Living in Fear

screamWhat is your greatest fear? Dying? Getting seriously ill? Losing a loved one?

If those are the fears that keep you awake at night, you are not a typical American. According to the first-ever national study of such matters, the typical American’s greatest fear is walking alone at night.

Really?

Even with that AK-47 slung over their shoulder? Or that .50-caliber Glock in their waist band?

It’s crime that scares Americans most, the study showed. Most Americans think violent crime is rising, even though the evidence shows crime rates are falling.

Salon.com quotes Dr. Edward Day, a sociologist who worked on the project, as saying:

What we found when we asked a series of questions pertaining to fears of various crimes is that a majority of Americans not only fear crimes such as child abduction, gang violence, sexual assault and others; but they also believe these crimes (and others) have increased over the past 20 years.

It must be the TV. Every second show is about cops and robbers; the news is full of scary stories about some young woman being abducted, raped and murdered.

The researchers found that the most fearful people shared “a high level of watching television, specifically talk and true-crime shows.”

But newspapers relish lurid crime stories, too.

Sandra reads the local paper every morning, and she makes sure our doors are always locked – day and night.

Americans are also terrified of having their identities stolen, the study showed. “Safety on the Internet” was another top-three worry (makes you wonder what they’re up to on the web, doesn’t it?)

“Being the victim of a mass/random shooting” was in fourth place, just ahead of “public speaking.”

Becoming ill wasn’t among the nation’s top fears, and barely made it into the top-five “concerns.”

Dying didn’t show up at all.

I suppose death isn’t so frightening if it isn’t the result of violent crime. As Kenny Rogers put it:

The best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.

 Click for the Salon.com article.

 

No, It’s Not Ebola

ebola

 

Your head is throbbing, you’ve got chills, your muscles ache, you feel weak and wobbly… OMG! Could it be?

Relax. It’s probably not Ebola. You’re far more likely to have the flu. Didn’t get vaccinated, did you? Kept putting it off. And now you’re paying the price.

The annual flu season is upon us, and the early symptoms of flu are much the same as those of the dreaded killer disease that has so many Americans in a panic.

According to a Reuters story, hospitals and doctors are bracing for a flood of patients who fear Ebola but  actually have a more familiar ailment – the flu.

According to the story:

Already dozens of false Ebola scares have been reported by hospitals even though the virus is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected person and the virus is not airborne.

What part of “direct contact with bodily fluids” don’t people understand?

Reuters reports that “fear often trumps common sense, even though people should be far more worried about the flu given the toll it is known to take every year, doctors said.”

Of course the flu is nothing to sneeze at. It can kill, too.

Here’s a scary warning from the Reuters story:

You’re far more likely to die at this point from not receiving a flu shot,” said Dr. Sampson Davis, an emergency medicine physician at Meadowlands Hospital Center in Secaucus, New Jersey.

So, how about it? Most drug stores are offering free flu shots. It might be a good idea to tear yourself away from those merchants of doom on your TV screen and go get yourself inoculated.

And if it’s too late for you, if you already are coming down with the flu, you know he drill… rest in bed, take two aspirins, drink plenty of liquids…

Click for the Reuters story.

Click for more on the Ebola panic.

 

Facing the Truth

Education-Fail

 

I have been living in a world of make believe for the past six years, and I suspect you have been too. In that rosy world, racism and bigotry were blights of the past, and people had become enlightened and were now able to tolerate deviation from the “norm,” so much so that they were able to walk a mile in one another’s shoes.

Yes, I was misled. I was misled by the election and reelection of America’s first black President.

As I read the reports of disrespect and hostility towards Barack Obama, I wonder how I could ever have been so sanguine as to expect anything else.

America was not ready for Barack Obama. The world was not ready for Barack Obama.

The backlash his election has created is overwhelming. At home, his approval rating is at its lowest ebb ever, people are walking out of political rallies when he speaks, Democratic candidates are distancing themselves from him in their desperation to get elected.

Abroad, his influence is dwindling, his policies – driven by humanitarianism and tolerance – are failing, his legacy is being tainted.

