A “Do-Gooder’s” Lament

You might think that most people would choose decency, fairness and compassion over skullduggery, oppression and injustice. But I wonder how true that is.

As I sit here this morning, the American Congress is deadlocked over such issues as extending aid to the unemployed and giving equal pay to women for doing the same work as men.

Obviously, a significant constituency exists for letting the jobless go hungry and female employees get shafted.

Also, the US Supreme Court has just made another ruling in favor of letting billionaires buy elections. And Florida’s legislature is in the process of giving the governor the right to pack the state supreme court with “conservatives.”

The Republican Party has come out as the political voice of white male dominance, shedding all pretense of concern for minorities (including women) and the working or middle class.  Yet the polls show the party is likely to keep the House and win back the Senate in November.

For some reason, Democrats don’t seem able to capitalize on the Republicans’ repugnant policies.

At the local level, the Democratic Party in my Central Florida district will be represented in November’s state House elections by an absurd perennial candidate for any and every office that comes open.  Of course he can’t win. But I guess I will have to hold my nose and vote for the guy. In my book, a bad Democrat is preferable to a good Republican (if such a creature exists).

To say the Democrats are in disarray is to be too kind. But why?

They are undoubtedly the party of fairness and decency. They undoubtedly speak for the working and middle classes. They undoubtedly stand up for women’s rights and voters’ rights and gay rights and civil rights… and all the other rights that Americans say they value.

Meanwhile Republicans are brazenly opportunistic and sleazy.Their policies unambiguously promote the enrichment of the rich and the oppression of the poor. And – in many cases -  their personalities and private lives are equally depressing. I just read about yet another “family values” politician who was caught on a surveillance camera making out with a married female staffer. And I bet voters in his home state of Louisiana will send him back to Congress – just as they did with Senator David Vitter.

Why do Republicans get elected and re-elected when the party’s policies are so defiantly devoid of decency, fairness and compassion? One reason might be the vast amount of money they have for their campaigns. But, surely, even the most unaware American voter knows enough of the truth to see through those slick TV commercials?

There has to be more to it than marketing.

I think the heart of the matter is that most Americans are getting by. Sure, the super-rich have plundered the nation. Sure the workers are being bilked. Sure, the poor and the sick and the old and the infirm are being left to suffer. Sure, women are being deprived of control of their bodies. And sure, they are getting underpaid. Sure, the jobless are losing their benefits, poor families are losing their food stamps, hungry kids are losing their school lunches and old folks are losing their Meals on Wheels. Sure, Medicare and Social Security are under attack…

But things aren’t bad enough to risk rocking the boat. Most Americans have jobs – such as they are. Most own a car, have somewhere to live, eat thee meals (and snacks) a day, buy video games for their kids…

And the rest? Let them eat cake, I guess.

Click for the “family values” story.

More on extension of jobless benefits

More on fair pay for women

More on Rick Scott and the court



Gay Rights – the Backlash

Pat Buchanan (above) says God hates gays and loves Vladimir Putin because the Russian president has outlawed homosexuality. I haven’t heard from God on that topic recently, but I am sure Buchanan is mistaken. That voice he heard was from the Demon of Bigotry, not from our Creator.

God made us all, in all our diversity. And from what I’ve read in the Bible, God loves us all.

To say that being homosexual is a sin is to suggest that being left-handed is a sin. Or being short.

It might sound more logical to say that practicing homosexuality is sinful and homosexuals should be obliged to take a vow of chastity to remain free of sin. But who in their right mind would suggest such a thing?

You might as well decree that bees should no longer pollinate flowers.

Of course, I was brought up to fear and avoid homosexuals. And at boarding school, the practice was talked about in hushed horror.

But that was a long time ago, and back then, masturbation was shrouded in secrecy and shame, too. After the Kinsey report, society’s view of sexuality changed drastically.

Scientific research has debunked many of the sexual myths of my childhood.

But attitudes toward homosexuality have been slow to change. And the change that occurred has brought a powerful backlash.

America is in the throes of such a reaction, and Pat Buchanan’s rant is evidence of the backlash.

The battle for gay rights has come a long way, but, obviously, the fight is far from over.

I have news for people like Buchanan, however, God is not on their side.

Click for the Buchanan interview with God.

Click for more on the gay rights debate.


Jamaica’s Sinister Side

After Life Sentence, an Uncertain Fate for Vybz Kartel

I haven’t set eyes on my native Jamaica in more than 30 years, and my memories are mellowed by the rosy glow of nostalgia. But, obviously, life in the island can still be really nice. My brother Bill and his wife Faye holiday there every year and they have nothing but praise for the Jamaica they experience. And relatives who still live in Jamaica say they wouldn’t think of  leaving.

