Posts from — March 2010
I am puzzled by the special place the Israeli government has in the hearts of American politicians. I can understand, of course, why Americans of Jewish descent would feel affection for the land of their fathers. When I was growing up in Jamaica, my grandparents cherished their Scottish roots. And I can appreciate the reverence that Christians feel for the earth on which Jesus walked and which bequeathed us so much of our ethical and spiritual heritage.
But while I understand the ties that bind Americans to the land and its people, I do not understand the American government’s blind loyalty to the rulers of Israel.
Throughout history Israel has had good rulers and bad rulers. Rehoboam springs to mind as one of the bad ones.
I see Benjamin Netanyahu as another. He is not as bad as Avigdor Lieberman would be, but he is a lot more dangerous than Ehud Barak, or even Tzipi Livni. He certainly is no friend of the American government.
That fact was highlighted this week while U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Israel to promote a peace agreement with the Palestinians (Netanyahu is shown above greeting Biden). Netanyahu’s Interior Minister Eli Yishai picked that time to announce that he would build 1,600 new households in a part of the Occupied West Bank that the Israeli government had annexed into Jerusalem.
It was precisely this policy that has led Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to reject peace negotiations.
It is no secret that the current Israeli government has no real interest in pursuing an accord with the Palestinian people or in ending colonization of the Palestinian West Bank. But to proclaim it so brazenly during Biden’s visit was a shocking insult to the U.S.
If I were Joe Biden, I would have packed my bags and left the country. Instead, he showed up 90 minutes late to a state dinner hosted by Netanyahu to complain about the way he was treated, “I condemn the decision,” he said, calling it “precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now and runs counter to the constructive discussions that I’ve had here in Israel.”
Netanyahu has apologized for the timing of the announcement, but not for the substance. And I fail to see what Biden expects to achieve by remaining in the Mideast. It is time to abandon the “peace talks” charade and to distance America from the dangerously bellicose interests that have risen to power in Israel.
Still, I don’t expect any change in Washington. The Obama administration, like its predecessors, will probably continue to curry favor with any government that represents Israel. That’s a political fact of life in America.
But it’s bad news for the rest of the world.
For more, click:
March 12, 2010 No Comments
You might look at Carlos and wonder what it would be like to have $53.5 billion. You might think about buying a BMW – or to heck with it, why not a Rolls Royce?
And how about that mansion on the ocean you’ve always wanted?
My thoughts today are somewhat different. No, I am not going to get on my soapbox and preach about those starving children in Haiti, Darfur or Rwanda. Or even those starving children in Mexico. I am sure Carlos gives them a thought now and then, as we all would in his place. He probably set up some kind of charitable thing to salve his conscience and ease his tax burden.
I am going to indulge a few selfish thoughts instead.
As I run my hands through what’s left of my hair, I think about those ads for Rogaine and the Hair Club. With all his billions, Carlos doesn’t have much insulation up there, either. Don’t those miracle products and procedures work? Surely, Carlos would have given them a try by now? And what about those weight loss wonders that make the models on TV shrink several sizes in 30 seconds? Wouldn’t you be gulping those things down if you were Carlos? I bet some of you would even have a personal trainer housed over the garage.
Looking at his photo, I doubt that Carlos enjoys robust health. I am doing OK for my age but that’s not saying much. The kidneys are acting up. And there’s that pesky diabetes thing. With all of Carlos’s billions, I would still be restricted to 3 ounces of protein a day, and I would still be under the doctor’s orders to “not even look at sugar.”
What’s the use of having billions when you can’t eat (and drink!) what you want?
History abounds in tales of the ills that afflict the rich and powerful. Louis XIV of France, “the Sun King,” reportedly had terrible breath. His valet occasionally pulled off a toe when he changed the monarch’s socks. Napoleon suffered from hemorrhoids. Some rulers bled at the slightest touch; others were tormented by sexually transmitted diseases…
I am sure today’s monarchs of business and industry suffer from various ailments – the ills to which flesh is heir, as the Bible warns.
And with every day the rich and famous grow a little older.
