a pseudo-profound spirituality and its juvenile humor, to say anything meaningful about any of these subjects.

No, Michael Keaton (at left with Ed Norton in the scene above) didn’t win Best Actor. But, oddly, “Birdman” – with its “pseudo-profound spirituality and juvenile humor” got the “Best Picture” Oscar last night. Why?

The reason seems obvious to me.

I think the Academy didn’t want to choose between the civil rights movement and the shoot-to-kill conservatives, so they chose something safe instead.

Why “Birdman”? Why not “The Grand Budapest Hotel”? They flipped a coin, I suppose.

If they had any guts, the voters would have let the world know where they stand. They would’ve gone with the right-wing’s blood lust and crowned “American Sniper,” or sided with the “liberals” and given “Selma” the Oscar.

But guts are becoming less and less evident in American society. And it’s no wonder. Stand up to be counted today, and you’re likely to get hammered.

The stakes are too high for “civil disagreement” these days. It’s a winner-take-all world. Academy Awards aren’t just trophies. The show isn’t just spectacle, glitz and glamor. It’s a political event.

It’s no wonder writer Steve Almond thinks it’s time to ditch awards shows. Here’s his view of shows like the Oscars and Grammy Awards:

“Boyhood” or “Birdman”? Beck or Beyoncé? Who cares? We must stop turning creativity into another dumb competition

Almond thinks it’s absurd to pick one piece of creative work over another, anyway. He writes:

How in God’s name does it make even the tiniest bit of sense to compare … works of art, let alone to judge one superior to a set of others? Is “The Brothers Karamazov” better than “Anna Karenina”? Is “The White Album” better than “Exile on Main Street”? Is “Boyhood” better than “Twelve Years a Slave”?

He describes the Academy Awards, which attract a global TV audience of millions, as “gross.” He concedes that:

It’s a celebration of our most popular cultural art form, a chance to recognize the thousands of mostly unsung artists who make the Hollywood dream machine hum. It’s also cracking good entertainment, an ego pageant of the highest order.

But he adds:

The Oscars are also, by any objective measure, a decadent and stupid ritual, an orgy of luxury branding and self-congratulation for an industry already bloated by both. But the reason I find the Academy Awards especially gross has to do with the way the ceremony turns artistic endeavor into a zero-sum game.

Yes Steve, everything you say is true. But the show must go on. There’s too much money involved to quit now.

Click for the article.

Click for the Academy Awards.

Click for the Grammy Awards.

Click for the Telegraph’s review.

Click for other opinions.


Life Through a Gloomy Lens

Margot Robbie, Miles Teller to host Oscar technical awards

We haven’t seen any of the movies involved but Sandra and I will be up late Sunday night along with the millions of other Oscar viewers around the world.

I know, shame on me for not going to see “Selma.” But I am at a stage in life when I tend to avoid disturbing experiences, and I am sure the civil rights movie would be disturbing indeed.

I would also find “The Theory of Everything” unbearably disturbing. I am aware of Stephen Hawking’s horrible affliction. And I know he has one of this century’s most brilliant minds inside that stricken body. But I shudder at the prospect of vicariously sharing his life.

I expect that Eddie Redmayne will win the Oscar for Best Actor. From what I’ve been  reading, his portrayal of Stephen Hawking turned out to be a tour de force despite the daunting physical challenge involved.  But that makes me even less eager to watch the movie. According to one critic:

Redmayne’s performance is powerful enough to permeate through the screen and into you – you’ll wriggle your toes in discomfort when Hawking struggles with his paralyzed feet.

As an aging diabetic, I already wriggle my toes in discomfort, thank you. That’s not what I’m looking for when I go to the movies.

As for the over-hyped “American Sniper,” give me a break!

Sorry Sandra, I know how you admire Clint Eastwood, but from what I’ve read, “Sniper” is one more disturbing account of the disastrous impact that war can have on human beings. Again, this blood-soaked epic is based on real life. It’s the story of Iraq War vet Chris Kyle.

