Posts from — April 2009
The ACLU is asking me to write my Florida legislators about a proposal to issue a license plate that proclaims the driver’s Christianity (photo at right). The organization sees this as a blatant assault on the Constitutional separation of Church and State. And before you start haranguing me about the United States being a Christian country and telling me how the Founding Fathers loved Jesus, prithee forbear. I am not about to get into that argument.
If you read my blogs, you know that I quote Jesus from time to time. I also quote Judaic wisdom. And that’s all I am going to say about my religious beliefs. I would only add that from my observation this is a Judaic-Christian society founded on precepts I have read in various versions of the Bible.
But I am told this is a society of laws, and the foundation of its laws is the Constitution. That document states quite unequivocally that the State must not get involved in the religious lives of its citizens. Does that mean citizens have the right to display images of Jesus on their cars? Of course. Does that mean the State of Florida should get involved in distributing such images? I don’t think so.
But that’s not my only complaint against the proposed license plates. I am saturated with propaganda – on TV and radio, in the newspapers, on billboards, even from the pulpit… And I think it’s repugnant to force your ideas and beliefs down my throat when I am stuck helplessly behind you in traffic. I don’t care that you’re a teacher, and I don’t think that childish stick figure is cute. I don’t care whether you’re “pro-life” or pro-death (to murderers, or deer and fish). I don’t care whether you would rather be driving a golf ball. I don’t care that your other car is a horse. I don’t care what your name is, and I don’t care whether you went to the University of Florida or St. Leo’s … or whether you go to Bucs football games. So enough with the message-laden license plates already!
Of course you have the First Amendment right to display your bad taste in public. One of the most treasured rights American citizens have is to make fools of themselves without let or hindrance. But, surely, not on their state-issued license plates.
One important purpose of putting license plates on cars is to identify them. If you are a hit-and-run victim, you might be able to provide tag details to the police, for example. And tags help crime witnesses describe getaway cars. So it makes a lot of sense to have tags that are uniform in color and appearance, without a lot of artwork camouflaging them. You should be able to tell at a glance whether a car is from Florida or New York state. You can’t do that if the tag is covered with pictures and propaganda – religious or otherwise.
As for the separation of Church and State issue, I’ll leave that to the ACLU and the courts to decide.
April 30, 2009 No Comments
You are going to hear a lot today about the new President’s first 100 days in office. Most of it will be “spin.” Political supporters will twist the facts to make him out a hero, while opponents will twist (and where necessary invent) facts to portray him as a villain. But you might not hear or read much about his “green” accomplishments – not in the mainstream media anyway. They have more exciting things to report on – yes, “more exciting” than the survival of our planet.
Thankfully, there are dedicated environmentalists who have been keeping track of those first hundred days. One such group,called the Daily Green, has made a comprehensive list of the President’s environmental activities. Check out the current list (No. 4 so far) at:
Nearly 100 actions to aid the environment and invest in clean energy make Obama’s first 100 days very green indeed…. Obama has made investing in the environment a big part of economic stimulus…. Rather than shying away from environmental initiatives because of the sour economy, as many politicians might, he has gone whole hog.
The list includes $8 billion for high speed rail; $6 billion for water quality, wastewater and drinking water infrastructure; $6 billion to clean up contamination at old weapons sites; $3.9 billion for smart grid improvements; $3.2 billion to improve energy efficiency at public buildings; $2.4 billion for plug-in hybrid and battery research; $1.2 billion for science infrastructure; $750 million for national parks projects; $600 million for the Superfund to clean up polluted sites; $300 million for local “clean-car” initiatives; $280 million for wildlife centers; $211 million for development of “clean diesel”; $200 million for the Leaking Underground Storage Tank program; $140 million for Geological Survey research; $114 million to develop fuel cell capacity; $100 million for cleaning up old industrial sites that are not toxic enough for the Superfund but too toxic to redevelop without special attention; $84.8 million for watershed protection; and $10 million to help develop a hybrid plug-in school bus.
