Posts from — September 2009
Margaret Lowe, a Jamaican friend who lives in Orlando, sent me this video, and I am not ashamed to admit it brought tears to my eyes. Not tears of sadness but tears of hope and love and homesickness… I am sharing it with you as a special treat. Click the link below and enjoy!
September 30, 2009 2 Comments
As U.S. President Barack Obama wrestles with the military’s request for more troops in Afghanistan, critics on the right call him weak on defense and those on the left say it is time to end the war against the Taliban and bring the soldiers home. As I understand it, the President wants his military advisers to tell him exactly what they are fighting for, whom they’re fighting and how they propose to go about it before he makes a decision.
But there’s much more to it than that. I am sure that President Obama has at least as much access to the web as I do. And I cannot believe he has not read some of the many reports accusing Afghan officials, the CIA and U.S. troops – among others – of involvement in the massive international drug trade. Here’s a sample from Global Research.ca:
The Afghan opium trade – in fact much of the opium trade in the so-called “Golden Crescent” (Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan)–was cultivated and nurtured by the United States government and the CIA, leading to countless cases of miserable heroin addiction in America and Europe ….
And here’s another sample, this time from The Huffington Post:
When the history of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is written, Washington’s sordid involvement in the heroin trade and its alliance with drug lords and war criminals of the Afghan Communist Party will be one of the most shameful chapters. Under American tutelage, Afghanistan has become the world’s leading narco-state, surpassing even Colombia, and now producing 90 percent of the world’s heroin. Well over half of the nation’s GDP consists of drug money.
Even Russia’s state-controlled Channel One TV has joined the chorus, recently broadcasting a program accusing U.S. forces of involvement in drug-trafficking from Afghanistan to Europe.
The reports are so persistent and so multifarious that I am reluctant to dismiss them as bogus accusations cooked up for one motive or another. Besides there are incontrovertible facts involved. For instance, since the NATO invasion, opium production in Afghanistan has soared. In 2001, under the Taliban, it stood at 185 tons, and by 2002 it increased to 3,400 tons under the regime of President Hamid Karzai. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, opium production in Afghanistan was estimated at 3,600 tons in 2003 , and an even larger bumper harvest was predicted for 2004. I don’t have the figures for the past five years but I bet production has not declined since the UN report.
There is widespread chatter accusing the Afghan president’s half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, of being the country’s leading drug lord. And the president’s elder brother, Mahmoud Karzai, is rumored to have amassed a fortune through favoritism and corruption. Both dismiss these accusations as “character assassination” prompted by their opposition to the Taliban. But there is so much smoke that I have to believe there’s a fire there somewhere. Consider this passage from an article by Gerald Posner on The Daily Beast web site today:
Afghan and American officials have privately accused Ahmed, who heads the powerful provincial council in Kandahar, of being a heroin kingpin in the nation that supplies 90 percent of the world’s opium supply. They cite a few examples. In 2004, Afghan security forces stumbled on a cache of heroin hidden in tractor-trailer outside Kandahar. The local commander, Habibullah Jan, said Ahmed called him and demanded the drugs be released. Jan was ambushed and shot to death in 2007, with government officials blaming the Taliban. In 2006, a DEA informant, Hajji Aman Kheri, gave a tip about a truck near Kandahar carrying 110 pounds of pure heroin, allegedly under the watchful eye of one of Ahmed’s bodyguards. And last month, the German magazine Stern reported that British troops seized several tons of raw opium on one of Ahmed’s farms.
Karzai was put in power by the Bush Administration, and has kept his job only because U.S. troops have been prepared to die in his defense. Yet he has an extremely unsavory reputation. His recent “re-election” is a case in point. According to Alexander Cockburn, writing for Truthout:
After months of derision about Iran’s “faked elections,” President Hamid Karzai’s fakery in the recent Afghan election was too blatant to permit even pro forma denial and can no longer be concealed. The corruption of Karzai’s regime is the staple of every news report.
So what are NATO troops fighting for in Afghanistan? Is their mission to stamp out Al Qaida? If so, they will have to invade Pakistan, because that’s where Al Qaida is now headquartered. Or are they mired in an unwinnable war against “the Taliban”? And if so, who are the Taliban? The word “taliban” means “students of Muslim religious studies.” And as far as I can make out, the Taliban political group represents the members of the Pashtun tribes (photo at right) - estimated at 12.5 million in Afghanistan and 30 million in Pakistan.
It will take a lot more than “shock and awe” to wipe out that many men, women and children.
