Posts from — March 2010
It took him a while but the American President has finally got the message: Republicans aren’t going to help him run the country; they are only interested in getting in his way. So he is doing what he should’ve been doing all along – he’s going it alone.
After an eye opening experience with their obstructionism on health care reform legislation, Obama has apparently decided enough is enough. Now, he is getting the nation’s work done without pausing to coax them along.
A recent example of his new attitude is his recess appointment of 15 nominees to run various government departments. The Republicans have been using every trick in the book to block his appointments so he waited for Congress to be in recess then made a flock of appointments by executive order.
For the list of appointees, click:
As you might expect, the Republicans are crying foul even though that’s exactly what George W. Bush did when he was President.
All I can say to the Republicans is cry me a river. And to the new President Obama, I say bravo! I’ve been waiting for this new approach for a long, frustrating year.
March 30, 2010 2 Comments
Perhaps the most controversial provision in America’s new health care legislation is the requirement to buy insurance or face a fine. It applies to anyone who does not have insurance through an employer, or through some other means – such as their parents’ policy or Medicare.
I see it as a bureaucratic nightmare. Most people are confused enough already without having to figure out what insurance they need – how much coverage, for example – and what company will give them the best deal. Then there’s the army of enforcers who must be assembled to find out who has what and whether they should be fined or given a government subsidy.
To avoid the appearance of Socialism, American politicians concoct the most convoluted mechanisms for delivering social programs. Take Medicare Advantage, which was introduced by George W. Bush with the support of a Republican-controlled Congress.
I stumbled into Medicare Advantage through happenstance, and it’s a very generous deal. For people on Medicare, it adds not only help in paying for prescription drugs but also a whole range of extra benefits. But when the law was passed it was publicized so poorly that only about 10 million of the 40 million people on Medicare signed up for it.
Now, I think President Obama is trying to take it away or cut it drastically (to help subsidize the uninsured). That’s probably one of the things that’s riling the Tea Party protesters (most of whom look as if they’re on Medicare).
I mention Medicare Advantage only to show how complicated it is to introduce a social program in America, where so many people have a mindless fear of the government. I can see why the government would want everyone included in the health care plan. Premiums from the young and healthy will help to subsidize the sicker and older people in the program. But I can also see why a lot of people would find it tyrannical.
Ironically, you will remember President Obama was against forcing people to buy insurance. (Hillary Clinton campaigned in favor of it during the Democratic Primary; he campaigned against it.)
But, in the spirit of bipartisanship, Obama and his allies agreed to include the provision in the bill as a gesture to Republicans when they suggested it.
I imagine he was quite taken aback when they voted against the bill, anyway.
Now that the bill is law, the Republicans are in a frenzy. Democratic politicians who voted for the bill are being subjected to a fusillade of abuse – including even death threats against them and their families. And more than a dozen GOP state attorneys general are challenging the requirement in federal court as unconstitutional.
You think the President will think twice before adopting Republican suggestions in the future?
March 27, 2010 3 Comments
Infuriated by the inevitable passage of President Obama’s health care reform bill, House Republicans shouted insults across the chamber, encouraged outbursts from the galleries, brandished “Kill the bill” placards from the Speaker’s Balcony and encouraged supporters who shouted racial and homophobic epithets and even spit at Democratic representatives.
Tea party protesters reportedly shouted the N-word at civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis, spit on Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (another African-American Democrat) and hurled an anti-gay insult at Rep. Barney Frank. And Texas Republican Randy Neugebauer shouted “baby killer!” as an anti-abortion amendment was debated.
All day Sunday, House Republicans walked about, shouting encouragement and waving American flags to whip up a crowd of boisterous protesters. And throughout the debate, opponents interrupted with points of order and booed mentions of the president’s name.
It was an exhibition of rowdy behavior that stunned my Canadian visitors watching the debate on TV.
I’m sure they were not alone. The spectacle was being televised around the world, and it shamed American democracy.
This is how the world’s leading democratic state debates issues of importance? What an example for younger democracies!
Surely, the whole concept of majority rule, the very reason for voting, is to settle disputes without such dangerous ugliness? But it seems that a minority of Americans reject the idea of democracy. They have chosen a fascist approach in which “might is right.” And the Republican leadership is encouraging them.
Some Republican politicians are openly calling for violent revolution, and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has released a map on which Democrats targeted for defeat in the November elections are identified by the cross-hairs seen on rifle scopes.
