Monday, May 30, 2011

Reject U.S. Sanctions Against Venezuela

I am "donating" my blog space to the Alliance for Global Justice for what I consider to be an important cause. If you agree, and you are a citizen/resident of the US, please consider contacting my friend Chuck Kaufman and signing the petition.

The United States Department of State unilaterally imposed sanctions against Venezuela's state-owned oil company, PetrĂ³leos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), for its alleged relations with the government of Iran. The sanctions are a desperate and weak attempt to link Venezuela to Iran's nuclear energy program as part of an ongoing campaign to justify further aggressive action against the South American oil producing nation.

As citizens of the United States, we unequivocally reject this latest attempt of our administration to demonize the Venezuelan government and undermine the vibrant democracy of the Venezuelan people. The Venezuelan government of Hugo Chavez has already been victim of a coup d'etat in 2002, backed by Washington, which briefly ousted the President from power. Fortunately for the health of Venezuela's democracy, the people fought back, rescued their President, and reinstated constitutional order. Then, as now, the United States stood alone in its support for hostilities against Venezuela's democratically-elected government.

The government of Hugo Chavez has used its oil wealth to invest heavily in improving the wellbeing of its people. Currently, more than 60% of oil industry profits are directed towards social programs in Venezuela, including free healthcare, education, job training, community media, grassroots organizations and subsidized food and housing. The results are notable. Poverty in Venezuela has been reduced by over 50% during the Chavez administration, illiteracy has been eradicated and free, universal healthcare and education are available and accesible to all. These policies of social justice have extended well beyond the borders of Venezuela to the United States though programs that supply free, discounted or subsidized heating oil and fuel to low income neighborhoods, indigenous peoples' communities and homeless shelters throughout the nation. 

More than 250,000 US citizens in 25 states and the District of Columbia have benefited to date from the Venezuelan government's subsidized heating oil program, which is run through PDVSA's subsidiary in the United States, CITGO. No other oil company in the world - including US companies - has offered to help low income families suffering from the inflated cost of heating oil during the past six years, except for CITGO. Venezuela's solidarity with the people of the United States has enabled thousands of families to survive through these difficult economic times.

We find it outrageous that the United States government would attempt to demonize the one company, and country, that has been there for our neighbors, putting people before profits. And we call on our representatives in Washington to suspend these sanctions against Venezuela immediately.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A break from politics

On Jeopardy last night, the final question was:
Lyrics to an 1868 tune by this man began, “Guten Abend, Gut Nacht, Mit Rosen Bedacht”
Two contestants answered, "Wagner." Of course, the correct answer is Brahms. But that got me to wonder what a Wagnerian lullaby would sound like. I would have assumed it would have large-breasted, armor-clad viking women, demons and lots of thunder and lightning in it. But as it turns out, he actually did, and the lyrics are quite nice:

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Same old $#!+ in a new package

It appears the Republicans have learned a lesson from their predictable defeat in the 26th congressional district in New York. But the lesson they've gleaned is not that dismantling Medicare as we know it is unacceptable to an overwhelming majority of Americans. Instead, they've learned that they must "reframe" the debate— that they need to put it in a brand new box and scrape off the warning label.

Republicans are saying, "we need to do something." They're saying, "the Ryan plan was just a start." Well, last I checked, you don't vote on a bill until it's finalized, and the Republican majority in the House was pretty excited about voting on it in its original state. Marco Rubio said that to do nothing is the same as being in favor of destroying Medicare. Of course, he is implying that the Democrats are doing nothing.

But the Democrats have advocated for changes that will make a difference. They have suggested that Part D (the prescription benefit) should be reorganized so that lower drug prices can be negotiated with pharmaceutical companies, just as the Veterans Administration does. This would realize significant savings. Remember, Part D was George Bush's unfunded "entitlement."

Democrats have also suggested that we eliminate subsidies to Big Oil and let the Bush Tax Cuts on the top 2% expire. That's a "start," too. It's not drafted as a bill yet, because it really is just a start. Democrats have always come to the table from a position of compromise (too often, in my opinion).

So once again, I would ask that you listen to the Republicans' reframed, repackaged message with a critical ear. You will realize that they haven't heard 70-80% of the American people who have resoundingly denounce the Ryan Plan, because they are too busy listening to their own constituencies— Big Oil, Big Pharma, and millionaires.

You can wrap a cow pie in gold leaf, but if you scratch the surface... well you know what it smells like!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Privatizing repression, terrorism and war

Milo Minderbinder, a character from Catch-22, is a resourceful US Army supply officer in the European Theater during WWII who contracts  services for both sides of the war effort. According to Wikipedia, Milo is "satire of the modern businessman, and beyond that is the living representation of capitalism, as he has no allegiance to any country, person or principle unless it pays him."

Fast forward to the 1970s. In the movie Network, Arthur Jensen is chairman and chief stockholder of the fictitious Communication Corporation of America (CCA). Jensen's news anchorman Howard Beale seems to have cracked the shell of the American public's apathy by rallying them around his declaration on the news one evening that he is "mad as hell" and he's "not going to take it anymore."

