Yes We Can. Yes We Must



It’s that time of year. The phone surveys are beginning. Who am I going to vote for and why, the callers want to know. Last night was a little different. The lady on the phone also wanted to know what issue I think is most important in the November elections. She listed some heavyweight stuff – jobs and the economy for example, managing growth, illegal immigration, legalizing medical marijuana…

I had no trouble picking my number-one concern – preserving the environment. For if we don’t protect our environment, nothing else will matter.

Yet the environment is getting short shrift in the media these days. The “news” is all about ISIS beheadings and NFL uglies beating up their “loved ones.” And I can understand why. The melodramatic stuff is more exciting. But climate change is far more important.

As surely as the sun rises each day, we the people are destroying our earth.

I know, Republicans will tell you it ain’t necessarily so. But if you believe what Republicans tell you, I’m sorry for you. You need help.

Fortunately, there are people working their butts off to reverse the practices that so terrifyingly threaten our environment.

This week, for example, tens of thousands of marchers will invade midtown Manhattan to demand action to fight climate change. Timed to coincide with the first UN summit on the climate crisis, the march is being hailed as the largest-ever demonstration to combat global warming.

The media may not give the march much attention. But President Obama is listening. He is proposing such measures as a carbon tax to discourage carbon emissions. And Democratic Congressman Jim McDermott of Virginia is proposing an even steeper carbon tax that is designed to cut total U.S. carbon emissions by 30 percent in 10 years.

But you can forget about such measures if coal and oil billionaires like the Koch Brothers win control of Congress in November. They are spending millions to convince us that climate change is perfectly natural and that their polluting plants pose no threat to Mother Earth.

And I don’t have to tell you what party they are voting for.


Poisonous Predictions



There are no sure things in life. That’s about the only thing I’m sure of. California Chrome did not win the Triple Crown. Dewey did not beat Truman.

So I wish the pundits would stop giving the Republicans control of Congress. It’s only September, folks. The polls don’t open till November.

I never thought much of Jay Carney. I didn’t like him when he was President Obama’s press secretary and I don’t like him now that he is a CNN analyst. I like him even less this morning after reading that he predicts the Democrats will get a thrashing in the impending midterm elections.

Carney is not alone. Far from it. The dispiriting refrain is everywhere. Even the begging emails I get from various Democrats have a desperate ring to them.

Have these people never heard of self-fulfilling prophecies? Or are they intentionally sabotaging their party’s chances?

If they keep up their defeatist lament, we the Democratic voters could lose heart and stay home. Their dire prophecy would be fulfilled in spades.

What’s really sad is the wonkish reasoning behind the defeatist predictions. Like so many others, Carney’s argument is based on historical generalizations, not on the issues of the day. He says, for example, that the sixth year is “always” bad for a president’s party and several Senate seats now held by Democrats happen to be in states that traditionally vote Republican.

I’ve seen that reasoning before. But “states” don’t vote and the past is not “always” prelude to the future.

It’s people who vote. And the American people have an overwhelming case against the Republicans. The vast majority of American women, for example. Whether they live in a red state, a blue state, a purple state or a polka dot state, how can any American woman vote for a party that has demonstrated such disregard for her rights and such contempt for her as a human being?

How about American students? If you were a student would you vote for the party that is working overtime to keep those exorbitant interest rates on your student loan?

You know that black Americans have recognized that the Republican Party is a fortress of white privilege – even white supremacy. Check those history books the pundits like to quote and you’ll find the vast majority of America’s black voters opt for the Democratic candidate every time.

Do you also know that Hispanic voters are recognizing they have no future in a Republican America? The Republicans have made it abundantly clear whose side they’re on. And it’s not on the side of the Hispanics, that’s for sure.

I could go on and on. First Nation Americans, would-be immigrants of every nationality – and their relatives – how could they vote Republican? That also goes for civil servants, teachers, firefighters, law officers, trade union members, fast food workers, the sick, the unemployed, the poor, gays, marijuana smokers… The Republicans have thumbed their noses at them all.

