What Republicans Stand for

 

In case you were wondering what Republicans want for America, the budget passed by the Senate overnight should enlighten you.

It would slash health programs such as Medicaid, kick thousands of families off food stamps, cut back on education and pour hundreds of billions into military spending.

And – of course – it would repeal Obamacare.

And, yes, the House has passed a similar budget. For once, Republicans have come up with something they can all agree on.

It lays bare their philosophy. And it is not a pretty sight.

Fortunately, the budget is not a law. According to an article in the Huffington Post, “it is merely a spending framework for the appropriations process,” so President Obama won’t need to veto it.  Still, it reveals what spending laws the new Congress intends to pass.

Also fortunately, President Obama is still in the White House, and you can bet he won’t go along with the draconian cuts in social programs that Republicans propose. And he certainly won’t sign any bill that repeals Obamacare.

The Republican scrooges don’t have the votes to override a presidential veto, so America is probably safe for a while yet.

But imagine what would happen if a Republican were to become President in next year’s election!

If that prospect doesn’t make you want to vote next November, I don’t know what would.

Click for the Huffington Post article.

 

Merchants of Death

It seems America is always – and always will be – at war, and you might be wondering why. This morning. I came across an article that might answer your question. Surprisingly, it was not a political article. It was an investment column from the Motley Fool, written by Rich Smith.

The message was a practical one. American corporations are reaping billions from arms sales in the Mideast so it would be wise to buy their stock.

Among the revelations was a $90 billion deal brokered by the Obama Administration to provide Saudi Arabia with “everything from Boeing  (NYSE:BA) F-15 fighter jets and Apache helicopters, to United Technologies (NYSE:UTX) Blackhawks, to Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense anti-missile systems from Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT).”

The article noted that:

 …about a year ago, the DSCA (the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency),sought congressional authorization for Raytheon (NYSE:RTN) to sell the Saudis $1 billion worth of TOW anti-tank missiles. That probably sounded like a lot at the time. But, in fact, it was pretty small potatoes. General Dynamics’ (NYSE:GD) subsequent deal to sell the Saudis more than 3,000 light armored vehicles via its Canadian subsidiary, General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada, was at least 13 times as large — $13 billion.

The Motley Fool helpfully provided a list of corporations profiting from these arms deals, and I expect many investors will benefit from the information.

I suppose this is what the Republicans mean by “trickle-down” economics.  Burger King hash slingers making minimum wage could get rich by buying stock in Raytheon or General Dynamics. That’s after the poor slobs have paid their power bills, bought groceries and set aside  bus fare for the week.

Yes, I know that’s absurd. I know the folks who can afford to buy stock are already rich – or at least well off. It’s one more way in which the rich get richer and the rest of us get left behind.

This is the kind of country we get when the Supreme Court decides corporations are people and have a Constitutional right to spend as much as they like on political campaigns.

The corporations own Congress because politicians must do their bidding to be reelected. And corporations that sell weapons want war and more war.

But there’s more to it than that.  Arms sales – not only abroad but at home -are a vital part of the US economy. World peace could be a financial disaster for Uncle Sam.

Click for the Motley Fool article.

 

The Israeli Revelation

The landslide reelection of Benjamin Netanyahu reveals the way most Israelis feel about the USA. It is a discouraging revelation.

For generations Americans have coddled Israel, lavishing money and arms on the beleaguered nation, and it seems the Israelis consider this their due. They must believe they can kick the American President’s shins with impunity, knowing they have a powerful lobby in this country.

There is some merit to their attitude. America partnered Britain in giving the Jews a homeland after World War II.  So it can be argued that America has a moral obligation to protect Israel. But how far does this obligation go?

Surely, America has a right to expect some loyalty in return?

Surely the world has a right to try and avert a nuclear war?

Obviously, the Israeli voters feel otherwise.

And apparently there are American politicians who feel more loyal to Israel than to America. They are joining the bellicose Israeli prime minister in sabotaging talks between America and Iran – talks that could possibly avert the threat of a nuclear Iran.

Their hidden motive is even more discouraging.