This situation seems very dangerous to me. When the proceedings for the House are disrupted and threats hurled at politicians, and when abortion doctors are murdered and members of a liberal church gunned down, America is approaching the kind of mood in which Hitler and Mussolini came to power.
March 24, 2010 No Comments
NOTE: Webmaster Xavier Murphy will be upgrading the Word Press Blog software this weekend. So this is the last blog for a few days.
It’s hard to be a responsible voter in America. There are only two real political parties to choose from, and the party label apparently doesn’t mean much. In Jamaica, Britain or Canada, you know that if a candidate belongs to a certain party, that candidate can be expected to support the party platform. In America, the party label guarantees nothing.
Take the current confusion over the health care bill before the House of Representatives in Washington.
On the Republican side of the House, there is no doubt: All 199 Republican members will vote no.
But that’s not the way it works with Democrats. With 235 Democrats elected in 2008, you might think the bill would pass easily. But several House members who ran as Democrats are threatening to vote against the bill. And some of these politicians will run again as Democrats. This is very confusing to me.
When I vote for a candidate with a D next to his or her name, I expect that candidate to support the Democratic Party platform.
I cannot understand why Democrats nominate candidates who do not support the party’s platform. A candidate who does not agree with the Democratic Party’s goals is not a Democrat. It should be as simple as that.
For the bill’s highlights, click:
And for an update on the way House members (possibly including your representative) are likely to vote, click:
You might want to take your representative’s vote into consideration when you go to the polls in your next Democratic Party primary.
March 19, 2010 1 Comment
These are desperate times in Florida. With the collapse of the housing market and the ensuing recession, state revenues are down – way down. Services are being cut, projects suspended or abandoned, teachers laid off.
So I was pleasantly surprised to hear the South Florida Water Management District board voted unanimously for a $536 million deal to buy 73,000 acres of land from the United States Sugar Corporation. The land will eventually be taken out of agricultural production, removing a major source of pollution, and converted into reservoirs and artificial marshes that will store and clean water for release into the Everglades during the dry season.
This is not the kind of project that gets a lot of popular support these days. The political climate seems more favorable to environmental abuses such as offshore drilling and construction of nuclear power plants. Voters quickly lose their love of the land when their pockets are empty.
The South Florida Water Management District was under powerful pressure to kill the deal. The politically connected sugar companies lobbied ferociously against it. And some environmentalists complained that the state was paying too much for the land and would have no funds for other restoration projects. But according to a New York Times editorial praising Florida Governor Charlie Crist for initiating the deal:
Some of those projects — a string of underground storage wells, for instance — made little sense to begin with and none are as important as the land deal. The payout to United States Sugar and some other aspects of the deal seem excessive. But the agency can negotiate the price downward or cancel the arrangement if United States Sugar refuses to bargain or if the economy keeps tanking and the deal becomes unaffordable.
The Times points out that:
Without an ample supply of clean, fresh water, the Everglades will never be restored to anything approaching their former vitality.
There is no shortage of rainfall in Florida. What’s in short supply is places to store it during the rainy season when Lake Okeechobee overflows, places from which the water can be released when it is needed during the dry season to nourish wildlife, prevent catastrophic fire and provide clean water to Florida Bay.
The Everglades is more than a reminder of the uninhabitable swamp country Barron Gift Collier encountered in 1923 when he first pondered one of the biggest real estate gambits in Florida history. The national park provides an economic base for Everglades City. It’s our anti-Disney World, a natural tourist attraction loved by hundreds of thousands of visitors each year who hope to experience its undistilled magic.
The vast swampland that Marjory Stoneman Douglas called a “river of grass” is Florida’s greatest marvel. Despite depredations by greedy developers and misguided government engineers over the years, it remains a source of survival for the Seminole and Miccosukee Indians and a precious legacy for future generations.
Here’s how Ms. Douglas saw it:
The miracle of the light pours over the green and brown expanse of saw grass and of water, shining and slow-moving below, the grass and water that is the meaning and the central fact of the Everglades of Florida.
The purchase of Big Sugar’s lands is just one step in an Everglades cleanup that will cost as much as $7 billion over the next 50 years. But it’s an important one. And it is encouraging to see that in times such as these, state authorities remain committed to restoration of Florida’s “river of grass,” that they remember “man shall not live by bread alone.”
March 18, 2010 No Comments
As I write this blog, Congressman Denis Kucinich is holding a press conference to announce how he will vote on President Obama’s health care reform bill. Yes, it’s no longer the House bill or the Senate bill. The President has taken ownership of it, and that makes all the difference.
