Friday, May 03, 2013

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1)  Unemployment dropped to 7.5%. You’ll hear a lot of blathering about people out of the workforce and so on, and that’s true, the real number is higher, but even that figure has dropped and even faster than the official rate.

2) The NRA and Gun Owners of America have grossly underestimated the amount of anger the nation feels towards them. They’re about to get what Mitt Romney and the Republicans got last year: a very nasty, painful awakening. By the way, Mark Kelly, Gabby Giffords husband, needs to go one step further and join me in calling the NRA a terrorist organization.

3) The US is between Iraq and a hard place on Syria: nobody wants a military intervention, nobody wants to arm the rebel factions to beat Assad, and nobody wants to do nothing. It’s time for Putin to step up and disown this morass.

4) How well have we fought the “war on terror”? We’re putting 35 year fugitives on the FBIs Most Wanted list.

5) No matter what the crisis, there’s always a douchebag or two running around.

6) Boomers are offing themselves at an alarming rate. Refer to item 1 for the reason. BTW, suicide is not painless. Note that firearms accounted for a plurality of suicides. If you’re having thoughts of suicide, please seek help now. Hell, e-mail me. I’m a sympathetic listener and a really smart guy. If I can’t help, I’ll get you to someone who can.

7) I knew the number was high, but I never imagined it was this high.

8) Dusty world of red

     A mote in God’s eye, for war

    Faraway poetry

9) This ought to set tongues wagging (Possibly NSFW)

10) I think the world could have given this a miss.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

The Spy Who Fed Me

Intriguing little item in the news today: Bolivian President Evo Morales expels USAID

Bolivian President Evo Morales has said he will expel the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

Mr Morales accused the agency of seeking to "conspire against" the Bolivian people and his government.

US state department spokesman Patrick Ventrell rejected the allegations as "baseless and unfounded".

USAID has been working in Bolivia for almost five decades, and had a budget of $52.1m (£33.4m) for the country in 2010, according to its website.

USAID’s mission is to provide basic humanitarian and civilian foreign aid to developing countries. USAID was created in 1961 under President Kennedy as a restructuring of what up to that point had been a morass of foreign aid agencies, sometimes working at cross-purposes. It was, at the time, viewed as both a Cold War tool – likely many covert CIA operations in Latin America and worldwide were executed – as well as a way to shore up Latin American support for the United States, which had taken a massive hit under Eisenhower.

Nominally. It has also used its influence and foreign contacts to…well, they term it “promote freedom and democracy abroad,” but that can be interpreted in many different ways and often has, particularly under a certain yahoo from Texas who was our President during the 2000s. For instance, in 2005 USAID spent $95,000 on a seminar in Brazil designed to foment dissent among the Worker’s Party, a leftist party that was ruling the nation at the time, as well as other liberal political organizations. This was done under the guise of promoting a United States perspective in Brazil and her politics. Nice rationale. Should have been handled less clumsily.

Morales terms this recent action, taken after the ALBA nations issued a call in 2012 for the expelling of USAID, as a way to “nationalize dignity”. I take that to mean he finds the USAID mission to be demeaning in a sovereign nation on its face, but is also polite cover for kicking out what he might rightly view as a subversive foreign influence within his borders.

Now that we no longer have Chavez and the Castros are merely a footnote, is Morales our next “evildoer”?



Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Some Good News

We might end up dragging this nation into the 21st Century after all:

Slightly more voters say they’ll vote Democratic in the 2014 congressional elections than Republicans, bucking a historical trend of the president’s party losing seats in his sixth year, a new poll Wednesday shows.

Forty-one percent of voters said they’ll vote Democratic while 37 percent said they’ll vote for Republicans, according to a Quinnipiac University survey.

Overall, 48 percent of voters want one party to control both the Senate and House, while 43 percent would like it split. Sixty-four percent of Democrats want complete control, while 30 percent of them want it split. Meanwhile, 50 percent of GOPers want complete control while 44 percent it split. Among independents, 53 percent want complete control and 35 percent want it split.

So there you have it: people are tired of the obfuscation that Republicans, Inc. have engaged in for the past thirty years, and have ramped up in the past five.

But this is particularly good news this late in the second term of a President: traditionally, in the sixth year of any administration, his party ends up losing seats (see: 2006).

They look at recent history, when Democrats controlled Congress for 40 years, and see progress. Progress on civil rights, progress on peace, progress on science, progress on the economy.

Things got done, in other words. Now? Not so much. And they’re disgusted with the partisan blockade that lets this country burn while Republican, Inc. leadership fiddles. They see history and they are deeply discouraged for the future, not because it’s going to be hard work to fix this nation, but because roughly half of Congress stands in the way, blocking that work from getting underway.

It’s kind of like building a house, only to have the half the zoning commission throw up roadblock after roadblock, simply because they are afraid of what you’re doing.

It’s time to retire Republicans, Inc. for good.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Inelegantly Pursued

But then, this was Mark Sanford, who needed to be called on it:

As the NRCC’s move suggests, Sanford’s recent history is the main reason the race is so competitive. In 2009, he admitted to traveling to Argentina for an affair with his mistress without informing the public he was out of the state. The scandal sparked a state investigation that ended with Sanford paying a $74,000 ethics fine for misusing taxpayer dollars for personal use.