The Grand Old Party is firmly in the camp of just one constituency – white privilege. Make that male, white privilege. In fact, make that straight, male, white privilege (especially straight, white, male, religious bigots)… and not the straight, white, bigoted, male students, either – not unless the students can afford to pay for their education up front.

The way I see it, hardly anybody has any reason to vote Republican. Not even the rich, white, male bigots in their cocoon of privilege. If they have any sense, they must realize their days of wine and roses are numbered. The lopsided economic and social system on which they rely cannot survive forever. Le deluge is coming unless there is radical reform. And soon.

Yu want my my prediction for November? Here it is: Democrats win it all. Republicans lose. (But only if we the people get out and vote.)

Click for Carney’s prediction.


A Culture of Rage

Life in a civilized society is inevitably frustrating. We cannot always do as we wish. We have to modify our behavior to accommodate the other members of our society. But as we mature – if we are lucky enough to mature – we adjust to the restraints that we must endure to live in a civilized society.

Of course not everyone matures. Some people just grow older.

Ray Rice obviously hasn’t matured.  Adrian Peterson (photo above) obviously hasn’t matured.

Rice is the thug shown in that video the TV stations are so in love with. You know, the one where he knocks his fiancée cold in an elevator and drags her limp body around like a sack of sugar.

Peterson is the thug who beat up his 4-year-old son. According to one news report:

Peterson grabbed a tree branch, which he referred to as a “switch,” according to law enforcement sources, removed the leaves and struck the child with it repeatedly.

The beating reportedly resulted in cuts and bruises to the child’s back, buttocks, ankles, legs and scrotum, along with defensive wounds to his hands.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both Rice and Peterson are professional football players.

To me that’s what American football is all about – savage violence.

I don’t pretend to understand American football. I am told that it involves a high level of skill and intricate strategic maneuvers. But all I see is a crowd of overweight guys running into each other, grunting like cave men and knocking each other about. Then I see them, one by one, limping off the field and getting treated for some injury.

I am forever grateful to my daughter Grace that she did not encourage either of her sons to play football. My elder grandson Jonathan opted for the comparatively gentle sport of wrestling, and his younger brother, Adam, chose swimming and badminton.

I realize that I am part of a tiny minority when it comes to football. Most Americans – especially the males – are enraptured by the game. The NFL is hugely profitable because of this love affair.

I think this says a lot about American society.  And what it says is not complimentary.

I think football fans are venting a massive reservoir of pent-up violence when they cheer their favorite warriors, even urging them to “kill” the opposing players. I see the NFL as just one symptom of a culture of violence, a culture in which guns are glorified, obscenity is admired and women and children get beaten up. This violence is bred, at least in part, by the inevitable frustrations and disappointments of the desperately unsatisfying daily lives that most of us must lead.

I suppose the NFL will sternly punish Rice and Peterson. The media will insist on it.

But I find this depressingly ironic. Where do you think Rice and Peterson learned their primitive behavior? Probably in the NFL. And if they came to the NFL with a background of violence and thuggery, the NFL did everything in its power to make them even more savage.

The sickness of violence runs deep and wide in America. It will take a lot more than suspension of a couple of players by the NFL to cleanse the infection.


Don’t Complain. V ote!

The U.S. Senate is supposed to be voting today on a constitutional amendment that would allow the federal and state governments to limit political campaign spending. But the amendment has very little chance of passing. And if by some miracle it slips past the procedural roadblocks and gets the two-thirds majority such legislation requires, the Republican controlled House would never even debate such a bill.

Money is very persuasive, and there’s a lot of money at stake here. Politicians tend to vote in favor of their wallets.

For reasons that I don’t completely grasp, it seems to take massive campaign spending to win elections nowadays. Not always, of course, but often enough to affect the balance of power in Congress. America is becoming a plutocracy – if it hasn’t become one already.