Netanyahu and the Republicans are obligated primarily not to Israel or America but to a Jewish-American billionaire named Sheldon Adelson (above).  He has poured untold millions into Netanyahu’s campaign and into the campaign chests of Republican politicians.

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman puts it this way:

When it came to showering that cash on Republican presidential hopefuls and right-wing PACs trying to defeat President Obama (reportedly $150 million in 2012), and on keeping Netanyahu and his Likud party in office, no single billionaire-donor is more influential than Sheldon. No matter what his agenda, it is troubling that one man, with a willingness and ability to give away giant sums, can now tilt Israeli and American politics his way at the same time.

And what Adelson wants is war.

This shadowy gambling czar. who has run afoul of the law in faraway places like China,  has suggested that the US should drop a small nuclear bomb on Iran, just to show them what could happen if they don’t behave.

It is frightening to think that such a creature might control the political machinery not only in Israel but also in the USA.

But obviously, the Israelis – and many Americans – don’t care.

 Click for more on Netanyahu’s campaign.

Click for more on Sheldon Adelson.

Click for Adelson’s proposal to bomb Iran.

 

Four Score Years and One

bomb

In just one week, I will be 81 years old if I make it, and I hope I will. My brother Bill (and his wife Faye), my sister Elizabeth (and her husband Wendell) and my daughter Grace (and her husband Frank) have promised to take me out for a fancy luncheon. I wouldn’t want to miss that.

Bill and Faye are visiting from London, Ontario. Elizabeth and Wendell, who live in Toronto, are spending the winter (as usual) at their home on the Cotee River, just 60 miles west of Lakeland, where my wife, Sandra, and I live.

I am awestruck at the thought of being 81 years old. My father’s mother, Little Granny, died at 81. My dad didn’t make it past 70.

It never occurred to me that I would make it to 81. Indeed, there were times I didn’t think Old Mother Earth would make it this long. Back in the early Sixties, for example, when Americans and Canadians were building bomb shelters and John Kennedy was staring down Nikita Khrushchev over those missile bases in Cuba.

As young North Americans marched for peace, and the mushroom cloud loomed large above them, a betting man might have been reluctant to give odds on the world’s survival.

Now, here I am, half a century later, still breathing, and the world around me still pulsing with life.

Yes, maybe this time the lunatics will blow up the asylum. Maybe they will provoke a war with Iran or Russia or whomever… Or maybe Pakistan and India will finally lose their patience and blast each other into eternity – and us along with them.

But I doubt it. We’ve been to the brink and back too many times in my lifetime for me to lose faith now.

I feel in my old bones that Mankind will teeter along, blustering and swaggering like the Wizard of Oz, but somehow, sanity will prevail.

And I feel we will generally get better, not worse – in spite of horrors like ISIS and the greed of financial and political big shots.

My faith in humanity got a big boost last night, when Bill and Faye treated Sandra and me to a delightful dinner at GrillSmith, a restaurant  in South Lakeland.

Our waitress,  Erica Scott, born and bred in Lakeland, gave me a glimpse of the future. And what an encouraging glimpse it was. Erica is 22 years old, a year away from graduating from Polk State College’s nursing program. She then plans to follow the family’s Gator tradition and go to the University of Florida for her master’s so she can work in surgery.

She explains that she wants to do something worthwhile with her life.

Here is one young American who isn’t after the money, who sees beyond the glitter of fool’s gold. And I believe there are many more like her.

We don’t hear about them on TV or read about them in the press. The ones that make news are usually the rotten apples, not the good eggs.

But the good eggs are there, and I am counting on them to save the world as old fogies like me ride off into the sunset.

 

Fighting Corruption in Politics

crooks

 

Here’s a true-or-false quiz for you:

  1. Politicians may not take money from the interests they write laws for.
  2. Shady contributions and coordination by Super PACs are against the law.
  3. Public servants may not become lobbyists for five years after they leave office.
  4. Lobbyists may not make massive contributions to political campaigns.
  5. Every political donation must be disclosed..

If you answered true for any of the above, I have a surprise for you. They are all false.

But a group called Represent.Us is trying to get things changed..

And I think it’s about time.