So what are NATO troops dying for in Afghanistan? Why do the western world’s leaders lack the political will to bring their soldiers home? Who are they really protecting? GlobalResearch.ca declares:
Making sure heroin addiction continues unabated is a lucrative business for the CIA and Wall Street investors.
Could that have anything to do with it? Is the hidden agenda for this war driven – at least in part – by the international drug trade?If that’s true, why don’t we hear about it on CNN or MSNBC? (I wouldn’t expect Fox News to enlighten viewers; it has other fish to fry.)
Writing for the Huffington Post, Eric Margolis states:
Americans are still being misled by their corporate media and posturing politicians of both parties into believing the seven-year U.S. occupation of Afghanistan is a noble “anti-terrorism” mission that is defending women’s rights and rebuilding a ravaged nation.
But you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. And the stakes for President Obama are high indeed. Alexander Cockburn declares in Truthout:
The expedition to Afghanistan is not popular, either here or in Europe. It is also very expensive. But it has powerful sponsors, starting with Obama, who made it a campaign plank and now may or may not be having second thoughts – but who is showered daily with demented counsels to “stay the course” by his secretaries of state and about 80 percent of the permanent foreign policy establishment. So the involvement will get deeper and the disasters will mount and powerfully assist in the destruction of Obama’s presidency, starting with major reverses for the Democrats in the midterm elections next year.
I can only pray that the President is as shrewd a politician as I think he is, and will resist the pressure from so many powerful interests to shed more innocent blood in a seemingly indefensible war.
September 29, 2009 1 Comment
The mainstream media portray Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (photo below) as a Communist, which he could be, and as a raving maniac, which he certainly is not. I listened to Chavez last night on C Span, and while he rambled in an annoyingly stream-of-consciousness manner, much of what he said made sense. His warnings that the planet is endangered by a lack of the “political will” to address global warning seemed eminently sensible. And his complaints about America’s involvement in Latin America over the years were more than justified.
Among the many injustices that have taken place in Latin America is the recent military coup in Honduras. The country’s powerful elite (which Chavez quaintly describes in Marxist terms as the bourgeoisie) has reacted to President Manuel Zelaya’s populist policies by overthrowing his government. And, according to Chavez, representatives of the U.S. military enabled the coup.
Chavez wondered how U.S. President Barack Obama could speak so eloquently at the UN General Assembly about the rule of law and the right of sovereign nations to self-determination, yet accept this blatant disregard for those very principles by his own military. And he mused: “Are there two Obamas?”
I am not a Communist, and I don’t think I am a raving maniac, but I must admit I have wondered the same thing myself. How can the U.S. President give such moving speeches about human rights yet continue policies that reek of ex-President George W. Bush and ex-candidate John McCain?
Well into the first year of the Obama Administration I have reached the sad conclusion that our idealistic new President is held hostage by the American political system and the entrenched interests that control it. As he battles to try and salvage something – anything – from the health care reform debacle, he is turning a blind eye to other evils that could be just as important in the long run.
While Congress spins its wheels on climate change legislation, the world hurtles toward catastrophe. While the national deficit snowballs, America is spending close to a trillion dollars on “defense” this year (not including the budget for “intelligence”). Inexplicably, the war in Iraq drags on, the war in Afghanistan escalates, and numerous bases are maintained around the globe – even in such unlikely countries as Colombia. (Chavez wondered why America needs to maintain six bases next door to his country.)
I wonder why, too. And the words of former U.S. President Eisenhower echo disturbingly at the back of my mind:
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
Eisenhower issued that warning in 1960. Think how much more power the military-industrial complex has gained in the ensuing half century. And think of the power that the financial establishment – that other pillar of the hidden global power structure – also wields. And you might gain some insight into Obama’s predicament. In the cynical culture of Washington, where politicians routinely sell their votes in exchange for campaign contributions, the power elites grow ever richer. And with more and more money to spend, they grow ever more powerful.
Comedian Bill Maher made fun of President Obama in a recent Huffington Post piece. Here’s a sample:
I want to know what happened to “Yes we can.” Can we get out of Iraq? No. Afghanistan? No. Fix health care? No. Close Gitmo? No. Cap-and-trade carbon emissions? No. The Obamas have been in Washington for ten months and it seems like the only thing they’ve gotten is a dog.
And as President Lincoln is supposed to have said, I laugh because I must not cry. But the people of Honduras cannot afford to laugh. While the U.S. military slyly collaborates and the UN chamber echoes with inspirational speeches but does nothing, the leaders of the coup in Honduras have suspended constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties in “a preemptive strike against widespread rebellion.”