But that’s the good news.

The bad news is the island’s dependence on the international drug trade. Just a hop, skip and jump from America and the South American mainland, it’s a convenient stop on global drug routes, and the fertile mountainsides produce bountiful crops of marijuana, which we know as ganja.

Back in my boyhood, ganja was a semi-secret vice, prosecuted unenthusiastically by the authorities and indulged in mainly by the poorest Jamaicans. Now, from what I read and hear, ganja – and the harder drugs – are the island’s economic mainstay.

Drugs are also inextricably associated with the music that has put the island on the map.

And drugs lead to dark and sinister crimes, including gun running and murder.

Take the case of Vybz Kartel (above), one of Jamaica’s most famous rap stars. His songs and his life share a message of defiant degeneracy.

Kartel, whose original name is Adidjah Palmer, has been sentenced with two associates to life in prison for the murder of Clive “Lizard” Williams. The court found that Williams was beaten to death and then chopped into pieces because he was suspected of stealing a couple of guns.

It wasn’t the rapper’s first run-in with the law. He was arrested in 2011 on drug charges, for example. And it wasn’t the first time he was charged with murder. A previous murder charge against Kartel and two co-defendants was dismissed after prosecutors failed to show that they killed businessman Barrington “Bossy” Burton.

Kartel’s lawyer says he will appeal the murder conviction, so this may not be the end of the road for the Jamaican superstar.

And even if the conviction is upheld, Kartel’s recording career could continue. According to the Jamaica Observer, the island’s rehabilitation program includes access to a fully operational recording studio. Jamaican artist Jah Cure recorded three albums during his imprisonment for rape in the early 2000s, with proceeds going to the rehabilitation program.

To me, this shows a sad dependency on a sick culture.

With stars like Kartel as role models, Jamaica’s youths are being short-changed. It is sad that so much of the island’s economy depends on music that glamorizes the toxic messages of a violent drug culture.

Click for more on the Kartel case.


Trying to Make Sense of “Religious Freedom”

As I understand it, early settlers to America were fleeing religious persecution in Europe. In England, for example, the Roman Catholics and Protestants harried and butchered each other for generations. A monarch known as Bloody Mary burned Protestants at the stake. In Spain and Portugal the Inquisition tortured and killed “heretics,” claiming they were sacrificing the victims’ bodies to save their souls.

I imagine that was why the authors of the American Constitution included a brake against the government getting involved in religion.

But I don’t see the connection between Bloody Mary and Obamacare.

Or the Inquisition for that matter.

Nobody is being burned at the stake because of the new health care law. Nobody is being broken on the rack or put to death by Inquisitors.

Yet, as I write this, the Supreme Court justices are pondering a lawsuit claiming the law violates the religious freedom of a craft store chain called Hobby Lobby.

How? By requiring employers to include birth control in their employees’ health insurance coverage.

The owners of Hobby Lobby say they don’t believe in birth control. They say it’s against their religion.

I won’t burden you with the arguments pro and con. But I see a clear distinction here. I don’t think the government can force Hobby Lobby’s owners to practice birth control themselves. But, under its mandate to regulate commerce, it can make them provide birth control for employees who want it. The owners are free to follow their religion, and the employees are free to follow theirs.

That doesn’t violate anybody’s rights.

No reasonable American complains that their rights are violated when unsafe drugs are banned or unlicensed drivers prosecuted. They don’t feel oppressed because employers are required to provide a safe working environment. They don’t go to court to have building codes and traffic laws declared unconstitutional.

This kind of regulation is part of the government’s job.

And even if the justices feel Hobby Lobby’s owners should be free to deny their employees birth control coverage, they should beware of embarking on a very slippery slope.

Who knows what “religious” beliefs will show up next?

The courts have had to consider some weird practices in the past, and decided Americans aren’t free to follow such beliefs.

Smoking marijuana as a sacrament, got short shrift. Parents go to jail if they prevent their children from having life-saving blood transfusions, even if their religion forbids the practice. Animal sacrifices are taboo.

In considering the freedoms endowed by the Constitution, the court is still expected to have a little common sense.

 Click for more on the case.

Click for more on religious persecution.


Why Would Minorities Vote for the Republicans?

As I enter my 81st year on earth, you would think I’ve figured out most of the mysteries that keep folks like me awake at night. But I have to confess I still have no clue about a whole lot of things. For instance, what makes a black person or a Chinese person or a Hispanic person – or any other non-”Aryan” person – vote Republican?

