Posts from — June 2010
Reading of riots at the G20 conference in Toronto, worldwide climate change, a looming Depression – not just in the U.S. but in the entire western world – and another ruling by America’s highest court that strikes at the very foundation of civilized society, I cannot keep this W.B. Yeats poem from echoing through my mind:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Scoff if you must. I wouldn’t blame you.
We’ve been hearing forever that the end is nigh. All kinds of signs and omens have come and gone … Halley’s Comet, the millennium’s end - and on and on. Yet the battered old world keeps reeling around the sun, day after day after day.
Now, some folks insist the ancient Mayans figured it out: the end is coming in 2012. And numerous religious seers are proclaiming the imminent arrival of Christ’s Kingdom.
The skeptic in me remains stubbornly unconvinced. There have always been disasters and natural phenomena that could be viewed as signals that the world is about to end. Scholars have always pored over ancient writings and managed to come up with interpretations to fit their theories about the End Times.
But is it my imagination or are today’s current events even scarier than usual?
Who would have imagined black-clad mobs rampaging through downtown Toronto, smashing store windows, kept at bay by police firing tear gas?
Who would have predicted an unstoppable gusher spewing death and disaster throughout the Gulf of Mexico, killing wildlife, destroying wetlands, wiping out the livelihood of thousands, while the mightiest nation in the world stands helplessly by?
Who would have foreseen the failure of the world’s supposedly intelligent leaders to address the causes of a spiraling recession and their moronic adherence to obsolete economic policies that can lead only to a great depression?
And who would have guessed that the greatest democracy in the world would find its judicial system dominated by a Supreme Court committed to uncontrolled gun use, corporate abuse of the electoral system and reckless disregard for the welfare of the populace?
Somebody please tell me that things aren’t as bad as I think they are. Tell me I’m just having a bad day.
June 29, 2010 3 Comments
As far as I know, Barack Obama is a decent human being and his administration’s overriding goal is to do the best possible job for the country. But despite the president’s good intentions, the American government still makes deals with the Devil.
I suppose the reason they would give is that the exercise of power inevitably involves such deals (illustration from the story of Faust above, left).
History abounds in examples of this notion. But when I learn of each new example, my heart grows heavier and my hopes for humanity grow dimmer.
And today brings news of just such a deal.
It features Blackwater and its owner Erik Prince (photo above, right). You remember Blackwater, don’t you? The company that provided those merciless mercenaries for the Iraq War? The murderers, gun runners, rapists and thieves accused of one atrocity after another? The band of brigands so blackened by charges of wrongdoing that the company had to change its name and is now known as Xe?
Apparently, this wretched outfit is so essential to the nation’s security that it must be allowed to get away with a perpetual pattern of worldwide lawlessness.
To refresh your memory, you can click on:
In the case that caught my eye this morning, Prince was accused of violating U.S. export control regulations by seeking contracts for Blackwater in the Sudan – despite sanctions against that African country. Here’s an excerpt from the McClatchy Newspapers report:
The effort to drum up new business in East Africa by Blackwater owner Erik Prince, a former Navy SEAL who had close ties with top officials in the George W. Bush White House and the CIA, became a major element in a continuing four-year federal investigation into allegations of sanctions violations, illegal exports and bribery.
The Obama administration, however, has decided for now not to bring criminal charges against Blackwater, according to a U.S. official close to the case.
Instead, the U.S. government and the private military contractor are negotiating a multimillion-dollar fine to settle allegations that Blackwater violated U.S. export control regulations in Sudan, Iraq and elsewhere. Prince renamed the company Xe Services in an apparent attempt to shake off a reputation for recklessness, and this month put it up for sale.
Had the company been indicted, it could have been suspended from doing business with the U.S. government, and a conviction could have brought debarment from all government contracts, including providing guard services for the CIA and State Department in war zones. In recent weeks the Obama administration awarded the firm a $120 million State Department security contract, and about $100 million in new CIA work.
Doesn’t that make you cringe? It makes me cringe!
