Just the Horrible Facts

children

 

The following excerpt from an AP news report today should need no comment. Surely, the facts speak for themselves:

Israeli tank shells hit a compound housing a U.N. school in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, killing at least 15 people and wounding dozens who were seeking shelter from fierce clashes on the streets outside, Palestinian officials said, as Israel pressed forward with its 17-day war against the territory’s Hamas rulers.

The U.N. said the strike occurred as staff members were trying to arrange a humanitarian pause in the hostilities so they could evacuate the civilians from the compound in the northern town of Beit Hanoun…

Kamel al-Kafarne, who was in the school, said that the U.N. was putting people on buses when three tank shells hit.

“We were about to get out of the school, then they hit the school. They kept on shelling it,” he said.

It is not prudent to criticize the Israelis. Any sign of sympathy with the Palestinians can bring a ferocious backlash. I’m sure you remember how actress Vanessa Redgrave was reviled for critiizing Israel in the 1970s.

But in the name of all that’s holy, how can this kind of mass murder be justified?

How long will Israel be permitted to massacre women and children in the conflict with Hamas? If all it takes is closing some tunnels and taking out those absurdly ineffective rocket launchers, where is the need for such savage slaughter?

This kind of butchery cannot be condoned in a civilized world – no matter what may have provoked it.

If Iran deserves to be punished economically, if Russia deserves to be punished economically, why should Israel escape sanctions?

How can John Kerry in conscience passively “negotiate” while all this is going on? In his place, I would tell the Israelis to cease and desist or lose every penny they get from the US.

With the butchery in abeyance, the world community should make it plain to both sides that any resumption of violence will be met with the harshest possible economic penalties.

In a saner environment, Israel might be persuaded to end the blockade imprisoning the residents of Gaza and moderate the draconian policies that inflict such misery on the Palestinian population. Hamas would then have no excuse for shelling Israel, and the Palestinians would have no reason to support Hamas.

Click for the news story.

Click for a detailed account.

Click for more on the conflict.

Click for US aid to Israel.

 

What You Don’t Know

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There’s an old saying that what you don’t know won’t hurt you. Of course that’s nonsense. What we don’t know could make us placid zombies in a world where nearly all media is falling under the control of a few giant corporations.

I bet you didn’t know until now that Rupert Murdoch was making a $76 billion offer to buy Time Warner.

The news leaked out only because Comcast (owner of NBC Universal) is trying to buy Time Warner Cable (which was spun off from Time Warner Inc., the company Murdoch’is targeting) and AT&T is gobbling up DirecTV, and those deals are undergoing review by the agency that’s supposed to be regulating the industry.

Yes, I know, who can be expected to get their heads around these mega deals? So much information, such convoluted arrangements… It’s enough to make any normal person dizzy.

Let’s see … You know that Rupert Murdoch owns Fox News. But did you know that Time Warner owns CNN?

Murdoch’s bid was rejected but you can bet he will keep trying. He is not the kind who takes no for an answer.

If he succeeds, Murdoch would control a vast entertainment and information conglomerate, including Warner Bros, producers of the Harry Potter and Batman movies; 21st Century Fox’s X-Men and Avatar; and Time Warner’s lucrative cable channels, including HBO, home of Game of Thrones, Cinemax and Fox’s FX, as well as Fox News and the Fox broadcast network.

The 83-year-old Australian-born media mogul and political propagandist already owns the Wall Street Journal and is showing interest in the Tribune newspapers (which owns the Chicago Tribune and Baltimore Sun). And that’s only the American slice of his empire. He also controls an array of newspapers and TV stations in Britain and Australia.

Murdoch would reportedly be prepared to sell CNN to appease the regulators, but sell to whom? Who else has that kind of money? Disney? Viacom? CBS? And would the regulators let Viacom or CBS have CNN when billionaire Sumner Redstone holds a controlling stake in both Viacom and CBS?

Also, the regulators might balk at Disney, which already owns ABC and ESPN.

Anyone who wants – and can afford – CNN would probably be in the same league as Fox and Comcast. As media companies merge, fewer and fewer options exist.

