Friday, February 29, 2008

Smoking for Sanity's Sake

Mental health patients at Rampton Secure Hospital in the UK are facing a ban on smoking effective on July 1st 2008, and this is driving them mad. The ban was initiated by Nottinghamshire Health Care NHS Trust, implementing a law prohibiting smoking in all enclosed public places. The move is being criticized for violation of human rights that could further destabilize the mentally unstable by withdrawing their coping mechanism. Smoking is a vital crutch of 70% of mental health patients. Removing this would create a serious imbalance and exacerbate their distressed conditions. In a sense, the ban will make them healthier to live longer, but the added imbalance would lead them to commit suicide.

The irony is that prisons are exempt from the ban. Mental health patients cannot even walk outside the yard to smoke while prisoners can smoke in and out of their cells. One is for treatment while the other is for punishment, yet the mentally unstable will endure more punishment in the process. Both prison and hospital institutions are homes where patients and inmates live. It therefore violates their right to privacy and family life. There is something about the logic of the ban and its implementation in public enclosed locations that does not distinguish a temporary transient stay from several months or years of confinement. Even in the aspect of confinement, its narrow view of hospital is discriminatory from the general idea of prison detention. It's insane!

The concept of health care in general hospitals where smoking is banned is different in a mental health institution. Here, what is being addressed is mental stability,
and smoking provides that, at least for short periods. Similar to the medication these hospitals provide, some are for stress attacks that could stabilize patients for the time being. Apparently, the implementors are losing their minds about imposing a smoking ban in their hospitals. They even announced assistance to help smoking patients to quit. How very thoughtful. Patients will file cases in court, but their disadvantage would be the believability of their testimony. They can perhaps select an "eccentric judge" to hear their plea, but the hospital lawyers may protest and have the judge confined with the patients. There he can hear their case for an extended period. It's not a win situation. What do these hospital health care authorities expect the mental patients to do, go crazy?


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Hitler's Heinous Hoard

Hundreds of thousands of art pieces across Europe were systematically and brutally looted by Adolf Hitler's Third Reich over the span of the Second World War, mostly from world renowned Jewish owned art collections. These illegal acquisitions were cataloged by the Nazis and presented to Hitler in several albums, from where he would select pieces for a museum to be created in Linz, Austria. Towards the end of the war, realizing Germany's imminent defeat; Hitler ordered the burying of the hoard to be retrieved at some future date when Germany's glorious past is restored. After 63 years, two treasure hunters are optimistic, this year, the hoard will be found.

Heinz Peter Haustein, a member of the German Parliament, is financing the current expedition together with Christian Hanisch, whose father was a navigator for the Luftwaffe involved in hiding the treasures. Hanisch's father left him the coordinates that lead to Germany's ore mountains in Deutschneudorf; a copper mine until the 19th century, shut down in 1882. The expedition's geological equipment have detected a cave about 30 feet below the surface, but digging was discontinued due to the possibility of traps and explosives that may have been planted at the site.

Of the Many treasures that could be retrieved, Haustein hopes to find the Amber Room, or at least significant clues to its whereabouts. Parts of it have reappeared but the vast majority have remained hidden. The Amber Room of Ekaterininsky Palace, a chamber full of gold, was a masterpiece of Baroque art made entirely of amber. It was an extravagant gift given to Czar Peter the Great of Russia in 1716 by Frederick Wilhelm 1 of Prussia. The Czar was enthralled with its opulence and it established a lavish gesture of friendship between Russia and Germany, until the Nazi invasion of Russia when the entire room mysteriously vanished.

If a treasure indeed exists, it would be of tremendous magnitude. Hitler made treasure looting among his Nazi Generals a competition for loyalty and a test of proficiency at getting the best art pieces. Treasure hunters say the hoard belongs to Germany but that anything from the Amber Room should be returned to Russia. This will definitely raise several claims from the heirs of the original owners of other art pieces. It could bury the treasure in a bigger mountain of court cases. How the hunters and the German government will dig out of that would be a different kind of expedition; costlier, full of painful memories and animosities, and certainly a lot less exhilarating.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tourism Through Toilets

Sanitation in Nigeria is a stinking problem. This has dissuaded tourists from returning after an initial visit. The multiplier effect of negative evaluation from former visitors adds to its tag as a destination to avoid. Aside from not having a comprehensive sanitation system in place, existing facilities are horrendously unsightly that one would rather hold it all back in than risk using these. If you don't pass out because of the odor, you will leave the place carrying the smell as your perfume. This is confirmed by the number of large flies that follow you around.

