Posts from — April 2010
Although I usually vote for any candidate with a D next to his or her name, I am a registered Independent, and I sometimes have differences of opinion with politicians who call themselves Democrats.
Take Ben Nelson, the senator from Nebraska who helped sabotage health care reform and extorted special Medicaid subsidies for his state in exchange for supporting a lukewarm bill. I could never agree with anything he stands for. I certainly wouldn’t agree with his attempt to wangle an exemption for billionaire Warren Buffet as his price for supporting financial reform.
Yet Ben Nelson is listed as a Democrat. And he’s just one of the many fake Democrats that clog Congress. Left to me,voters would give them all the boot at the earliest opportunity.
So, I hear some of you asking, what has this got to do with Charlie Crist?
Well, it’s just my way of explaining why Crist (top left) will get my vote in November. I have nothing against Kendrick Meek (lower photo); he seems like a straight shooter. But, despite the wishful thinking of Democratic pundits, he doesn’t have a realistic chance of getting elected.And I would really, really hate to see Marco Rubio (top right) in the Senate. Coming from the Caribbean, I know his brand of right-wing politics only too well.
As for Charlie, his critics will tell you he lacks ideals, that he is opportunistic, that he isn’t all that smart. But I have watched this guy operate for 15 years in Florida politics, and he doesn’t seem all that bad to me. I believe his heart is in the right place.
His decision to veto that awful education bill illustrates his commitment to the welfare of his state and the people who live and work here.
And compared to the looters who have run Florida for decades, Crist is Snow White. Rubio, for example, is accused of using his Republican Party credit card for personal expenses. And that’s nothing compared with the myriad abuses that state Republican leaders are accused of committing.
From all appearances, they have operated a classic good-ol’-boy network for generations, indulging in the creepiest kinds of cronyism and shamelessly feathering their own nests.
So, sorry about that Kendrick, but I’m filling in the oval next to Charlie’s name this time. And I bet a lot of other left-leaning Florida voters will do the same come November.
April 30, 2010 3 Comments
The latest tactic in America’s class warfare is the creation of “grassroots” organizations that promote the interests of wealthy special interests to the detriment of the general public. It’s at best confusing and at worst misleading, and in a country where most people are poorly informed about politics, it can cause a lot of harm.
You probably remember the Swiftboat commercials that falsely smeared John Kerry when he ran for U.S. president. Similarly sleazy tactics are now being adopted to discredit any attempt to protect the American public against predators.
It was the same kind of “astroturf” organizers who funded last summer’s town hall protests and continue to fund the Tea Party movement.
Much of the opposition to health care reform came from “astroturf” groups funded by people like corporate lobbyist and former House speaker Dick Armey, who got paid handsomely by his health industry clients.
In the past few weeks, a new player has entered the”grassroots” propaganda game. This time, the target is financial reform legislation that’s before Congress. The campaign includes a $1.6 million ad buy, a blitz of opinion columns, and the sly perversion of arguments from respected economists to make it look as if opposition to the legislation is coming from the political left.
The campaign’s deceptive practices include launching diaries on progressive sites like Daily Kos and FireDogLake and posting columns on the left-leaning Huffington Post.
The crusade – known as “Stop Too Big to Fail” – is being run by a group called Consumers for Competitive Choice, which at first glance looks like a grassroots organization. But it’s really a front for a corporate propagandist named Bob Johnson (photo above). This Indianapolis lawyer was also responsible for such false fronts as Consumers for Cable Choice (funded by big telecoms like Verizon), which fought to deregulate the cable industry, and Consumers Voice (funded by AT&T), which opposed broadband legislation.
Through Consumers for Competitive Choice, Johnson also runs www.simplecoverage.org, a fake consumer website funded by the big insurer Assurant.
In America, where freedom of speech is sacrosanct, there is no penalty for lying. So it is up to the public to separate fact from fiction. This becomes increasingly difficult as the masters of manipulation refine their craft, using false fronts and misdirection to make things appear the opposite of what they are.