The Supreme Court’s decision to let corporations spend as much as they want on American elections made the situation a lot worse. With campaign limits, there was some semblance of a level playing field. Now, elections can be bought by billionaires like the Koch brothers and mighty corporations like Monsanto and the oil companies.

Why? Don’t tell me American voters are so impressionable that they are influenced by those absurd TV commercials? Surely, by now we all know the commercials are bogus? I hear some sonorous voice on TV declaring that whenCharlie Crist was governor, Florida’s unemployment soared. Does that make me change my mind and vote for Rick Scott?

Don’t make me laugh. I know that even if the commercial is loosely based on real figures, Crist was not responsible for Florida losing jobs. During his time as governor (from 2007 to 2011) a lot of things were happening nationally – such as the horrific recession triggered by George W. Bush’s wild and woolly presidency. But even if the commercial was rock solid, I wouldn’t change my mind and vote Republican after all these years.

And I don’t expect Republicans to change their minds either. So who gets influenced by the ads? I don’t know one person who changed their vote because of something they saw or heard in the media. Do you?

In my experience, it’s the turnout that matters. Sometimes a lot of Democrats stay home, and the Republicans get elected. It’s as simple as that.

My in basket is deluged with begging emails and I bet yours is too. I read that both parties are raising huge sums of money for the November elections. The argument is that the more money raised the better the chance of victory. And I suppose there’s some truth in that. But it’s not always true.

Of course, a lot of professional campaigners get fat off bloated campaign spending. And so do a lot of politicians. The media gets its share too. But we don’t have to vote for the bad guys. It’s our job to keep abreast of what’s going on and vote accordingly. If we rely on TV ads for our information, we will get what we deserve

Door-to-door campaigning has to be more effective than those ludicrous campaign ads. I remember how an obscure Lakeland lawyer named Lawton Chiles walked across Florida and drummed up enough support to get elected to the US Senate and later became our governor. Sure it cost money – but not the kind of money those TV ads cost.

I suspect the PR operatives and the marketing hucksters have sold us all a bill of goods. They’re the ones who profit most from today’s obscene campaign spending. But don’t wait for Congress to set things right. Campaign spending limits will never be reintroduced in America. Too many people profit too much by the current system. Even in Canada, I see Stephen Harper is trying to get their limits removed.

The only way to get your candidate elected is to vote. And a lot of us aren’t voting. So let’s stop blaming the filthy rich for showering the airwaves with cash in an effort to take over our government. Let’s take responsibility for our own destinies. Let’s get off our rear ends and vote!


War and Peace II



This won’t be as long as Tolstoy’s masterpiece and there will be no fresh insights. Everything old is new again, as the song says, so there’s nothing to add that you don’t already know. You know it but you don’t believe it.

That’s the way we humans are. We are in denial.

We – yes I am included – believe we can end violence with violence.  The President will tell us tonight how he plans to stamp out the evil ISIL (also known as ISIS), and I will be among those applauding him. Yes, bomb the beheading bastards! If anyone deserves it, they do.

And with each dead ISIS extremist, ten more will spring up like the mythological dragon’s teeth, ready for eternal jihad.

But what alternative is there? ISIS cannot be allowed to take over Iraq and Syria. Do you think they would stop there? Their objective is to conquer the Mideast today and the world tomorrow.

Think of what that would do to the global oil market.

On purely moral grounds, ISIS cannot be allowed to continue its unspeakable atrocities. Edmund Burke hit the nail on the head when he observed that all evil needs to triumph is for good people to do nothing. We good people – you and I – have an obligation to do something to protect civilization.

If only for our own sakes.

Islamic extremism is a threat to us all. It is a pernicious germ that – if it is not wiped out – will infect the world and breed an army of converts to destroy our civilization from within.

So what do you say? Let’s wipe it out.

The problem is that bombs and bullets  haven’t worked in the past. Good and evil have been at war in the world for generations. Monstrous villains come and go, and the struggle never ends.