I see minorities on TV spouting the Republican party line and I wonder are they deaf and blind? Don’t they listen to the TV or radio? Don’t they read the newspapers? Or do they misunderstand what’s happening?

Does Bobby Jindal (above, left), for example, think he is “one of them”? If he does, I have news for the Louisiana governor.

They might treat you like one of them when you’re around, Bobby, but when you’re not around you can bet they sing a different tune. And, trust me, you wouldn’t want to hear.

Take the story I just read in the Daily Kos. Originally published by the Miami Herald, it told of a Cuban born billionaire named Mike Fernandez who has stopped campaigning for Rick Scott (above, right) after the Florida governor’s campaign workers made fun of Hispanics. Here’s an excerpt:

Tensions between Scott’s campaign staff and Fernandez had been building for weeks. And the last straw, according to people within the campaign who spoke with the Miami Herald this weekend, was an incident in which several of Scott’s campaign staffers allegedly began joking around in a cartoonish, over-the-top Mexican accent while on the way to a Mexican restaurant.

Fernandez, who is Cuban, reportedly shot off an angry email to campaign leadership after word of the incident leaked out.

If you’ve been following the statements and policies coming from the new Republican Party, I’m sure this kind of behavior doesn’t surprise you. I know it doesn’t surprise me. I’ve seen too many of those disgusting portrayals of President Obama and his family that Republican politicians circulate among themselves, too many “monkey” dolls, too many tasteless ethnic jokes…

What surprises me is how non-white people swallow their pride and support these obvious racists. I wouldn’t even want to be in the same room with them, let alone the same political party.

They can gather in their posh country clubs and send their children to private schools (but not with our tax dollars!). They can laugh at us behind our backs and bask in their delusions of superiority. It’s a free country and they’re free to live in a fool’s paradise if they want.

But why would the rest of us aid and abet them?

Click here for the Daily Kos report.



Anouncement of Democrats’ Demise is Premature

November is eight months away and already the pundits are predicting the outcome of the midterm elections. I won’t burden you with the details but the bottom line is “Democrats are in trouble.” For one reason or another, they argue, the Republican Party will gain seats in both the House and the Senate. They might even win complete control of Congress.

To me, it is a prospect too horrible to contemplate. But, if you step back and take a look at Congress as it is now, how much more damage can the Republicans do to America than they’ve already done?

The House of Representatives has become a loony bin in the grip of the Tea Party and the Senate is hobbled by filibusters and other procedural tricks. This is the worst Congress ever, and Americans have had it with both major parties.

But all is not lost. Despite the intricate prognostications, people tend to vote the way they’ve always voted, and there are more Democrats in America than Republicans. Of course, the number of Independents is increasing and it’s anybody’s guess who they’ll favor in November. My bet is they will tend to vote against incumbents – in both parties.

One reason for the pundits’ pessimism is the recent special election in Pinellas County, where Republican David Jolly defeated  Democrat Alex Sink. But I don’t think that’s a reliable predictor.

Sink reportedly said some pretty dumb things. She is quoted as saying immigration reform is needed because there are so many jobs for hotel maids and so on in Florida. And she damned Obamacare with faint praise, promising to fix it when she got to Washington. Furthermore, her commercials toward the end of the campaign were rather tepid, suggesting she would work with Republicans to achieve bipartisan results.

That’s obviously no way tro fire up your base. And, naturally, the base did not bother to vote.

I think that’s the key in November. If Democrats don’t bother to turn out, they’re doomed indeed. And if the party chooses uninspiring candidates like Alex Sink, they can expect to get beaten.

The Republicans, for all their internal squabbling and backbiting, are fired up. They share a common hatred of Barack Obama (I don’t have to tell you why, I’m sure). They will be going to the polls in droves, that’s for sure.

And if Democrats stay home, they will get what they deserve.

On the other hand, if Democrats vote – and persuade their friends and relatives to vote – they will certainly have an opportunity to give the President a Congress he can work with to achieve his goals.

Click for Robert Gibbs’ warning.


America’s Credibility Shaken as Ukraine Aid Bill Stalls

I am conflicted on the Ukraine crisis. On one hand, I wish America would stay out of other countries’ politics. On the other hand, now that they are so obviously involved,  Americans have promises to keep.

American institutions – the CIA and the Endowment for Democracy, for example – seem to be involved in fomenting the uprising that led to the crisis. And President Obama has come out on the side of the anti-Russian rebels. Indeed, he has explicitly promised to help them.

Congress is in such disarray that  it cannot agree on a financial aid package for the Ukraine. The House passed a bill last week to provide $1 billion in loan guarantees. But the Senate’s version got shot down.