That’s the picture I get from the news, anyway. It could be slanted. I suspect it is.

There’s so much “spin” in the news that the truth is impossible to discern. But “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” There’s an underlying reality there somewhere, and it’s an ugly reality.

While there are many enlightened and progressive people in America – and in the rest of the world – there are more people who are stuck in the primitive past, where tribalism, fetishism, ignorance and brutality reign supreme. Many more.

Yes even in America. In the world’s leading democracy.

I had hoped for better. I was wrong.

I see daily report of civil rights violations by police and regressive civil rights rulings by the courts. I see increasing evidence  of the rise of a tide of white supremacy, as xenophobia, tribalism and just plain ignorance proliferate throughout the land.

A predatory philosophy of exclusiveness and greed becomes ever more acceptable as America’s white majority closes its ranks against change, as America’s aging turn on the young, as the rich turn on the poor, as the strong turn on the weak.

What am I to make of this horrible epiphany? What is to blame for the bleak picture that I see?

Is it the fault of the education system? The media? The churches? Or is humanity simply beyond redemption?

You tell me.

Click for more on the threat to America’s freedoms.

Click for more on the erosion of civil rights.

 

 

Is Rick Scott OK?

I mean is he all right mentally? He doesn’t sound like it. First, there was his delay in taking the stage for the opening of Wednesday night’s debate because Charlie Crist had a small fan (the electric kind, not the human kind) at his podium. Then there was Scott’s rambling closing statement.

It was not just incoherent, it was imbecilic.

If you didn’t catch the debate, you might want to click on the link at the bottom of this blog and read what the Daily Kos had to say about Scott’s closing message.

Surely, this guy isn’t mentally equipped to be Florida’s governor?

I knew he was a shady character who paid a fine of more than a billion dollars for Medicare fraud, but I didn’t know what a fog he’s in.

Even if you don’t agree that he is mentally not up to the task of governing, I would like to remind you of the miserable job he has done so far. Who could possibly want four more years of this?

I am appalled at those recent stand-your-ground murders, for one thing.

And if my kids or grandkids were still in school, I would be fuming over the way Scott is starving educational institutions for funds. But that’s not as disgraceful as his cuts to essential social services, such as rape crisis centers and agencies for physically and mentally disabled children.

Budget cuts to the Department of Children and Families have resulted in the deaths of at least 40 children!

Layoffs and budget cuts in social services were supposed to make up for the loss of revenue resulting from Scott’s reduction of corporate taxes, which he expected would bring employers flocking to Florida.

Obviously this tactic hasn’t worked.

Remember how he promised to create 1.7 million jobs by cutting corporate taxes, etc.? Well, he hasn’t. At Wednesday’s debate. he was bragging about creating 700,000 jobs by 2017, even though economists have pointed out that a million jobs should be added in Florida by then regardless of who is governor.

His sorry legacy also includes vetoing funds for wildlife preservation, and slashing the budgets for whooping cough vaccine, legal assistance to the poor, at-risk pregnant women, needy senior citizens, the homeless …

Yet he was able to find $600,000 to redecorate the governor’s mansion and more than $400,000 for a state business logo.

The case against Scott goes on and on, and you can read more by clicking on this link:

233 Non-Partisan Reasons Why Rick Scott Must Go

 Click for the Daily Kos report.

Click for more on the debate.

 

Two More Years?

congress

 

I am tempted to skip voting in November for the first time in my life. For one thing the bullying emails demanding contributions to the Democratic Party are getting on my nerves – as are the groveling ones and the pleading ones and the scary ones and…

This has to be the worst election campaign in history. The Democrats seem to be doing their best to alienate me. And the Republicans get more repugnant every day.

I am offended by the way some Democratic candidates have turned on the President and disavowed his policies. If they win their seats by rejecting his agenda, what good will that do? They will be likely to vote against his initiatives anyway, won’t they?

Will they defend Obamacare for example? A lot of them seem to be saying no to that. They are doing everything they can to distance themselves from the program, even though it seems to be working better all the time.