According to an Associated Press report today, Zelaya supporters said they would ignore the decree and march in the streets as planned (photo at right). Protesters say at least 10 people have been killed since the coup, and the government puts the toll at three. Now, the prospect of many more deaths looms large.
Zelaya is holed up in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, and interim “President” Roberto Micheletti has given Brazil 10 days to turn Zelaya over for arrest or grant him asylum and take him out of Honduras. Micheletti did not specify what he would do after the 10 days were up. And Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva responded that his government “doesn’t accept ultimatums from coup-plotters.”
I would be surprised if Brazil and Venezuela watch the Honduran protesters being massacred without intervening. And where would that lead? What would Obama do? Which of the “two Obamas” would step up to the plate?
September 28, 2009 1 Comment
Jamaicans know that “donkey say the world no level.” Throughout history, the island has been a microcosm of global injustice, with the scales heavily weighted in favor of oppressors. The meek indigenous fish eaters that we call Arawak Indians (although they were really Taino; Arawak is the name of their language) were ravaged – probably even eaten – by invading Carib Indians, and when Christopher Columbus opened the door for Spanish colonists, enslaved. Under the lash of slavery, they died out, and captives from African tribal wars were shipped in to replace them on the sugar plantations.
Then the English took Jamaica as a consolation prize after failing to capture Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic). The Spanish fled and their freed slaves took to the rocky mountainsides where they became known as Maroons. The English never were able to subjugate them and finally made a deal that gave them a measure of autonomy, which they maintained until Jamaica achieved Independence. In time, the slave trade would be abolished and, at last, slavery itself. But while the slave owners received some small compensation for freeing them, the slaves received nothing but the free mountain breeze and the right to work for pennies a day or starve.
From then on, Jamaicans continued to depend on sugar and other crops that could be produced more economically in much larger countries with similar climates – in West Africa and South America, for example. And when beet sugar was discovered, an even more bountiful supply of the product became available. It was definitely a buyer’s market.
The English graciously agreed to buy a small amount of Jamaican produce, establishing quotas and fixing prices. In Jamaica, the mass of the people still labored for pennies, while the people who made the goods that Jamaicans imported took home British pounds for the same amount of work.
My interpretation of history may be simplistic, and my accuracy may be questionable – I have lived only through the past three-quarters of a century, and Columbus “discovered” Jamaica more than five centuries ago. But I think the point I am trying to make is valid: In a world where “developed countries” set the rules, countries like Jamaica get shafted.
So when Jamaicans hear that the global super powers are inching toward financial reform, we may be forgiven for dismissing the “progress” as “a kiss and a promise.” But something real happened recently. At the G20 summit in Pittsburgh, the world’s economic arbiters decided to replace the G8 with the G20 as the primary forum for international economic diplomacy. The G8 comprises Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain, Russia and the United States. The G20 adds Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey and the European Union.
The decision was generally ignored by international media, which were more interested in the G20 nations’ plans to recover from the global economic crisis. But it was an important decision, if only because it shows a willingness on the part of the traditional super economies to share power with other countries. In the Age of Obama, America and its allies are shaping up as inclusive rather than exploitative, and that is of enormous interest to the rest of the world.
But there’s a long way to go before the world economy is played on a level field. In an article by Eli Clifton, distributed by Inter Press Service today, Oxfam senior policy adviser Max Lawson is quoted as saying:
The G20 is more representative than the G8 but there is still no seat at the table for the poorest countries. South Africa is the only African country included in this club. That means when the G20 talks about growth and stability, they are leaving the poorest countries in the cold.
Yes, countries like Jamaica have been left out in the cold – as usual. But still, this was a step in the right direction. And other G20 decisions offer hope of a better tomorrow. There’s the decision to endorse a World Bank food initiative, for example. And a proposed World Bank trust fund would help distribute food aid from the $20 billion that G8 leaders allocated at their July summit.
So, the world’s economic leaders have met once again, and countries like Jamaica watched from the sidelines – again. But this time, some progress was made. And Jamaicans have learned to be patient. We are well aware that “one-one coco fill basket.”
September 27, 2009 No Comments
The more I read and hear the more convinced I am that a race war is raging in America – especially in the media. Yes, I am “playing the race card,” as the racists glibly charge when they’re exposed. No, I am not referring only to the closeups of those Jim Crow placards TV commentators display while covering “tea parties” and town hall meetings and that revolting march on Washington. (That’s “revolting” as in upchuck causing, not as in rebelling against authority. The upchuck part is genuine; the rebelling part is bad theater staged at great expense by health industry lobbyists and Republican politicians.)