Nigeria is an ideal place for nature lovers and thrill seekers since entering a public toilet alone is an adventure. What with several booby traps to avoid, one has to be a contortionist to be able to complete an activity without getting anything attached to your clothing or your body. If you happen to visit a town or a village without sewers (and there are many), you'll have to keep a sharp eye on flying toilets. These are the final products of very large intestines dropped directly from plastic bags, and hurled as far away as possible from its point of origin. Getting hit by one of these is very messy indeed.

Long walks along major roadways will find many people sitting around the roadside waving as you pass by. The air just distracts the friendliness you see, only to realize that these road sitters are relieving themselves right where they are. Walking away briskly from this community activity is the thing to do; but care must be taken to look where you're going, lest you crush one of those large golden nuggets that line the road.

Wanting to attract tourists from Europe and America, the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) has launched a new range of public toilets to clear the air for tourists. Dubbed as "Money for Muck" it will charge US $0.16 per use and will be available in markets and transport hubs. Mobile units will be used for festivals. Each unit costs US $ 500 to construct and will employ people to manage each unit. The NTDC expects to create jobs with this project and has received hundreds of applications (21 from University Graduates) for the managerial positions available. And perhaps a free opportunity to use a real toilet for a change.

Nigeria needs to resolve many other problems if it is to attract more tourists. At least, this particular concern is taking off. However, having no experience with real toilets, someone has to give them toilet training. If not, it will create a mess out of the objective; and they can flush all of their fancy projections of jobs and revenues down that stinking toilet.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Obama's Outrageous Outfit

Barack Obama's choice of clothing has stirred a hornet's nest, and the sting is mightier than the cloth. After release of the photo showing the Illinois Senator in normal Somali nomadic attire, a deluge of insinuations, unfounded fears, anger, and ribbing have been woven around the image; more than enough to cover him thrice over. Obama wasn't invited to the Oscars where he would have allegedly worn this garb; nor is it a prelude to his attire when he accepts the Democratic nomination. Or worse, to use it for his Inauguration should he win the Presidency.He was simply being fitted for travel to a place in Kenya where the majority are ethnic Somalis.

He only wanted to be identified with those he would visit, as if to say "Look here, I'm one of you, I've walked many miles through many storms; and now, I'm going all the way to the White House". In response, the Somali Kenyans would raise their jugs of Senator Keg Lager and cheer "Obama!, Obama! Rah, Rah, Rah! He changed into the outfit to make him credible to his expected audience and to be true to his word: "Change You Can Believe"!

Accusations have been hurled at the malice with which the photo was released with fingers pointing to the Clinton Camp. Doubts have been raised if this would affect Obama's lead in 3 National Polls over Hillary ( 50% to 40% with 10% undecided), the prospect of being more electable than Clinton (70% to 30%), and in winning against McCain where Obama leads 49% to 42%.

It's unlikely that he will don this during the campaign because "The Past versus The Future" mantra would suggest wasteful consumption of cloth for the next generation. The image shows a fashion statement that would invite millions of Kenya. The response he would get in America would be..."Can ya please get real?" If the image is used as a poster with the tag "Change You Can Believe", he will have to promote the idea and demonstrate its functionality when performing man's biological needs. Perhaps Oprah can give him some airtime for it.

So calm down America, it's only cloth and it doesn't change the man within - turban and all. It's just saying he's all wrapped up in himself and ready to take that long walk to save America (from itself?), towards a future (a dark one - no pun intended), around an agenda of change (How? With all this cloth? Where's the dressing room?).


Monday, February 25, 2008

Virgin's Vaulting Vision

Virgin's Atlantic Boeing 747 took off Sunday from Heathrow Airport on a passenger-less flight to Amsterdam in what was hyped as a "first step towards cleaner flying". Using biofuels in one of its four main tanks, Airline President Sir Richard Branson claimed "the dramatic flight will provide crucial knowledge which can be used to significantly reduce carbon blueprints" contributed by the aviation industry. This is the same airline that pledged to use all its profits from its transportation companies to develop clean energy. Sir Richard added that the flight will bring the company closer to achieving its goals. Yet, the 3 other main tanks carried the standard aviation fuel in case something went wrong. Apparently, Sir Richard was more prepared to fly dirty with a 3 to 1 advantage for the carbon emitting fuel versus the biofuel.

