Category Archives: Politics

Immigration: how we got here

By Peter Eisner

Seems like a fine day to point out how I, along with millions, am an American by the choice and search of my ancestors for freedom. My paternal grandfather, Louis Eisner, came to this country one hundred eleven years ago, fleeing Jewish persecution in Russian-controlled Poland. He did not undergo extreme vetting — which might have determined that he had at one point attended a few Bolshevik organizational meetings.

Ten years later, in 1916, he became an American citizen and pledged loyalty to the United States, and renounced allegiance to the Russian leader of the moment, Czar Nicholas II. It was a year before the Russian revolution.

Here’s to American freedom and democracy!


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“How Dare you, Sir…. (Come on, people)

“How dare you, Sir,  impugn the character of…… (John Lewis, Meryl Streep, a Gold Star mother, a journalist with disabilities, or the target du jour)

Come on, people, it won’t work. Laughter, mockery and good cheer are a more effective antidote. Make a plan and do not presume to issue answers.

The problem we face is wrongly characterized. We need a strategy. A newspaper wrongly described the entity’s response to John Lewis as “a feud.” This was not a feud. It was a judgement by a great American statesman, followed by a predictable response from the entity. John Lewis need not respond.

The entity you are addressing feeds on your anger and outrage. The entity is happy that you are offended and does not care.

In Star Trek (original, Captain Kirk, third season, episode seven), just such an entity was discovered in the realm of a human colony on Beta XII-A. “A glowing entity of pure energy” had destroyed the settlement on Beta XII-A and proceeded to take over the Enterprise.

It took some time before Captain Kirk realized that the entity was provoking anger and outrage among the crew. It had already destroyed the planet below.

The captain convinced his crew to begin to joke and laugh loudly, fight off angry emotions.

The entity lost power, skulked away and the ship was saved. Too late, though, for the planet.

When will we learn?

In the meantime, don’t bother to respond to the entity’s tweets or to treat it as you would treat other Earthlings.

And laugh along with Alec Baldwin and others who have gotten the idea.


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Questions about oil, OPEC and fracking

People tend to think about the price they spend per gallon on gas as a given far out of the control of mere mortals. Oil suppliers rule the day as does the futures market;  despite political rhetoric from all sides, government rarely if ever tackles the issue. The policy is ad hoc, and renewal sources (wind and solar) suffer when petroleum prices are low.1280px-West_Texas_Pumpjack

Here are some questions and answers [Aided by a primer written by the Economist in December.]. Oil price was $70 per barrel then, and may be forced down close to $10 per barrel.

Q: Why is the price of oil and gasoline plummeting?

OPEC is leading the way, especially Saudi Arabia. “…the Saudis and their Gulf allies have decided not to sacrifice their own market share to restore the price. They could curb production sharply, but the main benefits would go to countries they detest such as Iran and Russia.”

Q: Why would they do that?

In part, to reassert OPEC dominance in the oil market. Petroleum is power. “Saudi Arabia can tolerate lower oil prices quite easily. It has $900 billion in reserves. Its own oil costs very little (around $5-6 per barrel) to get out of the ground.” The United States and other oil consumers tend to tread lightly on negotiating oil price with Saudi Arabia and OPEC.

Q: Who loses?

Countries such as Russia, Iran, Venezuela and other troubled economies highly dependent on oil revenue. But the U.S. fracking industry also suffers, which can’t expand and grow when extraction prices dip below $60-$70 per barrel. Fracking involves pulverizing the earth with high pressure water to release the natural gas held in abundant oil shale supplies. It is a booming industry, the 21st century equivalent of a Gold Rush.

Q: What’s good about fracking?

Theoretically, it is a step toward U.S. energy independence. It produces major economic changes in the areas where oil shale supplies are plentiful.

Q: What’s bad about fracking. Environmental issues

Two interesting headlines from the news recently:

“After 11 quakes in the last two days – with one registering at a 3.6 – Irving, Texas’ sudden onset tremor problem might be the fracking industry’s nightmare.
There’s a monster lurking under Texas, beneath the sand and oil and cowboy bones, and it’s getting a little restless after a 15 million year nap.”


“Not long after two mild earthquakes jolted the normally steady terrain outside Youngstown, Ohio, last March, geologists quickly decided that hydraulic fracturing operations at new oil-and-gas wells in the area had set off the tremors.” Now a detailed study has concluded that the earthquakes were not isolated events, but merely the largest of scores of quakes that rattled the area around the wells for more than a week.”

Q: Name the world’s largest oil producer.

The United States outstripped Saudi Arabia in 2014 as the world’s largest oil producer. The United States has been the world’s largest natural gas producer since 2010.