We have had the war to end all wars, and the wars have not ended. We have created The Bomb, which by itself should be a powerful deterrent against aggression, yet aggression has proliferated. We devote an unseemly share of human resources to “defense budgets” yet we bcome ever more vulnerable.

Somewhere along the way, civilization took a wrong turn. Instead of taking the path of tolerance, understanding, sharing and love, we opted for a system in which selfishness, greed and bullying are glorified. Such a system inevitably breeds resentment and hate, and as long as it prevails, there will be no peace.

So I’ll listen to the President’s speech tonight and I am sure I will be gratified to learn how he proposes to rid the world of this latest horror. Then I’ll pray for peace.

Click for more on the President’s speech.


For Kids. Farmers, too



When I think of the things some Republicans do and say these days, I cringe in horror. I am tempted to dismiss all Republicans as subhuman sadists or knuckle dragging neanderthals. And then I get an email from Adam Putnam.

He is a Republican born and bred. The scion of a rich citrus and cattle family, he was elected to the state Legislature right out of University of Florida and went on to become the youngest-ever member of Congress. Folks around here would likely have voted him back to Washington forever. But in 2010 – when people were eyeing him as a potential candidate for governor or even president – he surprised everybody and ran for state Commissioner of Agriculture.

Of course he was elected. And he is likely to be re-elected in November.

I think I know why. Adam Putnam may be a Republican but he sounds concerned for the welfare of rich and poor alike. Especially the kids.

His email began:

Hi George,

Did you know ensuring Florida’s students receive proper nutrition is one of my top priorities as the Commissioner of Agriculture?

No Commissioner, I did not know that. I thought all of you Republicans were in favor of limiting the school lunch program, cutting the food stamp budget and generally making life miserable for America’s struggling families.

Putnam’s email went on:

We know that without proper nutrition kids just can’t learn up to their potential in the classroom and that is why I’ve worked to direct more locally-grown fresh produce to our schools.

Well, I know “that without proper nutrition kids just can’t learn up to their potential in the classroom.” But I never realized you knew that, Commissioner. I thought you Republicans figured a little starvation would help to sharpen the students’ wits.

It’s heartening to realize you were thinking of ensuring proper nutrition for Florida’s kids and not just boosting sales for Florida’s land barons when you “worked to direct more locally-grown fresh produce to our schools.”

Whatever your motive or motives might be, I am very pleased to learn that:

Many Florida schools now offer locally-grown fruits and vegetables in their cafeterias. In some cases, students are eating produce picked from within miles of their classroom.

Of course I don’t know how much longer that will last if your Republican buddies retain control of Congress. Squeezing this kind of “welfare”  program is one of their priorities.

I don’t know if you still have connections in Washington, Commissioner. But if you do, you might want to mention that the school lunch program isn’t just a necessity for kids who might not get enough to eat at home. You might point out that it is also a pretty good way of sustaining demand for the stuff those rich farmers grow – the rich farmers who help to finance Republican candidates across America.

Click for more on Republicans and school lunches.


Immigration Shocker

I am sure President Obama has his reasons for changing his mind about fixing the immigration mess. But I think he is making a big mistake.

The President promised an executive order allowing some undocumented immigrants to emerge from the shadows and live normal lives in America. It was to be the prelude to a comprehensive overhaul of the country’s broken immigration system – some day.

But he has backed down. He says he will wait until after the midterm elections in November. Why?

Could it be that Democratic candidates in some states are afraid of the backlash from voters?

If so, he is protecting them at the expense of Democratic candidates in other districts – the heavily Hispanic ones.

This could be the blunder that gives Republicans control of Congress. Immigration activists are outraged. They feel they’ve been double-crossed. And I don’t blame them.

If the Hispanic voters stay home (I can’t imagine they would actually vote Republican), the Democrats won’t have a chance in November.

So there must be some other reason for the President’s surprise move.