(Incidentally, Kyle survived the battlefield only to be shot to death in a senseless incident. The shooter is on trial in Texas as I write this blog.)

Here’s an excerpt from the plot, as described on a web site called Fandango:

As the story opens, we meet carefree brothers Chris (Bradley Cooper) and Jeff (Keir O’Donnell) as they work the Texas rodeo circuit. They’re cowboys through and through, and despite being notably older than the usual enlistee, Chris pays a visit to his local recruitment office and decides to become a Navy SEAL. Later, at the firing range, he draws on his hunting lessons with his stern father to become an expert marksman. A booze-fueled barroom chat with pretty brunette Taya (Sienna Miller) soon leads to wedding bells, and following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Kyle is deployed to Iraq for his first tour of duty. There, his reputation as a sniper who never misses makes him a legend among his fellow troops, and earns him the moniker “The Devil of Ramadi” from his enemies. 

The nominations are more numerous than usual this year, and it’s hard to guess who the winners might be. But they all seem to reflect the gloomiest side of life. One of the Best Actress nominees, Julianne Moore in “Still Alice,”   plays a college professor who is suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease, for example.

I realize that one of the Best Picture nominees – “The Grand Budapest Hotel” – is listed as a comedy-drama, but the plot doesn’t sound cheerful. I understand that it features the theft of a priceless painting and the battle for a family fortune — with a dash of murder thrown in.

Even Michael Keaton, one of my all-time favorite comedy actors (remember “Night Shift?”), shows up in “Birdman” as a down-and-out ex-star trying desperately to make a comeback. Not many laughs there.

To me, this year’s list shows a depressing absence of the joie de vivre that Hollywood was once famous for.

Click for the nominees and to watch the trailers.

Click for the likely winners.


The American Saboteurs

Boehner and Bibi

In centuries gone by, President Obama would have challenged Rudy Giuliani to a duel. But today, slurs against the President’s character are so commonplace they probably just roll off his back.

Here’s what the former New York mayor said recently:

I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America…  He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.

Giuliani was addressing a private dinner in Manhattan, attended by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and other Republican politicians, as well as business executives and conservative media members.

Can you imagine someone saying this about you? Suggesting that you don’t love your country? Suggesting you weren’t brought up in a decent home? Insulting not just you but your parents too?

Where I come from, those are fighting words.

But the Republican Party’s leaders have learned over the past six years that they can insult the President of their country without paying a price at the polls.

Speaker John Boehner, for example. He deliberately got in the President’s face by inviting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to address Congress. He didn’t ask the President’s permission. He didn’t even notify the White House of the invitation.

Clearly, this tells the world there are two American governments – Boehner’s and Obama’s.

While Obama’s government is trying to find a peaceful way of ending Iran’s development of nuclear weapons, Boehner’s government is legislating tighter sanctions in a transparent effort to escalate tensions between Iran and the United States. Obviously, what John Boehner and his political pal Benjamin Netanyahu want is an excuse to go to war with Iran.

A CNN poll shows that 63 percent of Americans disapprove of Boehner inviting the Istaeli prime minister behind the President’s back. Only 33 percent approve.

But it’s that 33 percent Boehner cares about. This hard core of right-wing Obama haters has succeeded in giving the Republican Party majorities in both the House and the Senate. They are the political activists of today. They organize, they proselytize, they contribute, they vote.

The 63 percent who disapprove of Boehner’s subversive behavior are too cynical, too “cool,” or simply too lazy to flex their political muscle.

They are one reason for America’s perverted politics. They are the enablers who have ceded power to a rabid minority.

It’s not just Boehner and Giuliani and their bigoted fans who are sabotaging America’s President. The indolent majority are guilty, too.

Click for the Giuliani story.

Click for the poll results.

Click for the politics behind the invitation.