Smoke and Mirrors

palin

 

aliceWords no longer mean what I thought they meant. Especially during a political season. Especially during this political season.

I know, you are going to tell me that politics is all smoke and mirrors, that’s the way it has always been and that’s the way it will always be.

But if you tuned in to Sarah Palin interviewing Donald Trump the other day, you ventured into an even more bizarre exercise in jiggery-pokery than usual. You must have felt as if you had somehow stepped through Alice’s looking glass. You remember Alice? Then you may recall Humpty Dumpty’s famous quote:

When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.

Neither Palin nor Trump actually said that, but they should have.

As for numbers? Why not just make those up as you go along?

I didn’t catch the show. I didn’t even know Sarah Palin has a new show. Indeed, inveterate browser though I am, I have never stumbled upon One America News, which broadcasts the program. But Salon. com filled me in this morning. And my head is still spinning at the thought of those two on the same stage.

Donald Trump and Sarah Palin together? Say goodbye to reality.

When Mr. Trump blithely claimed there are 93 million unemployed workers in America, for example, Ms. Palin smilingly went along with this obvious fantasy.  Of course, she probably has no idea that unemployment is actually at 5.3 percent, the lowest rate in years, which means about 8 million people out of work – not 93 million.

But you already know Donald Trump has no respect for reality. His picture of an America being overrun by hordes of illegal immigrants, bringing crime and pestilence to a pristine America is provably false, for example. He manufactured that “crisis” to launch his “platform.”

That’s what Donald Trump does best – makes up facts to support his rhetoric and jumbles them together in an incomprehensible morass designed to inspire confusion, outrage and fear.

As the Salon.com article puts it:

Trump has inaugurated the era of inchoate blurting in presidential politics.

Actually, I think it was Sarah Palin who did the inaugurating. But Donald Trump has definitely perfected the art of inchoate blurting.

Click for the Salon story.

Click for Alice and Humpty Dumpty.

 

Wall off Canada? Seriously?

walker

 

I’ve never seen those houses myself but I’ve heard about them. I understand some border homes are partly in Canada and partly in America. The living room might be in Canada and the bedrooms in America, for example. So what does Scott Walker (above) propose to do about those houses? Build a wall right through them?

The Republican presidential candidate wants to wall off Canada, the way Donald Trump wants to wall off Mexico.

On NBC’s Meet the Press yesterday, Walker said he has been thinking seriously about doing just that.

Here’s an excerpt from a report in this morning’s Fiscal Times:

(Chuck) Todd pointed out that many in the GOP field, Walker included, say border security needs to be increased not just to prevent the crossing of illegal immigrants looking for work, but also to stop terrorists from crossing the border. If that’s the concern, he said, why is there so much talk about walling off Mexico, but comparatively little about walling off Canada?

Todd hadn’t even finished the question before Walker jumped in, asserting that he has, in fact, been talking about a wall on the northern border.

“Some people have asked us about that in New Hampshire,” he said. “They’ve raised some very legitimate concerns, including some law enforcement folks that brought that up to me at one of our town hall meetings about a week and a half ago. So that is a legitimate issue for us to look at.”

How times have changed.

When I lived in Canada, there was virtually no American border. For a time, while teaching jourrnalism in Windsor, I stayed with friends in Franklin Village and drove over the bridge or through the tunnel daily to get to and from my job. And earlier, in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, we would take the ferry across to Sault Michigan as soon as the bars closed on Saturday nights as US liquor laws were less stringent than Ontario’s back then.

There never was any formality at the “border.” We flashed our driver’s license sometimes, but that was about it.

Now, I’ve got to keep my passport up to date in case I want to visit a family member in Ontario. Since the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001, America has implemented a homeland security lockdown of absurd (to me, anyway) proportions.

Take the case of Egyptian-American Abdallah Matthews, reported in Mother Jones. He and three friends were returning from a conference in Canada and were ordered out of their car at gunpoint, handcuffed and interrogated for hours.

