Sorrow and Rage



crusaderI weep in sorrow and rage for the victims of the Paris atrocity. My first instinct is to call for retribution, to demand an assault on ISIS so massive, so remorseless that the caliphate is devastated with not one human left breathing, not one building left standing, just silent, smoking ruins bearing ominous testimony to the consequences of such barbaric behavior.

But my better angels ask what about the children? What about the innocent bystanders trapped within the caliphate? What about the “collateral damage”?

If civilized nations sink to the level of the barbarians, it is civilization that loses.

And there is grave danger of that happening. Across Europe the far right is awakening once again. Nativism and xenophobia are growing as invading hordes of refugees create cultural conflict and breed a cycle of mutual resentment. In such a political climate, French President Francois Hollande might feel obliged to retaliate with all the military might he can muster.

Indeed, the entire Western world could  feel morally obliged to join France in seeking bloody retribution for last night’s horror.

And ISIS might thus succeed in achieving its ultimate goal – the final confrontation between Islam and Christendom, the End-of -Days conflict that many Muslims – and many Christians – believe must occur before the return of the Messiah.

For this is what the flagrant atrocities are about – the beheadings, the genocide, the terror attacks… They are designed to provoke the West into a test of power. A test that Islamic extremists believe they can win.

A shock-and-awe Western assault on ISIS in Syria and Iraq – the kind of assault that Ben Carson called for in the recent Republican debate and Ted Cruz is calling for now  –  would be the beginning, not the end.  Like dragon’s teeth, 10 terrorists would be created with every terrorist slain. That is the nature of Jihad.

Can such catastrophic escalation be avoided? Perhaps not. Sadly, our destiny might already be determined. But there might be a last-minute reprieve.

President Obama already has initiated a process that could avert the clash of civilizations. He has been persuading Islamic states in the region that it is not in their interest to stand by and watch extremists provoke a catastrophic clash of cultures. And some of those states have responded by joining the campaign against ISIS.

If moderate Muslims can be persuaded to take the lead in confronting ISIS, Armageddon might be avoided.

Click for the news report.

Click for more on the far right.

Click for more on Obama’s strategy.

Click for more on Islam and the End of Days.


Reality and Perception



carlyI was talking with a neighbor the other day, and he assured me that Donald Trump is just what America needs for its next president. Trump is a successful tycoon and has the skills to run things efficiently, my neighbor said.

OK, so this neighbor is under psychiatric care and sometimes takes too many of the pills the doctor gives him.

But what about my cousin’s wife in Miami? She is as down-to-earth as anyone you will ever meet. And she is voting for Donald Trump. He is just what the country needs for its next President, she explained over the phone recently. Washington needs someone like that to clean house.

Obviously, Trump is widely perceived as a super-efficient tycoon with exceptional executive and personal skills. But how factual is that?

In fact, he has had a checkered career, plunging into bankruptcy more than once. He has failed at marriage a couple of times. And he spouts clouds of hot air about various topics, from Barack Obama’s “missing” birth certificate to building the Great Wall of China on the Mexican border – at Mexico’s expense –  and deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants. He has yet to explain how he plans to round up the immigrants or how he will get Mexico to pay for the wall.

I imagine his real estate empire could disappear in a puff of smoke at any time. As you and I know, real estate empires tend to be built on pillars of perception and the magic of “leverage.”

Powered by perception, Trump (upper picture, right) stubbornly hangs on to solid support among Republican voters. He is consistently at the top of most polls.

His closest rival, revered surgeon Ben Carson (upper picture, left), is just as much of a fantasy figure.

Carson has managed to create for himself an inspiring story of a wild adolescence and redemption through the saving grace of Christ’s sacrifice. Some of the facts in his story seem to be dissolving under scrutiny, but that’s not the most important thing. It’s his notion of Christianity that troubles me.

In his dreamy monotone, Carson describes a mystic world in which Joseph built the pyramids to store grain,  life begins with fertilization of an egg, Jesus preached against same-sex marriage and other strange imaginings.

In his version of Christianity, you don’t love your enemies, you bomb them into extinction.

Yet Carson is vying with Trump at the top of the polls, propped up by the “Evangelical” vote.

That’s the way things are today. Perception, however false, is what counts. And the Republicans are masters of the art of manipulating perception.

For instance, a powerful and persistent propaganda campaign has convinced many Americans that Republicans are more fiscally responsible than Democrats, better at creating jobs and economic growth, and more able to defend the nation and keep America’s flag flying high in the world.

It’s all hooey, of course. The facts show the opposite is true.