I don’t have to remind you that time takes its toll. Not all the king’s horses or all the king’s men can put their sagging bodies and wrinkled faces together again. Not Oil of Olay, not those outrageously expensive creams and even more expensive spas, not repeated face lifts, not liposuction… The marvels of modern science are almost useless against the ravages of time.
They say money can’t buy happiness, and they could be wrong about that. But I know this for sure: Money can’t buy your youth back. So, if you ever find yourself on Forbes’ list of the world’s richest people, you might as well consider giving away your ill-gotten gains – most of it, anyway. You might want to keep enough to buy the Rolls and that mansion on the ocean.
For the Forbes survey, click:
March 11, 2010 1 Comment
Congressman Dennis Kucinich (photo at right) says he won’t vote for President Obama’s health care reform bill because it gives too much to the insurance industry and gets too little in return. He has a point.
I am sure that the President is motivated by the many stories he has heard – including his own mother’s – of desperately ill Americans who were not adequately covered by health insurance. His overriding goal is to get coverage for the millions of uninsured.
The Senate bill that the House is being asked to rubber stamp extends coverage to about 30 million people who now have no health insurance. But the cost may be too high.
The bill forces all Americans to buy health coverage, sending millions of new customers to the insurance companies. And it provides subsidies for those who cannot afford to pay the premiums. To Kucinich – and to me – that’s a huge taxpayer bailout of the private insurers. The President proposes to raise the bailout money in part by slashing Medicare Advantage, which many older Americans depend on for their prescription medicines and other health care benefits. You can bet the old folks will have something to say about that in the November elections.
And the bill doesn’t seem to have adequate safeguards against soaring health insurance premiums. The “competition” it mandates is severely limited. For example, if you are covered by your employer’s health insurance progam you can’t opt out and buy your own coverage even if it would be cheaper.
The bill’s supporters claim it will force insurers to end such abuses as denial of coverage for people with a pre-existing condition and make the companies spend most of the money they take in on customer care instead of salaries and other overhead expenses. But insurance insiders warn that the companies will find ways to get around such restrictions, and I tend to believe them.
Most of all, Kucinich objects to the bill’s barriers against states developing single-payer “Medicare for All” programs. He wants Congress to waive existing federal restrictions and to address federal laws that might be interpreted as supporting insurance company suits against states that provide more extensive coverage than is currently proposed by the President.
That would open the door to development of government-run health care programs state by state, following the example of Canada, where national health care evolved after the province of Saskatchewan started the ball rolling.
Several American states already have health care programs of their own, and some go farther than the proposed federal law in various areas. I wonder how the President’s plan would affect those states. Would they have to trim their programs to fit the federal mold?
The President and his allies should try to address Kucinich’s concerns. One way to win him over might be including a “public option” – opening Medicare enrollment to Americans under 65, for example – in the reconciliation process. There’s a growing movement in the House and Senate for that.
If everyone had the opportunity to join Medicare as an alternative to buying private insurance, there would be real competition in the marketplace, and that would act as a restraint on premiums. To those who argue that it would bankrupt America to open up Medicare, the response is simple: Make sure that the new customers pay their fair share for coverage. That way there would be no cost to the taxpayer.
March 10, 2010 2 Comments
Remember learning about metals in school? I certainly won’t forget. I got a zero on a paper once because the teacher asked us to describe the effect of water on “some metals.” I wrote about iron becoming rusty, and went into detail about oxidation, adding formulas and everything. The teacher wasn’t interested in rusty iron. He wanted to know about alkali metals like sodium (which fizz and pop – and even explode – when they are dropped into water).
You might be interested in this video showing how they behave:
OK, so you think I’m a nerd, and you are probably right. But I remember things like that. And I wish more people did. We might be better able to deal with tomorrow’s world.
I was reminded of the gap between the general public’s awareness and the world’s new reality this morning when I read an article in LiveScience.com about “rare earth metals.” I had come across the phrase recently in reports describing how China was hoarding these materials and how the rest of the world might wake up one day to confront a crippling shortage of them.