The Mother Jones article reports that:

Lena Masri of the Council of American Islamic Relations-Michigan (CAIR-MI) reports that Matthews’s experience is becoming “chillingly” commonplace for Michigan’s Arab and Muslim community at border crossings.

What on earth is happening to “the world’s longest undefended border?” It’s being defended – at least on the American side – quite energetically today. Mother Jones reports that:

Drones, surveillance towers, and other markers of a security state are on the rise.

So what’s next? Vigilante snipers deployed to mow down those invading snowbirds?

Click for the news story.

Click for the Mother Jones article.

Click for houses spanning the border.

 

Requiem for a Neighbor

requiemSandra and I have lived across the street from John and Marge for more than 16 years. They seemed such a nice couple. We waved and smiled at one another from time to time – when one of them went outside to fetch the mail or water the flowers as one of us drove by, for example.

And once, many years ago, when I locked myself out of the house after Sandra had left for her teaching job, they let me come in and use their phone. We all had a good laugh about that as I was still wearing my pajamas.

Once, when I was hitting golf balls over at the church yard, I met one of their sons who was visiting from New York. As I remember it, we had a brief political discussion as elections were close at the time. Nothing memorable was said, I guess, as I don’t remember any details of that conversation.

And the other day, I ran into Marge in Publix while shopping for groceries. We said hi, talked about this and that, and wished each other well as neighbors do.

I may have had half a dozen conversations with John over the years – if that. I remember he told me he used to live on a much bigger lake up north. Our Lake Gibson was just a puddle compared with that lake, he said. And we talked about our health issues – heart, kidney, joints, the kind of ailments that afflict us as we age.

On Sunday evenings, we would see cars in their driveway and along the road next to ther home, and several silhouetted heads would be visible through their front window. Their kids and possibly grandkids, we guessed, as Marge once told us two of her children lived in this area and that was why they moved here.

Last week, as I was driving by their home on the way to golf, one of their sons waved me down. I rolled down the passenger-side window and he thrust his head inside the car. For some unknown reason, I can still see his bushy, white moustache in my mind’s eye. It was the son I had met earlier.

“You know the people who live here?” he asked.

“John and Marge? Of course,” I responded.

“Yes, he’s not doing so well.”

I asked if John’s heart was giving trouble again, and the son said no, it was his kidneys that had shut down. John was in “palliative care,” the son added.

I asked how old John was and the son said he was 86, “almost 87.”

Just five years ahead of me, I realized with a shock.

“How is Marge taking it?” I asked.

“Well, you know, it’s rough on her. Very rough.”

“I am so sorry,” I said. “Tell her my thoughts and prayers are with her.”

“I will,” he said. “Thanks.”

And  I drove off to my golf date.

When I told Sandra about the encounter, she said it was so sad that we hadn’t been more neighborly. We should’ve invited them for dinner or something, she said. But, I said, they didn’t invite us, either. Perhaps they wanted it that way. Their lives seemed quite full without us.

Last night, as I was eating a mango after supper, there was a knock on the front door. I ran to the bathroom and grabbed a towel to wipe my hands before opening the door. Once again, I was in my pajamas.

Marge and her son – the son who had stopped me as I was driving by – stood on the front porch.

“John passed away on Tuesday,” Marge said in a tiny voice. She seemed very, very small, as if shrnken by grief.  “The viewing will be at Lake Gibson Methodist at 3 o’clock tomorrow and the service at 4 p.m.”

All I could say was, “Oh Marge, I am so sorry. So very sorry…”

I couldn’t think of anything else, so I just kept saying how sorry I was, over and over. What could I do? I couldn’t ask them in. I was in my pajamas, with a towel iny hands and the dinner dishes on the table. I watched them walk away, down the path and across the street.

Then I turned off the porch light and shut the door.

I told Sandra, and suggested she check the local newspaper for John’s obituary.  Then I realized that I didn’t know his last name.

At least I know the time and place of his funeral, so I can go and say goodbye later on. Marge would appreciate that, I’m sure.