I am talking about the attack on ACORN, a Republican assault shamefully joined by craven Democrats in Congress. Boo to the Democrats who voted to revoke ACORN’s funding. Cowards all, spineless, sniveling mice willing to throw anyone under the bus at the first hint of scandal.
Yes, I know, I know, a pair of so-called journalists entrapped ACORN workers into saying stupid and inexcusable things. The incident that’s getting all the publicity, of course, is the one where the two “journalists,” one dressed like a prostitute and the other like a pimp, went to various ACORN offices and finally found one in which workers gave them advice on tax evasion and importing under-age sex workers. They illegally recorded the interview with a hidden camera and put it on the internet. They also gave the tape to Fox News, which was only too glad to supply maximum exposure.
When ACORN found out, it fired the dumb workers, but that made no difference. Everybody jumped on the “defunding” bandwagon, even governors of states that gave ACORN no funding in the first place.
OK, so ACORN workers screwed up. And it wasn’t the first time. During the general election campaign, some part-time workers hired by ACORN to sign up voters for registration used fictitious names in an effort to pad their paychecks, not just fictitious but downright ridiculous names – Mickey Mouse, for example. Hmmm… I wonder whether that could have been the work of covert agents planted by conservative groups to undermine ACORN? Anyway, ACORN spotted the fictitious names right away, reported the fraud to the feds and filed charges against the perpetrators.
Remember the hue and cry raised by Republicans during the campaign? They accused ACORN of voter registration fraud and “trying to steal the election.” (And mainstream media lazily picked up the accusations without checking them out.)
Obviously, ACORN is a prime target of right-wing media because the organization is most active in inner cities and other areas where impoverished non-whites live. It helps those people file their taxes, apply for aid, register to vote and obtain low-income housing. And ACORN volunteers pursue civil rights violations in court. A web site named Media Matters has analyzed the negative publicity blitz. Here is an excerpt from their newsletter, which I received today:
In a new study released yesterday, Media Matters for America methodically exposes how both Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity (of Fox News) have spent years obsessively attacking ACORN under the guise of exposing corruption at an organization that receives government funding. Consider the following staggering numbers:
On Beck’s and Hannity’s respective television programs combined, ACORN was mentioned 1,502 times between May 8, 2006, and September 18, 2009. More than 1,500 times. Remember that ACORN has not been charged with any wrongdoing. Not only that, but the organization has been awarded just $53 million in federal funding over the past 15 years – an average of $3.5 million per year. Compare that to the coverage Beck and Hannity gave to Jack Abramoff, former Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), Blackwater, Halliburton, and Kellogg, Brown, and Root (KBR) – stories of well-documented political scandals and of corruption by companies that have received thousands of times more money from the government than ACORN has in the past 15 years. Abramoff and Ney were involved in influence peddling corruption that reached the highest levels of the Bush administration and Republican-controlled Congress. The aforementioned military contractors have all been involved in major controversies and scandals, some of which reportedly contributed to the deaths of U.S. troops, contractors, and Iraqi civilians alike. Combined, these contractors have been awarded at least $25 billion in contracts since 2001.
So how many times were these names mentioned on Beck’s and Hannity’s programs? Abramoff and Ney, 62 times; Blackwater/Xe, four times; Halliburton/KBR, 43 times. In other words, Beck’s and Hannity’s programs combined were approximately 35 times more likely to discuss ACORN than any of the military contractors. They were also 24 times more likely to discuss ACORN than Abramoff and Ney.
I don’t have the space I would need to list the outrageous crimes against humanity committed by rogue outfits like Blackwater and Halliburton. Vile behavior by military contractors has become commonplace – I’m talking murder, rape, torture, theft and fraud here, not just drinking vodka out of each other’s orifices and operating under-age prostitution rings. Yet so far, not one of the offending contractors has been “defunded.” They continue to work for Uncle Sam, raking in billions of our tax money.
To get around the constitutional ban on singling out a single individual or company, Congress has come up with anti-ACORN legislation that applies to “any organization” charged with breaking federal or state election laws, lobbying disclosure laws, campaign finance laws or filing fraudulent paperwork with any federal or state agency. It also applies to any of the employees, contractors or others affiliated with a group charged with any of those things. Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson of Florida has picked up on the legislative overreach and asked the Project on Government Oversight to sift through its database to find which contractors might be caught in the ACORN net.