The word is that Kucinich, a staunch liberal who voted against the House version because it was woefully inadequate, will back the even weaker version passed by the Senate. I imagine it was a hard decision to make. The Senate bill is pathetic. And Kucinich is not ordinarily a flip-flopper.
But the President promises it’s just a start. He points to the initial versions of Social Security and Medicare as examples of programs that were improved over the years. The hardest part was getting the ball rolling.
Obama’s strongest argument is that the Senate bill, weak as it is, will extend coverage to some 30 million uninsured Americans. He emphasizes the human misery that results from the lack of coverage, and recalls how his own mother spent her last days worrying about the bills that her insurance company refused to pay.
He glosses over the fact that – with the exception of children – coverage under the reform bill doesn’t kick in for these people for four years. According to available estimates, that would mean 160,000 more American deaths from lack of health insurance in the meantime.
To someone who grew up outside of America, this is inconceivable. We regard health care as a natural right. But judging from the polls, Americans are divided on the issue. The President and his allies in Congress had to jump through hoops to get this watered down bill through the Senate, and now it’s not even sure to be rubber-stamped by the House.
The reason, of course, is that so many members of Congress are in the pockets of the health insurance lobbyists. I can’t think of any other civilized country in which politicians would dare to act so corruptly so openly. But money has a special place in America. The dollar bill – not the Statue of Liberty – should represent this country’s face to the rest of the world.
But President Obama is willing to take what he can get for the sick and dying. It is the right thing to do, he says, even if the political price is high.
With that kind of commitment from the President, I can understand why Congressman Kucinich would hold his nose and vote for the health care bill, sorry mess though it is. There will be improvements in the reconciliation process and, even more important, time enough to fix it in the years to come.
Now, let me turn on the TV and see what the little warrior has to say for himself.
March 17, 2010 No Comments
Remember how we hailed the implosion of the Soviet Union two decades ago? How were we to know the poison from that eruption would infect the rest of the world?
Today, the “Russian mob” has spread all over the globe. The Associated Press reports this morning that “at least 69″ mob suspects have been arrested in a Europe-wide crackdown. They were charged with robbery, drug smuggling, money laundering, and other crimes. Spain arrested 24 suspects over the weekend, and more arrests followed in Austria, France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland.
These are not the “communists” America feared so much for so long. They are criminals motivated only by money. And their tentacles have penetrated not only the international underworld but also legitimate business institutions, creating much of the turmoil in financial markets in recent years.
What’s even more alarming is that gangsters from the former Soviet Union have infiltrated political institutions around the globe. After the Soviet collapse, organized crime invaded most of the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union at every level of government and then quickly spread through Central Asia. Now, there is evidence of the infection in other countries as well.
According to press reports, Lieberman is so accustomed to being under police investigation that he constantly switches his phone numbers and removes the battery from his cell phone during private meetings. Israel’s National Fraud Squad recommended on Aug. 2 that Lieberman be indicted for money-laundering, accepting bribes and obstruction of justice.
According to Time Magazine:
The focus of the police probe centered on Lieberman’s alleged ties to a string of shell companies, one of which was run by his 20-year-old daughter, now a multimillionaire. The liberal daily Haaretz reported that the police are curious about an estimated $3 million that the company headed by Lieberman’s daughter received between 2004 and 2007 for “business consulting” from anonymous sources overseas.
The former Moldovan nightclub bouncer insists he is innocent and he has not been indicted. Indeed, he seems to be gaining in political popularity. He has a large base in the million–plus Israelis who emigrated from the former Soviet Union (many of whom are accused by some Israelis of not being Jewish but Russians who wanted to get out of Moldova). As you might expect, the Moldovan emigres are intensely anti-American.
I suspect that this Soviet-bred animosity toward the west might be an underlying cause of the current diplomatic problems between Israel and America. Remember, it was Lieberman who made the ill-timed announcement (during Vice President Joe Biden’s Mideast peace trip) of plans to build more Jewish homes in East Jerusalem.
Yet he is highly regarded among not only his Israeli followers, but also among some American partisans of Israel. He is a key contact for neo-cons who urge a nuclear attack on Iran, for example.
The Israeli people and their American friends might want to take a closer look at Avigdor Lieberman and ask themselves what his motives might be. In an opportunistic quest for power, he could plunge the world into the real “mother of all wars.”
March 16, 2010 No Comments
My sister-in-law, Faye, called from London, Ontario, yesterday evening to remind me to watch Sixty Minutes on CBC. An author named Michael Lewis was being interviewed, and he was saying a lot of the things I’ve been yelling about over the past few months. He has written a book about the Wall Street robber barons who brought down the international financial system and paid themselves hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses as a reward.