And what makes it truly diabolical is that Prince defends his actions on “Christian” grounds. He and his mercenary assassins have been quoted as planning to exterminate nonbelievers in Iraq. And he defends his money grubbing in the Sudan as an effort to help defend Christians from the Muslim Arab military dictatorship.
You see, Prince is a “Christian.” An evangelical Christian. He sees his mission as a modern crusade. And, according to the reports I’ve read, he not only gets away with the lifelong abuse of law and morality but also rakes in billions along the way.
It’s enough to make Jesus weep.
For more, click on:
June 28, 2010 1 Comment
It was a blast from the past – that news item reporting the U.S. Supreme Court had set aside three fraud convictions against Montreal-born Conrad Black and sent his case back to a lower court.
It’s not that I ever knew Conrad Black – excuse me, Lord Black of Crossharbour – but I certainly knew of his wife, Barbara.
Before she became Lady Black, she was Canadian journalist Barbara Amiel.
And in the 1970s she worked off-and-on for CTV (where my former brother-in-law Alan Edmonds produced and starred in a very popular program) and TV Ontario (where I was Information Director). She also writes for Maclean’s magazine (where Alan was once a staff writer).
Alan, who sadly is no longer with us, was rather liberal – as were nearly all of us scribes back in the heyday of the “liberal left-wing media.” So, to put it mildly, he did not share Barbara’s views. I didn’t read her column but, from what I’ve heard, she was extremely conservative.
She was the kind of person who reveled in the class-conscious customs of yesteryear. So you can imagine how triumphant she must have felt when she became Mrs. Conrad Black and later when the British Crown gave her husband a title. (I suppose she didn’t mind that the title’s name comes from a London subway station.)
The couple (photo above) were so enamored of “nobility” that Black gave up his Canadian citizenship to become his Lordship. (The down-to-earth Canadians have a provision against accepting fancy foreign titles so he had to make a choice.)
The irony of those silly titles is overwhelming. You can be the worst cad in the world and still get one. All you have to do, apparently, is accumulate loads of money and/or fame. Golfers, cricket players and rock stars are among Britain’s titled aristocracy. And, so, too, are a lot of robber baron types like Conrad Black.
Black was a bad egg who was expelled from “the best schools” in Canada. And he became a no-holds-barred financial sleight-of-hand artist who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and managed to turn it into gold (by very questionable means).
He was also a shameless right-wing propagandist, who abused his considerable intellect to make a case for the most outrageous conservative policies. And he gobbled up newspapers in Canada and the UK to spread his message.
So not everyone was upset when Hollinger International removed Black as its chairman in 2004 and launched a $200-million U.S. lawsuit against him. And that was just the beginning.
In November 2005. the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago charged Black with eight counts of mail fraud and wire fraud. He pleaded not guilty and was released after posting a $20 million bond. In December 2005, prosecutors filed more criminal charges against him, including racketeering, obstruction of justice and money laundering. Charges of criminal tax evasion followed in 2006.
In 2007, a jury in Chicago found him guilty of stealing millions of dollars through bogus non-compete agreements, and the 65-year-old press baron is a couple of years into a 78-month sentence in the Coleman Correctional Institution in Central Florida.
Barbara reportedly spends most of her time in their Palm Beach mansion.
With the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling Thursday that the jury was given improper instructions to determine whether Black was guilty of fraud, his legal team is moving to have him released on bail.
The team will also renew their challenge to the obstruction of justice conviction. They argue that he never would have been convicted of obstructing justice were it not for the decision that he was guilty of fraud – which has been vacated.
Meanwhile, Black is trying to get back his Canadian citizenship. He concluded a recent newspaper article with the observation, “I have never been happier to be Canadian.”
June 26, 2010 3 Comments
In America the word justice doesn’t mean what you might think. The country’s justice system is so unjust that I wonder who set it up and why.
I could give you dozens of examples – the fact that so many black males are in prison… the absurd plea bargain system… the bail bondsmen industry… the appointment of judges for political reasons… trial by jury… unlimited awards… the wild variations in fines and sentences from one jurisdiction to another – and even within jurisdictions – to name a few.