The claim has been shot down by green campaigner Kenneth Richter of Friends of the Earth. Studies show that biofuels' impact on reducing carbon emissions is negligible and that converting land to crops for biofuel can generate more carbon emissions than it can reduce; besides threatening food supply for a growing world population. Richter suggests that Sir Richard support calls for the inclusion of aircraft emissions in the UK Government's Climate Change Bill instead. However, Sir Richard's predilection for virgins (Virgin Cola, Virgin Records,Virgin Megastores, Virgin Atlantic Airways) fueled his insistence that the potential penetration of this Virgin flight towards faster development of alternatives to fossil fuels, will be the major thrust of the company.

The flight was branded as a gimmick that distracts the effort at finding real solutions to climate change. Richter was adamant in saying that what needs to be done is to "stop the mad expansion of aviation and to desist from subsidizing the industry". Unlike Jet-A fuel which has a stable energy content and low freeze point, and is better suited to low temperatures faced by high flying aircraft; biofuels are of questionable reliability at such temperatures. It can freeze and may not burn consistently, making it risky as a fuel source for long term flights. This tendency towards frigidity could make the engines unresponsive.

Virgin was uncharacteristically tight-lipped about the biofuel composition until the day of the flight, promising only that it wouldn't compete with food and fresh water resource supplies. After take-off, the fuel was revealed to be a mix of coconuts and Brazilian babassu oil. Virgin Airlines use of this biofuel mix can be made distinctive for those passengers who want less carbon emissions for their trips. It can be referred to as Virgin Coconut Oil flight to Amsterdam or where ever! It would be a healthy flight, if you can reach your destination.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Hollywood's Holiest Hours

The Oscars, Hollywood's most glamorous and majestic annual acknowledgment of the achievements and contributions of its member guilds, broadcast live to billions of viewers around the world, had finally come to pass in a stunning presentation of nearly 4 hours. What had been on the balance for several weeks due to the writer's guild strike, unleashed a surge of artistic collaboration that embodies the splendor of movie making's grandest honor, providing the winners their much coveted "Oscar Moment" for all the world to witness.

It had a fast pace, but not hurried. It had beautiful sets that evoked grandeur and large scale luxury that were made more expansive by its adherence to minimalism; and exquisite production numbers rich in detail but not obscenely overdone. The concept for the 80th Academy Awards, including the selection of categories to put on video; the description, dialog, and audio of all video clips; the scripts for the presenters; and the entire monologue and jokes of the host Jon Stewart; were so intricately meshed and skillfully crafted, making the program a seamless showcase of elegant artistry. It seemed like Hollywood's writers were so starved for artistic expression and decided to pour all their creative brilliance in one night; fittingly, on its most sensitive, significant, and prestigious event of the year.

The show was very capably anchored by Jon Stewart, whose overall decorum, naughty and mischievous persona, as well as impeccable timing in delivering his lines; gave impetus to the relaxed atmosphere that has long been plagued by tension due to the uncertainty of being able to air the industry's most momentous production. The Oscars also gave a deep sigh of relief to all jewelers, fashion designers, limousine renters, caterers, restaurant owners, and all allied services whose combined worth of roughly US $400 million would have been unrealized had the writer's strike counted the event as one of the casualties of its cause.

The show allowed the stars to parade their glitz and glamor on the Red Carpet, modeling the designer's clothes and jewelry they have been favored to don for the occasion. The papparazzi too would earn their income for the event based on the stills they would capture in documenting the event, and perhaps, its more revealing and unguarded sequences. The major winners include:

Best Actor: Daniel Day Lewis - There Will be Blood
Best Actress: Marion Cotillard - La Vie en Rose
Best Supporting Actor: Javier Bardem - No Country For Old Men
Best Supporting Actress: Tilda Swinton - Michael Clayton
Best Director: Joel & Ethan Coen - No Country For Old Men
Best Picture: No Country For Old Men

The night however, belonged to European actors who romped away with all the major acting awards.

Given the limited time from the end of the strike to the Oscar's play date involved a very large effort which is an accomplishment in itself. The industry managed to inspire its members to come together and escape the ignominy of failure to launch; to continue to inspire, and provide escape for the rest of us through films, for the price of a movie ticket.


