Category Archives: politics

Cuban Cigar Diplomacy

Cohiba Cuban Cigars

President Obama announced on December 17, 2014 that he would pursue full diplomatic relations with Cuba. The new policy is basically an admission that the attempt to isolate Cuba in the hope that the Cuban people would rise against Castro’s regime has failed. A new policy of engagement with the Cuban people will probably be much better for the U.S. and for Cuba, just like Nixon’s policy of engagement with China led to improved commerce, better international relations and the end of the cold war.

Cuba was a popular destination for U.S. tourists before Castro’s revolution. Ernest Hemingway wrote his Pulitzer Prize winning novel “The Old Man and the Sea” while living in Cuba. Cuban products, such as sugar, cigars and rum could be found in many American homes. The U.S. embargo changed all that and caused Cuba to seek economic relief and military aid from the Soviet Union. Following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 by the U.S., Cuba requested nuclear arms from the Soviet Union that eventually resulted in the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962.

The renewal of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba will have many ramifications. Tourism and commerce will certainly flourish, but it will also be necessary to re-establish trademark protections that were not respected during the 54 years of enmity that started with the U.S. embargo of 19 October 1960. One of the tasks for improving diplomatic relations will be the restoration of the Cohiba brand name for marketing of Cuban cigars.

How to cut expenses

Every year, the US congress has a difficult time deciding how to pay for the expenses that have been approved in previous sessions of congress.  The confrontations leading to the “Fiscal Cliff” are similar to the problems that a husband and a wife have in trying to meet the needs of the family while staying within the household budget.

A wife may think that it is necessary to spend $100 every three weeks, about $1700 per year, in the beauty shop.  A husband may feel that a 60-inch flat screen television with a special audio system for $2000 is necessary for entertainment.  Of course, the additional cable bills for $300 dollars a month, or $3,600 per year, are also necessary.  If the family has children, there are additional expenses for toys, school supplies and clothing which is outgrown quickly or worn out.

The only way to cut expenses is to eliminate those things that you can do without.  All the members of the family have to get together to agree on the expenses that will be eliminated.  Nobody will be happy because everybody has to sacrifice.  Just like the members of congress, everybody will grumble and complain.  If you are single, you are the only one who has to sacrifice and you have to have the discipline to stick to a budget.  Here is a list of things that you may try:

  • Stop smoking to save your health and your money.
  • Sell your car and use public transportation to go to work.
  • Take your lunch to work instead of going to a restaurant.
  • Read books from the public library instead of going to movie theaters.
  • Brew your own coffee instead of buying it in expensive coffee shops.
  • Pay down your credit card debt.  If possible, pay in full every month to avoid fees.

The most effective way to save money is to make a list of your monthly expenses and then determine which ones you can eliminate.  Looking at a complete list of expenses gives you a perspective of your spending habits.  Eliminating many small incidental expenses sometimes can save big bucks, but small cuts in recurring large expenses may provide the greatest savings.

Learn how to budget your income

Lorton meteorite ownership is disputed

On January 18, 2010 a small stony meteorite weighing 308 grams punched a hole in the roof of a doctor’s office in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Lorton, Virginia.  There was some damage to the office, but nobody was hurt.  The doctors, Marc Gallini and Franc Ciampi who were in the adjacent room, thought the noise was caused by a falling bookshelf.

The doctors donated the meteorite to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and the Smithsonian officials planned to give them $5,000 dollars in compensation.  The Smithsonian planned to display the meteorite, and the doctors wanted to use the money for the earthquake relief efforts in Haiti.

The owners of the building objected, and said that they were the rightful owners of the meteorite.  The landlords informed the museum officials that they were going to take possession of the meteorite with the objective of selling it to pay for the damage to the building.  The doctors got a lawyer to bar the museum from releasing the stone until ownership is determined. In the past, U.S. courts have ruled that a meteorite becomes part of the land where it arrives through natural causes, and therefore is the property of the landowner.  The Smithsonian is keeping the meteorite until the dispute is settled.