Colbert Busch brought the issue up sparingly but directly. At one point she questioned Sanford’s understanding of fiscal prudence, saying “it doesn’t mean you take that money we saved and leave the country for a personal purpose.”

There were, I think, more pointed ways of reminding the voters of Sanford’s moral failings – including  the recent dust-up with his ex-wife where she claimed he was trespassing in her house – without coming across as a bluenose accountant, but then I’m not running in South Carolina, and to be honest, the video of the exchange seems to show that Sanford was quite rattled by the charge, claiming he didn’t hear it.

Perhaps Colbert’s larger point was that she wasn’t judging his personal adventures walking in the woods (which is how I would have phrased it) but focusing on the fiscal impropriety (again, my turn of phrase would have done the same thing but would have been more direct than Colbert-Busch’s.)

When prepped, Sanford could actually turn a decently scripted pirouette:

Sanford brought the Argentina episode up at times himself, claiming “you don’t go through the experience I had back in 2009 without a greater level of humility.” And he slickly rebutted a question from the debate moderator over whether he regretted his vote to impeach President Clinton over his affair with Monica Lewinsky given his own personal history.

“I would reverse the quesiton to you and I would say this: Do you think that President Clinton should be condemned for the rest of his life based on a mistake that he made in his life?” he said.

That was a very nice way of asking forgiveness of the voters without seeming cloying or begging, but notice that it doesn’t address the real problem with his wanderings: the fact he used public money to enjoy a little private something-something, even tho he technically was cleared of criminal charges.

This is not to say that Colbert-Busch should automatically get anyone’s vote: she’s come out opposed to Obamacare, altho that’s pretty much a moot point now, and she’s bucked the party on unions, which is really troubling, considering her brother made his millions under the auspices of SAG-AFTRA.

This debate was Sanford’s one and only opportunity to portray Colbert-Busch as an amateur with a famous brother and no ideas, and instead failed to present himself as a credible candidate. I think this is his last step on the road to being a FOX News commentator.


Monday, April 29, 2013

A Tale of Two Cities

So, it was the best of times last week as I took a week’s break from the news and the grind of ordinary life and went on a tropical vacation to central America. Specifically, I went to the Honduran Bay Island of Roatan. And I couldn’t help but take a critical eye to my surroundings.

Now, none of this should in any way, shape or form being construed as a reflection on either the people of or the government on the island. Everyone I met was very nice, hard-working, and friendly. But it was hard not to notice one glaring problem.

A little history is in order.

Honduras was originally two nations: Spanish Honduras, and British Honduras (now Belize). As you can imagine, Hondurans spoke Spanish, and Belizeans spoke English.

However, the Bay Islands were mostly populated by the Caracol people, originally black slaves from Jamaica and the Caymans who moved to the Bay Islands when Great Britain repealed slavery in the mid-1800s.

That population has moved out in large numbers over the past twenty years, primarily due to the devastation caused by 1998’s Hurricane Mitch, which devastated the island. Mainland Hondurans then moved in, as Roatan is one of the few places in Honduras where work is plentiful and easy to come by. It is a huge tourism destination, and has a deep water port that fits a cruise ship nicely.

Also, as part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest in the world, the waters off the island are teeming with fish. And scuba divers.

Now, most Caribbean islands I’ve been to exhibit some signs of extremes between poverty and wealth, but Roatan is unique in this regard. At any random point along the landscape, you can see aging and decaying mansions cheek by jowl with communities of rusted tin-roof shacks that house multigenerational families that number in the dozens.

And the coastline is littered with properties “under development,” or rather being exploited by foreign interests looking to snatch cheap Caribbean real estate for profit. It looks like many of the developments were abandoned after the 2008 economic collapse, but as the global economy picks up, one would imagine these will proceed full steam.

But it’s a fragile, even tenuous, proposition: one good hurricane or earthquake (there was a small temblor on my last day there) would be enough to knock Roatan back into a Haiti-like existence for a very long time.

This is on my mind this morning as I read about my home city, one of the wealthiest in the world, and the difficulties we’re having simply rebuilding a few homes.

Tens of thousands of people remain homeless, while business, tourism and coastal protection are still major concerns with the summer vacation and hurricane seasons almost here again.

New Jersey suffered $29.5 billion in damage, and the repair job is slow going. There are just four weeks left before Memorial Day, and many homes and businesses are still in shambles.

Officials admit the $19 billion in tourism revenue generated along the Jersey shore last year won't be matched this year.

On Staten Island, the changing seasons don't represent much change on the ground. In Oakwood Beach, many neighborhoods are still ghost towns with no sign of new life.

Many shore communities hope to rebuild, but Oakwood Beach is different because it will be the test site for Governor Andrew Cuomo's new buyout program. Residents will get 100 percent of their home's pre-Sandy value, plus an additional 5 percent if they agree to then remain on Staten Island.

We took a hit on September 11, to be sure. It was eleven years before we’ve been able to patch over everything that was destroyed that day and yet we continue to try. And if Sandy, which wreaked even more havoc and across and even bigger swath of our metropolis, takes one-tenth that time, it could leave a permanent economic hole in the town.

And then, there’s Roatan.