Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tearing Down Fences in Cuba ...and Beyond

President Obama took an early first step on his promise to close the Guantánamo Bay detention camp. On his first day in office he directed the military courts to halt prosecutions of all detainees held unlawfully by the Bush Administration, until a proper and legal prosecution can be mounted, where supported by the evidence.

President Obama is expected to issue an executive order on Jan. 22nd to close the detention camp. Some of the 240 detainees have been held for seven years without having charges filed against them. Some were detained as adolescents. Only 3 detainees have been convicted of crimes since 2001.

The White House draft of the executive order says closing the facility “would further the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice, stating that the detention facilities at Guantánamo for shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than one year from the date of this order.” (Source: AP)

Unlike Mr. Bush, President Obama has a background in constitutional law. From this perspective, President Obama deems the Bush Administration’s special military prosecutions lacking in basic protections of the American legal and traditional military justice systems. Under existing laws, much of the evidence gathered from detainees is inadmissible due to the Bush administration's practice of torture during interrogations, in violation of Geneva Conventions.
Fidel Castro stated that Barack Obama "seems like a man who is absolutely sincere", according to Argentina President Cristina Fernandez who met with him today in Havana. She added, "Fidel believes in Obama".

President Obama’s actions this week begin to restore the USA’s reputation in Cuba, Latin America, and the world. In his inaugural address, he stated "we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals".
Sections of Mr. Bush’s fence along the USA/Mexico border may be the next to fall under President Obama’s ax. Construction was delayed last year in areas with sensitive habitat, and where land owners filed court appeals. Many miles of new fencing already divide communities that existed long before current political lines were drawn, and the border fence has been compared to the Berlin Wall by once-integrated binational border communities.
The Bush administration ordered (but did not build) fencing over wetland habitat in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, "a proposed National Heritage Area", according to Los Caminos del Rio Executive Director Eric Ellman. If the river valley is fenced as proposed by Mr. Bush, Texas will effectively cede a national treasure to Mexico.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Chile Peppers - A Natural High

Capsaicin is the active ingredient in peppers, which come from the genus capsicum. Hot varieties of capsicum are called chilies. In addition to bolstering the body’s immune system, they cause the release of endorphins. The result is morphine-like pain relief and an increase in heart rate and circulation. Nerve response is affected. Adrenaline production is stimulated. You get high on chilies. You want more.

Worldwide, people want a lot more chilies these days. Global consumption of chilies is rising rapidly. Chiles have been a staple in Latin America, India and Asia for centuries. Decades ago, grocery stores in the southwest USA began carrying a greater volume of more varieties. The 21st Century has seen this rise in popularity spread to the rest of North America and Europe. Chefs are spicing up traditionally bland recipes, and food producers are adding chilies to a wide range of products such as jams and chocolate.

Dr. Andrew Weil published his study of the physiological effect of chilies in his first book, The Marriage of the Sun and the Moon. “The effect of capsaicin on the oral membranes is spectacular. A person uninitiated into the mysteries of chili eating who bites down on a really peppy capsicum pod may exhibit all the symptoms of furious rabies. It is difficult to convey to such a sufferer the truth that relief comes only of eating more chilies, but that is the case. Water makes the agony worse. The only real help comes of plunging in and developing tolerance to the effect.”

According to herbalist Jethro Kloss, author of Back to Eden, “There is, perhaps, no other article which produces so powerful an impression on the animal frame that is so destitute of all injurious properties. Capsicum seems almost incapable of abuse, for however great the excitement produced by it, this stimulant prevents that excitement subsiding so suddenly as to induce any great derangement of the equilibrium of the circulation. It produces the most powerful impression on the surface yet never draws a blister on the stomach, yet never weakens its tone."

The rush that comes from eating chilies is what keeps aficionados coming back for more. The eyes light up, nasal passages and the respiratory tract are cleared, concentration is increased, the liver is cleansed, and perspiration clears the pores of toxins and acts to cool the skin. Chilies deliver more vitamin C than citrus, bolstering the immune system. In the end, a sublime sense of well being comes from eating hot chilies.

This great pleasure has been sustained in Latin America for 8000 years, and cultivated for 5000, according to Dr. Wiel’s research. “It is a sensible remedy because chili brings a great deal of blood to the surface of mucous membranes, and increased blood supply should promote healing.” In 1493 historian Peter Mart reported that Columbus had discovered peppers more pungent than those of Asia, and within a few years the plants reached the Far East. They established themselves so well in SE Asia and India that some early botanists thought they were native there!
Chilies are yet another example of the wonderful gifts Latin America continues to provide to the world. You can grow chile peppers in your home year round with a heat lamp. To order chile pepper plants for your home or garden, visit

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Sharing the Wealth

The measurement that most differentiated the USA and Canada from countries in Latin America, once upon a time, was the size and power of the middle class. As this difference continues to erode, a bit of soul searching is in order. Overall, Latin America's middle class has grown in the past decade, while the USA's continues to contract in size and purchasing power.

Last year I reported on the increasing tendency among the majority of Latin American countries to lean left politically. Now the USA will inaugurate its 44th president amidst its own profound shift to the left. The 2008 election was a massive rejection of trickle-down economics, a theory that led to enormous global problems for 2009 and beyond.

U.S. workers are earning less while their CEO’s have earned pay increases equivalent to more than 900% since 1970, even while bankrupting their companies. The average hourly wage rate has failed to keep up with inflation over the past four decades. In other words +900% for CEOs and +0 for workers. Source: Paul Krugman, sole 2008 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics.

And deregulation has enabled record-breaking corporate bankruptcy rates. The most publicized of 2008’s systematic failures occurred in the investment banking sector. This led to a trillion dollar taxpayer bailout which is now spilling over into the manufacturing sector. Add to this billions of dollars in bankruptcy filings from home-builders and media conglomerates. Consider bankrupt retailers such as Sharper Image, Mervyn’s, Linens & Things, and Circuit City.

The travel industry has been hit particularly hard with bankruptcies such as Aloha Airlines, ATA, Frontier Air, and Advantage Rental Car. In my holiday travels I have observed stunning vacancy rates at my favorite beachfront hotels.

Clearly, Henry Ford was correct to encourage corporations to pay their workers a good wage if they hope for the general public to afford their products. A free market is of little value when sellers can’t find buyers. Economic “trickle-down theory” has been proven to be of very little value, based on 38 years of stagnant hourly wages. In this context, a political shift to left is inevitable.

In 2009 the USA joins its hemispheric neighbors in embracing the enlightened self-interest of “sharing the wealth”, a necessity explained to ‘Joe the Plumber’ by then-Senator Obama. Government regulation is obviously necessary at some greater level than has been advocated by Wall Street lobbyists. We don’t have to call it socialism. We do need to recognize what we have in common with our neighbors and work together for a better tomorrow.
In the immortal words of Hanna-Barbera's Snagglepuss (pictured) ... "Exit, stage left already!"