“Indecent” Exposure Under Fire

moorekateI am puzzled by the media’s recent obsession with “wardrobe malfunctions.”  Never a day goes by that some celebrity (female of course) isn’t pictured showing an inch or more of forbidden skin, supposedly by accident.

Even Kate Midddleton, who is likely to be England’s Queen some day, dare not venture out on a windy day or change into her bikini on a secluded beach without the paparazzi whipping out their long-lens cameras.

Why, I wonder, are such pictures “news”?

Growing up in rural Jamaica, I became accustomed to seeing bare breasts – mothers nursing their babies on the bus, girls bathing in the river while washing clothes… And I quickly learned not to stare if I didn’t want my ancestry “traced.”

But things are different in other countries.

Americans frown on any suggestion of public “exposure.” Yes, I know there are nude beaches and nudist camps, but I suppose these places are not considered “public.”

When you appear “in public” in America, you have to be modest or risk arrest. And if Montana Congressman David Moore (top right) gets his way, the standards of modesty are going to get a lot tougher. The Republican politician is pushing legislation to shield the delicate eyes of the American public even more carefully.

According to the Daily Kos:

The proposal would expand indecent exposure law to include any nipple exposure, including men’s, and any garment that “gives the appearance or simulates” a person’s buttocks, genitals, pelvic area or female nipple.

And he goes even farther. The Daily Kos reports:

The Republican from Missoula said tight-fitting beige clothing could be considered indecent exposure under his proposal. He also thinks yoga pants should be illegal.

Is this guy easily titillated or what?

Of course, indecent exposure laws don’t affect the publication of those pictures that provide the paparazzi with a living. That battle was fought long ago and the courts ruled that “the press” is granted special freedoms under the Constitution. So published pictures of a celebrity’s underwear – or a glimpse of her bare skin – are legal but if Moore gets his way, suburban moms could be arrested for wearing their yoga pants to the supermarket.

Of course it makes no sense. But things seem to make less and less sense to me as time goes by.

 

Why is the Truth so Funny?

stewart

 

Today the news is dominated by Jon Stewart’s decision to retire from the Daily Show. While the Republican-ruled Congress fumbles the ball on funding Homeland Security, while the President negotiates Congressional authorization to continue and expand the war against the ISIS scourge, while the nation deals with any number of urgent matters, it’s a comedian who commands the national spotlight.

The management at Comedy Central mourned his departure with the comment that Stewart is “a comedic genius.”

And, yes, there was a lot of laughter during his nightly broadcast.

But whenever I tuned in, what I saw was an honest reporter speaking truth to power, as a free press is supposed to do.

He did it with a lot of histrionics, mugging and gesturing and using words that would have made Grandma wash out his mouth with soap.

So I suppose you could classify the performance as comedy.

But it was really commentary. Good, common-sense commentary that we don’t seem to get anywhere else these days.

Yes I laughed, but my laughter was prompted more by surprise and relief than by Stewart’s antics. I was surprised and relieved that someone, somewhere was finally spilling the beans, finally telling us what we already knew but dared not acknowledge, that the emperor’s new suit was a scam, that he was stark naked yet nobody wanted to be the first to say so.

Behind Stewart’s jocular persona was a sharply analytical mind and the willingness to do the dogged research that honest reporting demands. He didn’t just repeat what the flaks told him, the way so many “journalists” do today.  He looked it up. He fact checked the BS. Then he thought it through.

And what he found was hilarious because – especially in politics and political reporting – the truth today is so outlandish.

I don’t know what Stewart plans to do now, but I think he belongs in the regular news game. What he has to say should be regarded as analysis, not satire.

Jonathan Swift was a satirist. The Onion is satire. Their impact comes from presenting truth in fantastic, exaggerated scenarios that defy literal belief.

Jon Stewart is a news analyst. If his analysis makes us laugh, it’s because the substance is so bizarre, not because he distorted it to amuse us.

And the insulting disregard for the public’s intelligence that so much of the political “news” demonstrates should not just make us laugh. It should make us mad as hell.

Click for more on Stewart’s decision.

 

Rich Country, Poor People

You might have read the headlines…

Happy Monday! S&P 500 now up 10% for year” —CNN Money
“Third-quarter U.S. economic growth strongest in 11 years” —Reuters
“The U.S. economy is on a tear” —Wall Street Journal

And you might have asked yourself what’s wrong with you, where’s your share of all this prosperity.  If you did, you are not alone.