Here’s how he defended his position:

What I want to do is when I take executive action, I want to make sure it’s sustainable … What I’m saying is I’m going to act because it is the right thing for the country, but it’s going to be more sustainable and more effective if the public understands what the facts are on immigration, what we’ve done on unaccompanied children and why it’s necessary.

I have no idea what he’s talking about. Do you? If there’s one thing the public should understand by now it’s that US immigration policy is unfair and cruel. We don’t need to keep talking about it. What we need is action to fix it.

Could it be that President Obama is afraid the Republicans will try to impeach him if he acts?

That would be ironic because he can be sure they will impeach him if they win control of Congress in November.

Of course, I can’t read the President’s mind. And he has access to information that I will never know. But from what I know, this decision mystifies me.

Click for more on the announcement.

Click for the Latino  response.


The Right Stuff


keiLooking at Marin Cilic (top photo) and Kei Nishikori (bottom photo), which one would you pick in tomorrow’s US Open tennis final? Cilic is six feet, six inches tall and has a serve not seen since Goran Ivanisevic, his new coach. Nishikori is eight inches shorter and not nearly as athletic-looking as Cilic. But don’t be too quick to count him out.

I pick Nishikori to win it all.

Nishikori has something I don’t think Cilic  has. Something that Canada’s Milos Raonic – another imposing looking athlete with a massive serve – evidently does not have.

Gaël Monfils showed a disappointing lack of it against Roger Federer. Perhaps the most gifted athlete in the tournament, Monfils lost his will the moment Federer showed some fight.

It’s called Yamato Damashii  in Nishikori’s home country of Japan. Roughly translated, it means the Japanese spirit.

But I have seen it in several people who were not Japanese.

My brother Bill, for example, had polio in both legs – one after the other – as a toddler. Yet he became Junior Welterweight Champion of the British Army of the Rhine. Bill has Yamato Damashii.

The 1973 New York Mets had Yamato Damashii. Remember that improbable World Series Championship? They believed they could win and they had the will to win. So they won.

Here’s another example of Yamato Damashii.  Back in the early Fifties, a boxer named Randy Turpin (did you know his parents were from Jamaica?) upset Sugar Ray Robinson, knocking him cold in a London bout. In the New York rematch, Turpin almost did it again, when Sugar Ray was so badly cut it looked as if he might have to call it quits. But Sugar Ray refused to lose, and knocked out Turpin to regain the championship.

Sugar Ray had Yamato Damashii.

And it’s the intangible something that sets Nishikori apart. Against superstar Novak Djokovic, Nishikori showed how Yamato Damashii can overcome mere physical dominance.  Djokovic is notoriously athletic, fine tuning his body with the most rigorous regimen imaginable. Djokovic has all the shots, all the moves. He is number one in the world and was seeded umber one in the tournament.

Nishikori had been through a series of grueling five-setters, forcing his delicate-looking frame to exceed its physical limits as he faced one bigger, stronger athlete after another. He should have been dead on his feet. But, in the tradition of the samurai, he dug deep, finding something beyond physical strength, beyond athletic ability, beyond mere muscle and brawn.

In Japan, it’s called Yamato Damashii. In America, it’s been called “the Right Stuff.”

It’s celebrated in that song about the ant who moved a rubber tree plant. Remember?

I don’t see it today as often as I used to. And that’s a great pity.

Click for more on Kei Nishikori.

Click for more on Cilic.


A World of Shadows



Responding to my blog on Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine, a reader named Eddie commented that:

The people of eastern Ukraine voted to separate from the Ukrainian government that was not elected and whose first move was to outlaw the use of the Russian language. A legal election was held. Nearly everyone voted and the vote was in favor of breaking free of the coup government that was appointed by the United States.What is most disgusting is Obama and the west, Why do neo-Nazis play such a prominent role in the supposedly moderate Ukrainian government of billionaire oligarch Petro Poroshenko?

All this is a window dressing, hiding a “blame Putin” message. Is Putin anyone’s peace, democracy and prosperity poster-boy? No. But he’s being far more rational than the US on most any “crisis” in Ukraine, Syria/Iraq, Libya etc.