Obviously, I can’t deal with such a massive topic in one blog, and I know some of you will disagree with me, anyway. About jury trials, for example. I know you think that some unschooled yahoos off the street are qualified to render a reasonable judicial opinion. I guess you’ve forgotten the OJ trial and those ridiculously disproportionate tobacco company fines.
But I can’t imagine you would argue that judges should be allowed to own stock in the companies they pass judgment on.
U.S. District Court Judge Martin Feldman, for example. This guy (photo above) struck down President Obama’s six-month ban on offshore drilling in the Gulf – while owning stock in the companies affected by the ban!
Obama imposed the moratorium after the U.S. Interior Department called for time to review safety regulations in light of the Deepwater Horizon blowout that’s destroying the Gulf, its wildlife and its economy.
Ironically, Feldman’s ruling was partly based on economic grounds: a lot of folks would be out of work during the drilling ban. He said this was unfair, that the ban was too broad, that it punished an entire industry for the sins of one company. And he used words like “capricious” and “arbitrary” to back up his verdict.
What about the people who are out of work because of the BP blowout? What about the millions who could lose their livelihoods if another well exploded?
Whatever happened to justice? Whatever happened to common sense?
Who, in their right mind, would question the imposition of a ban on deep-water drilling until the BP disaster is figured out and fail-safe precautions developed?
A judge who owns stock in the drilling companies; that’s who.
As long as the country’s judges – and politicians – own stock in public companies (even the Supreme Court justices), there can be no justice in America.
June 24, 2010 3 Comments
If President Obama takes the bait and fires General McChrystal, he will be creating the perfect Tea Party candidate for 2012.
Think about it: Stan McChrystal (photo above) for president!
A tall, rangy, white guy who trash talked that black guy in the White House… A beer-swilling career soldier who does his job and tells those politicians and bureaucrats to go —- themselves.
A devil-may-care rebel who knows his way around guns and speaks his mind – even when some lefty reporter is around.
Haven’t I seen that character a dozen times in those Clint Eastwood movies? Haven’t I come across him in a hundred Wild West paperbacks? Wouldn’t he be right at home in an Ayn Rand novel?
It’s the stuff that American folk heroes are made of.
The Tea Baggers would undoubtedly welcome him as the savior they’ve been praying for… the Lone Ranger who will ride in on his trusty steed and give them their America back.
Sadly, by the time the media meat heads get through glamorizing him, McChrystal would be the Man.
And he would get a lot of votes. A lot.
He would be just the kind of president too many Americans are waiting for. His response to the complexities of Afghanistan, for example, mirrors their own: send in the cavalry, blow those s-o-b’s off the face of the earth. That’ll larn ‘em not to fool around with the mightiest power on earth!
Enough of the law professor stuff.
Politicial correctness? Yech!
Diversity? Gimme a break!
Praise the Lord an’ pass the ammunition!
Of course, that’s not the way the world works. Not any longer.
Another cowboy president would be a catastrophe for the country, and for the world.
But the Tea Baggers are way too dumb to see that. They’re stuck in an Eisenhower-era time warp. And they’ve got a lot of company in the good ol’ USA.
So I doubt that the President will fire McChrystal – or accept his resignation. Obama is too smart for that.
The Tea Baggers will have to wait for the movie.
June 23, 2010 4 Comments
A friend sent me an article circulating on the web that warns the United States is planning to invade Jamaica and capture the island’s oil. The author claims the row over Dudus is just a pretext to send troops to the island.
I know, it’s a pretty wild notion. But the article is so well researched and so convincingly argued that I am reluctant to dismiss it out of hand.
Yes, I know, what oil?
The only oil I’ve ever known to come from Jamaica is that stuff Aunt Helen used to make me drink back in Guy’s Hill. I can still taste it, a viscous concoction from castor beans. And, of course, coconut oil (which conjures up memories of fry fish and bammy, mmmmm… But my old brain is wondering.)