And the threat becomes especially lethal when unlimited funds are available. Never before has there been a greater need for “eternal vigilance” in America.
April 29, 2010 1 Comment
Like a bolt from the blue, something – nobody still knows what – blew up an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico last week (photo above). Eleven workers are missing and presumed dead from the explosion about 50 miles off Louisiana’s coast. The accident caused a spill that’s sure to do horrendous damage to the environment.
I wonder what President Obama thinks when he sees TV images of the billowing oil slick covering an area the size of West Virginia? Does he still think it’s a good idea to “drill, baby drill” off Florida and other coastal states?
His recent decision to back offshore oil and gas exploration left me groping for answers. What was he thinking? Wasn’t drill-baby-drill his opponent’s battle cry in the 2008 election? I suppose it was another ploy in his be-kind-to-your-enemies political strategy, but as far as I am concerned it was a goofy idea.
For one thing, drilling off the U.S. coast is not going to make Americans one iota more independent of foreign oil. That’s not how the market works. And the oil this exploration produces won’t be on the market for many years.
But what concerns me most is the price America will undoubtedly pay for such politically expedient nonsense. That’s likely to include irreparable damage to the environment and lost revenue from tourism in states like Florida.
I know how Florida Senator Bill Nelson feels about it. In an April 26 letter requesting congressional hearings on exploration safety, he declared:
The explosion, ensuing fire, and continuing spill raise serious concerns about the industry’s claims that their operations and technology are safe enough to put rigs in areas that are environmentally sensitive or are critical to tourism or fishing industries.
And Florida Governor Charlie Crist is having second thoughts about the idea of drilling off his state’s coast.
Republicans in Florida have been pushing the idea of drilling within 10 miles of the coast. And Crist said earlier he’s willing to listen as long as drilling is far enough, clean enough and safe enough to protect the state’s beaches. But now he’s not so sure.
This is really sort of one of the nightmares for all the companies involved, and obviously the people who live along the coast are sort of helpless. I’m sure it’s going to galvanize the political opponents of expanded offshore leasing.
According to an article in The Christian Science Monitor today:
The spill endangers the fragile fish and shrimp nurseries of the Louisiana wetlands, which could be affected as early as Saturday. Up until this weekend, the Coast Guard and rig operator British Petroleum remained adamant that the spill could be contained. But environmentalists and lawmakers who oppose more coastal drilling are growing skeptical.
Tens of thousands of gallons a day are leaking from the site. At last check, the leak is pouring about 42,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf each day (aerial photo of oil slick above).
Clean-up efforts continue, with 500 people, 32 boats, and five aircraft working to size up and contain the spill, but the slick still grows. It is now within 90 miles of Pensacola’s beaches.
April 28, 2010 No Comments
You’ve probably heard about the Wall Street scandal, and you probably understand it as well as I do: Some really, really slick guys tricked a bunch of investors into buying securities that were designed to go bust while they made money by betting against the securities.
At least that’s what they’ll be talking about on Capitol Hill today when Goldman Sachs executives face off against a U.S. Senate subcommittee. You wouldn’t know it from listening to CNN, though. Wolf Blitzer and political analyst David Gergen were tut-tutting about the hearings yesterday in the Situation Room. The way they see it, poor Lloyd Blankfein (above) and the other billionaires who run Goldman Sachs are being treated unfairly. Gergen avowed that they’re the victims of a political “hanging” – convicted before they’ve been tried.
The way I see it, the SEC charges against Goldman Sachs are reminiscent of Al Capone’s tax evasion trial. Everyone knew the gangster was guilty of far greater crimes but the only charge officials could prove was that he failed to pay his income tax.
You don’t have to be very smart to realize that America’s finance industry is a huge racket. Aided and abetted by the Federal Reserve and by U.S. politicians bought off by massive campaign contributions, the billionaires have turned Wall Street into a giant casino so they can bilk investors – not only from America but from the whole world – out of their hard-earned cash.
