The kids are out of school, Congress is on hiatus, and there is a break in Republican campaigning. Although everything is somewhat on the low down when politics takes a break, stuff still happens. Here are some of the things we’ve been dealing with and hearing about this week.
Whitney Houston’s funeral set the tone for a week long discussion of the terrible toll that drugs and drinking have taken on our musicians (not to mention movie stars). We have lost so many who were so young and so talented, and we have no clue how to end this repetitive tragedy. However, for this moment, we are grieving the loss of Whitney and we are remembering how difficult it has been to watch her as she fought and gave in to her addictions. People tried to intervene; she had the support of friends and family, but this addiction is so powerful, often we must helplessly watch the self-destruction. Let’s hope that this is a scourge the music and the entertainment industry will soon outgrow.
Rick Santorum gave us a rant against contraception in the wake of Obama’s insistence that birth control, which is covered for employees who do not work for a Catholic employer must also be provided by Catholic employers who hire non-Catholics. Obama changed his ruling to say that birth control coverage must be made available, but not necessarily in the employer’s insurance plan. Rick Santorum would solve the whole issue because he believes contraception to be a tool of Satan; he would ban it. Don’t throw out those wire coat hangers yet (sorry that was crude, but since the earth is blessed with 7 billion people I don’t think outlawing contraception is the right move.)
Three journalists died near or in Syria this week. Anthony Shadid of the New York Times, died of an asthma attack. He probably knew the risks to his respiratory system from travelling in that area, but perhaps he didn’t realize that such extreme conditions could kill him. Marie Colvin, an American who wrote for the Sunday Times of London was killed along with the French photojournalist, Remi Ochlik. Our journalists are certainly an intrepid breed. They are even more attracted to places when someone forbids them to go and we owe a lot to their bravery (or stubbornness) because they shed light on the world’s dark places.
If the Republicans are opposed to contraception (as the majority seem to be), they will be even more opposed to the newest “advance” that allows us to test genetic differences in fetuses without amniocentesis. A simple (possibly expensive) blood test will now do the trick. I am sure the GOP pro-lifers are already counting up the abortions this could lead to. But that is not really the point. The test will allow parents who choose to continue a pregnancy to prepare and make sure they find the best plan to help their child develop whatever talents they are born with.
Someone has written something upbeat and optimistic about the world we live in. Peter H. Diamandis and Steve Kotler have written a book called Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think. They say: “Take health care: over the past century, child-mortality rates have dropped by 9 percent, while the human lifespan has doubled. Take poverty, which has dropped more in the past 50 years than it did in the previous 500.” These two encourage us to take a longer view if we want to see the progress we have made. It’s a 400+ page book. There is plenty more optimism in there to make your day. We could use a little. There is a review of the book in The Daily Beast at http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/02/21/the-world-is-getting-better-argues-new-book-abundance.html
The President can invite anyone he wants to come to the White House to give a concert. Last night he invited Mick Jagger and bluesmen B. B. King and Buddy Guy. He also was persuaded to sing. If you were President who would you invite?
^^Stuff is happening. The most stunning is the death of Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s “Dear Leader”, in my perception a very scary man. He inherited his power from his father and has kept his nation in a sort of political “lock down” throughout his reign. Many grim stories of severe famine leaked out of North Korea for a while but such stories have died out in recent years. The specter of a hostile, secretive nation with access to nukes has been much more worrisome of late.
Now Kim Jong Il’s youngest son, Kim Jong Un will rule North Korea, but it is felt that he may be just a figurehead. What kind of ruler will he be? One of the first acts of the “new” North Korea was to launch a test missile off its East Coast. What does this portend? The Stock Market is up but the Stock Market is so bipolar lately that it is difficult to conclude anything from this.
After 12 days of mourning we will begin to live with the “new” North Korea. Should we shudder, rejoice, or neither? Who knows?
^^We also hear rumblings this morning about some movement on the issue of Guantanomo’s prisoners. According to the Reuters news service these prisoners may be sent to Afghanistan. We have apparently been in “secret talks” with the Taliban. In exchange for the transfer one of two outcomes could occur; the Taliban might denounce international terrorism, or might formally enter into peace talks with the Afghan government (or both?). Joe Biden said, “The Taliban is not our enemy.” This is strictly true because our enemy has been Al Qaeda, although we have been treating the Taliban as hostile for some time because of their repressive, fundamentalist beliefs and because they have acted like enemies. Reuters expresses skepticism saying that diplomatic breakthrough “remains a long shot.” Guantanomo remains a wound on America’s soul until we make a decision about the fate of these “detainees”.
^^ Police have arrested the man who set fire to a woman in a New York elevator. He was employed by the woman, stole from his employer and was upset when she would not pay him his wages.