Click for more on Murdoch.

Click for the merger’s impact.

Click for who would buy CNN

 

Where Are the Good Guys?

rebels

 

I wonder how John Kerry is doing these days. I know I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes. He has taken over as US Secretary of State at a weird time. I have never been so confused about world affairs as I am at this moment.

So many atrocities and so few sensible explanations.

Tell me, why is Israel invading the Gaza strip – again? Can’t they massacre enough Palestinians with their missiles and bombs?

Is this how their criminal justice system works – hundreds of innocent people – including women and children – blown up to avenge the murder of three Israeli teenagers? Not to mention burning that poor Palestinian kid to death?

On the other side of the coin, why is Hamas firing rockets indiscriminately in the direction of Israel with little hope of hitting anyone or anything of military significance? Don’t they know they’re just making the Israelis more furious and vengeful?

Then there’s the Ukrainian disaster. Kerry must really be scratching his head over that one.

Why did the International Republican Institute and other shadowy American organizations foment unrest in the Ukraine and get that country’s democratically elected president thrown out? What good has come of it?

And what does Vladimir Putin hope to achieve by reinventing the Soviet Union? Isn’t one definition of madness doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a different result? Hey, Vladimir! The Soviet Union already had its day and blew it. What makes you think a second try will have better success?

And what makes you think those drunken bums calling each other “Excellency” would be able to sustain a pro-Russian government in the Ukraine even if the rebellion succeeds? Can they even read and write? They don’t look as if they can. Not on TV anyway.

They shot down a civilian airliner by mistake for Heaven’s sake. How is that for criminal incompetence?

Was there ever a more senseless tragedy? Hundreds of families left to mourn their loved ones because some goofball had access to a highly sophisticated surface-to-air missile launcher.

Has everyone lost it?

How about this solution to the whole sorry mess. Instead of building a wall along the Mexican border, how about building one separating Russia, the Ukraine and the Mideast from the rest of the world?

I know I’m being silly. That would be way too costly for one thing. But the current mess could prove cripplingly expensive, too. And much more dangerous.

Click for news on the downed airliner.

Click for background on the Ukraine.

Click for the latest on Gaza.

 

The Obamacare Shocker

Republican_Obamacare

 

I suppose Obamacare was too tempting a target to resist, but it looks as if the Republicans will regret pinning their election hopes on attacking the new health care law.

It turns out that millions of Americans are benefiting from the Affordable Care Act, while millions have been left without coverage because their states refused to expand Medicaid under the new law.

Twenty-six states that have fallen under Republican control rejected the Affordable Care Act’s provision to expand Medicaid.  And their defiance is having a disastrous impact on the poor – and on hospitals obliged to provide emergency care for them. Some hospitals have closed and others are in danger of closing.

Medicaid expansion provides coverage for low-income patients, reducing the burden hospitals face from providing free indigent care. And the new law cuts back on federal payments the hospitals used to receive to compensate them for this mandatory requirement.

Here’s how a CNN op-ed piece explained the situation:

When the Affordable Care Act was originally passed, subsidies to hospitals with large uninsured “charity care” populations were cut, figuring that the expansion of Medicaid under the law would replace this funding. But then the Supreme Court ruled that states could decide whether to expand Medicaid or not. Half the states have said they will not extend Medicaid or are putting off deciding. These are states mostly controlled by Republican governors, state legislatures, or both.

By rejecting Medicaid expansion, the red states are leaving hospitals to provide for patients who have no health coverage while the federal subsidies the hospitals used to get  are cut back.

George Washington University researchers estimated recently that 518 health centers in red states will lose $555 million this year because their uninsured patients won’t get federally subsidized coverage. Meanwhile, the 582 health centers in states expanding Medicaid can expect to gain about $2 billion in funding.

The new law’s effect on the economy is also proving a positive for Democrats. Attacked as a “job killer,” Obamacare has generated about a million jobs, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The massive right-wing propaganda crusade  has poisoned public opinion against Obamacare . But apparently, reality is setting in nationwide as the law’s benefits become apparent and its rejection by red states inflicts suffering on millions.