 

Sex, Lies and Videotape

prolife

 

They say the camera doesn’t lie but you know the people using cameras can and do. Especially video sleuths. They edit those tapes to make a case, and often the fraud goes undiscovered until it’s too late to undo the harm that’s been done.

Remember the ACORN “scandal”? Back in 2009, a sneaky “reporter” posed as a pimp and, abetted by a teenage accomplice, made videos that supposedly showed ACORN employees advising them to get around US laws.  The resulting brouhaha provided cover for right-wing politicians to get ACORN defunded.

After exhaustive investigations, law enforcement officials concluded that the ACORN workers had committed no criminal activity and that the videos were “heavily edited” to create a misleading impression. And the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported there was no evidence that ACORN workers had misused government funds or participated in the criminal activities represented in the videos.

But by the time the “sting” was debunked, it had done its dirty work. ACORN, an innocent voter registration group, was no more. And thousands – perhaps millions – of poor Americans who might have had the chance to vote were disenfranchised.

A few years later the same sneaky tactics were used in an attempt to destroy Planned Parenthood. “Undercover” video sleuths tried to entrap employees of the women’s health group into giving advice to – you guessed it – a pimp and a prostitute. But the scheme backfired. The healthcare  group’s president sent a letter to the U.S. attorney general describing the visits and asking for an investigation.

Obviously, the anti-abortion fanatics who have their hearts set on eliminating Planned Parenthood were not deterred.

They’re back again with their cameras and their editing equipment. This time, they taped Planned Parenthood executives supposedly making deals to sell human tissue harvested from abortions. And the tapes have caused widespread outrage. Politicians like Ted Cruz are exploiting the “scandal,” threatening to shut down the federal government unless Planned Parenthood is defunded.

Now, it turns out the video “evidence” smearing the women’s health care group has been tampered with. Experts examining the tapes have found “cuts, skips, missing tape, and changes in camera angle.”

I suspect that when the dust settles, the Planned Parenthood “scandal” will turn out to be just another staged video production. But by that time, Planned Parenthood, which does so much valuable work in so many areas of health care for women, will have gone the way of ACORN.

Click for more on the Planned Oarenthood tapes.

Click for more on ACORN.

 

Too Sad for Words

victims

 

There’s nothing I can add to the outpouring of sorrow following that senseless shooting in Virginia. I know I should say something – if only to acknowledge the horror of it. But what?

What do you say when two young lives are snuffed out like that? When two innocents going about their daily chores are gunned down because a former colleague is having a bad day?

Is there any point in wondering out loud how such an unstable character could get hold of a deadly weapon?

Should I rage against a Congress that refuses to stem the blood bath? Should I point out – as so many have done – that this Congress is in the deep pockets of the National Rifle Association? If you don’t believe this already, you probably won’t believe it now, so why should I be one more voice crying in the wilderness?

Here in Florida, where I have lived for nearly 40 years, everybody, it seems, is armed. Local politicians even said they would favor arming teachers. In Lakekand, Bartow, Mulberry – all over remote, rustic Polk County, where respectful youngsters address me as “Mister George.”

Imagine that! Our local politicians want teachers to carry guns to school to protect our kids. Does that sound sane to you?

Their response to the danger presented by too many guns? More guns of course. And here in Florida your life means so little that if you inadevertently “put somone in fear,” they can shoot you dead and not go to prison or even pay a fine.

If you happen to be a young black man walking on the street at night, you’d better hope you don’t run into someone who has an instinctive dread of “your kind.” If that someone happens to be armed – if he or she is a cop for example – you are fair game.

No black lives do not matter. Not here in Florida or in any of the many states with “stand your ground” laws.

And white lives do not matter either. Not to the folks we elect to run our society. Oh, they will be outraged when their consituents experience some horrible tragedy. They will give emotional speeches and eloquent eulogies, but they will do nothing to prevent the next tragedy. There will still be crazies out there with blood lust in their eyes. And there will still be merchants ready and legally able to sell them guns. Even automatic weapons.