So what? So we need these minerals to make a wide range of products – from TV displays, cell phones and computer hard drives to wind turbines and hybrid electric motors. Today China supplies most of the rare earth minerals used in such products. And its own industrial demands could make it stop exporting them in the next five to ten years.
The article in LiveScience.com reveals that there are massive reserves of these metals in the United States, after all. “The U.S. has its own largely untapped reserves that could safeguard future tech innovation,” the author wrote. These reserves are estimated at up to 13 million metric tons. (The entire world produced just 124,000 metric tons in 2009.)
I wonder how many of America’s politicians know about this. And I wonder whether the government is preparing to take advantage of it. As the article points out, “it would take both time and money for the U.S. to become self-sufficient in producing rare earths.”
According to the article, light rare earths include minerals ranging from lanthanum to gadolinium on the periodic table of elements, while heavy rare earths range from terbium to lutetium. Never heard of them? Nor have I.
And I bet the vast majority of politicians in Washington DC haven’t heard of them, either.
I could be mistaken, of course, but it seems to me that American politicians are – generally speaking – among the most willfully ignorant people in the world. They not only resist information, they encourage the public to do so. Instead, they promote a fascination with the glamor and glitz made possible by the amazing new technologies. And as technology advances, fewer and fewer people become smarter and smarter while the mass of the people sink into a mesmerized stupor.
American mainstream media, meanwhile, pander to the public’s slack-jawed miasma, instead of providing the information needed to function efficiently as a society.
And as the global struggle for survival becomes more intense, the country’s education system becomes ever more focused on “practical” goals. Apparently, the system is designed to train students, not educate them. The likely product will be a robot-like workforce, not an enlightened society.
Yet to survive in an increasingly complex global environment, we must constantly explore new frontiers of knowledge. And it will be up to the nerds to lead the way. It won’t be the politicians – that’s for sure!
March 9, 2010 1 Comment
Like a spoiled brat at a birthday party, I didn’t get the slice of cake I wanted so I feel like going off into a corner to sulk. Instead of focusing on the things that have gone right, I am grumpy because so much has gone wrong. You would think that with my 76th birthday just a couple of weeks away, I would know better. When will I ever learn?
I am not whining about my personal life. Some things have gone wrong, of course, but I’m luckier than most. I’m still ambulatory and still fairly lucid, and I am blessed with a loving wife and family, loyal friends and a resilient faith.
But I let myself hope for too much from the Obama revolution.
When Sarah Palin (photo at right) taunts me with , “How’s that hope-y change-y stuff workin’ out for ya?” I have no adequate response. I am in danger of running out of hope for America – and the world. The change I expected has not materialized.
Author Paul Loeb summed up my feelings Saturday in Truthout:
When America elected Barack Obama, cynicism seemed in retreat, beaten back by a wave of ordinary people staking their time, money, and spirit on the prospect of significant change. We seemed to have reached a major historical turning point, offering the chance finally to address our country’s root crises. Now, cynicism and despair have bounced back on steroids, as if to mock any new hope that we can help create a better world. Last year’s soaring expectations seem distant memories, leaving a bitter taste. Obama’s campaign made grassroots participation central, and he’s invited us to help him do the right thing in office. But his compromises and the failings of Senate leaders to overcome the resistance of their obstructionist colleagues have destroyed much of the grassroots enthusiasm that existed a year ago. Meanwhile, those of us whose passionate engagement helped elect Obama haven’t stepped up to help define our national debates (while the Teabaggers have)….
What happens when we decide that our politics is so corrupt, bought and paid for, that all talk of ever changing it is naïve? “Everybody lies,” says a veteran newspaperman quoted in the Utne Reader, “but it doesn’t matter, because nobody listens.”
However, Loeb refuses to succumb to the prevailing mood of despair. He cautions that if progressives seek the comfort of cynical resignation, we will assure our defeat. He writes:
As an alternative to this impotent “realism,” I’d like to propose a clear-eyed idealism, which recognizes that these are bad times but refuses to accept that the bad times are inevitable. … It’s important to dissect institutional arrogance and greed, to assess how it damages lives, neighborhoods, communities, and the most basic life systems of the earth. It’s critical to hold powerful institutions and individuals accountable, including political leaders like Obama who we may have worked for, voted for, and may still support in many ways. But too many social activists almost delight in rolling around in the bad news, like dogs in rancid fish. If that’s all we do, we’ll foster mostly resignation and despair. So along with the bad news, we need to convey that which is capable of inspiring hope.