And the Republicans are already threatening another government shutdown to cut off funds for Obamacare.

It looks more and more as if it doesn’t matter which party wins this election. President Obama’s wish list seems doomed anyway.

I don’t see red state Democratic politicians voting for comprehensive immigration reform, a tax overhaul to address income inequality, equal pay and equal rights for women – or any of the progressive programs the President would like to introduce. I think they would be too worried about the next election.

And there just aren’t enough blue state representatives in Congress to give President Obama the mandate he needs.

I hope I’m wrong of course. I shudder to think of two more years like the last two. But I am afraid that is what we can look forward to as a Republican Congress passes the worst kind of regressive legislation in history and the President dutifully vetoes it.

And let’s not forget his impeachment. That will certainly be on the table if the Republicans get a majority in the Senate as well as the House. I doubt they will get enough seats for impeachment – a two-thirds majority is required in the Senate – but they will probably get enough to have a trial, as they did with President Clinton.

No, I won’t stay home this election. Of course I will trudge off to the polls and dutifully fill in the ovals next to any name with a capital D next to it. But I will do it with a heavy heart.

The only consolation I see is that things will get so wretched that the American voters will have had enough and kick out the Republicans once and for all in 2016.

Click for more on the Republicans’ shutdown threat.

 

The Threat of Cheap Oil

masks

 

According to an old saying I heard as a child in Jamaica, “One man’s rise is another man’s downfall.” And, as usual with those old sayings, it has proven to be quite accurate throughout my lifetime.

Cheap oil is a dream come true for most of the industrialized world. It means lower gas prices for one thing, affordable electricity for another. And the result is usually a lower cost of living across the board.

But for the countries that depend on selling their oil to survive, it’s a nightmare.

It’s especially bad news for folks like Prince Alwaleed bin Talal al-Saud. The Saudi prince has written an open letter in response to news reports suggesting his country’s oil minister would be comfortable with oil prices below $90 a barrel.

His view is that such low prices would be “a catastrophe.”

According to people who claim to know about such arcane topics, oil prices are heading south with no end in sight. They point to such causes as the shale boom in the US and decelerating demand in China, where the economy has slowed.

I have no sympathy for the Saudi princes or any of the other Mideast moguls who are infamous for their self indulgent behavior and oppressive politics. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal al-Saud, for example, has been known to entertain party guests by throwing dwarfs.

And I don’t consider $90-a-barrel oil “cheap.” I am old enough to remember oil below $25 a barrel (in 2010 dollars). Those were the glory days of US prosperity, when gas was 20 or 30 cents a a gallon and the automobile was king.

As you might recall, that was before OPEC was formed, creating a cartel designed to extort obscene oil prices from an energy hungry world. Now, the OPEC countries have unprecedented competition. They don’t call the shots any more.

You might think I would be jumping up and down and clapping my hands, but I’m not.

And my lack of exuberance is not prompted by the fact that people like Prince Alwaleed bin Talal al-Saud have huge investments in Western corporations that are, sadly, too big to fail. (This Saudi prince has a massive stake in Apple, Time-Warner, and other corporate giants, for example.)

I realize their downfall could cause havoc in the global economy but that’s not my main concern.

Even the threat of rampant instability in the Muslim world, which plummeting oil prices could trigger, pales beside a greater danger – global warming.

I fear that as oil prices decline, the world will lose its sense of urgency for developing green energy sources. This trend has only lately gathered momentum with such encouraging signs as introduction of electric vehicles and increasing acceptance of wind and solar power.

While cheap oil might seem to be the cause of some people’s rise in the short term, it could spell everyone’s downfall in the long run.

Click for more on the Saudi prince’s letter.

Click for news of the current oil market.

Click for more on oil prices.

Click for more on the Mideast moguls.

 

The Back Stabbers

panetta

I would call them rats that desert a sinking ship but I don’t know any rats who bit the hand that fed them and I believe history will show President Obama’s ship of state is weathering the current storm. So I’ll leave it to you to select an appropriate designation for the former Obama aides who are dumping on his presidency.