^^The Kmart – Walmart philanthropists who have been paying off people’s layaways to give people a merry Christmas are providing a bright spot in what is still a pretty grim economy. Let’s hope people don’t start laying things away on future Christmases hoping to cash in on this generosity.
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Vladimir Putin accused Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, of “giving a signal” that caused activists to protest against the recent election. According to The Daily Beast, Putin says the “signal” offered the support of the US State Department to the protesters. Mr. Putin is worrisome because he seems more and more anti-America. In fact, we’re beginning to get whiffs of the bad old Cold War days, but maybe without the nukes (maybe not); the nukes may have just moved to third world countries.
I also read in The Daily Beast and later heard the story on CNN, that the ashes of at least 274 more troops were dumped in a Virginia landfill. The story said that the search for additional remains dumped in the landfill will probably not be retroactive since 6,300 records would have to be reviewed. Authorities say this activity was never approved by or shared with senior Pentagon officials and they say this practice will be discontinued immediately. We all hope both of these things are true.
Egypt’s current military leaders plan to maintain authority over the Egyptian government, rather than let any Islamist group take the lead. This situation bears watching but observers are torn about which way will benefit Egypt the most. While we are nervous about Islamist groups radicalizing nations and oppressing the citizens of these nations by implementing harsh fundamentalist religious rules, we are also not in favor of governments led by military groups. Right now there does not seem to be a strong leader for Egypt who is not in one or the other of these groups. It appears that a revolution that has a plan for “after the revolution” may make for smoother transitions and less upheaval than revolutions that do not have preplanned outcomes.
The European Union is having as much trouble getting its act together as the American Congress. Apparently it is essential that the EU come up with an economic plan and that they needed to do this yesterday. There are 27 nations in the European Union. The latest agreement only includes 17 of these nations and will not be enough to solve Europe’s dilemma, which is that there is not enough money to attack its economic woes. (The number of nations is now up to 23.) Britain, which choses to be outside the EU, will probably get caught in the wake if there are rough seas in Europe or if there is an agreement of all 27 nations. The European Central Bank could help resolve this impasse but shows no inclination to do so. OK, this situation is complicated and is changing throughout the day, so my understanding of this is in flux. This is going to be a wait and see kind of event. But what is true is that what happens in Europe doesn’t stay in Europe.
There is a bill in Congress now which, if passed, would give the interrogation and trial of terrorists to the military. It also has, written into its language, some very serious civil rights violations against American citizens suspected of terrorism. Opponents object to this bill, not only because of the civil rights violations, but because our intelligence groups will lose access to valuable information that results from these interrogations. This will decrease our ability to share the intelligence that allows us to respond to terrorist threats. It is suggested that we should pass on this bill or that we should hope that the President will use the veto.
The GOP never stops its attack on the middle class and on the environment. Now they have managed to attack the two together in one fell swoop. Awesome! They say they will pass the Payroll tax cut extension if Obama (and other like-minded people) agree to expedite the Keystone Pipeline project. The Keystone Pipeline project could happen if the pipeline across Nebraska was redesigned. Right now it passes over Nebraska twice and threatens Nebraska’s clean water supplies. All Nebraska is asking is that they have the new pipe run next to the old pipeline and stay away from their watershed. We can live without oil and gas, perhaps not comfortably, but we would survive. We will not survive without clean water. We must fight to protect our water. It is typically diabolical politics to tie something the American middle class could use to something many of us oppose. The President will have to veto such a bill if it passes and the GOP hopes it will, once again, make Obama look like he is against job creation.
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In this really fast, 24/7 world of instant news in which we live it is often surprising how long it takes for some stories to get resolved. News stories, especially ones where criminal or civil legal issues are involved keep repeating like one of those songs whose lyrics take over your head and will not leave. So while stories come and go, the more scandalous ones can hang around for month after month or year after year. Casey Anthony was with us for a long time and still pops up from time to time. The BP oil spill will never go away completely. Amanda Knox was with us for a couple of years and is hopefully finding her way back to her own life now. Someone will eventually touch base with her again to report what is happening.
However, yesterday two major stories which have been dominating the air waves achieved some form of resolution. Dr. Conrad Murray was found guilty of manslaughter. Dr. Murray still has to be sentenced and there may be an appeal, but we experienced a sense of closure in that the trial ended and the verdict was given.
The second story we have now been living with for some time relates to Republican Presidential candidate, Herman Cain. We have been hearing for weeks about the charges against him for sexual harassment. We have been waiting to hear how serious these accusations are, but it looked as if we would get no details. Until some specifics could be found the story would not go away. Now we have Sharon Bialek and her lawyer Gloria Allred who came forward yesterday with some of those very graphic and damning details that the news monster has been waiting for. She seems to be a credible witness, but I’m sure we will learn more today.
