Kurds Deserve US Help

Kurdish Warrior Women

I was encouraged by a news report about three young Americans who have gone to Syria to fight. They did not go to join ISIS. They went to join the Kurds and fight ISIS.

Of course, if one of them was my son I would probably be hanging on to his ankles as he tried to get out the door.  But I still admire these kids.

How do we relate to a world in which so much evil is rampant? Do we as individuals close our eyes and ears to the horrors being committed? Do we as a nation sit on the sidelines and insist it’s not our fight?

Or do we put our lives on the line for justice?

As I ponder this question,  the words of the late German pastor, Martin Niemöller, come to mind:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

He was talking about the Nazis, but his words could just as easily be applied to today’s agents of evil. The Islamic extremists, for example, are eerily evocative of the Nazi scourge. ISIS is coming for the Kurds today. Tomorrow ISIS will be coming for the rest of us – unless they are stopped.

Islamic extremism is not a regional problem; it is a global problem. It is an American problem. Americans would be ill advised to let ISIS slaughter the Kurds in Kobani as they are intent on doing. The barbarians must be beaten back in Syria today or they will attack America tomorrow.

While self interests is an obvious motive, there is an even more compelling argument for Western intervention in this uneven fight: It is the right thing to do.

The brave Kurds, including the women (photo above), are putting up an epic struggle but they are outmanned and outgunned. They cannot defeat ISIS without help. They deserve that help.

Click for the story about the American fighters.

Click for the Kobani siege.


Wallowing in Misery

I’ve never been to Mississippi. I don’t think I’ve even driven through the state. And from what I know about Mississippi, I wouldn’t want to go there. The name “Mississippi” conjures up a long list of horrors- the murder of civil rights workers, church bombings, cross burnings, and on and on and on. The Phil Ochs admonition, “Mississippi find another country to be part of,” lingers in my mind.

I read a few days ago that Mississippi was the most miserable state in America. Someone had worked out a misery index and Mississippi headed the list.  Not surprisingly, another study has Mississippi as the most racist state in the nation, too.

These studies vary, of course. In the spring, one study listed Kentucky as America’s most miserable state, another gave the crown to West Virginia. But Mississippi is always near the top.

And, while the order keeps changing the top-ten list includes the same states pretty much all the time. They are overwhelmingly “red” states. You can nearly always find Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, Missouri, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas – as well as Mississippi – on any of the misery lists.

You would think that the people who live in these states would start wondering why they’re so wretched. You would suppose they would wonder whether they need a change of government.

But apparently not. Elections come and go, and the Republicans remain in control.

What is it, I wonder. Abortion? A lot of voters cast their ballots because they feel strongly about legalized abortion. Racism? Lyndon Johnson said he lost the South for a generation by signing the Voting Rights Act. Gay rights? A lot of people are scandalized by the idea of men marrying men and women marrying women. I know I would have been horrified if I’d heard about such things growing up in Jamaica back in the Forties, even though when you think about it, why shouldn’t anyone be able to marry who they love?

As the old Jamaican song reminds us, “It’s nobody’s business but their own.”

Could it be ignorance that keeps those states mired in misery? The misery index usually includes a low education score. Could the Republicans be maintaining control by keeping the voters ignorant?

It certainly is the kind of thing they would do, isn’t it?

Click for one of the misery lists.


Another Pipeline Route



Here’s breaking news for American environmentalists who are urging the President to block the Keystone XL pipeline project: There’s a new route in the works and it’s an all-Canadian one.

No, I’m not talking about a pipeline over the Rockies to the West Coast. Canada has environmentalists too – and First Nation activists who see the pipeline threatening their way of life. They’re just as opposed to the pipeline as American environmentalists are.

The answer? Go east.

According to Bloomberg News, a group headed by TransCanada Corporation plans to pipe the Albertan crude to New Brunswick. The new route would be nearly 3,000 miles long and it would cross six provinces, but there already is a lot of available natural-gas pipeline along this route.

A refinery in Saint John would process the oil for shipment to US and international buyers. And, according to the Bloomberg article, the east coast port would be a gateway to much bigger and more lucrative markets than any the Keystone XL pipeline would offer.