Over the years, the Jamaican powers-that-be have searched and searched for oil in a desperate attempt to solve the country’s persistent cash-flow problem. But no one has ever found anything worth drilling for.
That was before the deep-water drilling craze. With new technology, the drillers have access to undreamed of riches miles under the sea. And Cuba has reportedly discovered enormous offshore oil deposits. In fact, I read on the web that the Russians are helping the Cubans exploit the discovery.
I learned in school that Jamaica and Cuba (and the other Caribbean islands) were peaks of the same mountain range that sank into the sea and (over the eons) partially popped up again. As a child I used to marvel over fossilized sea shells I found in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
When my family lived in the foothills above Hope Bay, I could sometimes see Cuba’s coast from our veranda – that’s how close the islands are.
So it’s not unreasonable to suppose that if Cuba has lots of offshore oil, Jamaica would have some, too.
Of course, I realize that U.S. authorities are justifiably peeved at Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding. I don’t think anyone disputes the allegation that Christopher “Dudus” Coke is a gun runner and drug dealer. His “posse” was one of the most violent in America’s history.
Golding’s reluctance to extradite the “don” to face trial in America is, from what I know, indefensible. And the ensuing violence that engulfed the slums of Kingston when Golding finally yielded to U.S. pressure is a shocking testament to Jamaica’s unholy alliance between the dons and the politicians.
But the fact that presumably informed people could entertain the thought of an American conspiracy to invade Jamaica is illuminating.
This line of thinking would not even be possible were it not for America’s sad history of using military power and subversive operations to enrich the big corporations. The United Fruit Company (Chiquita Banana) springs to mind. And I’m sure you can come up with numerous other examples, especially in Latin America.
You might think that America has evolved beyond this kind of economic colonialism, but the evidence points to even more oppressive policies being pursued by the global corporations that have become all-powerful in Washington.
The horror of the unstoppable oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico might be a harbinger of things to come. As the corporations become more powerful, their greed becomes more naked. And they can be expected to engage in even more reckless and arrogant behavior as technology extends their reach and the stakes get ever higher.
June 22, 2010 2 Comments
Close your eyes and imagine it’s January 2013 and Sarah Palin is being inaugurated as President of the United States…
Or Newt Gingrich…
Does that prospect fill you with dread?
But it could never happen, right? Who in their right mind would vote for those two – one a nitwit, the other a scumbag?
The American people, that’s who!
In a country of 330 million people who spend their time playing video games and text messaging celebrity gossip to each other, anything can happen – however preposterous.
Palin is inexplicably rock-star popular. She commands obscene speaking fees and is greeted by cheering crowds wherever she goes. Keith Olbermann calls her “an idiot” and informed viewers like you might agree with him. But a lot of people love that airhead. When it comes to name recognition, she may be the best known politician in the country – next to President Obama, and he’s getting known for all the wrong reasons.
In his public and private life, Gingrich has shown himself to be the kind of cad you wouldn’t have in your home. But he has somehow restored his credibility – at least with the media.
And he is seriously considering the possibility of a presidential run in 2012.
Gingrich, who was one of the architects of the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, has a plan to bring Republicans back to power in November. His new book, “To Save America,” spells it out. The book assails Obama’s “secular-socialist machine” and warns that the president’s agenda is destroying the country.
You and I know that it is ludicrous to call President Obama a socialist. But the mass of the American people have no idea what a socialist is. All they know is that whatever it is, it’s bad. And they keep hearing how bad the president is so he must be a socialist.
The failure of the powers that be to deal with the Gulf catastrophe has sent Obama’s approval ratings into a nosedive. If they stop to think about it, most people are aware that Republican policies created the disaster but they’re mad at Obama anyway. After all, why hasn’t he stopped the gusher?
As he himself has said, the buck stops at the Oval Office. And so much is going wrong, so little is going right. Nobody seems to know what they’re doing.