At least half of America is broke. As in busted. Remember the old song?

My bills are all due and the baby needs shoes and I’m busted

That’s America today, folks. At least for many Americans. And the number keeps growing.

Paul Buchheit puts it this way in a recent article in Common Dreams:

Half of our nation, by all reasonable estimates of human need, is in poverty.

And it’s not just the poorest Americans who are feeling the pinch. The middle class is getting squeezed, too.

Buchheit explains that:

According to the Federal Reserve Bank, there have been job gains at the highest paid level — engineering, finance, computer analysis; and there have been job gains at the lowest paid level — personal health care, retail, and food preparation. 

But the jobs that kept the middle class out of poverty — education, construction, social services, transportation, administration — have seen a decline since the recession, especially in the northeast. At a national level jobs gained are paying 23 percent less than jobs lost. 

Worse yet, the lowest paid workers, those in housekeeping and home health care and food service, have seen their wages drop 6 to 8 percent (although wages overall rose about 2 percent in 2014). 

And he adds that the sufferers include a rapidly growing number of children:

There’s been a stunning 70 percent increase since the recession in the number of children on food stamps. State of Working America reported that almost half of black children under the age of six are living in poverty.

Buchheit is not the only observer warning America of this sad contrast between rich and poor. Senator Bernie Sanders, for example, has been raising the alarm about income inequality for a while. Back in 2013, for example, he pointed out that:

In America today, the top 1 percent owns more than 35 percent of all of the nation’s household wealth while the bottom 60 percent owns only 2.3 percent of the wealth. The distribution of income is even worse. In 2010, 93 percent of all new income went to the top 1 percent, while the bottom 99 percent of people accounted for the remaining 7 percent.

He added that:

We have the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country on earth, worse today in the United States than at any time since 1928 before the Great Depression.

And the BBC’s web site spotlighted the US middle class squeeze in an article last weekend by Professor Michelle Dickerson of the University of Texas at Austin. Ms. Dickerson makes the case that:

Members of the middle class (as broadly defined) are struggling financially. Despite an improving economy, job creation, and overall positive economic news, they remain worried about their financial future and their children’s future.

You and I know that with the Republicans in charge of Congress and an alarming number of state legislatures, this nation is not likely to see the income gap close anytime soon. Indeed, Republican policies inevitably mean the rich will get even richer and the rest of us will lag farther and farther behind.

I wonder how long this state of affairs can persist. How long will the hungry hordes be content to gaze longingly at the groaning tables of the fortunate few?

Click for Buchheit’s article.

Click for more on the middle class squeeze.

 

The Scary Supreme Court

court

 

It seems certain that President Obama will veto that proposed oil pipeline from Canada, and the pundits say Republicans in Congress don’t have the votes to override the veto. And this is just the beginning.

The President is sure to veto any law repealing the Affordable Health Care Act, for example. And he is likely to balk at laws weakening pollution control, unions, and so on.

So here we go again.

In the last Congress, the Democrats were stymied by Republican stonewalling. In this Congress, the Republicans are going to face the President’s veto pen. So how much do you think is likely to get done?

Once again, Congress has become little more than a stage for political theater.

In a hopelessly polarized America, democracy is not working.

I wonder where this might lead. Could the Supreme Court step in and take charge?

According to the Southern Law Review:

Polarization is already leading to an increase in the power of the Court against Congress, whether or not the Justices affirmatively seek that additional power.

Increasingly, the justices are being asked to arbitrate the issues that divide America.

They’re getting set to rule on a case that could torpedo Obamacare, for example. And they are considering a case that could put an end to the same-sex marriage revolution. Who knows what’s ahead? They might even turn back the clock on abortion rights.

If Congress is unable to govern, the Court might try to fill the vacuum.

Think about that. Scary, isn’t it?

This is an activist court.  This is an ultra-conservative court. The majority on the court represents a far-right sliver of the American population, yet these justices are in a position to impose their unpopular views on the country as a whole.

With these right-wing justices in control, anything is possible. We’ve already seen them take an ax to the Voting Rights Act. Consider what they might do to the Labor movement, the environment, the financial system… the nation.