Here’s an example of the facts, as spotlighted by this debate question to Carly Fiorina (lower picture):

Under President Obama, the U.S. has added an average of 107,000 jobs a month and under President Clinton, the economy added about 240,000 jobs a month. George W. Bush added only 13,000 jobs a month. How are you going to respond to the claim that Democratic presidents are better at creating jobs than Republicans?

Fiorina responded with an irrelevant anecdote about a woman who was having a hard time. She did not answer the question vut I bet some viewers perceived her as being well informed and possibly even presidential.

It’s perception that counts, not the facts.

Click for more on Fiorina’s response.

Click for more on the GOP’s propaganda.


Fantasy Island Math


I spent a couple of hours on Fantasy Island last night. Actually, it was more than a couple of hours. I thought the main Republican debate was to start at 8 p.m. my time. But it started at 8 p.m. Wisconsin time, which is an hour later. I should have known Scott Walker’s state would be behind the times.

I unintentionally caught some of the minor league debate, and got to hear Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal expound on America’s economy. I don’t remember much of what they had to say, except that Chris Christie doesn’t seem to like Hillary Clinton.

I remember Bobby Jindal, though. His eyes are going to give me nightmares. How did they get so close together? He kept trying to pick a fight with Christie but the New Jersey governor wouldn’t bite. He wanted to get it on with Hillary.

As for the main event, it was a big yawn with most candidates spinning fairy tales about the rosy future they have in mind for the country. They use a magical kind of math, in which the more you spend the more you have left. Somehow, if you give corporations and the rich lavish tax cuts and shower billions of dollars on the Pentagon, you will magically balance the national budget.

That line of reasoning was challenged only by Rand Paul, who kept protesting that it wasn’t really “conservative.” But he didn’t get much traction with the moderators – or the audience.

Apparently using this magical math, Ted Cruz added four government departments together and came up with five. Here’s how he did it:

Five major agencies that I would eliminate: the IRS, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Energy, uh, the Department of Commerce, and HUD.

Nobody asked what the fifth department was.

Cruz must have learned his math from Rick (“Oops”) Perry.

On Fantasy Island, debaters can pull facts out of thin air without being challenged. Ben Carson blithely claimed that unemployment goes up whenever the minimum wage is raised, for instance. That’s just something he made up on the spur of the moment. It isn’t true. You can look it up.

Carson also asserted that China is involved in the Syrian conflict, and nobody raised an eyebrow. China? In Syria? Where did he get that intelligence?

Carly Fiorina also makes up statistics as she goes along, ignoring those pesky fact checkers. And Donald Trump has just as little regard for the facts. Last night, he imperiously added China to the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, and shrugged it off when Rand Paul called him on it.

Trump also claimed he had met Vladimir Putin when they both appeared on Sixty Minutes. Actually, he was interviewed in New York and Putin was interviewed in Moscow. They weren’t even in the same segment of the program.

But it’s all OK on Fantasy Island There, you can achieve 4 percent economic growth just by urging Americans to work harder, create millions of jobs by cutting the bosses’ taxes, restore America’s global preeminence by antagonizing the rest of the world and effortlessly lift the struggling American middle caass out of the mire – all with the aid of magical math.

Of course, there was shouting and interruptions and loutish behavior last night. It wouldn’t have been a Republican debate if there wasn’t.

Carly Fiorina was such a pest that Trump was moved to ask – rhetorically – why she kept interrupting everybody. But it was John Kasich who really stood out in the madding crowd’s ignoble strife. He swaggered and bragged, and kept butting in. Any chance he might have had of improving his poll numbers must surely have vanished.

Who “won”? Who knows? I’ll have to wait for the polls.

Click for more fact checking.


Bread and Circuses

The last GOP debate became on the CNBC moderators. Will Fox do any better?

I will probably watch the fourth Republican presidential debate tonight  if I can find Fox Business on the Direct TV menu. I have never watched the channel but it couldn’t be too hard to locate.

I understand the show will be two hours long, and I wonder what the moderators will come up with to make it worth my time.

The last debate – on CNBC – was a disaster. But, at least, it had the kind of morbid fascination that car crashes and train wrecks have. That show attracted 14 million viewers – a CNBC record, of course, but not nearly as much as the Fox debate, which was watched by 24 million.

Tell me, what makes 24 million – or 14 million – people tune in to a political debate? Is it Donald Trump? He seems to be a huge attraction every time he shows up on TV.

The Democrats, with Rachel Maddow as moderator, produced a record audience for MSNBC, too. But nowhere near the Republicans. I understand Rachel’s one-on-one “forum” topped out at 2.3 million viewers.

I’m not sure what that says about the American viewing public but I suspect it’s not anything good.