American politics has sunk to an all-time low. Plagued by voter apathy and public relations “spin,” the greatest democratic experiment in history is in disarray.

I read an article some time ago reporting that most of the members of Congress have some kind of criminal background. And a politician – I think it was a state representative – was recently reelected while actually serving time behind bars.

Some politicians act like B movie hoods – Representative Michael Grimm, for example. He’s the New York congressman who threatened to kill a reporter who asked an embarrassing question, remember? Now, he’s charged with tax fraud.

But even the politicians who seem to be decent, ordinary Americans can surprise you.

I wish I could say the tainted politicians were all Republicans, but Democrats have been caught with their hands in the till, too.

 I suppose it’s impossible to keep the crooks out of politics but we can at least rty to curb their activities.

And that’s what the Represent.Us campaign is all about.

Last November, the group took on big money in Florida – and won! The state legislature passed America’s first Anti-Corruption Act.

Now, they’re taking on the rest of the country. They’re asking for our help.

Click to sign the petition.

Click for more on the felons representing Americans.

Click for re-elected sex offender.

 

Disloyal Senators Cross the Line

letteer

 

In British Commonwealth countries like Jamaica and Canada, the party that isn’t in power at the moment is known as the “loyal opposition.” Obviously that term does not apply in America.

The Republicans control Congress but not the White House, and as someone who was born in Jamaica and lived for a long time in Canada, I expect Congress to “oppose” the President but I expect Congress to be “loyal” to America.

I do not expect members of Congress to sabotage America’s foreign policy.

I am shocked and disappointed when Republican senators intervene in the negotiations between the US and Iran in an obvious  effort to block a nuclear arms deal.

That’s disloyal.

And dangerous. In their power play, these strutting buffoons are putting the whole world at risk. Their bellicose ally, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, warned Congress recently that a nuclear Iran would endanger mankind.

Ironically, the Republican lawmakers, obviously pandering to Netanyahu, have made a nuclear Iran more likely by writing a threatening letter to its leaders in the midst of delicate negotiations designed to end Iran’s nuclear program.

If America follows Netanyahu’s advice and adopts a harder line with Iran, a pact would be out of the question. The only way to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon would be war.

In that event, would the Iranians then abandon their nuclear program? Of course not. They would pursue the program with even greater urgency.

And, in the meantime, they would fight back with all of their considerable conventional military might. Defeating Iran might prove more difficult than the US and Israel bargained for.

So would the US and Israel use their nuclear capability to defeat Iran?

Where would that lead? Russia has an arsenal of nuclear weapons and Russia is Iran’s traditional ally. If the US and Israel initiate nuclear warfare, it would inevitably lead to a global conflagration unlike anything the world has ever seen.

But what do those Troglodytes in the Senate care?

They told Iran where to get off, and if they bring on Armageddon, well, that’s just too bad.

 Click for more on the senators’ letter.

 

Kill Obamacare? Are You Kidding?

Oh the suspense! Oh the drama! Oh the dazzling cut and thrust of scholarly debate! Where would the media be without such great theater? Yes, I’m talking about the Obamacare case being pondered by the highest court in the US.

But you won’t hear anyone on the bus talking about it. The man and woman “on the street” know better. They know instinctively that the court isn’t going to rock the boat at this stage.

It doesn’t really matter that Congress screwed up when they finally brought forth the thousand-page health care law, with all the twists and turns that “compromise” made inevitable. With the Republicans in ferocious opposition and the Blue Dog Democrats nipping at his heels, President Obama couldn’t get a single-payer health care law like Canada’s, so he got what he could.

Any child can read what the law says about subsidies to families that can’t afford to pay their premiums.  It says federal subsidies are available in states that set up health care exchanges. I don’t see how you can read that to say they are also available in the 36 states that opted out of the deal.

But the justices know they have to find a subtle shade of meaning to avert the catastrophy that literal interpretation of the law would precipitate.

I know Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito will vote to overturn the law. And Justice Clarence Thomas, like the department store mannequin that he is, will go along with whatever they say. They will do that, however, secure in the knowledge that their vote will do no harm this time.