John McCain is livid. Groups he supports were apparently mixed up in protests that ran off the Ukrainian president, and – of course – he wants the US to support the new regime.

Russia’s actions are clearly indefensible. Vladimir Putin is preparing to invade the Ukraine and annex the Crimea in defiance of international law. On the other hand, America’s support of the rebels is also questionable. The new regime came to power via a coup and the president they deposed – however misguided he might be – was democratically elected.

But that’s not why Republican senators refused to approve the Ukraine aid package.

Harry Reid blames the Koch Brothers because their political puppets insisted on including looser campaign funding regulations in the bill.  But Senate Republicans cite the bill’s provisions to expand the International Monetary Fund’s lending capacity as their reason for voting against it.

Whatever the reason, the result is clear. American credibility has been damaged.

In this push-you-pull-you Congress, where no faction seems to agree with any other – unified action on international crises seems impossible.

It’s a troubling message to send to a world in turmoil.

As America stumbles toward the mid-term elections in November, Congress becomes more and more like a Keystone Cops movie – except that in this case it’s not a farcical comedy but a tragic farce.

Click for news of the Ukraine crisis.

Click for John McCain’s reaction.

Click for Harry Reid’s claims.


When Facts Fight Back

Funny thing about facts: they just won’t go away. You can twist and distort them. You can concoct competing data and present them as facts. You can bluff and swagger and bluster and bully. You can flat-out lie. But the facts won’t go away.  When the smoke clears, there they are, uncompromising, irrefutable, overpowering.

A North Carolina senator learned that hard truth on Tuesday when he tried to face down an expert witness at a US Senate hearing on single-payer healthcare.

Senator Richard Burr – a Republican of course – came to the fray with a collection of popular myths and loaded questions about Canadian health insurance. Dr. Danielle Martin, a physician and health policy professor from Toronto, came armed with an arsenal of facts and an unflappable Canadian demeanor. Burr’s assault was doomed from the start.

Here’s part of the exchange (from the Los Angeles Times):

BURR: Why are doctors exiting the public system in Canada?

MARTIN: Thank you for your question, Senator. If I didn’t express myself in a way to make myself understood, I apologize. There are no doctors exiting the public system in Canada, and in fact we see a net influx of physicians from the United States into the Canadian system over the last number of years.

What I did say was that the solution to the wait time challenge that we have in Canada — we do have a difficult time with waits for elective medical procedures — does not lie in moving away from our single-payer system toward a multipayer system. And that’s borne out by the experience of Australia. So Australia used to have a single-tier system and did in the 1990s move toward a multiple-payer system where private insurance was permitted. And a very well-known study by Duckett, et al., tracked what took place in terms of wait times in Australia as the multipayer system was put in place.

And what they found was in those areas of Australia where private insurance was being taken up and utilized, waits in the public system became longer.

BURR: What do you say to an elected official who goes to Florida and not the Canadian system to have a heart valve replacement?

MARTIN: It’s actually interesting, because in fact the people who are the pioneers of that particular surgery, which Premier Williams had, and have the best health outcomes in the world for that surgery, are in Toronto, at the Peter Munk Cardiac Center, just down the street from where I work.

(Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams, who owns a condo in Florida, had a heart valve procedure in Miami.) 

So what I say is that sometimes people have a perception, and I believe that actually this is fueled in part by media discourse, that going to where you pay more for something, that that necessarily makes it better, but it’s not actually borne out by the evidence on outcomes from that cardiac surgery or any other.

BURR: On average, how many Canadian patients on a waiting list die each year? Do you know?

MARTIN: I don’t, sir, but I know that there are 45,000 in America who die waiting because they don’t have insurance at all.

In her testimony, Dr. Martin dispelled Republican propaganda about Canada’s health care system,  telling the committee:

I do not presume to claim today that the Canadian system is perfect or that we do not face significant challenges. The evidence is clear that those challenges do not stem from the single-payer nature of our system. Quite the contrary…

And adding that:

We do not have uninsured residents. We do not have different qualities of insurance depending on a person’s employment. We do not have an industry working to try to carve out different niches of the risk pool. This is a very important accomplishment and as we watch the debate unfold as to how to address the challenges you face, we are reminded daily of its significance.

Here’s a different kind of exchange, between Dr. Martin and Senator Bernie Sanders, who favors single-payer health insurance (from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation report):

SANDERS: Is your prime minister a socialist?

MARTIN: No sir, our prime minister is quite conservative.