You probably know, too, that President Obama is finally trying to do something about it. Not enough, of course. Even the president doesn’t have the clout to break up the mighty Wall Street gang. But Obama and his allies in Congress have come up with proposals that would do something to curb the abuses.
And you’ve probably heard that the Republicans have said – once again -”Hell no you can’t!” They’ve blocked Senate debate of the proposed legislation by threatening to filibuster.
So the beat goes on.
And as long as everyday Americans put up with the abuses, they will continue – and expand. Trust me, we can’t count on the politicians to clean up this mess unless we make them do it.
For more information on the Wall Street racket, you might want to check out this interview with Les Leopold, author of “The Looting of America”:
April 27, 2010 No Comments
Nearly half a century has passed since Martin Luther King (above) put his wistful vision into words:
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
Yet skin color remains a vitally important personal feature for many Americans.
Few will admit it, of course. They will find other reasons for their attitudes toward people who don’t look like them. But the majority of Americans – black and white and every other hue – are acutely aware of external racial differences.
If someone came to see you while you were out and you asked for a description, the first characteristic you would be likely to hear is skin color. He was a black man or a white man, or he looked Hispanic …
I was discussing this with a Puerto Rican visitor last week, and we were saying how much of a shock it was to come to America and encounter the deep racial divide. Don’t get me wrong; there is racial prejudice in Jamaica and Puerto Rico. And – in Jamaica at least – there’s a subtle shade prejudice that probably stems from the fact that the mixed-race offspring of white slave owners used to get special privileges.
But in the Caribbean, there is no actual barrier between the races. There never was a law – as there was in several American states until quite recently – banning inter-racial marriage, for example.
The political implications of this uniquely American phenomenon are sobering.
Race is a major political factor in the United States. For decades, the Republican party has followed a “Southern Strategy” which – according to Wikipedia – exploits opposition ….”to desegregation and to the civil rights and women’s movements.”
In remarks at DePaul University last week, Michael Steele, the Republican National Committee chairman, conceded that the party had “mistreated” their relationship to blacks over four decades by pursuing this “‘Southern Strategy.”
Black Americans have no reason to vote for Republicans, Steele (photo above) admitted.
On the other side of the issue, many Republicans see no political advantage in wooing racial minorities. There are three times as many white American voters as Hispanic and black voters combined. So, if the GOP can get enough white voters riled up against a black President, they might be able to regain power.
That’s why Republican leaders are catering to the racist Tea Party movement. But you won’t hear that on TV.
The ugly skeleton in the Republicans’ closet is hidden behind a populist smoke screen. You will hear about the national debt (even though the biggest deficits were amassed during Republican governments) and the threat of “big government” (even though government growth has been greatest under Republican presidents), bank bailouts (initiated under President Bush) and so on.
Of course it makes no sense! It doesn’t have to. The people involved – political leaders and Tea Party protesters – know what they’re really teed off about, and it has nothing to do with “fiscal policy.”
But the charade continues. Steele’s contrition – and the fact that 32 black Republicans, a record-high number, are running for the U.S. House of Representatives – should fool nobody. It’s just political theater. Republican strategists do this kind of thing as a matter of course. They distract the larger voting public with gimmicks while they secretly reassure racists among the white majority.
It would be a sad development indeed if this cynical strategy works in November.
April 26, 2010 1 Comment
No one in their right mind would defend the practice of entering the United States – or any other country – illegally. It’s as unlawful as breaking into someone’s home. And, obviously, the United States government should put an end to the importation and exploitation of undocumented workers. The reason it’s been going on for so long is that big companies profit by employing illegal immigrants and big companies make big contributions to political parties.
But that’s no excuse for blatant racism. And that’s just what a new Arizona law exhibits.