The case will be decided in favor of the status quo.

It’s a given that Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan will find cause to uphold the law. They’re Democratic appointments, after all.

And Justice Anthony Kennedy will probably vote their way.  He’s known as the “swing” vote on the court. And he has been known to swing to the left.

Furthermore, I am willing to bet the farm that Chief Justice John Roberts will find some legal justification for the subsidies that 8 million Americans now receive under Obamacare – despite the stupid typo Congress left in the law.

With a presidential election coming up next year, the Republican stalwart is not going to infuriate those 8 million voters.

In yesterday’s New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin,  CNN’s senior legal analyst, speculates that although the chief justice has been silent so far throughout the hearing, he could have showed his hand when he suggested a precedent known as the “Chevron deference” might give the next President power to reverse the law.

According to Toobin:

A decision in favor of Obama here could be a statement that a new President could undo the current President’s interpretation of Obamacare as soon as he (or she) took office in 2017. In other words, the future of Obamacare should be up to the voters, not the justices.

That could well be the escape hatch John Roberts needs. But if that doesn’t work, I am sure he will find some other dodge – as he did when the individual mandate was challenged. (He christened it a “tax,” remember?)

He isn’t about to win this battle for his party at the expense of losing the war next November.

Click for Toobin’s article.

 

What a Poppy Show!

bibi

 

We Jamaicans have a phrase that we use to ridicule silly ego displays. “What a poppy show,” we say.

I can’t think of a more appropriate response to Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech. The Israeli prime minister bared his inflated ego before the US Congress yesterday, and it was not a pretty sight.

He was condescending and bumptious – and wrong.

If he hadn’t said the same things about Iraq a decade ago, he might even have been dangerous. But there’s another old saying that applies to Netanyahu’s message – “Once bitten, twice shy.”

To nobody’s surprise, Netanyahu wants America to go to war with Iran, just as he did with Sadam Hussein’s Iraq.

Back in 2002, when he appeared before Congress as an expert witness on Iraq, he warned that US intervention was necessary to avert a nuclear conflict that would be the end of the world. Yesterday he warned that a pact being negotiated with Iran would trigger a nuclear conflict that would be – you guessed it – the end of the world.

His speech drew standing ovations from Republican members of Congress. But nobody outside of the Republican base could possibly take Netanyahu’s “warning” seriously this time.

Netanyahu summed up his position on Iran as: “a better deal or no deal.”

But a better deal than what?

The Obama Administration is working with other world powers (Russia, China, Britain, Germany and France), to halt Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon in exchange for relaxed sanctions. Any such deal is not yet in sight, and the negotiations are secret.

Netanyahu cannot know what the “deal” is because there is no deal.

By appearing before Congress in defiance of President Obama’s wishes, and rattling his saber for the world to hear, Netanyahu made it even less likely that a deal will be reached.

But he gave himself a chance to show off. And he did just that.

He lectured Congress on Mideast history. He doled out foreign policy advice to the US and its President. He was the all-knowing elder statesman talking down to simpletons.

What a poppy show!

Click for Netanyahu in 2002.

Click for Netanyahu yesterday.

Click for reaction to the speech.

Click for what’s really going on with Iran.

 

Do You Know Who You Are?

 

I just had a fascinating chat with a young lady named Joanni Davis Thomas (above,left). She told me things I didn’t know about my extended family. No, she wasn’t in Lakeland or anywhere in Florida. She wasn’t in Jamaica. She was in Panama.

That’s right, Panama.

My cousin Scott (Graham) (above right) suggested I “friend” her on Facebook, and when I did so, Joanni and I exchanged the usual pleasantries. Then she asked me what I knew about various family connections. It turns out she was researching her family tree.

Her grandfather moved to Panama from Jamaica in the 1940s, she said, and she was curious about her Jamaican ancestry.

So how did she know Scott? Did they meet in Belize, perhaps?

Scott is my late cousin Tony’s son and they had moved to Belize from Jamaica many years ago. He now lives in England.

But it was nothing like that. Joanni found out she was Scott’s cousin through a DNA match.