Naturally, the 10.7 billion-dollar project is not without problems. According to Bloomberg:

The project still faces political hurdles. U.S. and international greens who hate Keystone may not like this any better. In Quebec, where most new construction will occur, a homegrown environmental movement is already asking tough questions

But the existence of an alternative is expected to weaken US opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline. For one thing, it will put an end to the argument that blocking the pipeline would keep Alberta’s oil in the ground (an argument that is already undermined by the rail shipment of 160,000 barrels of Alberta crude a day to the U.S.).

I am as dismayed by climate change as anyone, and I yearn for a world free of fossil fuels. But I don’t see how blocking the Keystone XL pipeline will make that happen any sooner. As long as Americans must burn oil, they might as well burn Canadian oil. It certainly seems preferable to buying oil from the Mideast and enriching America’s deadliest foes.

Yes, I know there is danger of a rupture along the many miles of pipeline, a frightening threat to farms and fields, woods and rivers. But what is better? Shipping it by rail or truck? Haven’t you read about the exploding North Dakota rail cars? And don’t you realize what a hazard those oil tankers are on the roads?

Regardless of the manner in which it is transported, processed and consumed, oil is a nasty menace. But the answer lies in developing clean energy to end the industrialized world’s dependence on fossil fuels, not in singling out a pipeline here or a rail car there.

 Click for the Bloomberg story.


Givers and Takers



The way the Republicans frame it, Americans basically belong in two groups – givers and takers. I’m sure you’ve heard of the infamous Mitt Romney speech about the 47 percent who sponge off the rest of the nation to survive. It’s a theme that keeps popping up in Republican policies.

In the classic Republican model, the government must nourish and sustain the givers so they can continue to bear the burden of the takers. And, according to this model, taxing the rich to feed the poor is heinous because it is the rich who provide jobs and charity for the poor.

It’s a model that has produced the most lopsided economy in many decades. The gap between America’s rich and America’s poor is huge – and getting wider every day.

But even among the most disadvantaged, there is often the sense that it is not up to the government to provide for the poor, that individuals are responsible for their neighbors’ welfare.

So how is that working for us?

According to an article in Salon.com today, not so well. The article reports that the Chronicle of Philanthropy studied the issue and found the nation’s most affluent are reducing their charitable contributions, while low- and middle-income people are giving more. Here’s the breakdown:

Compared with 2006 — the year before the start of the Great Recession — Americans who earn less than $100,000 per year contributed 4.5 percent more of their incomes to charity (in 2012). Meanwhile, those with incomes between $100,000 and $200,000 reduced their giving by 3.3 percent, and Americans earning more than $200,000 cut back their donations by 4.5 percent (see chart above).

The article observes that lower and middle income people gave more despite watching their incomes decline while the rich gave less as their wealth and income soared.

We’ve known for a while that enriching the rich does not create jobs. Now we know that it doesn’t stimulate charity either.

It seems clearer and clearer that the government must step in to level the playing field, doesn’t it?

Click for the article in Salon.


Living in the Moment

It’s a beautiful day here in Central Florida, temperature in the low seventies. bright sunshine, just the hint of a breeze. I am blessed to be here to enjoy this day, and you can be sure I am going to make the most of it. I am not going to worry about catching ebola – or developing shingles or whatever.

The TV screen is rank with fear. We must beware! ISIS is coming! Ebola is here! The Republicans are poised to win control of Congress! One out of three people succumbs to this or that.

But I have not succumbed so far. And with luck I will not succumb today.

Life is so precious – and so fragile. My beloved sister Elizabeth just passed through the valley of the shadow of death, uncertain of the destination. Brain surgery to remove a tumor that could have proved deadly.

But praise the Lord, she is home from the hospital, expected to make a full recovery. Another affirmation of the power of prayer.

The young man who lived in the house at the end of our cul de sac was not so fortunate. I learned over the weekend that he is dead. Liver cancer, I was told by one of the men felling and trimming trees and clearing brush over at the yard.