Recent Meteorite Impacts on the Earth

Nicotine is highly addictive

Today, President Barack Obama signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.  The new legislation will put cigarettes under the control of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and will allow regulation of the manufacturing and marketing of tobacco products.  The bill is expected to make it harder for minors to start smoking.

Before signing the bill at a White House ceremony, Obama said:

Almost 90 percent of all smokers began at or before their 18th birthday.  I know — I was one of these teenagers, and so I know how difficult it can be to break this habit when it’s been with you for a long time.

President Obama has unsuccessfully fought against tobacco addiction.  His wife Michelle has asked him repeatedly to quit, but he has not been able to do it completely.  Obama has tried to quit smoking by chewing Nicorette Gum which contains nicotine.

Although nicotine is highly addictive, there are many social situations and daily rituals that establish Pavlovian reflexes and strengthen the urge to smoke.  Put a cup of coffee in front of a smoker, and immediately they reach for their cigarettes.  The nicotine addiction can be eliminated by gradually decreasing the daily dose, but the psychological factors that make it hard to quit require a radical restructuring of the smoker’s social life.

Learn about the psychological reasons for smoking

Shooting at the Holocaust Museum in Washington

The Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. opened in 1993 as a memorial to the Jewish victims of the Nazi persecution during World War II.  The museum contains belongings of some of the victims, film footage of witnesses, testimony of the atrocities committed by the Nazis, and pictures of the ghettos, gas chambers, and detention camps.  The museum is a gruesome place that serves to remind us of the malice that one person can inflict on another.

On June 10, 2009, an 88-year old man who had a record as a white supremacist, brought a rifle into the museum and shot a guard.  The shooter was immediately shot by security staff, thus preventing further chaos.  At the time, there were many school children touring the museum and they fortunately escaped injury due to the fast action of the security staff.

In trying to find the motivation for the shooting, the news media have reported that the shooter had a long history of writing hateful racist and anti-Semitic diatribes, and that he had been arrested in 1981 for entering a Federal building with a handgun and a shotgun for the purpose of holding hostage the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board so that he could voice his opinions through the news media.

How is it that someone who emanates so much hatred and who has shown dangerous tendencies is free to walk the streets?  It is equally incomprehensible that Muslims, Christians, and Jews should hate each other, given that the Biblical patriarch Abraham established the principles of monotheism practiced by all three religions.  Frequently, Christians often forget that Jesus himself was Jewish.  Is a harmonious world too much to hope for?

Learn about Famous Jews

FDA warns Cheerios about cholesterol claims

Cheerios cholesterol claim

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent a notice to General Mills, the maker of Cheerios, saying that the claims that the cereal lowers cholesterol and treats heart disease are inappropriate.  The FDA allows food labels to highlight some health benefits, but the language of those statements is highly regulated.

One of the missions of the FDA is to protect the public from snake oil salesmen who want to make a buck selling fake elixirs for health and longevity.  The FDA is heavily lobbied by the pharmaceutical industry, and the agency often rules against claims for natural products that would divert profits away from drug manufacturers.  The claim from General Mills that Cheerios can “lower cholesterol 4 percent in 6 weeks” is objectionable to the FDA because companies are not allowed to quantify the benefit of foods.

We never hear the whole story.  The level of cholesterol in the body is regulated by the balance of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fatty acids in our diet.  The level is also affected by the cholesterol in animal products that we eat, by hydrogenated fats, and by the amount of soluble fiber in our diet.  Oats are a good source of soluble fiber, and it is an ingredient of Cheerios.  (Learn more about controlling cholesterol)

Promise Fat Free Nonfat Margarine Promise Fat Free Nonfat Margarine

The FDA tries to protect consumers from false claims, but it does a very poor job. The rules for food labeling have so many loopholes, that PAM cooking spray, which is basically 100% fat, can claim that it can be used for “Fat Free Cooking” by specifying an unrealistically small serving size. Also, Promise Fat Free Nonfat Margarine can claim that a serving has 0 grams of fat by hiding all the fatty acids as mono- and diglycerides.