For enlightenment, you might want to turn to Rachel Maddow on MSNBC (photo at left). Her show airs at 9 p.m. weeknights, and she promises to keep digging up information about this grotesque and disgusting miscarriage of justice. Last night, she cited such mainstream companies as Lockheed Martin and Northrop Gumman among contactors caught with their fingers in the cookie jar.
What I haven’t heard her say, but I think it goes without saying, is that one of the reasons for the right-wing virulence against ACORN is that the organization helps the downtrodden descendants of slaves in their struggle to climb out of the ghetto and join mainstream society. That is one thing the right-wing power elite and their surrogates will not tolerate.
September 26, 2009 1 Comment
Through the dark clouds of despair, a ray of hope has emerged, and it has come from the most unexpected source.
I am not talking about American Senator Chuck Schumer’s assertion on MSNBC last night that there’s still a chance a public option will survive the shenanigans going on in the Finance Committee over the health care bill. I’ll believe that when I see it. As far as U.S. health care reform is concerned, I have lost faith in the process. It seems to me that too many politicians have sold out and too many members of the public have lost their minds.
No, surprisingly, the tiny spark of hope came from reading Arianna Huffington’s account of her recent interview with Israeli President Shimon Peres.
You may have seen the photo op in which President Obama got Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to shake hands at the United Nation’s General Assembly in New York on Tuesday. And you may have dismissed it, as I did, as political theater with nothing of substance behind it.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs certainly did his best to throw cold water on any hopes I might have had that the talks would lead to a breakthrough in the Mideast peace process. “We have no grand expectations out of one meeting,” he said.
Also, reaction from extremists in Israel and Palestine gave no indication of progress toward peace. Some Israeli politicians called the summit “a shameful farce” and accused Netanyahu of “humiliating Israel.” And Hamas’ leaders accused Abbas of “stabbing Palestinians in the back.”
But – here comes that glimmer of hope – Ms. Huffington (photo at right) quoted Peres (below, left) as saying:
“It was an important first step because, as leaders, the main problem that both Netanyahu and Abbas face are their own people asking, “Why are you giving away so much?”
You are going to be criticized. But you have to give things away. Indeed, you must have the courage to keep giving things away. But we need to understand that the leaders’ rhetoric is often for domestic consumption. So when Abbas makes statements that are difficult for Israelis to hear, I choose to judge him not by his rhetoric but by his actions.
The path to peace is never perfect. Too many critics demand perfection. But what we are trying to achieve is to allow people to stay alive so they can dream of perfection. Better an imperfect peace than a perfect war.
Ms. Huffington also quoted Peres as saying the Iraeli government plans no preemptive military action against Iran, which is developing a nuclear bomb with the expressed intent of wiping Israel off the map.
Imagine that – the voice of reason coming from an Israeli leader.
From what I had read, especially about the savagery in Gaza, I did not expect that. And, according to Ms. Huffington, Peres is no figurehead; he is the Cardinal Richelieu of Israeli politics, the power behind the throne.
It just could be that the extremist voices coming from the Mideast are not to be taken seriously, that there’s a lot of posturing going on, and somewhere in the background reasonable people are taking positive action toward ending the horrendous standoff that has caused so much bloodshed and misery… And, incidentally, that threatens the peace of the entire world.
For Ms. Huffington’s article, click:
September 25, 2009 No Comments
There’s a Jamaican saying that “words are wind,” but that’s not always true. Sometimes words have consequences. And sometimes the consequences can be fatal. The thought came to mind today as I read an Associated Press report about a census worker in Kentucky who was found hanged with the word “Fed” scrawled on his chest. Bill Sparkman (photo below), a part-time Census field worker and substitute teacher, was found in a remote patch of the Daniel Boone National Forest in rural southeast Kentucky. A Boy Scout leader and cancer survivor, he had worked for the Census Bureau for several years.
Federal and local investigators are taking pains to avoid calling the hanging a hate crime – yet. There is even a suggestion that it could be a suicide, although I doubt this 51-year-old single father interrupted his door-to-door canvassing to scrawl “Fed” on his chest and hang himself from a tree. The Census Bureau obviously doesn’t believe it is a suicide. Door-to-door interviews have been suspended in rural Clay County, where the body was found, pending the outcome of the investigation.