I knew the man who lived there. He looked robust. He was private but friendly. He gave me a tour of the house when he moved in. He introduced me to his young son and daughter, who were in the family room watching TV. He was divorced, I believe, and had the children on weekends.

That was quite a few years ago. His children are teenagers now. And their father is gone – just like that.

My mother used to say we live on God’s eyelash, and if he blinks we fall into oblivion.

Thankfully, it’s a sunny day here on God’s eyelash, the sky is bright blue, and the  bromeliads Elizabeth gave me are blooming.

This moment is mine to enjoy and I will enjoy it, regardless of what the future might have in store.


MSNBC is Losing Me

cable TV


I used to be a faithful MSNBC-TV viewer, but, sadly, we’re drifting apart. And I notice that Sandra is tuning into CNN more and more these days (when she isn’t watching old movies).

What happened?

Chris Matthews is one reason of course. He has to be among the planet’s most irritating people. He jabbers like a baboon, interrupting his guests and shouting them down when they don’t agree with him. I guess he does that kind of thing to justify his show’s name of “Hardball.” But my idea of hardball journalism is the fact-filled Tim Russert style, thoroughly researched opinions delivered with calm assurance.

I really miss Tim. We might not look upon his like again. Nobody in the current crop of pundits measures up to his memory.

What irritates me most about Matthews these days is his mindless cheerleading for war and his relentless (and unreasonable) criticism of the President’s foreign policy.  Surely, after all these years, it’s time for him to retire?

I used to find Rachel’s show truly informative – and sometimes exciting. But for some time now, she has locked onto an issue she finds fascinating and talked it to death. Listening to her, I feel as if I should be taking notes as there will be a test afterwards.

I’ve never found Chris Hayes exciting, that’s for sure. He could make announcement of the Second Coming sound like a lecture on microbiotics.

Even Ed and the Reverend are getting stale, stuck on the same old issue for days on end.

And what a wasteland the channel is on weekends. Tonight, they will likely be showing “Lockup Raw” as usual. That’s just plain insulting to us viewers. (Of course CNN is also offensive with weekend shows like Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown.”)

As CNN fades into a shadow of Ted Turner’s brave new broadcasting concept and MSNBC slides into irrelevance, Fox News scored a first as the most-watched prime time channel on cable TV. Not just the news channels – all of cable!

Fox News! What’s happening to America?  Who is lapping up the slimy propaganda and barefaced lies that Fox dishes out? And why?

I wonder what’s on the movie channels that I haven’t seen – and can bear to watch?

Click for More on Matthews and the President.

Click for more on the ratings race.

Click for Stewart’s and Colbert’s take on Fox.


The Islamic Threat

When ISIS crazies promise to raise their flag over Washington DC, you might picture some kind of foreign invasion and shrug off the threat as idle bombast. But I don’t think they’re talking about an attack from overseas. I think they’re picturing something much more insidious – a campaign from within.

In the most unlikely parts of America, there are homegrown Islamic insurrectionists working to spread their toxic doctrine.  Some are known to the watchdogs assigned to protect Americans from terrorists. Some are not.

Most Muslims are like most Christians and most Jews – peaceful and reasonable people worshiping their Creator in the way they find most fulfilling. But the Islamic zealots pose a special threat to the rest of the world. As I understand it, the extremists interpret Islamic dogma to include a mission to conquer the earth.  There is even a mandate to “kill the infidel.”

I don’t often agree with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but he made a valid point in a recent address to the UN. He said the Islamic extremists regard their religion as a master faith in the same way the Nazis conceived Aryans as the “master race.” And, he argued, they pose the same kind of threat to the world.

Throughout the West, extremist Islamic clerics are preaching this doctrine – and have been for years. I suspect that young immigrants from Muslim countries, who tend to be dark skinned, become easy prey for these clerics because of the racist slurs and affronts they experience. I am sure you remember all those “Paki jokes,” for example.

The conversion of these young people is also enabled by economic and social conditions that make them feel disregarded and unwanted. As social and economic injustice increases in the West, a fertile breeding ground is created for disenchantment and hate.