This list doesn’t mention the dozens of lethal executive orders President Bush passed in his final days. One of the first things President Obama did on taking office was to start reversing his predecessor’s devastating assault on wildlife and the environment. (Maybe that’s in another “Daily Green” list. I didn’t read all four.)
No doubt about it, whatever else they say about our President, he is on the side of the angels when it comes to the environment. It’s no wonder the Republicans can’t stand him!
April 29, 2009 1 Comment
Most credible philosophies posit a struggle between Good and Evil, and urge Mankind to choose the Good side. But as I observe the reshaping of the Republican Party following its shellacking in two successive American elections, I am shocked to find that the party’s leaders are lining up – issue after issue – on the side that I consider Evil.
I’m sure you are aware of such examples as their vehement defense of torture, their incitement to sedition and racism, their opposition to helping the poor and sick, their resistance to President Obama’s attempts to avoid war through international diplomacy, and, in general, their appeal to the seething blood lust and tribalism that simmer below the surface in society.
But you might not have identified a more subtle, and equally destructive trend: contempt for programs that protect the health and safety of the public.
The looming threat of a swine flu pandemic illustrates this point. You will remember that when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the Republican administration dragged its feet responding to the emergency, and awarded relief contracts to cronies who collected the cash but never delivered the services. Now, Republicans in the Senate are deliberately delaying the confirmation of Kathleen Sebelius as Health Secretary. And you will remember that it was Republican opposition in the Senate that killed pandemic funding in the Stimulus Package.
Why did the Republican leaders deliberately block the Obama Administration’s efforts to address a pandemic threat? For the same reason that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal mocked the Stimulus Package for including funding for “something called volcano monitoring” and other natural disaster prevention programs. Republican leaders think this approach appeals to the lowest common denominator in society, the level at which anything remotely intellectual or abstract becomes a legitimate target of ridicule.
The Republican Party is becoming the sanctuary of the stupid, as its leaders pander to ignoramuses who fear science, suspect intellect and reject logic in favor of prejudice and superstition. I don’t for a minute believe the party’s leaders share these moronic views, but if it means more votes they’ll profess to believe anything. How evil is that? And how dangerous?
UPDATE: Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania has just abandoned the “new” Republican Party, clearly – in my view – choosing Good over Evil. It won’t be long before other Republican leaders of conscience recoil in horror from the direction the party is taking.
April 28, 2009 2 Comments
Trying to keep up with the news, as some of us do, you could get depressed. Just as you thought it couldn’t get any worse, ta-daah! Not content with making mischief in Afghanistan, Taliban terrorists are swarming all over Pakistan, threatening to take over the country – and its nuclear arms. North Korea is firing missiles, developing atomic warheads and trying female journalists as spies. Civil war is erupting again in Iraq as Shiites and Sunis square off against each other in preparation for the departure of U.S. troops. Iran’s tinpot despot is making ominous noises and holding an innocent American woman on trumped-up charges. A dangerous new government has taken over in Israel, dashing any imminent hope of Mideast peace. The global economy seems to be spiraling into a bottomless pit…
Back in the United States, plants are closing. The unemployment lines are growing. States are wrestling with budget crises yet in a few cases refusing financial help from the federal government because some politician doesn’t like President Obama. Crazy people are arming themselves and talking revolution, egged on by irresponsible media demagogues like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. And each day brings more chilling revelations of Bush-era torture policies.
On top of all that comes news of a possible swine flu pandemic. It’s enough to make this blogger throw up his hands in despair. What could I possibly say that might be helpful?
But this morning, I received a video from Margaret Marshall, host of the Backyard Labrish radio show. And it made me realize that there’s more to life than the stuff in the news. Real people are going on with their real lives, and some people are doing some really cool stuff. Enjoy:
In case you’re interested, Vanessa-Mae is not Jamaican, even though she’s playing Jamaican music in the video. The 30-year-old musician was born in Singapore to a Thai father and a Chinese mother and grew up in London. But I am sure we would award her honorary Jamaican citizenship after this performance.
