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Burn Baby, Burn

I remember it as if it was yesterday. The acrid smell of smoke wafted through air. The hot and humid night made sleep all but unreachable. The skyline glowed with the orange light of burning buildings. Yet, I laid there with eyes closed hoping to slip through the gates of the dream state. But it was difficult with the distant sound of machine gun fire, the rumble of tanks and armored vehicles less than a quarter mile distant. The 82nd and 101st Airborne Division’s troops had arrived, but the violence was irrepressible. The official death toll was rising, but from a reliable insider, I learned it was much higher than the public was led to believe. I was living in a war zone and frankly, it wasn’t a lot of fun.

US-RACE RIOTS-DETROIT

Near my home (AFP/Getty Images)

This wasn’t Vietnam. It wasn’t the Middle East. The year was 1967. The city was Detroit. Riots engulfed the city. A police raid on a speak-easy sparked one of the deadliest and destructive riots in the history of the United States. I was a young, married man with an expectant wife. We were afraid that if “the time” came, we’d be unable to get to the hospital. It was an exciting time.

It was a time of turmoil and tumult as our nation was being transformed and awakened. Vietnam, civil rights, a music revolution, the space age, and people were turning on, tuning in, and dropping out. I was already pretty open-minded, even for a twenty year old. But it was hard to understand what’s happening on the inside when you’re looking in from the outside. I had friends in the inner-city. I spent time in the inner-city. But the fact is … I was a young white boy of some privilege cast into a bizarre reality and the best I could do was guess about what I was seeing and hearing.

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Trump’s Trolley Kills Five

trumpyWell, America … you have murdered the trolley workers. Their blood is now on your hands. Let me be clear; a minority of Americans can rest peacefully, albeit, fearfully. They at least tried to pull the lever. They just couldn’t get enough help from their fellow Americans who “voted their consciences” or didn’t vote at all.

Ok, I get the feeling your face is dressed in confusion. “What the hell trolley is he talking about? Who died?” Let me back up and explain.

The “trolley problem” is a well-known thought experiment in the field of ethics. You remember ethics? They used to be common in the halls of government in this country.  In the trolley problem, you are confronted with a serious dilemma.

A trolley car is out of control and careening down the tracks where five workers don’t see or hear it coming. If nothing is done, the five workers will assuredly die. You see this and happen to be standing by a large lever. If you quickly pull the lever, the trolley will be directed onto another track where you see one worker who will unquestionably be killed. Do you pull the lever to save five lives at the expense of one life?

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A Death in the Family

graveNo one’s getting out alive. One of the few constants in the universe is that there is an ultimate end to everything. If we’re to believe all of the philosophical euphemisms surrounding death, we shouldn’t fear it. It comes to all things. The Second Law of Thermodynamics is inescapable. All things are ultimately buried, even if only metaphorically.

When the end comes, whether it be expected or a sudden and shocking event, the process of grieving begins.  People deal with their grief in different ways, some constructive, others not so much. In her landmark book, “On Death and Dying”, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross spoke of what she called the five stages of dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Although she directed her words to those who were dying, the five stages also apply to those forced to grieve the loss of a loved one.

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Marco Rubio Plays with Cuban Balls

Cuba Highlights (4 of 243)After more than fifty years of shear idiocy, President Obama has taken a giant step toward normalizing relations with Cuba. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has publically opposed the action. He’s definitely got more chutzpa than I could muster even after my fifth Cuba Libre. He actually stands before the cameras and spews his rubbish with a straight face. It’s a performance worthy of an Academy Award or maybe even a seat in the U.S. Senate. He’s not alone. Other two-faced politicians (John McCain for one) have expressed opposition to the move.

“It rewards the oppressive and brutal dictatorial regime of the Castro brothers” sayeth the Rubio types. “We must intensify the embargo so they’ll move toward democracy” intones the straight faced senatorial comedian. “The people of Cuba want the same freedoms we have here and without the embargo, they won’t get them” he says.