The Democrats talked about issues that affect the lives of everyday Americans. They discussed plans for creating jobs and addressing the growing gap between rich and poor. They pondered the pros and cons of military intervention in the Middle East. They laid out plans to stem gun violence and other blights that afflict American society. In short, it was a bread-and-butter kind of discourse.

The Republican debates have been one circus after another. Candidates trade insults with each other and with the moderators, and say outrageous things in the loudest voice they can muster and with facial expressions that remind me of some malevolent Hindu deity.

When they mention anything to do with governing the country, it’s usually some preposterous proposal – rounding up and deporting 11 million illegal immigrants, outlawing abortion and even birth control,  abolishing Medicare, privatizing Social Security, substituting a Biblical tithing system for the IRS, and so on.

I bet tonight’s show will be even more bizarre. With the recent pronouncements by Ben Carson, the moderators and his rivals will have so much material to work with.

We viewers will likely be hearing how the pyramids were built to store grain, how the evil media are indecently delving into Ben’s self-aggrandizing fictions… We night even hear about that mysterious paternity blackmail scheme.

Ben’s isn’t the only dirty laundry that will be aired tonight. I’m sure Marco Rubio’s credit card is going to be examined, and perhaps his questionable campaign spending…

So many candidates, so much dirty laundry, so little time.

Yes, it will be a lot like watching a train wreck.

Click for a who’s who of the debate.


O’Malley for ….VP?



Martin O'MalleyWhat makes someone electable? I wondered about this on Friday night as I listened to Martin O’Malley during the Democrats’ nomination forum. He said all the right things, and said them lucidly and with conviction.

And he listed an impressive record of accomplishments. As governor of Maryland, he implemented some of the most progressive programs since LBJ – legalizing same-sex marriage, ending the death penalty, introducing gun control, decriminalizing marijuana, improving Maryland’s higher education system and making it more affordable …

And he did it while curbing state spending and creating thousands of jobs.

One of the interesting things about Martin O’Malley is his pragmatism.

He isn’t averse to imposing taxes when he thinks they’re called for but he doesn’t preach “income redistribution.” His  vision is for  America to be “opportunity-expanding.” Surely, that would resonate with Independents as well as Democrats?

What could be more American than a level playing field where any of us could become a billionaire if we had the smarts and the luck?

I think O’Malley is a fine looking man with an all-American family (photo above). At 52 years old, he still reminds me of those Charles Atlas pictures that inspired my “dynamic tension” exercises as a skinny teenager (lower photo).

There’s a lighter side to his personality, too, although you wouldn’t have guessed it from his one-on-one with Rachel Maddow the other night. Appearing on The View recently, he produced a guitar and performed a Taylor Swift hit song, for example.

Also quite interesting is the fact that, after a lifetime in politics, O’Malley has managed to amass no personal fortune. He is one of the poorest presidential candidates. All he reported as income recently was his last salary as governor, his pension,  a few speaking fees and a stipend as a visiting professor at Johns Hopkins University.

Sounds like a rare breed in today’s American politics, doesn’t he?

So why is he polling so poorly? Why is he being ignored by the media when Ben Carson and Donald Trump get so much press?

It must be the gigantic shadow cast by Hillary and the revolutionary flame ignited by Bernie that are obscuring this eminently qualified candidate. At any other time in history, he would surely be capturing the public’s attention.

Perhaps in eight years?

How about it, Hillary? How about picking him as your running mate. He is the right age, and with a little of your grooming in foreign relations and the fine art of politics, he would be an impressive candidate to follow your second term.

Top photo shows  O’Malley with his wife Katie and two of their four kids. Lower photo shows O’Malley’s muscles.

Click for more on O’Malley.

Click for O’Malley on The View.


Good Cops, Bad Cops



I wouldn’t want to be a cop. I don’t have the stomach for it. It’s a dirty job. But somebody – as the saying goes – has to do it.

There is the danger, for one thing. You could be gunned down in a shoot-out with a ferocious criminal, or even on a routine traffic stop. And there are the long stretches of boredom. Waiting behind a bush for some unlucky motorist to miss a light or press a little too hard on the gas pedal, for example.

As a cop, you have to be prepared to be disliked. It goes with the territory. Nobody enjoys having their mistakes pointed out. Especially when the critique comes with a fine or jail time.

Just doing your job as a cop often means being considered a jerk.

Of course, there are the relatively rare occasions when cops are lauded. When they pull a kid from a submerged car or arrest some sinister serial killer, for example.

But most of us have short memories, and the good cops are quickly forgotten when a bad cop makes the headlines.