April 27, 2009 3 Comments
I was astounded to hear CNN “talking heads” announce that they are inviting me (and their other viewers) to “grade” President Obama’s first hundred days in office. The absurdity of the suggestion left me speechless – at first (I don’t stay speechless for long). Now, I have found my voice. I want to rage at CNN, to point out the impertinence of their idea, the cheap, insulting gimmickry of it. But instead I am writing a blog. And I will try to be calm.
Those CNN folks do not know me, so they probably do not realize how ill equipped I feel to “grade” the performance of the President in these baffling times. What would I have done in his place? I certainly would not have had his energy, his patience, his indefatigable commitment. And I would not have been as amiable and courteous in the face of the barrage of criticism that has met his every move. By now, I would most likely be hiding under the covers, in that “undisclosed location” Dick Cheney liked so much.
How about you? What would you have done about the economic disaster Bush left behind? Think about it. Conflicting theories abound – spend more, spend less, don’t spend at all; tax more, tax less, don’t tax at all; lower the interest rate, raise the interest rate, leave the interest rate alone; bail out the banks, let the banks fail; help the auto industry, let the auto makers go bankrupt…and on, and on… And there is no way to tell what – if anything – will work. It is possible nothing will work, but if you were the President, you might feel obligated to do something. Or would you?
What about the crazy Bush wars? Do you fight on forever in Iraq and Afghanistan? Do you invade Pakistan? And Iran? And North Korea? And if that’s your plan, where do you find the resources for such an expensive proposition? How about more tax cuts for the rich? Do you think that would generate the revenue you would need? (No kidding – some people do!) Or would you rely on multi-trillion-dollar deficits for our children, grandchildren and great-great-great grandchildren to inherit? You wouldn’t dare raise taxes! Those “teabagging” maniacs would come after you with their assault rifles.
Perhaps you would be an “appeaser” – shaking hands (and smiling!) with the likes of Hugo Chavez and “bowing” to the King of the Saudis, inviting the Iranians and North Koreans to talk things over before coming to blows, listening to the leaders of other countries as if their opinions matter. Either way, you would attract a firestorm of rebuke from one side or another.
Unfazed by these dizzying choices, President Obama has forged ahead, trying not only to sort out the short-term mess, but also to create a better country in the long term. According to Time Magazine’s Joe Klein, the new President has embarked on “a radical change of course not just from his predecessor, not just from the 30-year Reagan era but also from the quick-fix, sugar-rush, attention-deficit society of the postmodern age.” He observed that Obama is seeking to fashion a society built (as Jesus advised) on rock, not on sand, a society that will endure.
Is Obama a sucker for punishment or what? Doesn’t he know the American society is addicted to the “quick fix” and the “sugar rush”? Just watch CNN. Or MSNBC. Or whatever (not Fox News, though – not if you value your sanity). As Klein observed, a recent speech in which the President described his vision for the future drew scant media coverage. Instead:
Quickly, public attention turned to new “tempests of the moment” – an obscene amount of attention was paid to the new Obama family dog and then, more appropriately, to the Bush Administration’s torture policy and the probably futile attempt to prosecute those who authorized the practices. And then to a handshake and a smile that the President bestowed on the Venezuelan demagogue Hugo Chávez. These are the soap bubbles of our public life. They have become the hasty, capricious, bite-size way that we experience the world. It has made for slovenly, sandy citizenship.
So I’ll leave it to the pundits at CNN and their other viewers to “grade” the President. I’ll settle for Klein’s summary:
The most important thing we now know about Barack Obama, after nearly 100 days in office, is that he means to confront that way of life directly and profoundly, to exchange sand for rock if he can. Whether you agree with him or not – whether you think he is too ambitious or just plain wrong – his is as serious and challenging a presidency as we have had in quite some time.