Approval of the health care reforms is rising. A recent Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll found that some 47 percent of American adults support Obamacare, and 47 percent are opposed.

This is a significant improvement from the newspaper’s March poll, which showed 51 percent opposed and only 40 percent in favor.

It’s beginning to look as if  President Obama’s signature legislative achievement will prove to be an asset to Democratic candidates in November – instead of the liability that many of them dreaded so much.

Click for hospitals in peril.

Click for the indigent care mandate.

 

The Centrist Myth

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Judging from the polls, most people consider themselves “moderates.” In their minds, they occupy the sensible center, neither too far left nor too far right. And I bet they have no idea what they’re talking about.

I have news for them. There is no sensible center. You’re either right or wrong.

Where is the center between robbing a bank and  not robbing a bank? How do you compromise between beating up an old lady and taking her lunch money and letting her go about her business in peace?

It’s obvious to me that Republican policies are just plain wrong.

It is wrong to siphon the nation’s wealth to the top 1 percent and choke off aid to poor families. It is wrong to foment conflict in faraway places so that arms manufacturers can become ever more wealthy. It is wrong to  use medieval mythology to deprive women and minorities of their civil rights.

That’s why Americans need Elizabeth Warren.

She does not pretend to be in the center. She is on the side of justice and decency. And she doesn’t care who knows it.

Senator Warren’s populist message is finding an audience across America. She is smart enough to figure out how the elites are taking ordinary Americans  to the cleaners, and she is brave enough to tell the story from the rooftops.

She is also tough enough to be able to fix it.

Of course, when you take black-and-white positions, you will find a lot of people who disagree with you on this or that. And she concedes these disagreements exist. But she dismisses them as less important than the main issue: Americans are being robbed and should do something about it.

Do what? Elect more politicians who will not compromise with the looters.

It’s a message that’s resonating across the land. And we might see the effect in November’s elections – and beyond.

Click for more on Sen. Warren’s message.

Click for progressives turning to Warren.

Click for more on progressives in the Democratic Party.

 

Post Office Banks? Why Not?

When I was a boy in Jamaica, I used to get a blank sheet at the Post Office and fill it up one by one whenever I had a penny to spare to buy a stamp. When the sheet was full, I turned it in at the post office and had the total amount of the stamps added to my little deposit book. It was the way we children saved for expenses like Christmas and birthday presents.

I don’t know if they still have that in Jamaica, but I think it’s a wonderful idea.

Of course Republicans like Congressman Darrell Issa are appalled at such proletarian ideas. The chairman of the House Oversight Committee, which oversees the Postal Service, dismissed a proposal to allow US post offices to provide banking services. He called the suggestion “unacceptable” and a “massive expansion” of government power.”

What got the congressman’s shorts in a knot? The competition that the existing banking system would face, of course. As I’m sure you know, the Republican Party is dedicated to protecting the privileges of bankers and other elite special interests. And they can count on generous campaign contributions in return.

Issa complained that:

The Postal Service pays no federal, state, or local taxes, is exempt from most state and local laws, and is implicitly backed by the taxpayer in the event of bankruptcy. With these inherent advantages over the private sector, allowing USPS to expand into broad new arenas, such as the financial service industry, would be unacceptable and represent a massive expansion of the power of government.

Issa was responding to a proposal from the Postal Service’s inspector general that included offering a range of financial services.

The post office is lumbered with an unfair system that forces it to put up millions in advance on its employee pension plan.  Making that system more reasonable would probably be enough to stem the current flow of red ink.

But the last thing Issa and his ilk want is to keep the post office viable. They want to privatize mail services – another hand-out to their millionaire buddies.

You can see why they would object to any plan – however sensible – to get the mail service in the black.

Despite fierce opposition by Issa and his pals in the banking community, however, the proposal refuses to go away. An article in Salon.com this morning reports that Vicki Kennedy (photo above), a nominee for an existing vacancy on the Postal Service Board of Governors, made this comment during recent nomination hearings:

I think it … important to look at the possibility of expanding into related business lines.