Although these two news stories actually moved along and we are no longer stuck in soap opera land where one can return a year or two years later and catch up in a day or two, these two stories are still not likely to disappear from the news; but if we missed yesterday and tuned in today we would realize that something had happened, that there had been movement.
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A study discussed today says that the members of Congress are 25% richer than they were before the recession. It also said that many members of Congress are already millionaires and that the wealthier Congressional members gained a larger percentage than those with less wealth. I guess it is not really surprising that those who had more to invest gained the most. It does keep pace with our understanding that the rich are getting richer. Do Congress people have an inside track on rules and regulations that will affect investments? Does this constitute a type of insider information? Or is this really just another factoid that makes us feel that something is wrong, but gives us no proof that this is true and offers no advice about changing the current state of financial affairs in America? It certainly offers more ammunition to the “Occupy” movements. One blogger, or tweeter said, “It means we have the best government corporate gold can buy.” Don’t you just love witty people?
I do feel bad for Greece, although I guess they got themselves into this if what economists say is true, but still no one likes austerity and our own brush with austerity may still be down the line. It is also not easy to hear that the country you love is on the edge of bankruptcy. However, our compassion wears thin when Greek financial difficulties start impinging on things like the stock market and the value of our investments. They are wrecking havoc with my pension, so I wish they would accept the deal they have been offered. Premier Papandreou has offered to let his people vote on the “bailout”, which would impose even more austere conditions on the people of Greece. The problem is that a decision is needed almost immediately and the vote will not take place until December. How many times will the market gyrate between now and then? Time to cover our eyes again. Perhaps we won’t get the horror story. Today the Greek government seems to be responding to pressure to make an immediate decision and it look like the Greek Prime Minister will resign.
Herman Cain is the first on the Republican slate to feel the sting of his past. Everyone has a past and few of us were anywhere near perfect throughout every moment of our lives. Apparently he had been charged with sexual harassment. By now three women have come forward and they all agree that Herman Cain harassed them. Conveniently none of them can tell the details because they signed confidentiality agreements. The three women are trying to petition the court so that they can speak. If it really happened how will we know if it’s a deal breaker unless we know what actually happened? Whatever happens to Herman Cain this is just the beginning of the mud-slinging which happens during every campaign and the goal is to achieve attrition through character assassination. At first Herman Cain acted like this wouldn’t stick, now he looks like a deer caught in the headlights. We may be saying good-bye to Herman. Will he survive?
Peanut butter has always been the poor people’s protein. If you could not afford a lot of meat for your family or you had to cut back on dairy, then peanut butter was your go-to food. Now they tell us that the drought in the southern US has affected the supply of peanuts. It was a very weak harvest and peanut butter and other nuts and nut products will cost us more. Hopefully if there is a strong crop next year prices may go back down. This is really kicking us when we are down. I’m sure people will still buy peanut butter, but some may have to find cheaper proteins. Are we headed back to Spam, chipped beef gravy, and Vienna sausages? What will happen to the starving children in other nations who depend on “Plumpy Butter” to survive? Will that also be in short supply?
Women’s rights are up for another setback as people in Congress continue their attack on abortion by chipping away at ancillary services. Planned Parenthood has been fighting for its life for quite a while now, but on this front they are fighting to maintain services for women, especially poor women. So far Pro Choice forces have been sort of winning this war, but the opposition is serious and we will just have to hope that this new law does not pass. Will this be like Prohibition? Will we have to go back to the bad old days of coat hangers and back alley butchery before women once again regain the right to control their own bodies? I especially believe that men, who are some of the most vocal opponents of choice, should not be allowed to speak in this matter. This issue should be one decided by women, the only people who can bear children.
It appears that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is considering an attack on Iran. His plan of action is not popular in Israel and it looks like opposition may be strong enough to cool things down for the time being. The world is scary enough right now without having more unrest or outright war in the Middle East. Many economists see war as a way out of recession. I would rather make a slow, steady recovery and avoid any war unless it becomes absolutely necessary. It does not seem absolutely necessary right now.
Finally, I feel a little sorry for the poor beleaguered Super Committee on Debt Reduction. They have been set up to fail. There is no solution Democrats will accept without tax increases or adjustments of some type and there will not be any tax increases or adjustment that Republicans will agree to. Being on a committee that started in a stalemate and will probably end in a stalemate can’t be expected to provide any of the members with much deep personal satisfaction for a job well done.
All this “cranky” news cannot really touch me right now in these “golden days” of autumn when we are unfurling one gorgeous blue and reddish gold day after another. In this latitude where dreary day are more likely than sunny ones, this week stands out as a gift from the universe. We will take as many of these lovely days as we can get.
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