His complaints included the fact that the big banks can get loans at zero percent from the Federal Reserve and invest the money in Treasury bonds or government agency securities to make a profit. He called it “a very elegant form of theft.” Well, it certainly is theft but I don’t know about the “elegant” part.
The financial meltdown is what the papers used to call “a daring daylight bank robbery.” Except that the victims ended up being the American taxpayers and the robbers ended up being the bankers.
Lewis is not the only commentator publicly denouncing the bankers’ tactics. There’s a chorus of complaint on television, radio and the Internet.
On his MSNBC show “Morning Meeting,” recently, Dylan Ratigan gave a primer on an “accounting gimmick” employed by Lehman Brothers. It’s the kind of sleight-of-hand used by “sam-fi” artists back in Jamaica, but in the world of American finance it’s considered par for the course. Basically, Lehman Brothers CEO Richard Fuld (photo at left) pledged assets to borrow money but classified the transactions as sales (instead of loans) so they wouldn’t affect the company’s credit rating. He used this technique, called “Repo 105,” to move $50 billion off of Lehman’s balance sheet in the second quarter of 2008 alone.
Anton Valukas, the examiner in charge of investigating Lehman’s collapse, also reported that senior officials failed to disclose key practices, and that the firm’s auditor, Ernst & Young, failed to meet “professional standards.”
There’s a lot more to be revealed about the financial melt-down. When the whole story is told, I suspect it will be about organized crime as well as crooked bankers.
One of the most glaring heists, in my opinion, was the taxpayer payoff to investors who bought AIG insurance on the rotten securities created by bundling myriad scraps of mortgages. I suspect at least some of these people knew in advance that the securities were going to tank and were tipped off to buy the policies as a sure bet. AIG has refused to name these investors, even though it used bailout money to pay off the policies.
You would think that with such widespread condemnation of the financial system, politicians would hesitate to stand in the way of reform. Polls show more than 80 percent of Americans favor legislation to fix the financial system.
So you might be surprised to hear that Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd has hit a roadblock trying to negotiate a financial reform compromise with Republican senator Robert Corker.
But politicians don’t know the meaning of the word, “shame.”
As Time Magazine reports:
Republicans have vowed to block any independent consumer protection agency with enforcement authority, while President Obama and many Democrats have insisted on one… Democrats are ideologically inclined to support strict regulations; Republicans, not so much – one reason none of them voted for the reform bill that passed the House last year.
And, with the kind of money the bankers can spend lobbying Congress, Time predicts:
A tough bill would face long odds. The money and power of the financial industry would be arrayed against it. There would be so many arcane moving parts – How much authority for the Fed? Should end users be exempt from derivatives regulation? Should something be done about naked credit default swaps? – that reaching consensus by August would be challenging even if everyone wanted it. And it’s not clear that anyone is desperate to have it; there probably won’t be another meltdown this year, and Democratic leaders may be content to let Republicans block reform so they can blast them as Wall Street shills in November.
I think it’s time for American voters to say, “Enough!” Don’t you?
March 15, 2010 2 Comments
My neighbor across the street is haunted by unseen dangers that he reads about on the Internet. One of his fears is that an elite group of super-rich people is plotting to establish a one-world government, in which there will be two classes, masters and slaves, and in which people like him and me will be treated like livestock.
He is not alone. A lot of people see the prophesies in the Book of Revelations being fulfilled. They talk about the End Times, the Anti-Christ, Armageddon and so on.
I am not in a position to mock these people. There’s too much going on in the world that I don’t know about. I can only hope they’re mistaken.
Certainly the world is changing. Massively. And our media do a poor job of explaining the changes. China doesn’t get nearly enough press, for example. We get just snippets of news from that awakened giant. But, at last, the current edition of Newsweek provides a rare glimpse into China’s rapidly changing economy and culture.
It’s worth your time to check it out:
It’s an eye opener – for me, anyway. I had no idea that China has such a thriving auto industry (China’s answer to the Rolls Royce is shown at right). Or that the Chinese yuan is so close to replacing the U.S. dollar as the world’s universal currency. Or that China is involved in a major expansion of the Internet.
The Newsweek report is frightening in a way, but it is also reassuring. I don’t see an Armageddon that does not involve China, and I don’t see China being taken over by Islamic extremists any time soon.