At least members of Congress must answer to the voters. The justices answer to nobody.

Click for more on the pipeline.

Click fo more on the power of the court.

 

Who is Sam Smith, Anyway?

Sam Smith

 

So good ol’ Sam Smith swept the Grammy Awards last night. I guess he must be a heck of a guy.  Unless, of course, the “Sam” is short for Samantha? Let me see…

No, he looks like a guy (photo above). And he must be some kind of singer. But I have never heard him sing. Indeed, I have never heard of the guy until now.

(I’ve never heard of the Best Album winner, either. Until now, I thought Beck was just a brand of beer.)

So I looked up the lyrics for Sam’s double winner, “Stay With Me,” and here’s the first verse:

Guess it’s true, I’m not good at a one-night stand
But I still need love ’cause I’m just a man
These nights never seem to go to plan
I don’t want you to leave, will you hold my hand?

Not exactly words to live by. Not exactly poetry. Not exactly the Beatles… Definitely not Paul Simon or Bob Dylan…

And the chorus?

Oh, won’t you stay with me?
‘Cause you’re all I need
This ain’t love it’s clear to see
But darling, stay with me

Are you impressed yet? How about the next verse? Let’s see:

Why am I so emotional?
No it’s not a good look, gain some self control
And deep down I know this never works
But you can lay with me so it doesn’t hurt 

No rhyme, no meter, and a pathetically trite message. Yes, ladies, we guys have feelin’s too. (And by the way, “lay” used in the present tense applies to what hens do, Sam.)

How sad that this is the Best New Artist that the land of Shelley, Byron and Keats (not to mention Shakespeare!) can produce.

The melody must really be terrific, I guess.

Here, judge for yourself.

Click if you missed the show on TV.

 

Tax Gas to Pay for Roads

gas tax

I know you will probably scream bloody murder at this suggestion but you have to admit it makes sense: Raise federal gasoline taxes to pay for desperately needed road and bridge construction and repairs.

Yes, it could be politically unpopular. But hey, President Obama doesn’t have to worry about getting reelected, so why did he dodge this oh-so-logical alternative and suggest taxing overseas profits of US based corporations instead?

As Sean Williams of Motley Fool explains:

Why go after corporate profits overseas, you wonder? Simple: The president and Congress need to find a way to address a budget shortfall in the U.S. Highway Trust Fund, which will be insolvent by May of this year if nothing is done. The Highway Trust Fund is funded by diesel and gasoline excise taxes, and it has been paying out more than it’s been bringing in for quite some time. It provides aid to states and cities in the form of federal money to be used for construction, reconstruction, and mass transit projects…

In other words, the new budget proposal wants to tax overseas corporate profits and use that revenue to help pay for infrastructure upgrades around the country.

If it were up to me, I would tax gasoline but not diesel. Drivers who rely on diesel include truckers and other blue-collar working stiffs, while gas guzzlers include the Cape Cod grandma who drives to California to visit Cousin Sarah, and the well-heeled retiree who enjoys a Sunday spin in his new Escalade.

It’s been a while since gas was as cheap as it is today. And it’s not likely to get more costly anytime soon. There’s an oil glut on the global market and with the shale oil and natural gas bonanza in America, I don’t expect it to go away in a hurry.

I bet you wouldn’t even notice a few extra cents added to the federal gas tax. The price at the pump is inflated by all kinds of taxes already.

Furthermore, taxing gas should appeal to environmentalists. A new carbon tax proposed by California Senate leader Darrell Steinberg would increase gas prices at the pump by 15 cents a gallon as a way to combat climate change, for example.

This Republican controlled Congress might object to higher gas taxes, of course. They promised their bosses to oppose any and all taxation. (Even though Republican John Thune, the new head of the Senate Transportation Committee,told Fox News recently he wouldn’t take a gas tax increase off the table.)

But the Republicans are even more likely to oppose the idea of charging corporations 14 percent on their overseas profits, which is what the Obama budget proposes.

President Obama is presenting his proposal as a tax cut. Williams points out that:

Obama’s proposal to tax current overseas profits being held outside the U.S. at 14% is a major tax break for corporations looking to bring money home. The normal repatriation tax rate is 35%!