Recently, a lot of bad cops have been spotlighted in incriminating videos. And people are mad as hell. There can be no justification for killing unarmed – and often helpless – suspects of any ethnic origin. And it is especially infuriating when it seems one race is being especially targeted.

So it is understandable when Quentin Tarantino lets off steam. At a recent rally against “police brutality,” (photo above) the acclaimed motion picture director declared:

When I see murders, I do not stand by . . . I have to call a murder a murder and I have to call the murderers the murderers. I’m a human being with a conscience. And if you believe there’s murder going on then you need to rise up and stand up against it. I’m here to say I’m on the side of the murdered.

Tarantino was just saying what a lot of us are thinking. You might think even the good cops share his outrage.

Instead, several police unions reacted by going on the warpath. They are calling for a boycott of Tarantino’s latest film and planning some other nasty “surprise” to punish him economically.

How dumb is that?

It isn’t going to make the public like cops any better. It’s just going to make more of us think all cops – even the good ones – are jerks.

Click for the Tarantino news story.

Click for a “bad cop” story.

Click for more on police shootings.


Play Nice, Bernie

Bernie and Goliath


I admire Bernie Sanders, and I agree with him most of the time. But when he sides with the right-wing witch hunters against Hillary Clinton, he’s walking on the fighting side of me.

In tonight’s debate. I hope he doesn’t repeat his recent remarks suggesting investigation of Hillary’s emails is “appropriate” and should continue. That would turn off a lot of voters.

He was right when he said in the last debate that the American public is sick and tired of hearing about those damn emails. He would be wrong to go back on that now.

The pundits say Bernie is going negative because he is getting desperate. They cite polls showing Hillary with big leads and Bernie’s support waning.

But surely, Bernie didn’t really expect to get the nomination?

If he did, he is delusional. As he said recently, he was considered a fringe candidate when he started his campaign . And, despite the huge crowds he has attracted in the campaign, he still is.

This is America. This is the year 2015. A self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist has no chance of being elected President.

And no Democrat with so little support among minorities could win a national election.

So I hope Bernie will play nice tonight.

I don’t think Democrats – even the angriest progressives – want our representatives fighting among themselves. Leave that to the Republicans. Let them be the fighters. Democrats do better as lovers.

I hope that in tonight’s debate, the three Denocrats will show America how civilized people behave, not emulate the hooligans vying for the Republican nomination.

Of course Bernie is fighting mad. Exasperated. And understandably so.

He is right about income inequality. He is right about free college tuition. He is right about expanding Medicare. He is right about taxing Wall Street. He is right about so many things. Why doesn’t everybody see how right he is?

But this is America, and his campaign has no chance. Not yet. Perhaps in some future generation, a reincarnated Bernie will have a chance. Perhaps.

As  Count Otto von Bismarck observed many years ago, politics is the art of the possible. You do what can be done, not flail futilely against immovable objects.

The way I see it, Bernie’s job is not to criticize Hillary. There are plenty of people only too eager to do that. His job is to gently push her toward the left, awaken her “better angels,” so that when she gets the nomination, and if she wins the presidency, Americans will be better off. Push her, but gently.

She might even reward him with a place in her cabinet. That would be nice.

Click for more on Bernie’s remarks.


Hot, Hot, HOT!




It’s November but you would never know it here in Central Florida. The temperature is supposed to hit 90 degrees in the Tampa Bay area today. How on earth am I going to survive out on the golf course?

It was 92 yesterday – a record of course. I know Florida is the Sunshine State, but this is too sunny, even for a Jamaican-born sun lover like me.

And this is not dry heat. It’s humid. I’ll have to remember to pack a lot of water when I venture out on the golf course this afternoon.

Forecasters blame “a strong area of high pressure in the upper atmosphere.”  But you and I know what is really causing the heat wave.

Climate change. They used to call it global warming but the Republicans scoffed every time a winter day blew some frigid air their way, so whoever decides these things switched to “climate change.”

Meanwhile, coal burning power plants are spewing carbon dioxide and other bad stuff into the air across America. The climate change deniers – who are actually mouthpieces for the fossil fuel industry – warn that it would cost electricity users a bundle to curb the pollution. But our bills from Lakeland Electric are going down because the local power plant is using natural gas.

And, anyway, don’t the climate change deniers realize how urgent the situation is?

Haven’t they heard that sea levels are rising and the Arctic snow cap is melting? That California is becoming a vast dust bowl as an endless drought dries up the nation’s biggest source of food?

That Texas just got flooded out?

And what about the hurricane that hit Mexico recently – the most powerful storm ever in our hemisphere?

If that’s not climate change, I don’t know what to call it.

How about “global warming”?

(Click on climate change picture to enlarge it.)