In America, clerics like Ahmad Musa Jibril of Dearborn, Michigan have developed a significant following over the years through their incendiary lectures and their messages in social media.  The Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence calls Jebril the most popular inspirational figure for Western fighters flocking to join ISIS.

This is a perplexing situation. Obviously, there is much to fear. Theirs is a doctrine of terror and barbarism, and it cannot be permitted to prevail.

But I doubt that it can be defeated with violence. I believe it can only be countered by enlightenment.

While the authorities must obviously take steps to root out the potential terrorists and the dangerous clerics who inspire them, we must beware of demonizing the Muslim faith and the millions who practice it peacefully and harmlessly.

Ultimately, it is love that conquers hate, tolerance that defeats dogma, acceptance that cures alienation.

Click to watch Ahmad Musa Jibril at work.

Click for more on ISIS global threat.


A Dreary Election

Is it just the rainy weather we’re having in Central Florida that’s making me depressed? Or is this the dreariest American election ever? Another day another Koch Brothers outrage – apparently they’re flooding North Carolina with false voter-registration mailings to confuse voters. Surely, by now nobody opens campaign mail? I throw mine in the recycling bin without a second glance.  Don’t you?

If you still don’t know who you’re voting for and why, you probably aren’t voting.

It seems everything that can be said has been said, and every lie that can be invented has been aired.

But that doesn’t stop the hucksters repeating their sales pitches or the liars lying their heads off. The airwaves and our mailboxes are full of their handiwork.

And let’s not forget the dirty tricks. Blatant voter suppression is the latest trend and the courts are giving it their blessing. If you’re a minority or anyone else who usually votes Democrat, you will probably have to go to a lot of extra trouble to exercise your franchise in November. But surely you know that by now. And surely you’re taking steps to work around the voter suppression laws. It’s the price of liberty, right? Eternal vigilance?

And the begging!

My in-basket is full of emails demanding contributions for one campaign or another. Some are pleading. Some are aggressive. Some try to shame me into sending them money.

Is there no dignity left in politics?

I have sent a few dollars, and I refuse to be bullied or cajoled into sending more. I am offended by the tone of those emails.

.Even if I had planned to contribute, this avalanche of supplication has turned me off.

I know, I am being selfish and petulant. Think about the good of the country, you say.  Think about the deep pockets of the Republican donors. Think about the consequences of this election. Think about the horrors that would result from a Republican victory.

You’re right as usual. But even if they win, they will have only two years to wreak havoc, and after that Americans will surely be ready to throw them out for good. A victory in November could give them enough rope to hang themselves.

The pundits are already obsessing over 2016. The hot news is that Hillary is a grandmother.  And one TV personality was heard speculating that baby Charlotte is weighing the possibility of a presidential run in 2036.

By then American elections might become more inspiring.

We can always hope.

Click for the latest Koch Brothers trickery.

Click for the latest on Hillary.


Beware the Chikungunya!

Adult female yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti (Linnaeus), in the process of seeking out a penetrable site on the skin surface of its host.

Every November, my brother Bill and his wife Faye head for Jamaica to recharge their batteries. They stay at the same North Coast resort and usually rent a car to roam about the island and bask in a rosy nostalgic glow. It’s something thousands of Jamaicans who now live abroad will be doing. Some of them will be going home to stay for good.

Who can blame them? Jamaica is an enchanted land and its allure is irresistible.

But, sadly, I have a word of warning to my fellow-Jamaicans who are heading home this year: Watch out for the mosquitoes. Yes, mosquitoes. I know, they have mosquitoes in America – and Canada, and just about everywhere else on the face of the earth. The problem is that these are not just any breed of mosquito, these are carriers of the chikungunya virus.

In a recent broadcast message, Jamaican Health Minister  Fenton Ferguson warned that the chikungunya virus is spreading across Jamaica and “everyone is susceptible.”

The mosquito-borne virus spread rapidly through the Caribbean and parts of Latin America after it was introduced to the French dependency of St. Martin late last year.