The article notes that Mrs. Kennedy (Ted’s widow) is a Democratic nominee, and adds that with existing vacancies on the board of governors, the President has an opportunity to reverse the Republican majority. At least one other Democratic nominee also expressed positive interest in the inspector general’s proposal.

The article also cites studies that indicate strong public support for the idea. And with a network of 35,000 locations throughout America, post office banking would be especially welcome in rural America, the article added.

The idea certainly seems worth considering but I doubt such reforms are possible as long as Issa and his Republican colleagues control the House of Representatives. The fist step to any progress in America is kicking them out in November.

Then, Congress can seriously consider ways of making the Post Office profitable. Freeing the service from its onerous pension obligations should be a top priority. And the banking idea should also get serious consideration.

Click for the Salon.com article.

Click for more on the post office’s problems.

 

The Good, Bad and Ugly

immigrants

 

While mobs of Ugly Americans shamelessly strut their stuff, cursing and spitting at buses transporting children who fled to America in fear of their lives, the wise words of Pope Francis must not go unnoticed.

Decrying the “racist and xenophobic attitudes” facing undocumented immigrants,  the pontiff put the crisis in perspective with laser-like accuracy and commanding moral authority:

This humanitarian emergency requires, as a first urgent measure, these children be welcomed and protected. These measures, however, will not be sufficient, unless they are accompanied by policies that inform people about the dangers of such a journey and, above all, that promote development in their countries of origin.

What more is there to say?

President Obama should take heed. Congress should take heed. The American people should take heed.

The Great American Experiment is being tested once again. And the world is watching.

It is no secret that the children are refugees from Latin American hell holes created partly by US policy in the past and the drug abuse epidemic of the present.

Americans cannot in good conscience shirk their responsibility. Not only Catholics, not only Christians but all Americans will be judged on their response to this heartbreaking deluge of terrified and abused children.

The US is quick to condemn other countries when they fail to respond with humanity and dignity to refugees from adjoining hot spots. Now, it is America’s turn to show the world how such crises should be handled.

And it will not be enough to ensure the safety and welfare of these children temporarily. It is cynical and heartless to send them back to face the terrors they are fleeing. Yet that seems to be what the President is doing. The $3.7 billion he is asking Congress to approve will be used to hire more border guards, more judges and more law enforcement agents, to warn residents of Latin America that they will not be able to stay in America, and to provide food and shelter for the refugees until they can be sorted out and sent home.

As far as I can tell, not a penny is being requested to address the root of the problem – the unbearable conditions in countries that have fallen into the hands of tyrants, drug dealers and lawless gangs.

It would be cynical and short-sighted to ignore the depravity in countries like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

America has an overriding moral obligation to help its Latin American and Caribbean neighbors develop sustainable economies and  tolerable living conditions. Catholics have a moral obligation to intervene. Christians of every faith have a moral obligation to intervene. The world has a moral obligation to intervene.

It is time to launch a massive global initiative inspired by the pope’s words:

Above all, … promote development in their countries of origin.

And in the meantime, let’s stop cursing and spitting at the unfortunate kids. They’ve been through enough already.

The AP photo above shows immigrant families who entered the U.S. illegally standing in line at the bus station after they were released from a Customs and Border Protection processing facility in McAllen, Texas, in June.

Click for the Pope’s statement.

Click for a sample of “racist and xenophobic attitudes.”

 

The Neighbors Step in

barlow

 

America’s northern neighbors are coming to the aid of Detroit residents who have been left without water. The Council of Canadians has joined the fray and is taking the fight before the international community.

The council is active around the world, working to ensure people’s access to water. In May, a group of Detroit residents approached chairperson Maude Barlow (above) about their water crisis. Barlow visited Detroit and talked to families who were struggling to keep water running in their homes. She determined that their rights are being violated.

“‘I’ve seen water problems in poor countries and the third world,” she said. “But I’ve never seen this in the United States, never.’”