And the President’s budget also includes reduction of the corporate tax from 35 to 28 percent.

But I doubt this will appease Congress. Their corporate masters will complain that a US tax on overseas profits would make them less competitive in global markets.

It’s a dubious plan anyway. Those multinationals already pay Uncle Sam little or no federal income tax. They hire smart lawyers and accountants with sharp pencils instead.

I suspect that collecting the expected tax revenue from overseas corporate profits would not be as easy as the President might think.

Click for states’ plans to tax gas.

Click for Sean Williams’ article.

Click for more on corporate tax dodgers.

 

Sorry, the TPP is a Lousy Deal

I’ve been trying to find some reason to support our President on his Trans Pacific trade deal. I know he’s smarter than I so I figure there must be something about this deal that I don’t get.

But try as I might, I can find nothing good to say about the massive agreement he’s trying to ram through Congress.

Of course, I don’t know the details – the pact is secret – but I have read unauthorized leaks that I find deeply troubling.

I concede that the Pacific area is emerging as the next frontier in global trade. We’re talking billions – not just millions – of customers who are evolving into a middle class with vast purchasing power. And if we don’t step in, China will.

But is abject surrender to global corporations the price we have to pay? Must we abandon our right to protect our environment? Must we accept disastrously huge trade deficits and thousands of lost jobs?

Leaked parts of the agreement reveal America would let a corporate arbiter overrule domestic regulations in disputes between companies and the government. How’s that for US sovereignty?

It has become obvious that America gives more than it gets in these global trade pacts. I’m sure you know how Americans got shafted by NAFTA, for example.

In December the trade deficit increased by the largest percentage in more than five years and last year’s deficit was the biggest since 2012, according to a message from the Campaign for America’s Future that I received this morning. The email observed that:

Since the Korea Free Trade Agreement, our trade deficit with Korea has surged more than 80 percent, which equates to the loss of more than 70,000 U.S. jobs.

I was wondering whether America was being altruistic, trying to compensate for the glaring inequities in global wealth. But, no, this is just a give-away to Big Business. According to the email, the pact even lets drug companies inflate the price of medicines in poor countries.

There’s a crescendo of criticism already, and you can bet there’s more to come when the details of the secret pact emerge.

But that will not stop the deal. Congress is in Republican hands, and the corporations own the Republican Party.

The Republicans might not agree with President Obama on much, but they’re a hundred percent behind his TPP. Even Paul Ryan is in the Obama camp on this one. He is urging Congress to fast track the deal, as the President is asking.

It’s a strange, strange world we live in when Paul Ryan and Barack Obama sing the same tune.

Click for more from the Campaign for America’s Future.

Click for a more detailed review of the pact.

 

Time for “Shock and Awe”

http://data1.ibtimes.co.in/en/full/553519/isis-has-asked-its-followers-suggest-ways-kill-captured-jordanian-pilot-muath-al-kassasbeh.jpg

I totally understand the rage sweeping through Jordan and the rest of the civilized world in response to the latest ISIS atrocity.  And despite my distaste for war, I would cheer a massive assault on ISIS held territories, like the “Shock and Awe” air assault that left Baghdad in ruins. There is no possibility of compromise with the psychopaths in ISIS. Extermination is the only effective way of dealing with such vermin.

But a nagging voice whispers in the far regions of my brain, “And then?”

Bombs and missiles will not put an end to the threat of ISIS – or any similar plague. These terrorist organizations exist in the mind and soul as well as in the body. The warped ideas that fuel their existence will be alive long after the terrorists that embrace them are dead.

To combat terrorism, the soil in which terror breeds must be treated. As long as there are disenfranchised people in this world, mired in despair and deprived of hope, there will be fury. And that fury will manifest itself in organizations like ISIS – beyond decency, beyond compassion,  beyond reason. The kind of fury that drives human beings to burn another human being alive and film his death throes to show the world.

ISIS has taken root among the hordes of unemployed youths not only in the Arab world but also in Europe. I know, you will remind me that recruits are also flocking to ISIS from the United States and Canada, but I suspect these looneys are  romantics looking for a cause, good or bad, to fulfill their dreams of grandeur.

The real cancer feeds on the despotism, injustice and inequality that plagues the Arab world, and increasingly infects European countries that pursue misguided “austerity” programs. It is a cancer that threatens not just the civilized world but civilization itself.