April 26, 2009 3 Comments
I am indebted to Karl Frisch, a Senior Fellow at Media Matters for America, for enduring the diatribes that pass for conservative commentary in order to keep the rest of us informed. I cannot bring myself to listen to the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, G. Gordon Liddy and Mike Huckabee. As Dick Cheney would no doubt say of me, I “don’t have the stomach for it.”
In this week’s Media Matters roundup, Frisch reports on the response of these commentators to recent disclosures of torture during the Bush Administration. You are probably aware of the horrors approved as “interrogation techniques” by the Bush crowd: “stress positions,” “cramped confinement,” “sleep deprivation,” “water boarding,” banging prisoners’ heads against the wall, shutting them up in a box with terrifying insects – and so on. And I bet you don’t find any of it amusing.
But I gather from Frisch’s account that good ol’ Rush thinks it’s hilarious. “If you look at what we are calling torture, you have to laugh,” Limbaugh is quoted as saying. “If somebody can be water-tortured six times a day, then it isn’t torture.” Then, according to Frisch, Limbaugh claimed that “appeasers” have “watered down” the definition of torture in the same way that “the NOW (National Organization for Women) gang watered down the definition of domestic violence.”
Frisch reports that radio host Liddy compared the technique of placing a detainee who “appears to have a fear of insects” in “a cramped confinement box with an insect” to an appearance on a game show. “I went through worse on Fear Factor,” Frisch quotes Liddy as saying.
Frisch also quotes Huckabee as making light of the insect-terror technique with this remark: “Look, I’ve been in some hotels where there were more bugs than these guys faced.” Then according to Frisch, the Fox News “personality” went on to suggest that under the Obama administration, “we’re going to talk to them (terror suspects), we’re going to have a nice conversation, we’re going to invite them down for some tea and crumpets.” “Fox & Friends” co-host Gretchen Carlson reportedly replied, “That usually works with your kids, too, right? When they’re in trouble for something, they just tell you everything.” To which her co-host Steve Doocy is said to have chirped mockingly, “Mr. Moussaoui, it’s time for you over in the time-out chair.”
In unabashed support of torture, Beck reportedly aired a clip from a fictional television show called “24,” in which protagonist Jack Bauer defends his use of torture.
“It’s going to take somebody who sits in front of Congress who is not afraid of them any more and does what Jack Bauer did,” Beck reportedly declared. “And that is, (say) ‘Yes, I did torture, and I’m proud of it.’ And it’s time for these things to come out of the closet.”
Beck’s co-host, Steve Doocy, is then quoted as saying: “In particular, in that clip, you know, the guy (fictional Senator Blaine Mayer) goes, ‘You tortured them.’ And he (the fictional character, Bauer) goes, ‘Well, it probably was torture under your definition. But ask the people whose lives I saved whether or not it was worth me going over the edge.’ …. ‘Is it OK to …. rough somebody up, to save lives?’ You ask the person on the street, they’d say, ‘Yeah, why not?’ ”
Well, I, for one, don’t say, “Why not?” In addition to the fact that it is morally reprehensible and a violation of domestic and international law, experts will tell you that in real life, torture does not produce the kind of reliable information that saves lives.
Research on the ineffectiveness of torture is available at this site:
It does not surprise me that Glenn Beck would turn to fantasy to bolster his argument, though. From what I’ve heard, he lives in a fantasy world, anyway. And as for the tough-talkin’ swagger displayed by Huckabee and his buddies, I would like to see them trapped in a dark box with a couple of poisonous spiders. I bet they wouldn’t find that so funny.
April 25, 2009 1 Comment
The Associated Press was set up by a group of American newspapers 160 years ago as a way to exchange news. As it grew, it provided eyes and ears in faraway places, sparing member publications the expense of maintaining bureaus of their own. But the agency has changed over the years. I have often heard editors in other countries grumble about the AP’s pro-American treatment of international issues, and when I was involved in starting a Jamaican newspaper back in the Seventies, we went to the expense of subscribing to Agence France-Presse in an attempt to provide a balanced view of the world.
So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at slanted AP articles. But I wonder why it so often slants its commentary against the Obama Administration.