Jensen ignores the nightly rants, in which Beale defines "it" as a myriad of injustices perpetrated against the American middle class by the "powers that be." But when Beale's spotlight on a shady international oil deal leads to its demise, Jensen informs him in no uncertain terms that he has "meddled with the primal forces of nature." In the monologue that follows, Jensen declares, "There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T and Dupont, Dow, Union Carbide and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today."

Fiction? In today's New York Times, Mark Mazzetti and Emily Hager write that Blackwater founder Erik Prince has been contracted by the United Arab Emirates to "put together an 800-member battalion of foreign troops." The article goes on to say,

The force is intended to conduct special operations missions inside and outside the country, defend oil pipelines and skyscrapers from terrorist attacks and put down internal revolts... Such troops could be deployed if the Emirates faced unrest in their crowded labor camps or were challenged by pro-democracy protests like those sweeping the Arab world this year.
Let's "get fictional" for a moment and imagine that events play out in the UAE as they have in Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Libya. And now let's assume that the proponents of democracy in the UAE were being slaughtered by an "800-member battalion of foreign troops." Do you suppose America would come to the rescue? In this totally speculative universe, maybe there is no America. Maybe there is only IBM and ITT and AT&T... and Blackwater.

Milo Minderbinder or Erik Prince. Is there actually a difference between fiction and reality?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

National monogamy

If Newt is elected president, and knowing the Nation's economy has been diagnosed as being ill, shouldn't we be concerned that he may have an affair with a younger, more healthy country and resigning before our recovery?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

When did "entitlement" become a pejorative?

Preserving "entitlements" should be the first priority in the federal budget, not the last. In FDR's 1941 State of the Union Address, he suggested that the American Dream includes four freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from fear, and freedom from want.

Those last two are addressed by the social safety net we've managed to cobble together over the past 70 years. Today, that safety net includes Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and federal unemployment insurance. These are what the Republicans refer to when they talk about cutting "entitlements."

But we are "entitled" to them. That's nothing to be embarrassed about. They aren't handouts. We pay for them out of every paycheck we earn. Before entitlements are put on the block, we need to squeeze every non-essential penny out of defense, eliminate corporate welfare, and force the elite to pay their fair share.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Liberal Media My @$$

Mark Halperin spoke at Keuka College tonight. During the Q&A session, someone asked him if he agreed with the premis that the mainstream media has a liberal bias. Mr. Halperin said that without a doubt, it does and has since the 1950s.

I suppose that as the Republicans keep moving to a more extreme conservative position, the middle appears to be leftist. It's an optical illusion.

For those of you who think CNN or the network news shows are liberally biased, I would urge you to watch Democracy Now and the Thom Hartman Program online. And if you don't mind actually reading, check out The Nation.

Then tell me the mainstream media is liberal.

The Socialist Republican Party

Wait a second! Are the Republicans considering nationalizing our oil fields? Because when the "Drill, Baby, Drill" (DBD) contingency finishes their chanting, they follow it up by saying we need to drill so we won't be dependent on foreign oil. But the only way that argument makes sense is if that "domestic" oil stays in the US. It doesn't. Multinational corporations extract it, and whatever doesn't happen to spill gets sold on the world market to the highest bidder.

The DBD advocates are either uninformed, or they're trying to pull fast one on us. The only ones who will benefit from the resumption of offshore drilling near our national shoreline, or in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge are the multinational oil corporations. I think they do quite well already.

Instead of advocating for the most profitable corporations in the world, the Republicans should be advocating for us. But since that isn't going to happen, we should be compelling our leaders in both parties to give significant tax breaks for the purchase of electric and hybrid cars, solar panels for the home, and mass transit. We should be insisting that funding for our infrastructure be increased and include the development of high-speed rail with access from rural communities to regional economic centers.

Don't drink the DBD Kool-Aid. There's nothing good in it for you.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Bend over and take your reverse mortgage

Every time I see Fred Thompson pimping reverse mortgages, I can't help but remember that it was Thompson's party whose laissaz fare attitude toward financial regulation created the conditions in which retirees who had long ago paid off their mortgages must now sell their homes back to the bank in order to survive.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The monster has finally been slain.

As a nation, we can breath a sigh of relief and know that justice has finally been done. But if we want to ensure that this sort of thing never happens again, we should look past the foolish notion that "the terrorists hate us because of our freedom."

It was no accident that the World Trade Center was one of the targets, along with the Pentagon and the White House. What is it about our international trade policies and foreign relations that would foment so much hatred? There is no justification for taking innocent lives. None. But not to ask why is simply irresponsible.

If you are willing to ask the question, here are some books that might help with the answer:

Blum, W. (1995). Killing Hope: U. S. Military and CIA Interventions
Since World War II. New York: Common Courage Press.

Kwitny, J. (1986). Endless Enemies. New York, New York: Penguin.

Perkins, J. (2005). Confessions of an Economic Hitman. New York: Plume.