And according to the AP report, Gilbert Acciardo, a retired Kentucky state trooper who directs an after-school program at the elementary school where Sparkman was a substitute teacher, said he had warned Sparkman to be careful. Here’s Acciardo’s quote from the AP story:
I told him on more than one occasion, based on my years in the state police, “Mr. Sparkman, when you go into those counties, be careful because people are going to perceive you different than they do elsewhere.” Even though he was with the Census Bureau, sometimes people can view someone with any government agency as “the government.” I just was afraid that he might meet the wrong character along the way up there.
Naturally, some people are wondering whether Sparkman’s death might be an indirect result of the hate mongering that pervades American right-wing media, and especially the campaign against the Census by Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, which is being vigorously promoted by Fox News loudmouth Glenn Beck.
Beck made the cover of Time magazine last week by inciting a “conservative” mob that marched on Washington waving inflammatory, and even racist, signs. To me, Time’s decision was the worst journalistic gaffe of the century, and I imagine Henry Luce is turning over in his grave. But I guess in these hard times “ya gottta do what ya gotta do” to sell magazines.
Bachmann has become notorious for her mindless McCarthyism and unrestrained chatter about “revolution.” She is now right up there with Beck and talk radio’s leviathan Rush Limbaugh when it comes to twisting – and even inventing – facts to stir up hatred and fear among stupid people.
Meanwhile, there is a frightening rise in the popularity of weapons among Americans. So much so that there’s a shortage of bullets. A news report today reveals that ammunition makers are working around the clock, seven days a week, and still can’t keep up with the demand. According to the Associated Press:
Shooting ranges, gun dealers and bullet manufacturers say they have never seen such shortages. Bullets, especially for handguns, have been scarce for months because gun enthusiasts are stocking up on ammo, in part because they fear President Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress will pass antigun legislation — even though nothing specific has been proposed and the president last month signed a law allowing people to carry loaded guns in national parks.
Gun sales spiked when it became clear Obama would be elected a year ago and purchases continued to rise in his first few months of office. The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System reported that 6.1 million background checks for gun sales were issued from January to May, an increase of 25.6 percent from the same period the year before.
I think that rabble-rousers like Limbaugh, Beck and Bachmann must share the blame for much of the prevailing climate of violence. Limbaugh and Beck have excused their excesses by saying they are entertainers not newscasters. Beck has even called himself “a rodeo clown.” But their Neanderthal followers take them seriously. And that’s very, very dangerous. By spewing hate against President Obama and “the government,” they attract a wide audience among disgruntled citizens – and make a lot of money from it. But the price America must pay may be too great. Perhaps the first amendment protection of “free speech” wasn’t such a good idea after all.
September 24, 2009 No Comments
You know what they say, be careful what you wish for, you might get it. So I am hastening to rescind yesterday’s wish to be magically transported to Bhutan. Like every other conclusion in my life, my opinion of Bhutan was based on incomplete information. Today, in the Care2 newsletter, Charlie B. responds to Nancy R’s post by citing a history of “ethnic cleansing” in the supposedly idyllic kingdom on top of the Himalayas.
Charlie B., who in real life is Charles J. Brown, a Senior Fellow and Washington Director at the Institute for International Law and Human Rights, conceded that Nancy R. has a valid point in suggesting that countries should measure progress by more than than the amount of consumption by their people. But he adds:
The problem is not with the idea. Nancy is right that Gross National Happiness is a worthy metric, and I support and value her efforts to promote it. The problem is rather with its chief advocate: the Government of Bhutan. Much as was the case with Mr. Jefferson 233 years ago, the Government of Bhutan may believe in happiness, but that doesn’t mean it practices what it preaches. In the early 1990s, Bhutan pursued what Human Rights Watch called a policy of “ethnic cleansing,” targeting citizens of Bhutan whose ethnicity happened to be Nepalese rather than Drupka (Bhutan’s indigenous race).
Charlie B. quoted a 2008 Human Rights Watch report that charged:
After a campaign of harassment that escalated in the early 1990s, Bhutanese security forces began expelling people, first making them sign forms renouncing claims to their homes and homeland. . . . Today, about 108,000 of these stateless Bhutanese are living in seven refugee camps in (neighboring) Nepal. The Bhutanese authorities have not allowed a single refugee to return.
And he recalls traveling to the refugee camps in the mid-1990s as part of his work monitoring human rights for Freedom House. This is what he found:
Their death rate was one of the highest ever recorded. To this day, it represents in terms of per-capita, the world’s largest refugee displacement. Seventeen years later, not one of them – not one – has been allowed to return home. Although conditions had stabilized by the time of my visits, I can testify to the gross unhappiness of more than 100,000 people who wanted nothing more than to return to their homes.