Republican Governor Jan Brewer (photo above) yesterday signed a bill that requires police to question people about their immigration status — including asking for identification — if the suspect looks like an illegal immigrant. At a press conference after signing the bill, the governor couldn’t describe what illegal immigrants look like but she opined that trained police would be able to spot them.
We Jamaicans can guess who is going to get stopped and questioned. And we know it won’t be the blond, blue-eyed Arizonans. Remind me to stay out of that state.
The good news is that this law isn’t likely to survive. For one thing, I don’t think it could withstand a legal challenge. Immigration is a federal matter. And Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon already has announced that he wants the city of Phoenix to challenge the bill in the courts. Organizations such as the Arizona ACLU and MALDEF also plan to sue, seeking a federal injunction to stop the law from being enacted, as it normally would be, 90 days following the end of the legislative session.
As you might expect, President Barack Obama blasted the bill as “misguided” and “irresponsible.” His administration is sure to challenge its legality.
So this could very well be a tempest in a teacup.
But it’s an important reminder of the rising tide of racism in America. The bill was backed by several racist groups – they call them “nativist” these days. And the politician who initiated the law (photo above) has a history of racism.
According to The New York Times:
The state senator who wrote the law, Russell Pearce, had long been considered a politically incorrect embarrassment by more moderate members of his party — often to the delight of his supporters. There was the time in 2007 when he appeared in a widely circulated photograph with a man who was a featured speaker at a neo-Nazi conference. (Mr. Pearce said later he did not know of the man’s affiliation with the group.)
In 2006, he came under fire for speaking admirably of a 1950s federal deportation program called Operation Wetback, and for sending an e-mail message to supporters that included an attachment — inadvertently, he said — from a white supremacist group.
The fact that people like Pearce are being taken seriously illustrates the disturbing new mood in parts of America. It seems the Tea Party protests over the election of America’s first black president have emboldened the bigots, and they are flexing their political muscle shamelessly.
It’s time for “pushback.” Those of us who find bigotry repugnant cannot remain silent and let the Aryan doctrine take fresh root. We must rage against the assaults on enlightenment.
April 24, 2010 2 Comments
As they might say on television, it’s a beautiful sunny day here in Lakeland, Florida. Some azaleas are still flowering and the lilies have popped up in our garden, bright and cheerful. We lost a lot of plants to the worst series of freezes anyone hereabouts can remember, but we have finally got the dead brush cleared away – and I have the scratches and bruises to prove it.
The ravages of the freak frost are a fading memory on a day when the temperature is supposed to reach 81 degrees, but it was a cruel winter and an uncomfortably cool spring. Some commentators took advantage of the chilly temperatures – not only here but in other areas of North America – to ridicule the threat of global warming, ironically failing to realize the erratic conditions were actually a symptom of menacing climate change.
This is Earth Day, an occasion for surveying the state of our environment and, if possible, doing something about it. Anyone can see the earth is in some kind of paroxysm … frequent earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and so on … The question is whose fault is it – mankind’s or Mother Nature’s? My guess is that both are to blame. But since we can’t do anything about Mother Nature, we need to concentrate on Mankind’s behavior.
Associated Press science writer Seth Borenstein makes the point that much progress has been made in combating pollution in the decades since the first Earth Day. In an article today, he writes:
On Thursday, 40 years after that first Earth Day in 1970, smog levels nationwide have dropped by about a quarter, and lead levels in the air are down more than 90 percent. Formerly fetid lakes and burning rivers are now open to swimmers.
I suspect the same is true throughout the civilized world. People everywhere are far more aware of environmental dangers than they used to be. But there are those who scoff at efforts to save the planet for our children and grandchildren. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, they see climate change warnings as a concocted issue and a threat to their freedom. And it’s harder to argue with them today than it used to be. As Borenstein points out:
The challenges to the planet today are largely invisible — and therefore tougher to tackle…. Issues such as climate change are less obvious to the naked eye. Since the first Earth Day, carbon dioxide levels in the air have increased by 19 percent, pushing the average annual world temperature up about 1 degree Fahrenheit, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
It was a lot easier to muster public support against pollution when rivers were so clogged with trash that some caught fire, oil spills fouled miles of once-pristine beaches and thick smog choked the skies.