It has even reached parts of the southern US. Cases have been reported in such states as Texas. And experts warn the virus could quickly make its way into Florida (where I live!) because Florida’s climate is so similar to that of the Caribbean.

Some deaths have been reported but the illness caused by this virus is rarely fatal. It’s very painful, however. Victims report such excruciating joint pain that they can’t walk. Symptoms also include fever, muscle pain, headaches and a rash.

There is no known cure or vaccine. The affliction spreads unchecked until populations gradually develop immunity to the virus.

Chikungunya, which has been known for decades in parts of Africa and Asia, is carried by the same mosquitoes that carry yellow fever and dengue fever. These mosquitoes usually bite during the day. Health authorities in the US warn travelers to countries with chikungunya virus to “use insect repellent, wear long sleeves and pants, and stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens.”

I wonder why the powers that be haven’t eradicated the mosquitoes that carry this virus, the way they did with malaria. I read that the Tobago House of Assembly is embarking on an island-wide clean-up to combat the virus. The campaign includes spraying and clearing abandoned lots. But I don’t know of anything like that happening in Jamaica – or Florida.

Click for more on the virus in Jamaica.


I Don’t Get the Ryder Cup


I got up in the wee hours twice this weekend to watch the Ryder Cup, and now that the tumult and the shouting has died I am left wondering why I didn’t stay in bed. What I saw was confusing and unsatisfying.

It’s not just because the Americans lost to Europe.  And it’s not just because the loss was so embarrassing.

Throughout the absurdly overhyped event, I felt … uncomfortable.

The competition seemed to ring false. I could not believe that a crowd of Scots, who had come within a whisker of voting to separate from England just a few days earlier, were really that excited about a German golfer sinking a birdie putt. Or a Spanish golfer. Or a French golfer. Or even an Irish golfer.

To me, the chants of “Europe!, Europe!”  sounded ridiculous.

But I suppose any chant would have sounded odd.

I have played and watched golf during most of my 80 years, and I have never before heard a gallery singing battle songs or seen spectators high-fiving and leaping about with such abandon. (Or dancing – as Jose Maria Olazabal did on one occasion.) And I’ve never seen golf fans rigged out in such weird costumes (photo above).

Such carrying-on would be unthinkable at the courses where I’ve played. Some courses don’t even allow golfers to wear blue jeans or T-shirts.

The golf that I am familiar with is a quiet sport, played in serene surroundings. It’s part of the ancient game’s charm. Mostly, we mosey along in silence, muttering “Good shot” or “Bad luck” as the circumstances dictate.

Legendary Ben Hogan is said to have had only two words for opponents during a round of golf, “You’re away,” signaling that it was their turn to play and they should get on with it.

Furthermore, I don’t believe that American captain Tom Watson could have done anything to change the outcome. He could have arranged the teams differently, of course. And he could have selected different players at different times. But I bet it would have ended the same. American golf isn’t what it used to be.

Tiger is missing. Phil is sick and getting old – old and grumpy (he attracted criticism for daring to suggest Tom Watson’s captaincy was not perfect).

And there are no successors to Tiger and Phil on the horizon. Sorry, American fans, Jordan Spieth is no Tiger. Patrick Reed is no Tiger. And Rickie Fowler looked like a rain-drenched kitten during  his whuppin’ by Rory McIlroy.

Don’t get me wrong. These are among my favorite golfers. But my favorites all showed their feet of clay this weekend.

Not that I blame them.

It must have been bitter cold out there in the forbidding foothills of the Scottish Highlands. And the wind was fierce. I have visited Scotland a couple of times, and I understand why my Scottish  forbears moved to Jamaica.

I shivered just watching on TV.

And the format. Who still plays “foursomes” (also known as alternate-shot)? To me, there are few things in life more frustrating than hitting every other shot. And I can’t recall ever seeing Sunday golfers playing the game. They might still play that way in Scotland, but not in America.

I know, I know, I sound like a bad sport.

I should be saying something like, “Well played, old chap.”

And yes, the European team did play well, a lot better than the Americans.

But was it really golf?

Click here for more on the Ryder Cup.

Click for more on the format.