In a New York Times op-ed piece, columnist Frank Rich says:
What’s also being tarred daily by the gushing oil is the very notion that government can accomplish anything. The current crisis in that faith predates this disaster. In the short history of the Obama White House, two of its most urgent projects, reducing unemployment and pacifying Afghanistan, have yet to yield persuasive results. The dividends on the third, health care reform, won’t be in the mail for years.
So who would vote for a president who thinks the government can solve the country’s problems? A lot of people would rather elect nitwits and scumbags who would essentially leave them to deal with their own disasters.
At least that’s the way it looks in the polls.
In a recent NPR survey, Democrat Stan Greenberg and Republican Glen Bolger looked at 70 House districts thought to be in play this fall. And they found the Republicans could win control of the House of Representatives in November.
Not just the Senate, the House!
There are 255 Democrats and 177 Republicans in the House, with three vacancies. Republicans need to have a net gain of 39 seats in November to make John Boehner speaker.
And the polls indicate that could happen.
Imagine that – John Boehner as speaker!
That’s about as preposterous as Palin or Gingrich as president.
June 21, 2010 4 Comments
I cannot understand how some people fail to grasp the fact that a class war is raging in America, and that the Republican Party is the flag bearer for the rich in a relentless crusade to squash the poor.
I am not just talking about that idiotic congressman’s “apology” to BP. He conceded later that it was a slip of the lip. He didn’t mean to show his true feelings. By now, everyone with five functioning senses should realize that the oil industry owns the Republicans. We don’t need his confession to enlighten us.
I am talking about the Senate’s refusal to extend unemployment benefits.
Here’s how the New York Times described the crisis in a recent editorial:
Since June 1, when federal unemployment benefits began to expire, an estimated 325,000 jobless workers have been cut off. That number will swell to 1.25 million by the end of the month unless Congress extends the benefits. The Senate, so far, has failed to act.
Think about it. You are out of work, can’t find a job and your unemployment (and health) benefits are running out. How do you plan to pay your mortgage or rent? Buy groceries for your family? Take your kid to the doctor? How are you going to buy gas to go out and look for work?
The House of Representatives approved the extension weeks ago, but a bunch of senators have blocked the legislation. It’s not that they want to stick it to the jobless masses, they insist; they’re against the extension because Congress would help pay for it by closing a tax loophole enjoyed by Wall Street fund managers.
The loophole – inexplicably — allows fund managers at private equity firms and other investment partnerships to pay a top tax rate of just 15 percent on much of their earnings — compared with a top rate of 35 percent for all other higher-income Americans.
The opposing senators are mainly Republicans, of course, but they include some of those Trojan Horse “Democrats” who have infiltrated the party in order to sabotage President Obama’s agenda.
As the mid-term elections draw near, I pray Americans will see that the choice is not about abortion or gun ownership, “small government,” global warming or an impending world government with black helicopters, underground internment camps and guillotines.
These are red herrings invented by the conservative propaganda machine to mislead voters and obscure the real issue. The real question faced by Americans in the November elections is this:
Will they yield more power to the mighty? Or will they take a stand for the downtrodden?
Not only the unemployed but also the oil-soaked wildlife and ravaged wetlands plead silently for your vote.
June 18, 2010 4 Comments
I don’t always agree with the President, but I am convinced of his commitment to the “small people” of America – and the world. And I am very encouraged by his calm display of guts in handling the BP fiasco.
When Republicans in Congress blocked an effort to raise the cap on BP’s liability from $75 million to $10 billion, President Obama stepped in and got the oil giant to set aside $20 billion to meet the claims of people whose livelihoods, lifestyles, hopes and dreams are wrecked by the Gusher in the Gulf.
BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg called these victims “the small people” – a reference for which the Swedish-born multimillionaire later apologized. I don’t think Svanberg meant to express contempt or even disregard for the working men and women of the Gulf coast when he said BP cares about the “small people,” but the phrase betrays an attitude that cannot be disguised – the perception of a world in which some people are vastly more “equal” than others.