His arguments carry a lot of weight with me because I know he stands firm in his conviction that we should not do business with countries that don’t have an appropriate level of freedom and democracy. Oppress your people and you’re not doing business with us. Continue reading

A Source of (American) Embarrassment

San Miguel SunsetWell, here I sit, embarrassed and ashamed. As I pen this missive, I’m enjoying a beautiful day in San Miguel de Allende in the state of Guanajuato in central Mexico. My countrymen (from the United States) make me hang my head in shame.

Before you go getting all pissy, let me clarify that not all of my fellow Americans cause me to hang my head. But a big percentage of them wear their arrogance like Easter bonnets, haughty and proud. If only they had earned the right to such arrogance, I could at least understand it, but they haven’t.

Admittedly, I have a slight edge on many of them. Although I’m a native of Michigan, I am fairly fluent in Spanish. I haven’t attained the level of eloquence of an Octavio Paz, but I’m more than comfortable speaking with the locals in their home tongue. My wife, Liz, understands a great deal of the language and can piece together statements when her survival depends upon it, but she still finds herself falling back to English more often than not.

When we walk the streets of San Miguel, we obviously come face-to-face with a great many people. In a crowd, only the deranged attempt to greet everyone on the street. But when more or less alone, when coming face-to-face with someone, even my less than polished Michigan upbringing taught me it is only common courtesy to say “Hello”.

San Miguel de Allende has more gringos than many towns in the American southwest. Like us, many of them wander the streets taking in the sights, sounds and smells of Mexico. The noticeable difference with many of them is that when coming face-to-face with a local, they refuse to speak, even if spoken to. Their stone cold countenances, betray their arrogance. They look away as if eye contact will give them an incurable disease. Somehow, it’s as if their hosts are far below them.

My curiosity began to get the best of me. When I saw what appeared to be an American coming my way, I would load up my smile and say, “Hello. How are you?” Three quarters of them would refuse to respond. They’d do their best to look away and pretend I wasn’t there. After all, I could have been one of those dreaded Mexicans. I have been playing a lot of golf and have a pretty dark color in my cheeks.

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Six Weeks of Communists, Libertarians, Capitalists and Socialists

I’ll avoid the conclusions; they are for you to reach. I’ll just present the observations. Over a period of six weeks, I spent my time in roughly equal parts in Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

Cuba proudly proclaims itself a communist state. For fifty years, it has delighted in being the booger on the lapel of Uncle Sam’s fine and festive coat. Billboards all across the island remind Cubans of their communist and socialist heritage and strength.

The Dominican Republic appears to be as libertarian as any state in our hemisphere. Government regulation is minimal. The regulation that does exist doesn’t seem to be strictly enforced unless it serves to protect the individual rights of those in power. The common man in the D.R. has individual freedom whether he likes it or not.

Puerto Rico is a “possession” of the United States and shares our capitalistic ethos, system of government and economic structure (whether the people want it or not). It is exactly as it is in any other part of the United States except that the climate and geography are completely different, the history and heritage bear little similarity the rest of the U.S., its culture, music, dance, food, etc. are Latin, it is more racially homogenous and the people speak a different language. Other than that, it’s Ames, Iowa all over again.

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On the Failure (Success) of Cuban Communism

The first time I visited Cuba, I was just three years old. A young man named Fidel Castro had just graduated from college with a degree in law. Carlos Prío was president of a corrupt Cuban government. Bautista had not yet taken power. Even though I was a small child at the time, I still have some vivid memories of the Cuba of 1950, the narrow streets, the open stores and markets with meat hanging overhead, the sandy beach and a friendly police officer who carried me on his shoulders. This early experience in Cuba undoubtedly had a great impact on my lifelong love and intrigue with this beautiful Caribbean island.

Less than twenty years later, I had embarked on a career as a news reporter, writer and broadcaster. Thanks to the acrimonious relations between the United States and Fidel’s communist Cuba, I could no longer visit the island. Propagandists on both sides of the fence painted lurid pictures of their evil neighbors ninety miles away. As a reporter, I learned pure, unbiased, objective reporting was sometimes a noble goal, but was impossible to obtain. As often as not, it wasn’t even the goal. The news was and continues to be distorted with intent by the government, corporate sponsors and biased news reporters. I can guarantee you that our views of Cuba, the embargo and the people of Cuba are colored by the lenses we’re forced to look through as we try to interpret the island that has been taboo to Americans for more than fifty years.

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