Saturday, February 23, 2008

Cannabis Culture in Classy Communities

In jolly England, the price of a marijuana joint is much less than its American counterpart, because dealers don't have to create elaborate schemes and covert import operations to get it to this market. It's grown in commercial quantities right at the heart of upper and middle class communities. In the leafy suburban areas of West Midlands, along the picturesque river communities of the Thames Valley, through Upper Redlands Road in Reading, and into East Berkshire, West Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Milton Keynes and Oxfordshire; cannabis plantations and factories exist in style and elegance. Leave it to the English to add a touch of class to this cash crop.

The West Midlands area yielded more than 300 factories in 2007, leading to the arrest of 17 youthful illegal immigrants from Vietnam who were apparently used by syndicates as plant caretakers. Only growers have been apprehended, since these illegals could not venture out of their respective locations. They are provided with a TV set and made to sleep on mattresses. Authorities also uncovered 123 factories in Thames Valley, up from 42 in 2006. Along the spread of these areas and neighboring communities, the number of factories discovered has increased threefold. With the volume in each location and the number of factories inside these communities, Police concede, it is a growing problem.

The operations begin with smartly dressed friendly people inquiring about property rentals from estate agents. They select a location and pay 2 months or more in advance upfront. Once taken, the place is stripped and walls are removed, to make way for heating equipment and special lighting to assist in plant growth. These installations cause electricity overloads. Abandoned properties have been left in disrepair with landlords coughing up thousands of pounds in electricity bills. Energy companies have also been victimized by the perpetrators since most bypass the meters by rewiring directly to the street main cables. Each factory can produce as much as 70,000 pounds in 11 or 12 weeks. Landlords have been advised to check references and make regular visits to their property to avoid such misuse. A factory was discovered in Buckinghamshire when fire caused by electrical overload consumed 50% of the property. Police investigating teams also found the place booby trapped. The report failed to mention if anyone was hurt by a booby trap because the investigators got high during the probe. Or, if they had lots of fun doing it.

Cannabis or marijuana is tolerated in England for limited use, although recent studies about causing psychiatric problems persuaded the government to classify this as a class C rather than class B drug. Police have been instructed not to arrest adults possessing marijuana for their medical use. Looking at the number of factories in upper bracket communities where rent can be pricey, the English countryside is experiencing a medical problem of epidemic proportions.

The countryside suburban population of roughly 3 to 4 million must all be middle age and above citizens, who enjoy living in the quiet peaceful neighborhood surrounded by natures greenery, sloping hills and gently flowing river; sipping a cup of tea among friends while enjoying a dose of organic medication. Getting high with products made in England. How absolutely exquisite.


Friday, February 22, 2008

Philippine Political Perversion

The Philippine economy had a boom-bust cycle in the last Millennium until 2004, when continuous growth since then up to 2007, has positioned the country for a much anticipated take-off. Today, the political elite have conspired to reimpose the primitive Neanderthal methods of mob rule to effect political change, in order to take the limelight for their fading careers threatened by this success; and to further their interests while salivating uncontrollably at the prospect of taking over, to the detriment of the economy and the interest of the Filipino people.

Using a well known fact about government projects being supplier driven, they have drummed up unsubstantiated allegations of unimaginable corruption hurled at the First Family, and are attempting to create momentum through their temporary allies in the media - who also have interests to expand and protect - to generate a groundswell of indignation to coerce President Gloria Arroyo to resign. All the elements are there: media covered Senate Hearings (selective hearing would be more accurate), newspaper columns, radio commentators, editorialized news coverage, and scheduled public rallies to show massive dissent.

Unfortunately for them, the educated white collar workers are not biting. The middle class is in a cocoon of their own, making a living and minding their own business.They do not want to be duped a third time into supporting alleged honest causes only to be replaced by more dishonest and corrupt leaders. These unsavory politicians even went to the extent of allowing unknown heads of civil society organizations to speak at the indignation parade (with less than 8,000 indignant members and paid rallyists) in order to draw attention away from their own lack of credibility, dishonest efforts, and anti-people positions. With that failure, they now parade their star witness in Catholic schools to generate their support crowd, shying away from the public schools because they may be misconstrued as paid members of the crowd. And yes, the Catholic Church has actively taken part in this best orchestrated effort so far, to add a religious flavor to the events.