In 2003, I wrote a letter to the FDA asking for changes to the labeling rules to prevent these abuses, but my request was denied.  You can read about it in the web pages about Food Labels.

Presidential Inauguration in Washington

The US Capitol

There is great excitement in Washington as the United States prepares for the inauguration of Barack Obama.  Those of us who supported equality of civil rights for all citizens feel that the dream of Martin Luther King Jr. is closer.  In his famous speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial, MLK said:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Ever since the days of emancipation, black people and other minorities have struggled for acceptance into American society.  Lyndon Johnson signed more education bills into law than any other president, thereby creating a melting pot which forced young people of all races to look at each other closely and find out that they were not that different after all.

Separatists movements like “Black Power” and “Ebonics” failed to get mainstream acceptance, and rather than ending up with a black and white America, we are uniting into a single America.  Interracial personal relationships no longer have the stigma that was so prevalent in the 1960s.  Barak Obama embodies many of the characteristics and goals of today’s America.

When you come to Washington to celebrate, you will have the opportunity to visit many famous landmarks such as The U.S. Capitol, The Library of Congress, and the National Museum of Natural History.

Cleaning up the Environment

Richard F. Yates
Richard F. Yates

If you live in Bethesda or if you take the Friendship Heights Metro, you are likely to see the lanky Richard F. Yates carrying a plastic bag in his right hand and picking litter with his gloved left hand.  He moves at a furious pace along miles and miles of streets as he picks up pieces of paper, discarded cups, candy wrappers, and many types of litter that people have carelessly discarded.

I saw Mr. Yates a few days ago as he came by my street and I stopped him to ask what motivates him.  Basically, Richard F. Yates is waging a one-man crusade to improve the environment, although he would like more people to join him.  He would like people to stop throwing trash in the streets and to care more about our neighborhoods.  He has talked to corporations to enlist their help by cleaning up the trash on their own grounds, and he has talked to the Montogmery County Police department to try to get better enforcement of anti-littering laws.

Mr. Yates talks about how the pollution of our streets ends up being washed into the Chesapeake basin and the negative impact that this has on the aquatic life in the Chesapeake Bay.  He would like to encourage people to care enough and volunteer to keep our neighborhoods free of litter and trash.

Be a good citizen. Put trash its place. Don’t pollute.

Presidential Fashion – Michelle Obama’s Black Widow Dress

Black widow spider  Michelle Obama's Black Widow Dress

The United States is headed in a new direction with the election of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States.  During the campaign, Obama was able to unify voters with his aspirations for an America where everybody works to help each other.  Obama’s multiracial background, his foreign education, his Harvard education, and his great oratorical skills provided something with which everyone could identify.  The campaign was notable for its length, its aggressiveness, and the gracious concession speech by John McCain in support of the new president-elect.

One of the missteps of the McCain campaign was the expenditure of $150,000 by the Republican National Committee for a wardrobe from high-end department stores for GOP Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin.  The luxurious dresses looked fabulous on the former beauty queen, but her appearance did not help middle-class voters identify with the Republicans at a time when the economy had been taking such a serious downturn.

Michelle Obama, by contrast, dressed elegantly and modestly during the campaign, but her choice of dress for Obama’s acceptance speech was a stunning black dress with a bright red design on the ventral portion.  My first thought was “black widow” because some types of black widow spiders have a red hourglass design in their abdomen. I was not the only one to notice this similarity.  There are already many internet discussions about Michelle Obama’s Black Widow Dress, its ominous portent, and Barack Obama’s repeated references to Abraham Lincoln.

Where is the Fashion Police when you need it?