I am confident that if Islamic revolutionaries (or Iranian and North Korean despots) go too far in disrupting the world that China is quietly planning to take over, the trouble-makers would be ruthlessly and efficiently eliminated. Chinese rulers don’t have scruples or qualms or any of the other niceties that stay the hands of western democratic leaders.
While China is by far the most important emerging world power, enormous change is also taking place in other Asian countries. Our children and grandchildren will wake up to a world we never imagined.
Meanwhile, as the wider world becomes infinitely more complex and sophisticated, Americans seem to be sliding backward into an increasingly introspective, myopic and primitive culture.
Consider this eerie item, also from Newsweek:
Experts are calling it the perfect storm for white supremacist recruitment: the sinking economy, the election of Barack Obama, and the increased attention to immigrants from Mexico and elsewhere. At the same time, extremist groups are trying to enter the mainstream–and they’re having some success. NEWSWEEK reporter Eve Conant and photographer Bruce Gilden visited two groups on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s hate group list: the Knights Party, an offshoot of the Ku Klux Klan (during a cosponsored event with the Christian Revival Center), and the Detroit-based National Socialist Movement (NSM), one of the largest neo-Nazi groups in the U.S.
The photo caption introduces an unsettling reportage by reporter Eve Conant and photographer Bruce Gilden, who visited two groups on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s hate group list. Take a look for yourself:
I realize I am being unfair, that these pathetic people represent a small fragment of the American population. But I see the rise in bigotry, ignorance and fear as a symptom of a sick society. There is no doubt that “conservatives” of various stripes are gaining ground in the United States, and that they often represent all that is ugly, mean-spirited and inbred in the world’s leading democracy.
With corrupt politicians and pandering media, America’s path forward is poorly illuminated. My fear is that we are heading for a rude awakening in the not too distant future.
March 14, 2010 1 Comment
I used to say half-jokingly that there’s no political party in America to the left of any party in Canada. Now, I realize that I wasn’t kidding. I don’t think there’s any major political party in America to the left of any party in the civilized world.
This is a country where the vast majority of the people believe deeply in the old saying:
If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?
In America, the worst sin you can commit is to be poor. Here, “poor” is a four-letter word, like “dumb.” Phrases like “never give a sucker an even break” or “a sucker is born every minute” help to tell the American story. I can’t recall hearing a politician quote the Golden Rule – “do to others as you would that they should do to you” – even once since I came to America 31 years ago.
Yet I constantly read that this is a Christian country. And, seemingly, the people who profess their Christianity most vehemently are the ones who believe most deeply in the rule of gold instead of the Golden Rule.
There are millions of Christians in America, of course. But they are far outnumbered by people who worship the Golden Calf and blasphemously call it Christianity.
Perhaps that’s why American politics is so disappointing.
The Obama Administration is a case in point. Right-wing protesters are vilifying America’s first black President as a Socialist – even a Communist (see poster at left) – and yet his policies so far have been significantly to the right of center.
Here’s how writer Michael Brenner summed up Obama’s track record in a recent Huffington Post article:
Let’s take a clear eyed look at what President Obama actually has done and said. He placed his supposedly signature health care reform initiative in the hands of those dedicated to thwarting it, he has curried favor with the criminally incompetent financial establishment, he orphaned the proposal to help underwater homeowners through the bankruptcy courts, he stiffed the trade unions on the loosening of rules for organizing workers, he has retained all of Bush’s policies on surveillance, he has refused the slightest chastisement of the CIA and their mercenaries, he has retained Bush’s practice of Executive statements interpreting legislation, he has followed a behind closed doors style of policy-making, he has followed the Pentagon hawks in escalating the war in Afghanistan, he has made repeated advances toward the evangelical right. This is the behavioral pattern of a deeply conservative personality and conventional thinker who tips his hat to every establishment he encounters.
Yet the popular perception is that the President has gone too far in growing the federal government and getting in the way of those who would loot the country and oppress the poor. Where have these critics been getting their information?
Obama’s administration has been anything but radical. His timid “trickle-down” policies succeeded in saving the country from total financial collapse but he has done nothing to reform a system that can lead only to more disaster in the future. And his “economic recovery” has so far bypassed the poor and middle class. It’s a recovery of the rich, by the rich and for the rich.
As economist Robert Reich blogs today:
Look more closely and the only ones doing better are the people and private-sector institutions at the top. Many of America’s biggest companies are sitting on huge amounts of cash right now, but that says nothing about the health of the U.S. economy.
Only in America would tax cuts for business, bailouts for Wall Street and giveaways to the health insurance industry be criticized as “Socialist.”
March 13, 2010 1 Comment