The Catholic Church's waning influence is constantly being challenged by progressives, and their support for this movement is to reclaim their moral authority over the social, political, and economic lives of their flock. The left, who have consistently supported all such efforts to sell their ideology and make it more palatable to the majority, have never learned the lesson of only being used by the hidden elite, and then dumped into the swamp when the process is completed. The media grandstanding politicians, whose greatest skill is going around the constitutional prohibition on political dynasties and allowing their wife, husband, siblings, and all other blood relatives to own political positions; throw their questions at the witness as gently as a kitten, while hurling questions at the government officials with prejudiced and biased premises. Most make monkeys of themselves in the process, making one shudder referring to them as "Your Honor".

There is no doubt that Rodolfo Lozada is speaking a truth, the problem lies in 3 issues. One is the amount of bribes he claims was being asked. The other is the absence of proof, everything is alleged, nothing is documented. The third, he was not always speaking the truth. The kidnap is implausible, (Starbucks, Outback, overnight in La Salle with Family, then rejoins kidnappers to see a lawyer), and what is surfacing is a well planned script (with tears and tremors) created with a Senator whose chief of staff is a close friend of Lozada's brother. They correctly assumed that with his made up stories of fear of death threats and refusal to testify at a Senate Hearing, a cover up will be made - this would take down all the President's defenders and isolate her. Very creative.

The error was in assailing people with unassailable characters tested by time and consistency. Even at the Hearing, Lozada shows arrogance and disrespect, perhaps he knows none of those he faced in the Senate deserve any. In admitting to his own enthusiastic participation in corruption, and the subsequent release of conversations that reflects the true scoundrel that he is; he has become tainted and will soon end up in the long list of failed students of the Senator's Academy of Witnesses. The script is failing because of the haste in the production, the weakness of its hyped hero, the avoidance of the middle class, and the fatigue of entrepreneurs and medium sized businessmen from such change processes.

Corruption must end. President Gloria Arroyo's gang of thieves must be deterred from further plucking the treasury. Cases must be filed in the appropriate courts. Impeachment proceedings must be initiated. But let not these impostors make fools of the Filipino People by using these issues of which they are also a part of when they were in power, to claim moral ascendancy; and be the designated replacement through unconstitutional means.

Among those Senators involved in the Hearing, the spokespersons for the government, and Rodolfo Lozada himself, the other good thing that could be said is that he (Lozada) was the only one there who was least disreputable and dishonorable.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Brewing Beer for Barack

Obamamania has intoxicated many of America's primary and caucus goers, but in Kenya, it has been elevated to a higher level - 6% alcohol content to be exact - in what is now the hottest selling item in the country. Senator Beer. The fascination of Kenyans in seeing one of their own battle it out for the Democratic Presidential Nomination against a formidable rival in the person of Hillary Clinton, has generated tremendous interest in the country as well as in other parts of the world.

Barack Obama has consistently drawn big crowds at his rallies and has received massive funding support through small donations, a lot of them through the internet; and is now poised to being the candidate of the masses. This growing popularity, embraced mostly by the younger voters who provide much of the excitement and the hoopla about Obama, has been called "Obamamania". The mania's counterpart in Kenya is in a brown bottle that is served in jugs. Obama'a father is from Kenya, which is why the citizens of the country identify with the Illinois Senator and have made him their role model.

In depressed areas of Kenya, people drink cheap brews which are sometimes spiked with traditional spirits, that have on some occasions proved lethal. An enterprising brewer (East African Breweries Ltd) took note of the fame generated by Obama and introduced a cheap brew that was safe and lower in alcohol content. Kenyan beer normally have as much as 40% alcohol. The brewery's low alcohol lager effort is "Senator Keg" beer that patrons simply refer to as "Obama". The depressed economy has made beer drinkers switch to cheaper beer, and what better way to pass the time talking about politics and life itself, than a glass of Obama. Raising a glass of Obama apparently raises their hopes too.

The brewery was smart enough to avoid using Barack, so as not to encourage lawsuits nor be accused of disrespect to the Senator. Fears of encouraging alcoholism because of its low price is being disputed by its low alcohol, which brewers contend is supportive of responsible consumption. Kenyans can therefore get tipsy on Obama, and can still grow up as responsible citizens - much like their idol's experiments with substances. Whatever Obama says in speeches, you can expect Kenyans hearing it on radio or watching on TV to say, "I'll drink to that".