But the evidence is there – even if you can’t see it. Borenstein reports:
Last month was the hottest March on record worldwide. It was 1.4 degrees warmer than March 1970, according to NOAA.
The average temperatures for the last 40 years are higher than the rest of the 130 years of record-keeping, said Deke Arndt, head of climate monitoring at NOAA’s National Climate Data Center.
And, this week, German scientists published an analysis in the scientific journal Nature that says the greenhouse gas agreement reached by some international leaders last December in Copenhagen would lead to a 10 to 20 percent increase in carbon dioxide levels in 2020.
So while it was a wretchedly cold winter and spring here in usually balmy Florida, the world as a whole was experiencing unprecedented warmth. But you won’t hear about that on talk radio. They’re too busy scoffing at the threat of climate change.
April 22, 2010 No Comments
My sister-in-law, Faye, was aghast a few weeks ago when I told her women in America don’t get paid as much as men for the same jobs. She’s a former human rights officer in Ontario, and she declared Canadians would never put up with that kind of discrimination.
I was reminded of Faye’s incredulous reaction yesterday when groups rallied across the U.S. to support equal pay for women. They claimed women had to work until April 20 to earn as much as male colleagues who worked until Dec. 31. That’s because they figure women in this country get paid 77 cents for every dollar men earn – for the same work.
The injustice is especially glaring for women of color. Some estimates show African American women earn only 68 cents and Latinas 58 cents for every dollar that men earn.
This is even more frustrating when you consider that equal pay has been the law of the land for nearly half a century. John Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963 and it was supposed to abolish wage disparity based on sex. But that just has not happened.
The fight for equal pay is still going on. For example, the New York State Pay Equality Coalition staged a protest in Albany Tuesday, charging that many women and people of color are still not treated fairly when it comes to wages. State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli joined the group and called for support of the state’s pending fair pay legislation.
The legislation passed a vote Monday in the state Assembly. But it’s expected to face a tough fight in the state Senate.
I am not sure why this injustice has persisted. One reason might be that in America, laws are not treated the same as they are in Canada. Canadians tend to obey laws. Americans tend to find ways to get around them. And there are often gray areas that can be exploited.
That’s especially true when it comes to work. There are numerous studies that claim to show women’s pay is not that unequal after all. One study contends that when you factor in the types of employment, and workers’ education and experience, women’s earnings rise to 81 percent of men’s … and so on.
But perhaps one study (quoted in a recent Time Magazine article) proves the women’s case beyond a reasonable doubt. This 2008 study by University of Chicago sociologist Kristen Schilt and NYU economist Matthew Wiswall examined the wage trajectories of people who underwent a sex change. Their results: even when controlling for factors like education, men who transitioned to women earned, on average, 32 percent less after the surgery. Women who became men, on the other hand, earned 1.5 percent more.
Still, clever lawyers can play games with the facts, and a heavily conservative Supreme Court seems more than willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.
For example, the male-dominated court ruled in May 2007 that women who believe they are being denied equal pay must file suit within 180 days after the discrimination occurs.
The court used this excuse to deny a lawsuit by Lilly Ledbetter who discovered when she was nearing retirement that her male colleagues were earning much more than she was. A jury found her employer, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company plant in Gadsden, Alabama, guilty of pay discrimination. But in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court threw out the case, ruling that she should have filed her suit within 180 days of the date that Goodyear first paid her less than her peers.
While George W. Bush was president, Congress tried to pass a law that would have corrected this miscarriage of justice, but the White House opposed the bill. With the election of Barack Obama and a Democratically controlled Congress, the new legislation was passed and signed into law last year. (Photo above shows President Obama signing the bill, accompanied by Ms. Ledbetter, back row, third from left, and a group of lawmakers.)