Eddie has a point. While I doubt the validity of that “legal election” in the eastern Ukraine (the voters were looking over their shoulders at pro-Russian troops), the legally elected Ukrainian president was ousted in a coup. And covert US organizations were reportedly involved.

Eddie is also correct in suggesting the leaders of the Ukraine uprising include some questionable characters.

But Vladimir Putin’s crowd is certainly no better. He is a former KGB spy and his cronies are cut from the same cloth. Furthermore, he is reportedly in league with mobsters within the Ukraine.

What is most relevant, though, is his response to the Ukrainian uprising. The way I see it, he has taken advantage of the situation to further his empire-building ambitions.

What troubles me most is that he has a nuclear stockpile, which he is threatening to use. And he is no friend of America or the West.

I have no inside information from that distant part of the world, but I suspect this is a conflict between two sets of mobsters. In a rcent article in Foreign Policy magazine, Mark Galeotti recalls “the endemic criminalization of the Ukrainian state under successive leaders.” He writes:

Like Russia, Ukraine experienced a massive upsurge in organized crime in the 1990s, when new political and economic systems were being created at a time of catastrophically weak state control. Overt gangsterism in the streets was matched by the rise of a new elite who often blended political, economic, and criminal enterprises.

I doubt that western media have much inside information, either. They report what the powers that be tell them. And you and I know the powers that be don’t always tell the truth.

But this much is clear. Putin is not our friend. And the less the rest of the world has to do with him, the better.

Click for Galeottti’s article.


The Naked Truth



I didn’t recall at first who “Oscar winner” Jennifer Lawrence is. But I was sure I didn’t want to see her nude photos. And it’s not just because I’m so darned old. The truth is that I know Ms. Lawrence wouldn’t want me peeping at her and I think she has a right to her privacy.

Why am I even writing about this?

I was taken aback by the explosive response to the celebrity photos that were hacked and  posted online over the weekend. The Internet and the airwaves are abuzz, and “social media” sites are ablaze. One site, Reddit, devotes a whole page to discussions of the purloined photos. The story even made

Ms. Lawrence is causing the greatest stir.

And it’s not just because she won an Oscar for (I had to look this up) “”Silver Linings Playbook.” this morning includes a psycho-babble piece by a female writer who could not resist clicking on the purloined photos of Ms. Lawrence. According to this writer, as she guiltily indulged her curiosity, “Jennifer Lawrence’s body became the body of all women.”

What does that mean? You tell me.

As I said, I haven’t seen those nude photos, but I am sure that all women do not look like her. It’s not that other women are less attractive. But, unlike men who come in three or four predictable packages, women’s bodies represent a wide variety of shapes and sizes. And they are all beautiful in their own way.

I don’t doubt that Ms. Lawrence is exceptionally  beautiful. Her face is certainly nice to look at (photo above).  But so is the ancient statue of the Venus de Milo. So is “Female Nude Reclining on a Divan” by Eugene Delacroi. So is Manet’s “Olympia.” So is Titian’s “Venus Anadyomene” (below).Anadyomene

The female form has inspired artists, sculptors and authors for centuries. (It is enlightening that of the more than 100 celebrities hacked, only one was male.)

We men have been titillated by the sight of “forbidden” nakedness since … probably since Adam. And “exposing” nude – and compromising – photos of celebrities is as old as Hollywood. (If you’re old enough, you might remember those photos of Marilyn Monroe.)

So what’s the fuss about?

We all value our privacy. I am not the shy type but I wouldn’t be pleased to see my naked body displayed on the web.

The point is that Ms Lawrence’s body belongs to her. And she has every right to show it to whomever she pleases and keep it hidden from the rest of us.

In the name of common decency, we should all just let those photos rest in peace, and find something else to look at.

Click for the story.

Click for the article.

Click for Jennifer Lawrence’s Oscar.

Click for famous nude paintings.