They were related through my father’s uncle’s wife, Aunt Florrie.  He was the Rev. W.T. Graham.

Aunt Florrie’s maiden name was Constantine. Yes, we’re related to Mitzie (Eddie Seaga’s ex-wife). And Bustamante. The great Jamaican leader used to visit Aunt Florrie when we lived on Constant Spring Road.

That’s the way it is  in Jamaica. Check back far enough and you’ll find you’re related – by blood or marriage – to just about everybody on the island.

I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the way it is all over the world. Check back far enough and you’ll be surprised at the things you will find out about yourself.

Go ahead. Get a DNA profile and find out who your relatives are and what mixture flows in your veins.

I suspect that if we all did that, we would rid ourselves of a lot of silly notions. And the world would be a better place.

Click for more on DNA profiling.

Click for more on our family tree.

 

Life in the Twilight Zone

internetSandra is convinced that I live in the Twilight Zone, and I don’t blame her. I have experiences that defy all accepted concepts of reality.

Today, for example, I got trapped in the virtual world of my internet provider’s “customer service.” My head is still reeling from the experience.

You will recall, if you read my blogs, that I decided to give up on Verizon because it seemed I was spending more time trying to restore my internet service than I spent using it. The provider I chose was EarthLink.

They were offering high-speed service at $29 and some cents a month.

As scheduled, a service truck showed up and a technician installed the requisite cables and modem. The truck had a Bright House logo on it, and the service guy explained Bright House did the Earthlink connections in my neighborhood.

I gave the guy a check for the first month – $29 and some cents.

A few days later, I received a package from EarthLink in the mail, welcoming me profusely and offering me Norton virus protection for an extra $6 a month. I accepted the offer and duly loaded the CD they enclosed.

When I received my first bill, it was from Bright House, not EarthLink. And when I contacted EarthLink, they said I was not their customer because I was “unavailable” when the service man came to hook me up.

Nothing I said would persuade them that I had EarthLink. So I called Bright House.

No, Bright House insisted, I was not their customer. They were simply billing me for EarthLink.

I was getting internet service with no problems so I decided to go on using whatever it was I was getting – EarthLink, Bright House or whatever.

Then this morning a big, red warning sign flashed on my screen. Norton was cancelled!!! I was vulnerable to cyber attack!!!!

I called Bright House and spent what seemed like hours going round and round with their customer service folks. Nothing I said could convince them that I was their customer. I finally suggested they change my account to Bright House since Earth Link didn’t have me as a customer.

Surprise! A supervisor named Marcus told me that internet service would cost me $54 a month as a Bright House customer. That’s the same internet service I am getting for $29 and some cents. The service Bright House bills me for.

I thanked Marcus for his help and went to my EarthLink page, where I was able to chat online with a customer service rep named Sebastian Norcia. I should send a transcript of that chat to the FCC – or perhaps to the TV Comedy Channel.

It’s several pages long and includes exchanges like this:

Sebastian Norcia: You have signed up cable Internet services through EarthLink.

[email protected]: Yes but I get a bill from Bright House. The bill includes $6 a month for Norton. This morning I was notified that my Norton service was cancelled.  I phoned Bright House and they say I am an EarthLink customer, not a Bright House customer. But when I called EarthLink earlier, they said they do not have me as a customer because I was not available when the serviceman came to hook me up.

Sebastian Norcia: No, you are a Bright House customer. They provide you the ISP services, and EarthLink provides you the free web mail at no additional cost.

[email protected]: Is this the Twilight Zone?

After further chit-chat…

Sebastian Norcia: Okay, right now I can see that your cable services and your Norton service are inactive. However you are getting billed from Bright House.

[email protected]: How do you reconcile that? Obviously, I have EarthLink or I couldn’t be talking to you.

Still, Sebastian insisted I should call Brighthouse. I finally persuaded him that talking to Brighthouse again wouldn’t help solve my “issue.”

We went round and round for an interminable time, and Sebastian finally promised to have a “Cable Team” contact me to iron out the issue. Meanwhile, he would arrange for me to get the free trial month that Norton offers everybody.

He didn’t answer my question about the Twilight Zone.