Despite the rhetoric you may be hearing in the wake of yesterday’s tragedy , I don’t think the lives of WDBJ-TV reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward will have mattered when all is said and done.

America no longer remembers Gabby Giffords. America will soon forget Alison and Adam.

This is a nation where gun rights and money matter, not where the lives of citizens – black, brown or white –  matter. And I guess that’s just the way it is.

Click to refresh your memory.

 

Is the Grass Really Greener?

trade

 

What does  the incredibly popular Ashley Madison web site (only three zip codes in all of America have no residents on the site) have in common with the Trans Pacific Trade Partnership?  I suggest it’s the age-old allure of distant pastures, the notion that the grass is greener beyond the horizon.

The people who decide such things have identified the Pacific Rim as America’s most lucrative future trading target. And they are challenging China to gain access to the billions of potential customers in the area. Apparently, these policy makers are even prepared to sacrifice America’s environment in the process. I understand that provisions of the trade agreement give international corporations the right to override national and local environmental protection laws.

You might argue that opening the vast Asian markets to American exports would be hugely beneficial to America’s economy. You might say that America has been smart to embrace China as a major economic partner since the days of Richard Nixon. But with American manufacturing all but lost and the American stock market shivering and shaking, don’t you have second thoughts today?

While America has salivated over the imagined riches of the Orient, the Chinese have made inroads into the Caribbean and Latin American markets on Uncle Sam’s doorstep. China, which has been busy building hotels and making other investments in Jamaica,  is now Brazil’s top trading partner, for example. And when plummeting oil prices left Venezuela in trouble, it was China that coughed up tens of billions of dollars in loans and investments to help the Venezuelans.

The Chinese have also provided loans and investment capital for Ecuador, Cuba, Brazil and other Latin American and Caribbean countries.

Meanwhile, America’s trade with Latin America – both exports and imports – has been dwindling. And, apart from NAFTA partner Mexico, US interest in investing in the region has experienced a dramatic decline from the old Monroe Doctrine days.

China’s interest in the region is not driven by charity but by hard-nosed business sense. They’re betting on a predicted Latin American rebirth in the wake of decades of political and economic crises.

According to the World Bank, GDP growth in Latin America and the Caribbean is expected to be 3.7 percent in 2016. Columbia is expected to be at or above 4 percent for the next several years. Brazil’s growth rate is expected to increase from 2.2 percent in 2013 to 3.7 percent in 2016.

The Chinese see Latin America as a potentially profitable trading partner, while Americans tend to regard the region with irrational contempt.

I suspect the political propaganda that’s bandied about in the US has a lot to do with it.

Politicians (such as Donald Trump) constantly focus on a supposed epidemic of illegal immigration, painting a picture of poverty-driven hordes swarming across the Mexican border and bringing a frightening crime wave with them.

This lurid picture is sheer fiction. Consider these facts:

  • Less that one percent of the world’s 100 million immigrants a year come to America.
  • Illegal immigration to the US has declined to its lowest level in at least two decades. 
  • Undocumented immigrants make up only one-tenth of one percent of the U.S. population and has dropped by about a million since 2007.
  • At least two-thirds of America’s immigrants enter the country legally.
  • Many immigrants bring valuable skills to America. (At least one third have college degrees.)
  • Crime rates are lowest in states with the highest immigration growth rates.
  • Immigrant communities are revitalizing dying neighborhoods in cities and older suburbs

The spectre  of an illegal immigration invasion, triggered by desperate conditions in the immigrants’ home countries, has bred an exaggerated image of poverty, ignorance and crime in the Caribbean and Latin America. And this image will persist as long as American politicians shamelessly use it in their demagoguery.

I suspect this distorted view of America’s neighbors is influencing its trade policies – to the detrimment of Americans and Latin Americans alike.

Click for more on Latin American prospects.

Click for the real immigration situation.