An article today, written by someone named Liz Sidoti (photo at right), crosses the line from analysis into political pleading. And it does so in the most unfair way. I don’t know anything about Ms. Sidoti (Googling her didn’t help much), and I don’t think she has anything personally against President Obama. It may be that she is being pressured by her editor to avoid the appearance of being under the charismatic President’s spell. Indeed, I noticed that one critic accused her of “lowering expectations” for President Obama (as a defense in case he fails) in one of her previous articles, so today’s piece might be her way of atoning for that sin.
Whatever her motives, the young woman made herself look rather silly.
“Obama swept into office with promises of uniting the parties,” the Yahoo tease to the Sidoti article stated. “But has he really tried to bridge the gap?”
Oh, come on! If Ms. Sidoti can’t see how hard the new President is trying to “bridge the gap,” she must not be looking. He has gone too far in that direction as far as I am concerned. With their pig-headed obstructionism, Republicans have won the nickname of “the party of no.” Yet he still tries to include them in shaping policies to benefit the American people and end the deep economic recession.
The Republican Party has dug in its heels, and no decent President would adopt the policies they propose. They defend torture. They want more tax breaks for the rich; fewer social programs for the rest of us. They criticize the President for being polite to foreign heads of state and urge a continuation of the bullying tactics that earned George Bush the world’s opprobrium. They unreasonably try to block the confirmation of qualified Obama nominees. And they vote no on every proposal to revive the economy.
I would be horrified if President Obama were to accept any of the Republicans’ proposals or pursue any of their failed policies. Ms. Sidoti complains that the President is prepared to push through his policies even without Republican support.
“While preaching bipartisanship and civility in his first months,” she writes. “Obama also has shown a willingness to push his priorities through Congress over Republican opposition, as with the $787 billion economic stimulus plan.”
That’s just fine with me. American voters resoundingly rejected the Republicans’ policies, and I am sure the country is now looking to the new President for new and improved leadership.
April 24, 2009 5 Comments
A couple of blogs ago, I ran photos of Miss USA and the runner-up in the controversial Miss Universe pageant that was held in Las Vegas recently. Controversial because media reports said the runner-up’s response to a question about same-sex marriage lost her the crown. I won’t repeat the details; you can scroll down to find them in that other blog. But I am using that blog as an excuse to run the picture at right. (I’m arguing that Jamaica deserves “equal time.”) The photo was published in the Jamaica Observer today and shows the 2008 Miss Jamaica Festival Queen, Katrina Grant, with first runner-up Traci Ann Wint ( left) and second runner-up Subrina Ward. The Observer used the start of this year’s Miss Jamaica Parish coronation contests as its excuse for running the picture.
So what has this contest got to do with gay marriage and American beauty contests? Nothing, really. I just thought you deserve a little eye candy after all the depressing political and economic topics I’ve been serving up. OK, so I’m sexist. So sue me.
April 23, 2009 2 Comments
President Obama should immediately end the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. It makes no economic or political sense. Indeed, I am surprised that he is hesitant about making such an obviously popular move. He has already gone part of the way by removing restrictions on family travel and money transfers to their homeland by Cubans in the United States. Why not go the rest of the way?
At last weekend’s Summit of the Americas in Trinidad (photo at right), Latin American leaders made the embargo a key issue. Pressure to lift the 47-year-old trade blockade came not only from leaders on the left, like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, but also from moderates such as Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
And the U.N. General Assembly has repeatedly passed a non-binding resolution condemning the U.S. embargo. In a recent session, only the United States, Israel and Palau voted against the resolution. Cuba has formal relations with 160 nations, and provides aid – principally medical – to more than 20 poor countries. America’s two closest neighbors, Canada and Mexico, have maintained uninterrupted diplomatic relations with Cuba for more than a century. (Cuba is the fifth most popular vacation destination for Canadians – after the United States, Mexico, the United Kingdom and France.)