The council joined with the Detroit People’s Water Board, the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, and Food & Water Watch to make a formal complaint to the United Nations regarding the human rights violations by the city’s appointed emergency manager.  UN experts confirmed that Detroit is violating families’ rights to water and sanitation.

Obviously, neither the Canadian Council nor the UN can force America to address this flagrant human rights abuse. But now America faces the critical scrutiny of the rest of the civilized world.

Meanwhile, to focus more attention on the Detroit residents’ plight, the council’s Windsor chapter has organized a convoy to truck in water on July 24.

The council is also organizing a petition drive to ask President Obama and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder  to intervene on behalf of the Detroit families.

Of course, Snyder isn’t likely to pay any attention to the petition. He is the one responsible for the crisis.

He kicked out Detroit’s elected representatives and replaced them with Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, who promptly rushed the city into bankruptcy and is selling off its assets. The crackdown on delinquent water customers is a step toward privatizing the utility.

It’s a recurring pattern throughout Michigan ever since the Republicans took control of the state.

President Obama’s options are limited by the Constitution. And – with a Republican House -  he is not likely to get congressional support for any action he might propose.

Ultimately, the future of Detroit, the future of Michigan and even the future of the United States rests with Americans. As long as Republicans control state governments and the House of Representatives, this kind of abuse is predictable.

Fortunately the voters get a chance to have their say in a few months.

Click to sign the petition.

Click for more on the Detroit crisis.

Click for more on Detroit’s bankruptcy.

 

A Cinderella Story

Mo

 

On a weekend when Germany won the World Cup (as predicted) and Justin Rose won the Scottish Open (as expected), Cinderella stories were hard to come by. And we need those tales of underdog triumph to keep us going.

Most of us are underdogs. The world is set up that way. While the few, the proud – the lucky – bask in the limelight, the rest of us scrub away, getting up each morning with the odds stacked against us but persevering nonetheless. We get ourselves to work, knowing we probably won’t hear a kind word from the boss or the customers today, knowing we might not meet expectations, knowing that no raise, no promotion is in sight, expecting no more than “another day, another dollar.”

But who knows? Perhaps our luck will change. This could be the day we win – win what? That big promotion? That coveted date? The lottery?

In Mo Martin’s story, it’s the Women’s British Open.

Yes, I’m talking about golf. But isn’t golf a lot like life – a game of skill and luck?

It was a bleak day at Royal Birkdale with the wind whipping off the Irish Sea at around 25 miles per hour, not the kind of day for low scores. The unpredictable and unforgiving links had claimed some surprising victims, sending US Women’s Open champion Michele Wie packing early.  But there was no shortage of previous champions left on the leader board on the final day of the prestigious Women’s British Open. South Korea’s Inbee Park, for example. She  was in the lead by a stroke, looking to become only the seventh woman to win four of the LPGA’s majors.

And then there was Mo.

Nobody was paying much attention to the 31-year-old American. It was her 64th LPGA tournament, her ninth year as a pro, and she hadn’t won yet.

Mo was not a star. True, she was a standout at UCLA, but it took her six years to reach the LPGA Tour. She was ranked 99th in the world, one of the many pro golfers who go from day to day, just managing to pay their bills and keep the dream alive.

Mo’s game was solid on this day, not spectacular but solid. At 5-foot-2, she is among the shortest hitters in women’s golf. She had moved into the lead on the second day, but lost it, and trailed big names like Park and Shanshan Feng of China.

And now it was her last hole, her last chance for glory. She stood in the fairway and looked across the gnarly terrain at the green, 236 yards away. She reached for her 3-wood.

If you play the game long enough,  you will probably know what it feels like to hit the ball in “the sweet spot.” It sends a shiver of pure joy up your arm and into your heart as the ball sails, straight and long, zeroing in on the target.

And on Sunday, July 13, 2014, on the fairway of the par-5 18th hole of the Women’s British Open, with the wind at her back and one last swing at victory, Mo Martin hit the ball in the sweet spot.

“I heard it hit the pin from the fairway,” she said later. “That was a pretty fun feeling.”