 

Jamaica’s Double Whammy

usain

ShellyAnnFraserPryce

 

Of course you know that Usain Bolt beat that mouthy Justin Gatlin in China on Sunday. But did you know Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce made history on Monday?

If there’s one thing Jamaicans can do – and do superbly – it’s sprint.

If I had been born in America or Canada, I might have been considered a sprinter. Through my teens, I consistently ran between 10 and 11 seconds in the hundred-yards dash. But even that far back, the top Jamaican teenagers were breaking 10 seconds.

Today, athletes run 100 meters, not yards, and the best are significantly below 10 seconds even in that lengthier sprint (almost 10 yards longer – a 10 percent difference).

Consider Usain Bolt. His 9.79 seconds on Sunday was enough – just enough – to nip Gatlin. And it wasn’t his best. Bolt has been known to clock 9.58 seconds, the current world record (I suppose that would be about 8.6 if he were running 100 yards?).

And consider Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.

The first woman ever to win three world 100-meter titles, Shelly-Ann roared home in 10.76 seconds. And she grumbled about her time.

She told reporters she was “tired of the ten-sevens.”

Yes, Shelly-Ann. I bet they taught you this rhyme back in school:

Good, better best, never let it rest until your good is better and your better best.

I know I learned that rhyme back in the  old, wooden schoolhouse in Guy’s Hill when I was eight. And I suppose we all learned it, we Jamaicans, so proud, so feisty, so driven by the desire to win, and by the determination to do our best at whatever we do, wherever we find ourselves in this world.

Click for the story.

Click to watch Bolt’s win.

Click to watch Shelly-Ann.

 

Hang on Sloopy!

dow

 

No, don’t sell your stocks. It’s not the end of the world as we know it. Ron Paul does not know anything you do not. This morning’s global market collapse is probably just another big scare engineered to create opportunities for insiders to make huge fortunes.

I know. I know. You’re shaking in your boots. It’s not every day that the Dow is down 1,000 points. But it has happened before and it will happen again. Remember the financial collapse of 2007-2008? You could have picked up blue chip stocks for pennies, and made a fortune in a few years as the market recovered – and soared.

Of course a lot of stocks are overvalued. Especially electronics and dot-coms. They get that way on purpose, I suspect. Then the insiders unload them, and make a bundle while you with the stars in your eyes take another hit.

The market responds to all kinds of forces – some of them logical (like China’s economic slowdown), others totally senseless.

Take, for example, the parareligious movement that has been growing on social media recently. According to articles I’ve read, there are financial market gurus and Judeo-Christian end-time theorists out there who have attracted a surprisingly large following with predictions of doom.

One theory sees “the end” coming September 13, as the Shemitah year in the Jewish religious calendar comes to a close. Why? Beats me. It’s far too mystical for my finite brain to sort out. But I am pretty sure it will be business as usual in this old world of ours after September 13, just as it was back on January 1, 2001. Just as it was when the Mayan calendar ran out on December 21, 2012.

I don’t know what makes so many people hanker for the end of the world or some apocalyptical economic event, but I know they’re probably wrong in their predictions. I’ve heard so many in my lifetime – from Jamaica’s Bedward to America’s Ron Paul, and when the dust settled things have always gone back to normal.

And I’ve learned one enduring truth: Economies crash, wars break out, disaster is always just around the corner, but the rich and powerful somehow always manage to emerge unscathed, and the rest of us always bear the brunt of it.

So, when the waters of the financial world rage and swell, the best strategy I can think of is to hang on and wait out the storm.

For the eight decades I have been on this earth, stocks have gone up and down, sometimes dramatically. But in the end the solid ones usually go up. If you hang on long enough.

Click for the news report.

Click for one of the doomsday predictions.

 

 

A New Conspiracy Theory

trump

 

Americans (and Jamaicans and Canadians and everyone else) seem to love conspiracy theories, so I have come up with a juicy one that I will share with you today.

I suspect Donald Trump is a plant. A Democrat in Republican clothing. A Trojan horse.

