Is Rick Scott OK?

I mean is he all right mentally? He doesn’t sound like it. First, there was his delay in taking the stage for the opening of Wednesday night’s debate because Charlie Crist had a small fan (the electric kind, not the human kind) at his podium. Then there was Scott’s rambling closing statement.

It was not just incoherent, it was imbecilic.

If you didn’t catch the debate, you might want to click on the link at the bottom of this blog and read what the Daily Kos had to say about Scott’s closing message.

Surely, this guy isn’t mentally equipped to be Florida’s governor?

I knew he was a shady character who paid a fine of more than a billion dollars for Medicare fraud, but I didn’t know what a fog he’s in.

Even if you don’t agree that he is mentally not up to the task of governing, I would like to remind you of the miserable job he has done so far. Who could possibly want four more years of this?

I am appalled at those recent stand-your-ground murders, for one thing.

And if my kids or grandkids were still in school, I would be fuming over the way Scott is starving educational institutions for funds. But that’s not as disgraceful as his cuts to essential social services, such as rape crisis centers and agencies for physically and mentally disabled children.

Budget cuts to the Department of Children and Families have resulted in the deaths of at least 40 children!

Layoffs and budget cuts in social services were supposed to make up for the loss of revenue resulting from Scott’s reduction of corporate taxes, which he expected would bring employers flocking to Florida.

Obviously this tactic hasn’t worked.

Remember how he promised to create 1.7 million jobs by cutting corporate taxes, etc.? Well, he hasn’t. At Wednesday’s debate. he was bragging about creating 700,000 jobs by 2017, even though economists have pointed out that a million jobs should be added in Florida by then regardless of who is governor.

His sorry legacy also includes vetoing funds for wildlife preservation, and slashing the budgets for whooping cough vaccine, legal assistance to the poor, at-risk pregnant women, needy senior citizens, the homeless …

Yet he was able to find $600,000 to redecorate the governor’s mansion and more than $400,000 for a state business logo.

The case against Scott goes on and on, and you can read more by clicking on this link:

233 Non-Partisan Reasons Why Rick Scott Must Go

 Click for the Daily Kos report.

Click for more on the debate.

 

Two More Years?

congress

 

I am tempted to skip voting in November for the first time in my life. For one thing the bullying emails demanding contributions to the Democratic Party are getting on my nerves – as are the groveling ones and the pleading ones and the scary ones and…

This has to be the worst election campaign in history. The Democrats seem to be doing their best to alienate me. And the Republicans get more repugnant every day.

I am offended by the way some Democratic candidates have turned on the President and disavowed his policies. If they win their seats by rejecting his agenda, what good will that do? They will be likely to vote against his initiatives anyway, won’t they?

Will they defend Obamacare for example? A lot of them seem to be saying no to that. They are doing everything they can to distance themselves from the program, even though it seems to be working better all the time.

And the Republicans are already threatening another government shutdown to cut off funds for Obamacare.

It looks more and more as if it doesn’t matter which party wins this election. President Obama’s wish list seems doomed anyway.

I don’t see red state Democratic politicians voting for comprehensive immigration reform, a tax overhaul to address income inequality, equal pay and equal rights for women – or any of the progressive programs the President would like to introduce. I think they would be too worried about the next election.

And there just aren’t enough blue state representatives in Congress to give President Obama the mandate he needs.

I hope I’m wrong of course. I shudder to think of two more years like the last two. But I am afraid that is what we can look forward to as a Republican Congress passes the worst kind of regressive legislation in history and the President dutifully vetoes it.

And let’s not forget his impeachment. That will certainly be on the table if the Republicans get a majority in the Senate as well as the House. I doubt they will get enough seats for impeachment – a two-thirds majority is required in the Senate – but they will probably get enough to have a trial, as they did with President Clinton.

No, I won’t stay home this election. Of course I will trudge off to the polls and dutifully fill in the ovals next to any name with a capital D next to it. But I will do it with a heavy heart.

The only consolation I see is that things will get so wretched that the American voters will have had enough and kick out the Republicans once and for all in 2016.

Click for more on the Republicans’ shutdown threat.

 

The Threat of Cheap Oil

masks

 

According to an old saying I heard as a child in Jamaica, “One man’s rise is another man’s downfall.” And, as usual with those old sayings, it has proven to be quite accurate throughout my lifetime.

Cheap oil is a dream come true for most of the industrialized world. It means lower gas prices for one thing, affordable electricity for another. And the result is usually a lower cost of living across the board.

But for the countries that depend on selling their oil to survive, it’s a nightmare.

It’s especially bad news for folks like Prince Alwaleed bin Talal al-Saud. The Saudi prince has written an open letter in response to news reports suggesting his country’s oil minister would be comfortable with oil prices below $90 a barrel.

His view is that such low prices would be “a catastrophe.”

According to people who claim to know about such arcane topics, oil prices are heading south with no end in sight. They point to such causes as the shale boom in the US and decelerating demand in China, where the economy has slowed.

I have no sympathy for the Saudi princes or any of the other Mideast moguls who are infamous for their self indulgent behavior and oppressive politics. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal al-Saud, for example, has been known to entertain party guests by throwing dwarfs.

And I don’t consider $90-a-barrel oil “cheap.” I am old enough to remember oil below $25 a barrel (in 2010 dollars). Those were the glory days of US prosperity, when gas was 20 or 30 cents a a gallon and the automobile was king.

As you might recall, that was before OPEC was formed, creating a cartel designed to extort obscene oil prices from an energy hungry world. Now, the OPEC countries have unprecedented competition. They don’t call the shots any more.

You might think I would be jumping up and down and clapping my hands, but I’m not.