SANDERS:  So obviously as a conservative he wants to implement the American health-care system that the Canadians are very aware of, I gather that is the first thing he did when he took power is that right?

MARTIN: Not exactly.

SANDERS: Why not?

MARTIN: Support for single-payer Medicare in Canada goes across all political stripes.

The CBC reported that Dr. Martin gave the senate ”a lesson on Canadian health care.”

Salon.com was less polite. Their headline declared:  “Canadian doctor makes anti-Obamacare senator look like a buffoon.”

That’s usually what happens when misinformation goes up against the facts.

Click for the Los Angeles Times report.

Click for the CBC report.

Click for the Salon.com version.


Making a Sad Story Worse

Nobody likes abortion, of that I am sure. But it’s the kind of last-resort decision only the woman involved should make. What is making a sad situation even more tragic is the self-righteous persecution of unfortunate women by America’s militant conservatives. The sheer presumptuousness of these self-styled Christians fills my heart with rage.

I assume it gives them a sense of moral superiority but their cruel crusade is the darkest kind of sin. It is hate where love is called for, punishment instead of solace – the quintessential example of those “whited sepulchers” that the Redeemer condemned.

As is so often the case with those who consider themselves superior to their fellowmen, the anti-abortion crusaders are not only conceited but also implacably stupid.

Consider their boycott of Girl Scout cookies.

These idiots have decided the Girl Scouts are in favor of abortion because the organization’s Twitter account tweeted a link to a Huffington Post Live segment in which Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis was listed as a contender for “woman of the year.”

So the anti-abortion right has launched a boycott on sites like Cookie-Cott, MyGirlScoutCouncil and LifeNews. In support of their boycott, they say that pro-choice politicians who were former girl scouts have been allowed to come back and speak at the group’s events, that troops have partnered with the Susan G. Komen foundation to raise breast cancer awareness and that the organization supports the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women.

The anti-abortionists are not only boycotting the cookies, they are also encouraging parents to avoid the Girl Scouts and instead send their daughters to groups like the American Heritage Girls.

It would be comical if it weren’t so infuriating.

Yet across America, the crusaders have gained so much political power that Republican controlled legislatures are making legal abortion impossible – or virtually impossible – in state after state.

What is happening to this country? Where are the sensible Americans? Where are the compassionate Americans? Where are the real Christians?

Click for more on the cookie boycott.

Click for pro-boycott argument.


Young’s Legacy Lives on

... Pits Pro-Life David Jolly vs. Pro-Abortion Alex Sink | LifeNews.com

You will no doubt be hearing a lot of pontificating about last night’s special election over in Pinellas County. And some pundits will tell you it was a referendum on Obamacare.

I have no doubt that’s one reason David Jolly (above, left) trounced Alex Sink (above, right) in yesterday’s congressional contest. A lot of us codgers live in this part of Florida, and we’ve been told President Obama robbed Medicare Advantage of billions to provide health care for poor (code word for minority) families. That means higher copays and deductibles could be looming for us, and I guess a lot of us aren’t that self-sacrificing.

The president had no choice, I suppose. There were so many “fiscally conservative” Democrats in Congress – and so much Republican resistance to taxing the rich - that he was obliged to find the money somewhere or his health care reform would never have seen the light of day.

But I think it was Bill Young – the ghost of Bill Young, the legacy of Bill Young – that won the election for Jolly.

I remember Bill Young from my days at the Clearwater Sun and the Tampa Tribune. He was a grand master of the art of political survival. It seemed everybody was a friend of Bill Young. He was personable, affable and approachable. He was always ready to lend a hand when a constituent had a problem. And he brought home the bacon.

Back in those days, individual congress members could add ”earmarks” to the annual budget, loading it with projects for their districts.  Here’s an excerpt from the AP story announcing his death at 82 years old last October:

 Mr.  Young  brought hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks back to the Tampa Bay area, and built up a military contracting industry in the region, creating jobs and lifting the economy. 

It’s no wonder  he kept getting re-elected. He served 22 terms in Congress.

David Jolly worked in Young’s office before he became a lobbyist. Many Pinellas voters might remember him from those days. They certainly remember Bill Young.

And I have to wonder if some people voted against Sink because she is a woman. Or because she was a banker. Or because she is not a very good campaigner…

I suspect those are among the reasons she also lost the governor’s race to Rick Scott.

And there’s another troubling factor in yesterday’s loss – a lot of Democrats didn’t bother to vote.

Obviously, there was more to this special election than Obamacare.

Click for the news story.

Click for an AP story on Bill Young.

Click for more on David Jolly.

Click for low-turnout story.

Click for an analysis of the race.