What am I to make of this disillusioning information? I know my sister-in-law Faye would say the only perfect place is to be found in the after life. And I am beginning to think she’s right. After yearning for Utopia for as long as I can remember, I am ready to concede that no human institution is likely to work. People are a sorry lot, after all.
As Winston Churchill – famously – commented, democracy is the worst system of government except for all the others. I’m ready for Heaven myself, but (as the country and western song points out) I just don’t want to die to get there.
September 23, 2009 2 Comments
A neighbor sent me an email today that deepens my sense of despair. It’s a press release claiming that “an international drug ring, operating from New York City,” is behind the swine flu scare. I gather the motive is the loot derived from vaccinations plus a secret plan to reduce the world’s population and introduce a new system of government in which a few powerful people will control a subjugated mass of impoverished peasants.
I know. It sounds like a bad James Bond movie, and I accept this kind of news with a grain or two of salt. For one thing, I notice that the “whistle blowers” who warn of such dangers have their own axes to grind: They sell books, videos, CD’s and so on to their followers, and they collect fees for speeches to conspiracy groups. The man behind the swine flue expose, for example, is Leonard Horowitz, a dentist turned health industry entrepreneur. He and self-proclaimed celebrity Pat Perez formed a company to publish his stuff.
But despite my skepticism, I must admit I harbor a lingering suspicion that the swine flu “pandemic” is a marketing ploy for vaccine. I don’t know about the plot to use the vaccine to kill off large numbers of people as a population-control device. It seems to me that birth control and legalized abortion would do a better job in a less drastic way. But from what I know about the way drug companies operate, I would not be surprised if they concocted a swine flu fantasy to push one of their products.
The ongoing health care “debate” in America has revealed the corruption at the core of American society. With vast amounts of money and the tools of the public relations trade, profiteers have succeeded in co-opting politicians and persuading a large segment of the public to abandon their own interests in favor of further enriching the health care industry.
And that leaves me despondent. In a society that is driven purely by profit, where human beings are valued only as consumers, what hope is there for us?
I have always wondered why countries like America measure their “wealth” in terms of the Gross Domestic Product. The GDP includes the total value of goods and services but does not take into consideration the nature of these goods and services. For example, when armament production goes up, so does the GDP. And the GDP of the state of Alaska soared after the Exxon Valdez disaster, boosted by the “wealth” produced in cleaning up the catastrophic oil spill.
With that kind of score card, what do you expect from a society? That’s why I was captivated by a blog posted today in Care2 by “Nancy R.” She reported that last week, on the anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, French President Nicolas Sarkozy (photo at right) gave a speech calling for change in how countries measure wealth. He suggested the need for a new metric that would take into account the happiness of a country’s population along with its economic prosperity.
Nancy R. suggests this “may be just the ticket to helping the … world measure what real progress is, so we can chart a path towards true happiness.” And she pointed out that:
One country has gone significantly farther in terms of decoupling progress from uncritical measurement of economic activity. The Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan guides all governmental policies through the Gross National Happiness indicators, which incorporate four pillars: sustainable development; natural resource conservation; cultural values, and good governance.
I looked up Bhutan on the web, and it seems just wonderful. Perched atop the Himalayan mountains between China and India, Bhutan is described as “a peaceful country with strong traditional values based on religion, respect for the royal family and care for the environment.”
The country’s history is rich in tales of demons and angels, magic and mystery, warlords, feuds, giant fortresses and castles. Its hereditary monarchy used to pursue a policy of isolationism, but a new king has decided to take some cautious steps toward emerging from the country’s medieval heritage of serfdom and seclusion. Until the 1960s the country had no national currency, no telephones, no schools, no hospitals, no postal service and no tourists. Now, these signs of modernization have all been developed. And there’s a national assembly, airport, roads and – take heed America! – a national health care system. Yet despite the speed of modernization, Bhutan has maintained a policy of careful, controlled growth in an effort to preserve its national identity. The government has cautiously accepted tourism, TV and the internet and is set to embark on its biggest challenge – democracy.
I say we should all move to Bhutan and explore the breathtaking mountains and valleys (see photo above) until the western world recovers from its endemic sickness – or destroys itself in its lust for money and power.
September 22, 2009 1 Comment
How sweet it is. And how deadly. Sugar, I mean. Yes, that sweet-tasting, innocent looking white powder takes more lives than cocaine or heroin. Yet it is marketed freely around the world, without a murmur of protest from those charged with protecting society.