This is a lousy election, the midterm contest coming up in a few weeks.The campaigns reek of mean spirited bile, and the candidates stoop lower and lower as they grovel for a few more pennies and a few more votes.

And these are lousy times, with the TV wailing incessantly about Ebola and ISIS, while revelations continue to emerge of racist police policies, voter suppression, economic oppression, immigration injustice and political corruption.

But it is not President Obama’s fault.

I am certain he was not involved in the spread of Ebola to America, and I don’t know what he could have done to prevent the Islamic State from emerging as a deadly scourge.

So what if he enjoys a game of golf now and then? How could that possibly motivate Putin to invade the Ukraine and threaten to start World War III?

Obama’s critics are in full voice, of course. And even the current crop of Democratic candidates are scurrying to distance themselves from the President. The media are joyfully reporting the trash talk without bothering to examine its merit – or lack of merit.

In the prevailing dump-on-Obama frenzy, nobody is taking the trouble to examine the sources of the torrent of criticism and test their credibility.

Take that Judas, Leon Panetta, for example, He is not only a discredited CIA spook (cartoon above). He is also an equal opportunity back stabber, trashing whatever president he chooses to serve under – Republican and Democrat alike. He betrayed Nixon when he worked for Nixon. He betrayed Clinton when he worked for Clinton. And now he is betraying Obama after working for him, too.

I’m sure you know Panetta just published a tell-all memoir that condemns President Obama for all kinds of foreign policy blunders, even blaming him for the rise of ISIS.

Panetta is not alone. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates also published a book that looks askance at the President’s record as commander in chief. But who is Robert Gates? Isn’t he the man who executed and presumably concurred in the president’s policies?

I don’t have the space to examine those policies here. But I challenge you to come up with better ones under the conditions facing this President.

How would you have fared with a Congress committed to blocking every one of your initiatives and appointments?

It’s the stonewalling of key administrative appointments that caused the delays and administrative breakdowns contributing to some of the nation’s woes, for example.

Even with this intolerable Congress, America’s first black president has managed to record some remarkable achievements. I am confident that history will vindicate him.

Don’t believe me? Perhaps you’ll believe Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman. In a recent Rolling Stone defense of the president, he writes:

Despite bitter opposition, despite having come close to self-inflicted disaster, Obama has emerged as one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history. His health reform is imperfect but still a huge step forward – and it’s working better than anyone expected.

Financial reform fell far short of what should have happened, but it’s much more effective than you’d think. Economic management has been half-crippled by Republican obstruction, but has nonetheless been much better than in other advanced countries. And environmental policy is starting to look like it could be a major legacy.

A responsible media would spend more time quoting reliable sources like Paul Krugman and less time regurgitating the bile from disgruntled former employees like Leon Panetta and Robert Graves. But you and I know they probably won’t.

Click for more on Krugman’s article.

Click for more on Obama’s critics.

Click for more on golf criticism.

 

The Huckabee Republicans

They are single-issue voters, the followers of Mike Huckabee. Well, not single issue really, single-issues. But the issues are related – abortion, gay marriage, and so on. What they stand for is moral purity – or so they believe, anyway.

To me, it looks a lot more like a self-congratulatory notion that they, and only they, are righteous.

They are the kind of people who forced Hester Prynne to wear that scarlet letter. The kind of people who get a nice warm feeling when they shame others.

Ironically, they call themselves Christians. Obviously, they’ve never read the New Testament.

These people have been a force in the Republican Party for a long time. But could their influence be waning?

Obviously, Huckabee thinks so. He is threatening to go his own way.

Enraged by the party’s submissive response to the Supreme Court’s refusal to overturn state marriage equality laws, Huckabee ranted:

Go ahead and just abdicate on this issue … I’ll become an independent. I’ll start finding people that have guts to stand.

His threat met the same kind of response as that tree that falls in the forest with no one around to hear it.