I want to believe that Loeb (photo at left) is right and the cynics are wrong. He has impressive credentials, after all. His “Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Challenging Time” has become a classic guide for progressives, with more than 100,000 copies in print.
But then a cold wind blows a chill in my bones when I remember that Sarah Palin’s “Going Rogue”
has sold more than 2.2 million copies, and she’s planning a sequel.
It’s hard to keep believing in that hope-y, change-y stuff in such a wacky world. But we have to keep the faith. The alternative is too frightening to contemplate.
March 8, 2010 1 Comment
To everyone who has been praying for my daughter Christine’s recovery, I want to say thank you, thank you, thank you.
If you are a parent, you will appreciate how grateful I am.
Christine is making progress, and her elder sister, Grace, reports from her bedside in Jackson Memorial Hospital that she opened her eyes yesterday and seems to understand what’s being said to her. Praise the Lord.
Her precious baby has been taken home, and she will have to deal with that. We will do our best to soften the blow and help the wound heal over time.
She is not out of danger, or course. With her chronic liver disease, she may never be out of danger. But every day she survives is a plus. At one point, I thought we had lost her.
It may be presumptuous of me to seek special dispensation from the Almighty when so many in the world are suffering so horribly, but if you are a parent, you will understand. And I know that Jesus told us to ask and we would receive.
And, once again, I can bear witness to the awesome power of prayer.
Thank God. And thank you.
March 7, 2010 2 Comments
I can’t think of any other country but the United States in which a politician would vehemently oppose a bill to create jobs – and win praise for it. And I can’t think of any head of state but President Obama who would publicly support a member of his party who opposed key features of the administration’s agenda – and bragged about it in campaign ads.
Yet that seems to be par for the course in the crazy world of American politics. Republican Senator Jim Bunning from Kentucky (photo at right) recently tried to block a bill to provide jobs for Americans, and he did it the old-fashioned way – with a filibuster. If you’ve seen the old movie, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” you’ll know what I mean. If not, you probably won’t get it; it’s just too bizarre. Talk about “only in America”!
The big difference is that in the movie, Mr. Smith was in the right, but in real life, Senator Bunning was just acting crazy, which he does from time to time.
As a result of his eccentric behavior, the American government ground to a halt, 2,000 federal transportation workers were furloughed and work projects were stopped in 17 states.
You might argue that Bunning is retiring from the Senate and wanted to go out with a bang, but that’s not the whole story. Bunning won acclaim from fellow-Republicans, including two Senate candidates in Kentucky, Trey Grayson and Rand Paul. They called it “a principled stand on the (national) debt.”
But you and I know that promoting unemployment is no way to reduce the national debt. It’s voodoo economics. The only sane way to address a mounting deficit is to invest in productive programs, especially in projects that grow exports. Cutting back – especially when it comes to jobs – sabotages the economy and inevitably leads to more cutting back – a deadly downward spiral.
Obviously, Republican politicians are not as stupid as they appear to be. They must know their policies are poisonous. But they also know that a lot of Americans are so emotionally worked up they can’t see straight. The reasons are many and varied – millions are out of work, millions more are in fear of losing their jobs, prices at the store keep going up and incomes keep going down, the mighty American fighting force is beating its head against a brick wall in Iraq and Afghanistan, big banks are robbing the country blind… And, for some (regrettably), the most annoying thing is that a black family occupies the White House.
In this kind of political climate, the crowd would cheer if a latter-day Samson were to bring down the temple on top of himself and a bunch of perceived Philistines.
Obviously, President Obama is flummoxed by this suicide-bomber mentality. He is nothing if not reasonable, and these are not reasonable times. Indeed, his reasonableness is beginning to look kind of crazy.