There’s more fair-pay legislation in the works, but I wonder how much good it will do as long as Americans are prepared to put up with the abuse and the highest court in the land is willing to perpetuate it.
April 21, 2010 4 Comments
There’s a subtle irony in recent TV images of gun toting Tea Baggers in America, accompanied by those dense clouds of ash floating over Europe. To hear them talk, the Tea Baggers are intent on protecting themselves and their families from imagined assaults by the Obama-led federal government. They are ready for those black helicopters, underground prisons and imported guillotines they’ve been warned about on talk radio and the Internet.
But are they ready for the next supervolcano?
Their automatic rifles won’t be much use against the eruption geologists say is sure to come. It is not a question of if, it is a question of when, these scientists declare.
I saw a TV program about supervolcanoes a while back that gave be the shivers. So when I saw the clouds of ash billowing over Europe, I wondered whether this was the Big One. But it turned out to be just another of the eruptions Iceland experiences every so often.
There are 30 active volcanic systems on the island. It sits over a “mantle plume” – a rising column of abnormally hot molten rock, originating at the edge of the earth’s core. To make things even more exciting, the plume is positioned under the mid-Atlantic ridge: a crack that runs down the middle of the ocean floor.
Iceland might produce a supervolcano some day. But apparently, this isn’t it.
Supervolcanoes erupt every 100,000 years or so, spewing thousands of tons of ash and gas into the air. In addition to the devastation these eruptions cause, the clouds they emit blot out the sun and plunge the earth into a deep freeze for years.
Possible contenders for the next eruption include Yellowstone Park in the U.S., and if the supervolcano under Yellowstone blows its top, scientists say, it will wipe out most of North America.
Here’s a likely scenario, as portrayed on the Discovery Channel:
So my guess is that the apocalypse won’t come from the election of Obama, One World government or an attack by Islamic extremists but from the boiling magma beneath the earth’s crust.
If one of those meteorites hurtling through space doesn’t hit us first.
April 20, 2010 4 Comments
If you’ve been reading my blogs, you know I am convinced the financial collapse of 2008 and the subsequent bank bailout was an elaborate scheme to defraud investors and taxpayers. And you know I predicted that people would go to prison as a result.
And if you’ve been reading the news you know financial giant Goldman Sachs was accused Friday of committing fraud by selling investors securities they knew would fail. The immediate losers were pension funds, foreign firms and private investors, who were taken for more than $1 billion.
According to a civil suit filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the winners include a wheeler-dealer named John Paulson (no, he’s not related to former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re connected somehow). Paulson (photo above) allegedly raked in a cool billion dollars by setting up a deal in which he paid Goldman Sachs to create and promote mortgage based bonds that were designed to fail. His profit came from insuring the bonds against failure (through credit default swaps).
His firm reportedly made $15 billion in 2007 by betting that Americans would default in droves on their home loans.
You may also have read that Wall Street analysts say the suit against Goldman Sachs is just the beginning as federal regulators and investigators comb through the wreckage of the financial disaster. There are undoubtedly many more charges to come.
In view of these eye-opening developments, you might be surprised to learn that all 41 Republicans in the U.S. Senate have announced – as a group – they will oppose legislation to clean up the finance industry. You would think even those banker-backed Republicans would recognize that if something isn’t done it’s only a matter of time before Wall Street con artists pull off another monstrous heist.
The Republican senators have come up with elaborate reasons for their astonishing opposition to reform. And, as is now their custom, the reasons are riddled with half-truths, buzz words, “talking points” and downright lies.
Obviously, they believe a sucker is born every minute. But – after being robbed of billions (perhaps trillions) by the Republican abetted banking industry – even the American public should be smart enough to see through the scam this time.
April 17, 2010 No Comments