Could it be that Huckabee’s days are numbered? He has consistently polled among Republicans’ top choices for president and his Fox News show gets good ratings. But the ideas he cherishes seem to be losing traction as the GOP scrambles to eke out a victory in November.

Writing in Politico Magazine, Bill Scher notes that there’s a growing trend for Republican candidates to back away from rigid positions on social issues.

Times are changing in America, and Republicans are scrambling to fudge their antiquated notions. It might seem that they are abdicating their party’s long-cherished ideals.

But I strongly suspect Huckabee and his followers have little cause for dismay. I am sure the changes they deplore are cosmetic, driven by the need to reassure today’s voters. Back in power, the party would emerge from behind this new mask and bare its true face.

It’s the same old face of intolerance and bigotry.

Click for Bill Scher’s article.

 

Kurds Deserve US Help

Kurdish Warrior Women

I was encouraged by a news report about three young Americans who have gone to Syria to fight. They did not go to join ISIS. They went to join the Kurds and fight ISIS.

Of course, if one of them was my son I would probably be hanging on to his ankles as he tried to get out the door.  But I still admire these kids.

How do we relate to a world in which so much evil is rampant? Do we as individuals close our eyes and ears to the horrors being committed? Do we as a nation sit on the sidelines and insist it’s not our fight?

Or do we put our lives on the line for justice?

As I ponder this question,  the words of the late German pastor, Martin Niemöller, come to mind:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

He was talking about the Nazis, but his words could just as easily be applied to today’s agents of evil. The Islamic extremists, for example, are eerily evocative of the Nazi scourge. ISIS is coming for the Kurds today. Tomorrow ISIS will be coming for the rest of us – unless they are stopped.

Islamic extremism is not a regional problem; it is a global problem. It is an American problem. Americans would be ill advised to let ISIS slaughter the Kurds in Kobani as they are intent on doing. The barbarians must be beaten back in Syria today or they will attack America tomorrow.

While self interests is an obvious motive, there is an even more compelling argument for Western intervention in this uneven fight: It is the right thing to do.

The brave Kurds, including the women (photo above), are putting up an epic struggle but they are outmanned and outgunned. They cannot defeat ISIS without help. They deserve that help.

Click for the story about the American fighters.

Click for the Kobani siege.

 

Wallowing in Misery

I’ve never been to Mississippi. I don’t think I’ve even driven through the state. And from what I know about Mississippi, I wouldn’t want to go there. The name “Mississippi” conjures up a long list of horrors- the murder of civil rights workers, church bombings, cross burnings, and on and on and on. The Phil Ochs admonition, “Mississippi find another country to be part of,” lingers in my mind.

I read a few days ago that Mississippi was the most miserable state in America. Someone had worked out a misery index and Mississippi headed the list.  Not surprisingly, another study has Mississippi as the most racist state in the nation, too.

These studies vary, of course. In the spring, one study listed Kentucky as America’s most miserable state, another gave the crown to West Virginia. But Mississippi is always near the top.

And, while the order keeps changing the top-ten list includes the same states pretty much all the time. They are overwhelmingly “red” states. You can nearly always find Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, Missouri, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas – as well as Mississippi – on any of the misery lists.

You would think that the people who live in these states would start wondering why they’re so wretched. You would suppose they would wonder whether they need a change of government.

But apparently not. Elections come and go, and the Republicans remain in control.

What is it, I wonder. Abortion? A lot of voters cast their ballots because they feel strongly about legalized abortion. Racism? Lyndon Johnson said he lost the South for a generation by signing the Voting Rights Act. Gay rights? A lot of people are scandalized by the idea of men marrying men and women marrying women. I know I would have been horrified if I’d heard about such things growing up in Jamaica back in the Forties, even though when you think about it, why shouldn’t anyone be able to marry who they love?

As the old Jamaican song reminds us, “It’s nobody’s business but their own.”

Could it be ignorance that keeps those states mired in misery? The misery index usually includes a low education score. Could the Republicans be maintaining control by keeping the voters ignorant?

It certainly is the kind of thing they would do, isn’t it?

Click for one of the misery lists.