The Cuban trade embargo was imposed after Fidel Castro took power half a century ago, seizing private property and killing (or imprisoning) large numbers of wealthy and middle-class Cubans. (A major reason for Castro’s rise to power was the fact that American-based organized crime had colonized Havana, inflicting unspeakable degradation on the Cuban people.) Hundreds of thousands of political refugees fled to America, leaving their careers and property behind. And, naturally, there is intense hatred of Castro among the Cuban American population. But this bitterness is waning. A recent poll conducted by Florida International University shows 55 percent of Cuban-Americans favored ending the embargo, while 65 percent said they wanted Washington to re-establish diplomatic relations with Havana.
The Cuban government is unarguably despotic, permitting no dissent and relentlessly imprisoning political opponents. This is the main reason that President Obama gives for his reluctance to end the trade blockade. Speaking at the Summit’s opening ceremony, he said:
I am prepared to have my administration engage with the Cuban government on a wide range of issues – from human rights, free speech, and democratic reform to drugs, migration and economic issues.
The statement followed Cuban President Raul Castro’s comment a day earlier expressing willingness to discuss traditionally off-limit topics, including human rights. But what has all this got to do with trade?
Surely, Cuba’s government is no more despotic than China’s? Yet the United States has not made China’s civil rights abuses an issue in the vast amount of commerce between the two countries. If the United States made domestic human rights a condition of trade for all countries, Americans would have very few trading partners.
UPDATE: Watching CSPAN Wednesday night, I learned from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the President cannot end the Cuban trade blockade because it was imposed by law and only Congress has the power to make or change laws. With the Democratic Party infiltrated by conservatives who are Democrats in name only, I now understand why it is so difficult to revoke the law. Members of Congress who call themselves Democrats but act like Republicans should be targeted in the Democratic primaries next year and replaced by candidates who truly represent the Democratic Party’s platform.
April 22, 2009 No Comments
I believe we should live and let live, that your private life is private and not subject to my approval or disapproval. I believe you should be able to marry anyone you love regardless of gender. But I do not believe you have the right to force your preferences on me.
I am referring to a man who calls himself Perez Hilton, born Mario Armando Lavandeira, Jr. in Miami, Florida (photo at right). He is an American blogger and television “personality.” And he is openly homosexual. He was chosen as a judge for the recent Miss Universe contest, and in my opinion behaved like a jerk.
During the show, “Perez” asked Carrie Prejean (photo below, left), who represented California, for her opinion on “gay marriage.”
“Vermont recently became the fourth state to legalize same sex marriage,” he said. “Do you think every state should follow suit? Why or why not?”
“Well I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one or the other,” Prejean replied. “We live in a land that you can choose same sex marriage or opposite marriage and, you know what, in my country and in, in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there. But that’s how I was raised and that’s how I think that it should be between a man and a woman.”
Some members of the audience cheered and some booed. To me, they were both rude. I have no patience with people who try to impose their beliefs by bullying those who disagree with them.
But the truly offensive reaction came from “Perez.” Calling Prejean “a dumb b—-,” he went on to describe her as having “half a brain” and said he would have stormed onto the stage and ripped off her tiara if she had won. There are reports in the media that Prejean’s reply cost her the Miss USA crown (she was named runner-up with Miss North Carolina, Kristen Dalton (photo at right), winning the title).
If that is true, shame on the Miss Universe judges! The young woman was asked for her opinion and she gave it. True, her facts were not quite accurate. All Americans do not live in a land where “you can choose same sex marriage or opposite marriage,” but from all accounts that’s not what cost her the crown. Apparently, it was her opinion that marriage is a union between a man and a woman.
I believe you should tell the truth when someone asks you for your opinion. And I don’t think anyone should hold it against you when you do. And I don’t believe there is a simple answer to the question that Prejean was asked.
But that’s beside the point. The point is that no one has the right to be a jerk – even if he or she is homosexual, handicapped, or a member of a racial minority (or any other group that’s discriminated against). And Mario Armando Lavandeira, Jr. (aka Perez Hilton) is a jerk.
April 21, 2009 1 Comment