The whole country may even out drink Germany where beer is concerned should Obama win the Presidency. It could also start exporting the product while he remains hot in the American media, and may well be its number one US export! They can then create a high end brand called "President Dark Beer" in time for the Inauguration! Pale pilsen would not be a hot selling product line though. But the possibility of a whole generation of Kenyans and even Americans getting a little high on Senator Beer or President Dark Beer has tremendous commercial potential.

However, should he fail to win the Presidency, or even the Democratic Party's nomination, he could always encourage his father's countrymen to create another product. He can call it "Barack's Brewed Beer", like its namesake, it's all foam - no beer.


Basic information from an article by Tom Oladipo
BBC News, Nairobi

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Musharraf's Meandering Mecca

Pakistan's voters dealt him a crushing defeat, his party is in disarray, the victorious opposition have called for his resignation, Taliban terrorists are waging war with the military in its borders with Afghanistan, his US support all but dissipated; President Pervez Musharraf can no longer see the vision and yearning he once held for Pakistan when he ousted then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1999. What he sees is a blur, the result of a series of blunders and mishaps that have given his rule an image of authoritarianism and incompetence.

Estimates point to a resounding victory for Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party with 92 seats so far, Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League -N Party has 67, and Musharraf's Pakistan Muslim League-Q with only 38. A coalition between these 2 opposition groups and other minor democratic oriented parties could give them 2/3 majority, enough to oust Musharraf. The strongest voice is that of Sharif, boldly calling on the President to stand by his word on resigning should the electoral verdict be unfavorable to his regime. The verdict, coming from an unprecedented 45.69% of Pakistan's 81 million eligible voters validate Sharif's call. However, the PPP is less explicit. Party Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari (Benazir Bhutto's widower) wants to move slowly and transitionally to change the system from within.

Musharraf expressed willingness to work with any coalition and called for an end to "confrontationist" politics, for the benefit of Pakistan. But he speaks from a position of weakness, and the feeble plea to end confrontations is a far cry from the man whose government received billions of dollars from the US to combat Al Qaeda. The momentum created by the Taliban along Pakistan's borders and the rise of Islamic fundamentalists inside the country have raised suspicions within the US State Department of Musharraf's secret support for the terrorist groups. For his part, Musharraf may also have a lingering suspicion that the US support for the assassinated Benazir Bhutto was not meant to share power with his rule, but to eliminate him.

The elections may have succeeded in placing a secret ally (Musharraf's or the US) from among the winners. Musharraf has been accused of mishandling Bhutto's security requests leading to her death. He is suspected of being indirectly responsible, at least by his incompetence, for the successful assassination. But Bhutto may have been a sacrifice to pave the way for the secret ally. To date, none of the winners have the stature of Benazir Bhutto, but the coalition government to be formed will have a powerful democratic mandate.

The Pakistanis voted for change, with only a small interest in anti-terrorism. This will not push the war versus Al Qaeda as much as the US would like, hence they need an ally to put a stronger emphasis on this issue. Pakistan has a state of insurgency in two of the four provinces. There is discontent, and outrage. Disappointments after 6 months could lead to disintefration of the country. Rising instability persists in this nuclear-armed nation, and the people are looking to the winners to give them a fresh start. At this point, they only have hope to start with.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Obama Overwhelms Opposition

Barack Obama continues to eat away at the stronghold bases of major Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, as he storms into the heartland of America for his 9th consecutive primary victory after the deadlocked Super Tuesday voting. Hawaii, where Obama was born and where relatives still reside, could favor him with his 10th consecutive victory, which would allow him the opportunity to generate more financial support to strengthen his unstoppable bandwagon. Barack Obama has seized the momentum from Hillary and is now the Democratic Party's undisputed front runner.

Republican John McCain has picked up two more victories in Washington and Wisconsin to inch closer to the GOP nomination and moved farther from his only surviving rival Mike Huckabee. McCain has been focusing his attacks during campaign speeches on Barack Obama whom he criticizes as deceiving Americans through eloquent but empty calls for change. Huckabee, vowed to continue with his campaign that runs not on his ego but on his convictions, according to him.

Hillary Clinton has apparently staked her campaign on wins in Ohio and Texas. This puts her in an untenable position should she lose. Should Barack Obama rally the women, elderly, and Hispanic voters to his side and win, it would definitely be the end of the trail for Hillary. Even if Hillary edges out Obama, a close victory would still cast doubts on her ability to consolidate her base and could be depleted further going into the democratic convention. Thus, March 4 will be Hillary's last strong stand against Obama's onslaughts into her once secured candidacy. Fittingly, it will be in Texas where the Alamo once stood and fell.