Take the case of Blanche Lincoln. The Arkansas senator has consistently voted against key items in the Obama agenda, including cap-and-trade legislation and a public option for health insurance. And she is running campaign commercials boasting about it (photo at right). Progressive members of the Democratic Party became so incensed they raised money to oppose her in the primary, and recruited popular Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter as their standard bearer.
So who does Obama support? Blanche Lincoln!
I suppose some people might consider that mature and forbearing, but I think it’s crazy. Or, rather, it would be crazy anywhere but in the United States of America.
March 6, 2010 2 Comments
Rachel Maddow says it so I’m prepared to believe it: Americans are going to get health care reform after all. I suppose President Obama and his Democratic allies will consider it a triumph. But they will get no high fives from me.
Why have they waited so long? They could have used reconciliation – as they plan to do at last – to enact health care reform a year ago. In that year, studies estimate about 40,000 people died because they lacked health insurance.That’s nearly ten times the death toll of the Iraq War.
There’s a legal cliche, often used to advocate an accused person’s right to a speedy trial, that “justice delayed is justice denied.” In this case, the just claim of 40,000 sick people to adequate medical care was delayed, and their right to survival was denied.
These people might have been saved if the President and his allies in Congress had been prepared to pay the political price. But instead of going it alone, the President courted the Republicans in Congress, yielding to their demands in the hope of getting “bipartisan” support. The likely result is a weakened health care bill that will line the pockets of the private insurers.
And the desperately needed coverage the bill reportedly provides for some 30 million uninsured Americans has been withheld for month after month while the politicians in Washington played their sly games.
I find it hard to believe that President Obama really expected Republican support for health care reform. Throughout history the Republican Party has fought every kind of social legislation – Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Civil Rights, Minimum Wage, Unemployment Insurance… and on and on. Why would they change – especially now?
As Pulitzer Prize winning economist Paul Krugman notes in his column today:
The parties now live in different universes, both intellectually and morally.
If Congress enacts reform in the next few weeks — and the odds are growing that it will — it will do so without any Republican votes. Some people will decry this, insisting that President Obama should have tried harder to gain bipartisan support. But that isn’t going to happen, on health care or anything else, for years to come.
Someday, somehow, we as a nation will once again find ourselves living on the same planet. But for now, we aren’t. And that’s just the way it is.
The pollsters say Americans want “bipartisanship.” But they aren’t going to get it – no matter what. So the President might as well stop reading the polls and listen to his heart.
March 5, 2010 1 Comment
Something weird is going on but I can’t figure out what it is. Suddenly, everybody seems to be advocating cuts in Medicare, Social Security and other domestic programs while America’s military budget goes through the roof. What would these politicians gain by starving old people and denying them their medicines? What would they gain by killing men, women and children in faraway places? Are they driven by self interest? Or blood lust? Or both?
Look, I know the national debt is too high. I know current and projected deficits are alarming. But I do not agree that the answer is to cut back on social programs while spending a trillion dollars a year on war. America spends as much on arms as the rest of the world combined yet slips ever farther behind countries like China when it comes to exports.
To me, the solution to America’s economic problems is obvious. Concentrate on producing goods and services instead of blowing up foreign cities. The solution to our economic woes cannot be a drastic reduction in “entitlement” programs. No matter how deep the cuts, the downward spiral will continue as long as Americans buy more than they sell month after month (cartoon at right).
And by “producing goods and services,” I don’t mean selling more McDonald’s hamburgers and video games. I mean creating (and growing) industries that attract foreign currency. As far as I can see, America’s main export now is “financial services” (the crap shoot on Wall Street). And look at the mess that industry is in!
Apparently the U.S. is also one of the world’s top exporters of arms, so I suppose you could argue that the military budget spurs research and production in that area, creating jobs at home. But the return on the defense dollar is not nearly enough to justify the strain on the rest of the economy. Besides, is that how Americans want to live? By promoting bloodshed and devastation throughout the world?