She still had some work to do. The ball had bounced off the flag stick and settled 6 feet away.

But, on this day, she would not miss the eagle putt.

She hadn’t won yet, though. Shanshan Feng of China and Inbee Park of South Korea were still on the course. But they faltered coming in.And Norway’s Suzann Pettersen failed to erase a pair of earlier double-bogeys with her birdie-birdie finish.

With that 3-wood, with that 6-foot putt, Mo had won the Open.

Winning a major is a life changing achievement, of course. And while women golfers don’t make nearly as much money as the men, the purse is nice, too.

Mo took home nearly half a million dollars, and will use it to save her late grandfather’s ranch back in California. Her grandfather, Lincoln Martin, died last March at 102.

He was Mo’s biggest fan, and even after turning 100, followed her on the tour.  And she was devoted to him. She wore his initials on a necklace in her victory Sunday.

Perhaps he was looking down as she hit that 3-wood. Who knows?

Click for the news story.

Click for Open results.

 

Score One for the People

 

judge

 

districts

I had forgotten about the amendments I voted for back in 2010. Along with 60 percent of Floridian voters, I had enthusiastically said yes to two constitutional amendments designed to stop Republican legislators from drawing those weird looking  electoral districts that keep them in power. Like so many other efforts to address the hanky panky in our state’s democratic processes, the amendment was taken with a grain of salt by the Good Ole Boys in Tallahassee.

Sure, they would draw the electoral maps more fairly (wink, wink). Sure, the process would be transparent and democratic (nudge, nudge). After all, who would know? They’ve been fooling all of the people all of the time for generations, they would just do it again one more time.

They reckoned without the Florida League of Women Voters.

The fight against gerrymandering has been the League’s Holy Grail for the past 70 years – ever since the organization was formed. And they weren’t about to let the Legislature skirt the constitutional amendment they had worked so hard to get passed. Joined by other civic minded groups such as Common Cause, the League sued.

And what do you know? They won!

A Florida judge ruled Thursday that the Good Ole Boys broke the law. And he had some harsh words for their shenanigans.

Judge Terry Lewis (above) found that Republican operatives and consultants conspired to circumvent the requirements of the amendment. And he added:

What is clear to me from the evidence … is that this group of Republican political consultants or operatives did in fact conspire to manipulate and influence the redistricting process. They made a mockery of the Legislature’s proclaimed transparent and open process of redistricting by doing all of this in the shadow of that process.

The judge said two of Florida’s 27 congressional districts (see map above) had been drawn to benefit the Republican Party and ordered them redrawn. The legislature is expected to appeal the ruling, and the Good Ole Boys could still get their way. After all, they own pretty much everything in Old Florida, including the justice system (not in South Florida, of course, where Cubans and Jamaicans and all kinds of other immigrants live).

And there’s the United States Supreme Court. Those justices have made it crystal clear where their sympathies lie. And it’s not with the League or the Democrats – or the people.

But, at least, the ruling puts the issue in the spotlight and sets a precedent that could have widespread repercussions.

Both Republicans and Democrats have engaged in gerrymandering for decades. And after they swept the state legislatures in 2010, Republicans were in a position to redraw congressional maps based on demographics in that year’s census. They drew the maps in such a way that minority areas were grouped together in single districts. That left a bunch of sparsely populated white districts and a few densely populated minority districts.

This is  one reason Republicans won the House in 2012 even though Democrats got 1.4 million more votes than the GOP candidates.

Now, the ugly gerrymandering practice is under legal scrutiny. And who knows where that could lead?

There’s a similar lawsuit pending in North Carolina. And 21 U.S. states have redistricting commissions,with13 of those states relying on citizens commissions exclusively to draw electoral district lines.  A 14th state, Iowa, uses a process that depends on neither the state Legislature nor an independent redistricting commission to draw the districts.

Could this trend be gathering momentum? Could this be the beginning of the end of the gerrymandering plague? Let’s hope so.

Click for more on the historic ruling.

Click for more on the implications.