In the GOP race, It's certainly John McCain. All party members know that Mike Huckabee's campaign is dead, except Huckabee himself. It's running on pure spirit, no flesh. If he is hoping for a miracle, it will probably be in the form of lightning directed at McCain. For the Democrats, March 4 is crucial for Barack to almost seal the nomination, and for Hillary to claw back. But the complicated nomination process they have could leave the selection to the Super Delegates. Even if Obama wins Texas, neither of them will have enough delegates to get the magic number of 2,025. The outcome of the Super Delegate votes could be payback for favors and friendships which Barack has had little time to build on. Unless the Super Delegates are awed by the strong clamor for them to select the choice of the party base's majority, Hillary will be nominated and split the party anew. And John McCain will be President of the United States by January, 2009.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Curtain Call for Castro

Fidel Castro, the battle scarred aging warrior of the Western Hemisphere, whose legendary confrontations with the world's most powerful empires against his own third world island nation, is finally laying down his armor. After 49 years at the helm in Cuba, as one of the longest reigning leaders of the 20th century, surviving more than 600 assassination attempts and outlasting 9 US Presidents; Fidel Castro is walking towards the sunset until his last breath - in his own time and on his own terms.

Here is a revolutionary who challenged the exploitative US capitalist structure in
his country, seized their assets, shut down the operations of the organized criminals of America, instituted genuine land reform, provided quality education and health care to his people continuously, and neutralized the western propaganda machinery of protests and negative publicity; despite the forceful imposition of a 40 year economic embargo supported by nearly all countries of the globe - that practically starved the country and threatened to make Cuba an unlamented and forgotten graveyard. America was so incensed with Castro that it wanted him to bend, kneel and grovel for peace. Fidel Castro and the Cubans were steadfast and took their best shots head on, and remained proudly on their feet knowing that theirs was a moral victory.

Castro was a dictator with an iron hand, who embraced communism and stuck to a socialist economic model, up to the point where the world experienced its demise as an unworkable system. Faced with an economic embargo and the subsequent removal of Soviet support in the late 1980s, he resorted to stringent measures in dealing with protests from within, that crossed the line where civilized and humane treatment were replaced by oppression and abuse. Castro long suspected the US of fanning unrest through its agents in Cuba, noting the 261,000 people leaving between 1965-1973. To spite the US, he allowed 125,000 Cubans to leave for the US in 1980, including criminals from Cuban jails which brought a violent crime wave to Florida.

But these are political anomalies that the US can turn a blind eye to when it's convenient for their interests. Both China and Russia were communist dictatorships that were as oppressive, if not more iron fisted than Cuba; and yet trade between them flourished. What really riled the US was Castro's use of America's tactics on America itself. The US-backed NATO had planted missiles in Europe that could strike at the heart of Russia in a short time; Castro gave Russia the same opportunity, conditioned on buying its exports at a premium. The US sent its CIA agents to other countries to destabilize governments and install dictators; Castro exported his brand of revolution in South America; and headed the Non-Aligned Movement (against Soviet objections) that sent Cuban soldiers to train and beef-up the Angolan army.

Like life itself, Castro is a man of contradictions. He has won major battles, and he has also lost many, including the painful sight of his countrymen leaving for the land of his enemy. Since he deposed the dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, Cuba has been in a crisis mode, and the country had to survive amidst hostile surroundings under increasing difficulties. In a crisis situation, the use of absolute authority trumps consensus or majority decision in order to maintain control of scant resources; and ensure portions for all. Castro fought under a democratic promise that he was unable to keep. Rather, events and his decisions because of it, kept his people in the dark about democracy; despite the achievements in social services and agriculture.

After 49 years, Fidel Castro may be viewed as a survivor, like the country he ruled. In hindsight, he was neither truly anti-American nor pro-Soviet Union, but simply pro-Cuba. He has remained a soldier in dress and in attitude, and will remain a soldier till his last breath. He said he needed to prepare the country for his absence, and he would not take new responsibilities that require physical mobility he can no longer provide. As a lifelong soldier, he said, "I wish only to fight as a soldier of ideas".

At this late stage in his life, these ideas run the risk of being dismissed by the west as the ramblings of aging mad man.