I wonder why no administration seems brave enough to stand up to America’s military-industrial interests. It’s not that the politicians don’t know the dangers involved. Dwight Eisenhower warned against the military industrial complex. And, decades before Eisenhower, James Madison said:
Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes … known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.… No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.
No American administration seems willing and able to focus the country’s resources where they will be most productive. For example, the recent stimulus package leaves me shaking my head. It includes things that sound hip – like those “smart meters” we in Lakeland are supposed to get some day. I think the meters will let us know when electricity is cheapest so we can schedule our chores accordingly. But I can’t see Sandra getting up at 3 a.m. to do the washing just because power rates are low at that time.
And the government is proposing to force homeowners to weatherize their homes, even specifying that homes be brought up to some kind of environmental code before they can be sold. What nonsense! Especially in today’s America, where unemployment is raging. Without jobs, with our incomes shrinking and the cost of living rising, where are we to find the money to do these neat “green” things?
The stimulus package should have focused on areas likely to bring in foreign currency and create sustainable jobs. Wind and solar power equipment comes to mind, for example. But we seem to be letting China take the lead there, too. And Americans must realize that money spent on infrastructure, education, health and other domestic programs is an investment in future productivity – not extravagant indulgence.
Instead, Washington is in a hunker down mode, crippled by political corruption and the need to serve special interests. And for reasons that I cannot fathom, deficit hawks are becoming increasingly influential, demanding drastic cuts in social programs – but no reduction in military spending and endless war.
March 4, 2010 1 Comment
Last night I had a nightmare involving speeding cars and blinding headlights and a terrifying inability to see the road. In my sleep, I must have been back in Miami, where I spent several days because my critically ill daughter, Christine, is a patient in Jackson Memorial Hospital.
I was staying with my cousin, Sam, and his wife, Reva, in Southwest Kendall, and traversed the network of toll roads, overpasses, unheralded dead-ends and surrealistic spaghetti junctions – from south to north – at least twice a day. Obviously, God is not ready to take me home as I made it back to Lakeland in one piece.
My survival is also due – at least in part – to the fact that either my wife, Sandra, or my sister, Elizabeth, was invariably in the car with me, and they could read the signs that flashed by in a whirl of hazy green and dirty white. With my glasses, I can see adequately in the daylight, but at those high speeds, I cannot read the signs in time to react to them, and at night all I see is a kaleidoscope of headlights coming at me like a swarm of luminous bees.
I know I am largely to blame for my horrible experience. I should have thought to bring a map or GPS instead of relying on the directions of gas station attendants and their customers. I should not have stayed so long at the hospital that I ended up driving at night. And I concede that in my grief-stricken condition, my concentration was not as sharp as it should be.
But I also blame the Miami traffic system. It originated a long time ago and has grown randomly over the years like a monstrous man-eating plant. Obviously, it was not planned. There is no logic to it. For one thing, exits may be on the right or left, depending on the whim of the person who designed it. We often found ourselves on the far right of four lanes of racing traffic only to see – too late to do anything about it – our exit coming up on the left (and, of course, vice versa).
If anyone with any clout is reading this, I beg them to suggest adding “at right” or “at left” to the signs warning of an upcoming exit (eg: Next exit NW 17th Avenue, 2 miles, at far right). That small thing would have saved me much grief.
I derived some comfort from the fact that I am not alone in my problems negotiating the Miami traffic network. When I felt strong enough to face the computer, there was an email from a friend, Tom Gold, with a link to a blog by our mutual friend, Bill Moore. I am sure you’ll get a chuckle from it:
And, finally, thanks and praise be to God. Christine (shown with me at right) is making tiny steps toward recovery. Every day that she stays alive gives her body a better chance to heal itself. All of our relatives and friends – and their friends and friends of friends – are praying for her. I believe very strongly in the power of prayer and I am inexpressibly thankful for the supplications being made on her behalf. She is only 37 and has a long life ahead of her (if that is God’s will).
I also wish to express my gratitude to the doctors and nurses laboring to save Christine’s life. They are tireless and meticulous, caring for her as if she were their own flesh and blood. No words could possibly describe my appreciation for their devotion.
March 3, 2010 3 Comments