As one of the “small people,” I am grateful that the mightiest nation on earth has a president who thinks we are, indeed, born equal and have as much right as anyone to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
But instead of being lauded for his commitment to this philosophy, as well as his courage and his negotiating skill, President Obama is being criticized for his lack of theatrical finesse. The media motormouths, the Facebook scribblers, the Twitterers and the myriad others who now comprise America’s “public opinion” gave him a failing grade for his speech from the Oval Office Tuesday night.
They wanted more drama, less detached clarity and more venting for their vicarious enjoyment. Some critics even resented the President mentioning that the BP disaster spotlights the urgent need to wean Americans away from dependence on oil.
You would think that by now the American populace would have evolved beyond the clamor for “bread and circuses” - for circuses, anyway. But apparently not.
The mass of Americans still want actors as their leaders, empty suits giving rousing speeches and providing stirring photo ops. I bet they would elect Ronald Reagan again in a heartbeat if he rose from the dead to reprise his roles in Bedtime for Bonzo and as President of the U.S.
Come on America, grow up! The complex challenges of today demand solutions of substance, not memorable theatrical performances.
June 17, 2010 1 Comment
You’ve probably heard the story about the old farmer who grew more fruit and vegetables than he needed so he displayed the surplus by the side of the road, accompanied by a “for sale” sign.
Tourists saw the sign and stopped to buy his wares.
As time went by, he noticed that some drivers didn’t see the sign in time to stop, and he decided to rent a space a few hundred yards down the road to give them advance notice. This resulted in a big increase in business, so he decided to rent a space in the other direction to erect another sign.
The resulting boom in revenue made it possible for the farmer to send his son to college. The son graduated in Economics and decided to get involved in the family business. He prepared a thorough study of the economy and concluded that the future was daunting. He advised his dad that belt tightening would be in order and suggested cutting costs by getting rid of one of the signs.
Sure enough, business declined. And the son proposed ditching the other sign…
You can guess the rest.
The secret of success in business is not cutting costs; it’s spending wisely.
The same is true in running a country. Money invested in programs that produce income is not wasted. Money spent on bombs that blow up other people’s countries does not yield dividends.
Someone should remind the gurus in the Obama administration – and their allies in Congress – of this basic fact before they start cutting back on social programs, while investing more and more of the nation’s resources in military adventures. The way things are going this could become a really ugly society. And a bankrupt one.
Republicans and conservative Democrats are using the U.S. deficit as an excuse to cut back on such basic social services as unemployment benefits and health care for the unemployed. And the Obama administration is reportedly listening to them – even to those who advise slashing Social Security.
It’s part of a mean spirited mood that’s sweeping the nation.
Several states are throwing people in jail for failing to make credit card payments. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that in Minnesota alone, 845 people were arrested for being in debt in 2009, up 60 percent from four years ago.
I bet you thought debtors’ prisons were a thing of the past. But they’re making a comeback.
I always thought debtors didn’t go to jail in America. I was wrong. In some states, it’s a crime to ignore your credit card debt. Fail to make that minimum payment and you could end up in shackles.
And in the prevailing economic climate, debt collection agencies have been more successful than ever in persuading judges to put borrowers behind bars.
Tell me, if some poor wretch couldn’t come up with the minimum payment while out trying to make a buck, how is he (or she) going to do any better sitting in a jail cell?
In Jamaica we call that kind of thinking “puss logic.”
It’s also “puss logic” to try and revive a consumer based economy by choking off the spending power of people who are too old to work. Or by cutting off unemployment benefits so that people can’t pay their debts and end up in jail. Or by denying poor people health care so that they become sick and unproductive – and spread disease to the rest of the population.
Wise governments invest in the health, education and welfare of citizens, enabling them to produce more. This keeps the economy strong, producing dividends that can be reinvested in the public good.
Mean spirited governments squeeze money from citizens and use it to wage war all over the world. As the citizens become poorer and poorer, there is less and less money available to wage war – or to invest in dividend-producing programs, such as alternative energy.
June 16, 2010 3 Comments