Click for more on local power bills.


Beware the Backlash

bevin2As Americans approach the next general election, unsettling signs are becoming evident across the country.

During the six and a half years that Barack Obama has occupied the White House, he has spearheaded a movement toward enlightenment. And during that time, American society has changed significantly.

The election – and reelection – of the first black President blazed the trail for changes that are transforming American society.

All Americans cannot yet expect equal treatment under the law. But with the President’s recent executive order releasing thousands of minor offenders from absurdly harsh prison sentences, for example, the society is moving in that direction.

Step by step, widespread reform has been taking place.

Several states have liberalized marijuana laws. The Supreme Court has made it possible for Americans to marry whomever they love, regardless of gender. Gays serve openly in the military.

Affordable health insurance is available to millions who were previously excluded, including people with preexisting conditions.

But it has not been easy. Change brings resistance. Progress brings resentment. Vested interests are inevitably impacted. And many people feel threatened as the old ways are shoved aside and unfamiliar patterns of behavior emerge.

I suspect there is a backlash that could have ominous implications for next years’ elections.

According to the pundits, there is a revolt across America against “politics as usual.” Income inequality is being blamed, of course.

President Obama managed to steer the country’s economy away from the brink of disaster –  a legacy of the Bush administration. But America’s middle class missed out on the recovery. They have fallen woefully behind while corporations and the rich have grown ever more wealthy.

Of course, it was the Republicans in Congress who blocked every effort the President made to level the economic playing field. But apparently, the voters – and the media – have forgotten this.

And I think there’s more to the revolt than income inequality.I suspect there is also a social revolt. For example, last night’s election results included:

  • The upset win by right-wing zealot Matt Bevin (above) in the Kentucky governor’s race, and the defeat of Democrats throughout the state.
  • Rejection in Houston of a bill that would have barred discrimination on the basis of race, age, military status, disability and various other categories.
  • Resounding defeat of a ballot initiative in Ohio to legalize recreational and medical use of marijuana. (Yes, one reason for the initiative’s defeat was that it would have given exclusive growing rights to 10 facilities across the state, all owned by investors in the legalization movement. But that was not the only reason.)

Do voters blame the Democratic President – and Democrats in general – for the changes that are making so many of them uneasy, and for their failure to share in the nation’s economic recovery?

It ‘s beginning to look that way.

Click for the Houston vote.

Click for more on the elections.


We’re Voting Anyway


There’s an election in our town today. And Sandra and I are going AJto do our civic duty. We are going to vote.

There are three City Council candidates in our district. The incumbent, Phillip Walker, pushed for a fire fee and when that didn’t pass, voted to raise our property taxes. You can bet he won’t be my choice.

Walker is being challenged by Ricky Shirah, a perennial candidate who qualified as a candidate by saying he sleeps at his tow-truck garage but has a homestead exemption listed outside the city limits. Shirah has run for every political post I can think of since Sandra and I moved to Lakeland 17 years ago. He never wins but he never quits.

Then there’s Alberto (“you can call me AJ”) Rodriguez. Sandra watched his online video and immediately decided to vote for him. Her reason?

“I just like him.”

After pointing out that liking a candidate is not really a valid reason for voting for him, and after giving the matter due consideration, I decided to vote for AJ, too.

I don’t think he will win. He has to be about 20 years old, as he has graduated from Harrison School of the Arts and is a business student at Polk State College. But he looks about 16.

The way things are, the demographics don’t seem to be in AJ’s favor. In our democracy, ethnic origin has a lot to do with political success. AJ is from Puerto Rico and the Hispanic population in Northwest Lakeland is sparse at best. (Hispanics are more concentrated in Northeast Polk County – close to Disney World.)

And I don’t see a lot of college-age residents shopping at Publix or Winn-Dixie. Residents of our neighborhood tend to be either retired seniors or families with school-age kids.

But AJ is an impressive kid. He has a web site – the only candidate who is that tech savvy. And in the videos on his web site, he comes across as articulate, idealistic and sensible. He might not win today, but he will some day. You can bet on it.

It wasn’t easy to find out about AJ. The local newspaper didn’t endorse any of the candidates. I suppose it doesn’t want to offend any advertisers. And it took quite a bit of online searching to dig up information on the election issues.

Obviously, our little election isn’t big news.

City elections don’t attract much attention hereabouts, especially in an off-year. In 2013, only 22 percent of the voters in Lakeland went to the polls. And our supervisor of elections is estimating this year’s total will be a lackluster 14 percent.

With that kind of turnout, Sandra and I might cast the two votes that  put AJ over the top, after all.

Click for more on the election.

Click for more on the candidates.