I should know. I am a lifelong sugar addict. And I am paying for it now with twice-daily injections of insulin and a miserably restrictive diet. And the years and years of diabetes have taken their toll on other parts of my anatomy… My kidneys are failing and my heart is damaged.
It started a long time ago, back in old Mr. Pine’s shop in Port Antonio, Jamaica. I was a chubby toddler with a surprisingly deep voice, and when i sang “Old Man River,” everyone would burst out laughing. My father was an agricultural instructor, and he would leave me with Mr. Pine’s daughter, Beryl, when he went on his rounds throughout the parish of Portland. She would put me on the counter and when customers came in she would often ask me to sing for them. And they would reward me with candy – paradise plums, mint balls, Bustmante back bone…
I suspect that’s how I got hooked on sugar. And, regardless of any “expert” opinion to the contrary, I am convinced that’s what led to my diabetes. By the age of six, I was diagnosed with “sugar in the blood.” Dr. Lanaman put me on a diet of bran – just bran, nothing else – for months. But when I was sent off to school in Kingston, that diet was forgotten, and I never thought about diabetes again for many years – while I consumed vast quantities of malted milk shakes, dusty sundaes, sugar buns and other “treats.” I suppose that I survived because I was always on the go, chasing stories as a reporter, playing soccer and cricket, boxing at the YMCA…
It wasn’t until I got really sick in my forties that I asked a doctor to test my sugar. By then, the diabetes had taken firm hold of me.
Why am I telling you all this? Because I received a newsletter this morning from a group called Care2, which included an item on a proposed U.S. tax on soft drinks. The item, posted by health writer Ann Pietrangelo, began with the question:
Would you support a tax on sugar-sweetened soft drinks?
The writer went on to examine the debate over the proposed tax. I hadn’t seen or heard anything about it in the news, but I had seen ads by the soft drink industry warning against the evils of taxing soft drinks. Ms. Pietrangelo reported that:
A recent article in The New England Journal of Medicine lays out the evidence linking sugar consumption, chronic illness, and the urgent need for solutions. One of the solutions currently being discussed is a tax added to sugary soft drinks which would be used to offset health care costs. Driving the prices of unhealthy drinks up would, in theory, drive consumption down, much like the taxes on tobacco have done.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group that supports the idea, says that “Americans spend roughly $100 billion a year on medical expenditures related to obesity, of which half is paid with Medicare and Medicaid dollars, and a tax of seven cents per soft drink can would raise $10 billion per year to help pay for an expansion of health care coverage and help lower obesity rates.”
Americans Against Food Taxes, a group that opposes such a tax, says that “we can’t tax our way to healthier lifestyles, and we need to make that clear to our members of Congress. After all, we do have an obligation to our children – and to ourselves – to promote healthy lifestyles through balanced diet and exercise.”
It wasn’t hard to figure out who was behind “Americans Against Food Taxes.” It has become routine in America for industry public relations representatives to disguise their activities as populist “causes.” And the writer argued that both sides “make a good case.” Here’s how she put it:
Recently, the American Heart Association suggested that women limit sugar intake to 100 calories, or 6 teaspoons a day, and that men should limit their consumption to 150 calories, or 9 teaspoons.
To put those numbers in perspective, one 12-ounce can of cola has 130 calories, or 8 teaspoons. Americans are currently taking in an average of 22 teaspoons of sugar per day — obviously too much, but soft drinks are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to dietary horrors. It’s a sticky, slippery slope.
Personal responsibility has to kick in at some point.
These “arguments” remind me of the debate over smoking. Remember when tobacco companies used the same schtick about “personal responsibility” to defend their campaigns to create drug addicts? And remember how their “dirty tricks” were exposed? How they doctored their product to hook children?
I am convinced that’s exactly what the sugar industry does. The other morning I ran out of orange juice and swiped some of Sandra’s apple juice to take my pills. It was so sweet my lips puckered. The products marketed to children are super-sweet, and that develops a taste for more and more sugar. By the time they reach the age of “personal responsibility” they are irretrievably hooked.
So would I support a tax on sugar-sweetened soft drinks? You bet I would. And I wait patiently for the day when huge judgments will be awarded against the sugar industry – as they were against the tobacco industry. I can only hope that as more information becomes available, the deadly implications of a world hooked on sugar will shock the public into revolt.
September 21, 2009 1 Comment