And my lack of exuberance is not prompted by the fact that people like Prince Alwaleed bin Talal al-Saud have huge investments in Western corporations that are, sadly, too big to fail. (This Saudi prince has a massive stake in Apple, Time-Warner, and other corporate giants, for example.)

I realize their downfall could cause havoc in the global economy but that’s not my main concern.

Even the threat of rampant instability in the Muslim world, which plummeting oil prices could trigger, pales beside a greater danger – global warming.

I fear that as oil prices decline, the world will lose its sense of urgency for developing green energy sources. This trend has only lately gathered momentum with such encouraging signs as introduction of electric vehicles and increasing acceptance of wind and solar power.

While cheap oil might seem to be the cause of some people’s rise in the short term, it could spell everyone’s downfall in the long run.

Click for more on the Saudi prince’s letter.

Click for news of the current oil market.

Click for more on oil prices.

Click for more on the Mideast moguls.

 

The Back Stabbers

panetta

I would call them rats that desert a sinking ship but I don’t know any rats who bit the hand that fed them and I believe history will show President Obama’s ship of state is weathering the current storm. So I’ll leave it to you to select an appropriate designation for the former Obama aides who are dumping on his presidency.

This is a lousy election, the midterm contest coming up in a few weeks.The campaigns reek of mean spirited bile, and the candidates stoop lower and lower as they grovel for a few more pennies and a few more votes.

And these are lousy times, with the TV wailing incessantly about Ebola and ISIS, while revelations continue to emerge of racist police policies, voter suppression, economic oppression, immigration injustice and political corruption.

But it is not President Obama’s fault.

I am certain he was not involved in the spread of Ebola to America, and I don’t know what he could have done to prevent the Islamic State from emerging as a deadly scourge.

So what if he enjoys a game of golf now and then? How could that possibly motivate Putin to invade the Ukraine and threaten to start World War III?

Obama’s critics are in full voice, of course. And even the current crop of Democratic candidates are scurrying to distance themselves from the President. The media are joyfully reporting the trash talk without bothering to examine its merit – or lack of merit.

In the prevailing dump-on-Obama frenzy, nobody is taking the trouble to examine the sources of the torrent of criticism and test their credibility.

Take that Judas, Leon Panetta, for example, He is not only a discredited CIA spook (cartoon above). He is also an equal opportunity back stabber, trashing whatever president he chooses to serve under – Republican and Democrat alike. He betrayed Nixon when he worked for Nixon. He betrayed Clinton when he worked for Clinton. And now he is betraying Obama after working for him, too.

I’m sure you know Panetta just published a tell-all memoir that condemns President Obama for all kinds of foreign policy blunders, even blaming him for the rise of ISIS.

Panetta is not alone. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates also published a book that looks askance at the President’s record as commander in chief. But who is Robert Gates? Isn’t he the man who executed and presumably concurred in the president’s policies?

I don’t have the space to examine those policies here. But I challenge you to come up with better ones under the conditions facing this President.

How would you have fared with a Congress committed to blocking every one of your initiatives and appointments?

It’s the stonewalling of key administrative appointments that caused the delays and administrative breakdowns contributing to some of the nation’s woes, for example.

Even with this intolerable Congress, America’s first black president has managed to record some remarkable achievements. I am confident that history will vindicate him.

Don’t believe me? Perhaps you’ll believe Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman. In a recent Rolling Stone defense of the president, he writes:

Despite bitter opposition, despite having come close to self-inflicted disaster, Obama has emerged as one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history. His health reform is imperfect but still a huge step forward – and it’s working better than anyone expected.

Financial reform fell far short of what should have happened, but it’s much more effective than you’d think. Economic management has been half-crippled by Republican obstruction, but has nonetheless been much better than in other advanced countries. And environmental policy is starting to look like it could be a major legacy.

A responsible media would spend more time quoting reliable sources like Paul Krugman and less time regurgitating the bile from disgruntled former employees like Leon Panetta and Robert Graves. But you and I know they probably won’t.

Click for more on Krugman’s article.

Click for more on Obama’s critics.

Click for more on golf criticism.

 

The Huckabee Republicans

They are single-issue voters, the followers of Mike Huckabee. Well, not single issue really, single-issues. But the issues are related – abortion, gay marriage, and so on. What they stand for is moral purity – or so they believe, anyway.

To me, it looks a lot more like a self-congratulatory notion that they, and only they, are righteous.

They are the kind of people who forced Hester Prynne to wear that scarlet letter. The kind of people who get a nice warm feeling when they shame others.

Ironically, they call themselves Christians. Obviously, they’ve never read the New Testament.

These people have been a force in the Republican Party for a long time. But could their influence be waning?

Obviously, Huckabee thinks so. He is threatening to go his own way.

Enraged by the party’s submissive response to the Supreme Court’s refusal to overturn state marriage equality laws, Huckabee ranted:

Go ahead and just abdicate on this issue … I’ll become an independent. I’ll start finding people that have guts to stand.

His threat met the same kind of response as that tree that falls in the forest with no one around to hear it.

Could it be that Huckabee’s days are numbered? He has consistently polled among Republicans’ top choices for president and his Fox News show gets good ratings. But the ideas he cherishes seem to be losing traction as the GOP scrambles to eke out a victory in November.

Writing in Politico Magazine, Bill Scher notes that there’s a growing trend for Republican candidates to back away from rigid positions on social issues.

Times are changing in America, and Republicans are scrambling to fudge their antiquated notions. It might seem that they are abdicating their party’s long-cherished ideals.

But I strongly suspect Huckabee and his followers have little cause for dismay. I am sure the changes they deplore are cosmetic, driven by the need to reassure today’s voters. Back in power, the party would emerge from behind this new mask and bare its true face.

It’s the same old face of intolerance and bigotry.

Click for Bill Scher’s article.

 

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

keystone-xl

 

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

chart

 

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.