Imagine this scenario.

Bill Clinton phones his old buddy Donald Trump, a long-time Democrat (shown above playing golf together), and suggests a huuuge! practical joke. Trump is to pretend to be a Republican presidential candidate and say all the crazy things that right-wing Republicans say. That will show America how loony the Republicans really are, and Hillary will win in a walk.

Hey, it could have happened. You know Bill and the Donald had a long phone conversation just before he announced his candidacy, right?

Don’t you wonder what they talked about?

You don’t think Donald Trump expects American voters to buy his current line of hooey, do you?

For example, nobody in their right mind is going to believe Trump – or anyone else – can round up more than 11 million undocumented immigrants and ship them back to their countries of origin. That would take all the available resources of the federal government – all its manpower, all its money, all its time. And it still wouldn’t get the job done. It’s obviously an impossible dream (make that nightmare).

There would be nobody and no money left to build that wall between the US and Mexico. (One conservative talk show host has suggested using the illegal immigrants as slaves to build the wall, but I don’t think that idea will get much support.)

As for Trump’s notion that America could charge countries like South Korea and Japan for protecting them militarily, really?

Does that mean Canada would have to pay Uncle Sam for NORAD?

That would be the day!

Trump’s “policies” are a hoot – and that’s what I suspect they’re intended to be. He deliberately contradicts himself, upbraiding women and threatening to abridge their rights while proclaiming that he “cherishes” them, for example. His posturing is an act (it has to be; nobody who is really that goofy could succeed in the business world). And his rhetoric is pure satire.

Of course few people get satire. A lot of folks take it seriously. Those 20,000 people who showed up in Alabama the other night, for example. They didn’t even get it when Trump pretended his book (The Art of the Deal) was right up there with the Holy Bible. If you think the man is serious when he says something like that, you need a brain transplant.

Every time somebody gets on TV and says they’re friends with Donald Trump, they make a point of telling us what a joker he is.

Of course, this prank could backfire. Trump could go all the way.

And the joke would be on us.

Click for Trump and the Clintons.

 

Stewart as Moderator! Yes!

stewarttrump

Every so often an email shows up in my in basket asking me to sign a petition for some worthy cause. But I did not get this one. And I’m pouting.

Initiated by Change.org, it asks the Commission on Presidential Debates to select Jon Stewart as a moderator for one of the 2016 Presidential Debates. According to an article in Salon. com today, nearly 90,000 people have signed it so far.

The Salon article includes a link to the Change.org web site. So, I immediately clicked on it and signed the petititon.

Change.org doesn’t specify a political party, but if I had my way Stewart would moderate at least one debate for each major party. Indeed I would ask him to moderate them all.

We desperately need his kind of clarity in today’s funky politics.

Of course I know that Jon Stewart is a comedian. He has been making me laugh for the past 16 years. But I am not looking for laughs this time. I am looking for common sense, curiosity and honesty. Stewart is the only current media star I can think of who demonstrates those qualities.

In today’s media world, all we seem to get is spin. That Fox News debate, for example, wasn’t that just a really, really big show designed to boost ratings and provide the Republican candidates with massive exposure?

And if you’re looking to the CNN debate to give you meaningful insights into the issues that matter, you’re in for a letdown.

With the kind of corporate ownership that exists in the mainstream media today and the bizarre exaggerations and fabrications of the fringe mdia, we are left trying to sort out the truth for ourselves as the sound and the fury resonate across the airwaves.

And there is already a lot to laugh at in this year’s campaign. Surely, you don’t take Donald Trump seriously, for example? To me, he’s just a big, fat joke!

What we need is another comedian to counter his nonsense, a gifted and insightful comedian – like Jon Stewart.

Perhaps in this toxic political environment, it’s too dangerous to tell the truth. Perhaps the only way to get away with it is to mask it as comedy – as the court jesters did in ancient times.

Perhaps, when all is said and done, we need a comedian to set us straight.

Click for the Change.org site.