To win the War on Terror, civilized nations must address the defects in their own social and economic systems and encourage the rest of the world to do the same. For this conflict is a war of ideas not just tanks and planes.

But, first things first. It’s time for Shock and Awe.

Click for more on the conflict.

 

The Anti-Science Menace

vaccine

 

American “conservatives” have morphed into a weird and wacky collection of Luddites. Not satisfied with denying the overwhelming evidence of man-made climate change and denouncing the Theory of Evolution, they are opposing inoculation against dangerous diseases.

Some “conservative” politicians are questioning required vaccinations for children.

They are apparently pandering to a popular fear that vaccines could cause autism and other forms of mental damage – possibly even death.

It might be true that defective batches of vaccine have caused problems – tragic problems. I have been told that vaccines can “break” and cause the disease they are meant to prevent.

And, according to the Center for Disease Control, all vaccines carry a risk of a life-threatening allergic reaction (but this is true for only one child in a million).

Despite these risks, you have to agree that inoculation has been an enormous boon to mankind.

When I was a child in Jamaica, small pox was a deadly menace and polio epidemics were frequent. (My brother Bill had polio – twice.)

Tetanus (lock jaw) was a common curse.

Inoculation has all but eradicated such threats in Jamaica – and throughout the world.

A generation ago, measles, mumps, chicken pox and whooping cough were considered an inevitable part of growing up.

It’s ironic that as soon as these diseases were disappearing, a popular movement emerged to discredit the inoculation programs responsible for their disappearance.

As a result, Californians are once again fighting an outbreak of measles.

The distrust of science, which is prompting opposition to inoculation programs, is understandable, I suppose. We humans tend to fear anything we cannot understand.

But with scientific thought replacing the mumbo-jumbo of alchemists and shamans, “knowledge” is constantly being tested in the modern world. Medical treatments are based on objective research and provable logic, verified by repeatable experiments.

Unfortunately, our politics is still mired in the mythology of the Dark Ages.

Click for the facts – pro and con.

Click for Rand Paul’s views.

 

Bob Marley’s Jamaica

marley

 

No Jamaican historical figure is better known than Bob Marley. He put Jamaica on the map – at least Jamaica as the world sees it today.

The Jamaica he created throbs with the rhythms of reggae and is clouded by the smoke from a thousand spliffs.  It is not the Jamaica I knew, but it is Jamaica as the world sees it.

The Jamaica of my youth was a sleepy Caribbean island about to shake off its colonial restraints and find a personality of its own. Then, with Bob Marley’s rise, came reggae and the demand for “respect,” replacing the pseudo-European culture we had inherited from England.

I was still a young man when Prime Minister Edward Seaga launched the massive promotion that helped to bring ska and then  reggae to the world’s attention. Emerging from that notoriety was the compelling image of Bob Marley, ganja smoke swirling around his dreadlocks, his incredible music hypnotizing listeners around the world.

Marley quickly became a global phenomenon. According to a recent tribute in Radio Facts:

Throughout history, no artist has so dominated the world of music as Bob Marley. A musical, political and even spiritual icon, a figure of almost mythical proportions, both poet and prophet, Marley was the first Jamaican artist to give voice to the struggles of his people and the Rastafarian culture, and the first to gain worldwide fame.

Marley sold more than 20 million records throughout his career. He is credited with being the first international superstar to emerge from the so-called Third World.

Marley’s rebellious lifestyle made it seem inevitable that he would die young. But it was cancer that ended his life in 1981 at the age of 34. If he had lived, he would be 70 years old on Friday.

If you’re a Marley fan, you might still be able to book a flight to Kingston for Friday’s events at the Bob Marley Museum and Tuff Gong Studio. And if you can’t make it on Friday, Jamaica is celebrating Marley’s birthday throughout the month.

Celebrations include not only concerts and festivals but also seminars on the impact reggae has had on Jamaica’s social, cultural and economic development.

As for those Jamaicans who won’t be going to Jamaica, we might want to honor his memory by listening to some of our favorite Marley anthems. How about “One Love,” or “Stir It Up” to start?

Click for more on Reggae Month.

Click for the Radio Facts tribute.

Click for more on Seaga’s contribution.

Click for Marley’s biography.