Q: What are the components of gasoline price:

About two thirds of the price is based on crude oil prices. As of November, according to government statistics:

in percentages:  (rounding slightly less than 100 percent)

crude oil:        62.4

taxes                  14.6

refining              5.5

retailing          17.4


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Alan Gross’s Mission in Cuba: How Much Did the White House Know?: Newsweek

Alan Gross
Jailed USAID contractor Alan Gross, right, poses for a picture during a visit with Cuban Jewish Community leader Adela Dworin, center, and David Prinstein, vice president, at Havana’s Carlos J Finlay Military Hospital September 28, 2012. REUTERS


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The Pope and The U.S. Cuban Breakthrough: Gracias pero….

It’s fine to thank Pope Francis, but let’s not overplay the idea that the Vatican took a significant role in the historic change of U.S.-Cuban relations after more than half a century.

Officials in Washington and Havana have been in contact all along, albeit at lower levels through their periodic and sometimes secret meetings in Havana and Washington.  They didn’t need an intermediary–they needed a political moment, and the timing is perfect.

It is great that the pope could provide a meeting room, write some letters to presidents Obama and Castro and express his concern on humanitarian grounds for Alan Gross and the other prisoners on both sides. But the Vatican involvement is probably little more than diplomatic cover. Cuba is a Catholic country, the pope is seen as a progressive peacemaker; perhaps the idea of his participation soothes the animus of a few Cuban exiles in Miami with the inference that President Obama listened to a higher power.pope and obama

Neither did the countries need to meet in Canada, other than for the sake of following through on diplomatic protocol.

Rarely have two countries known one another as well as do the United States and Cuba. The change in relations has its own moment. First, President Obama can do it now without expending much political capital. He need not face elections again and taking this step right after the midterm elections can cushion the eventual Democratic presidential candidate from what he has done. Meanwhile, the profile of Senator Robert Menendez, one of the key opponents to a modern rethinking of Cuban policy, is on the wane. He will move aside as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Republicans take over in January.

In addition, a persistent domestic political problem for Democrats is wasting away with time.  Florida International University’s most recent survey about Cuban-American views of the embargo is emblematic of change. This year for the first time the tri-yearly survey shows that a majority of Miami Cubans support an end to the Cuban embargo. Florida was once a more troublesome problem. Democrats thought they could not win Florida’s 29 electoral votes without taking a strident anti-Castro position. President Obama, however, took Florida both in 2008 and 2012 with the support of Cuban-Americans.

Times are changing. The pope is Latin American and his support cannot hurt. But the eventual resumption of Cuban-American relations has everything to do with two presidents of two countries, one term-limited out and the other dealing with actuarial tables.

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“Isn’t it Rich, Aren’t we a Pair?” The Koch Brothers and Pope Francis

What do we find in our Sunday newspaper this morning? An opinion piece that conflates the Koch brothers and Pope Francis as being on the same page.

The Washington Post

The Washington Post

It is clear, we are told, that the Koch Brothers and the pope (who by golly the writers have met) are fighting the same fight–the “preferential option for the poor.”

The authors are John and Carol Saeman, fawning friends and moneyed allies of the Koch brothers, the benevolent pair who oppose climate change legislation and Affordable Health Care, using their billions to support the Tea Party and other ultra right-wing causes, and to control American politics and election outcomes. This ‘umble opinion piece is topped off by photographs of the brothers, David and Charles, flanking Pope Francis.

Yea, as we walk through the valley of American fear, the Koch brothers are our saviors. Progressive social programs, welfare and anything else created since the New Deal are the enemy. No mention of Democrats, or the name of the president, just code–“centralization” and “bureaucrats…collude to protect politically favored companies and crowd out competitors.”

“This phenomenon isn’t found only in Third World Dictatorships. It’s increasingly evident in Washington….”

Not to worry, the Koch brothers are here. “We believe the Kochs are doing more to help the poor than the “social justice” campaigners who so often attack them.”

It is a strange argument and, at the least, difficult to believe.

More about the Koch Brothers?

Daily Show

Rolling Stone


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History Reminder: Emancipation Proclamation Was an Executive Order

In wake of President Obama’s order on immigration, some historical perspective is in order
emancipation proclamation

 The Emancipation Proclamation was an Executive Order by President Abraham Lincoln.

Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation provides the foundational precedent for President Obama’s executive order on immigrants in the country illegally. Bruce Ackerman, a professor of law and political science at Yale

The proclamation was criticized by the so-called Copperhead Democrats who opposed the Civil War and wanted a negotiated settlement with the Confederacy. The Copperheads were northern members of Congress who wanted to oust Lincoln from office along with the Republicans who supported him. They saw him as an imperial president destroying American values.

The titles have reversed, but how much has changed?

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Marion Barry, The Perennial DC Mayor and Political Leader, Dies at 78

Marion_Barry_2010I only met Marion Barry once, a lunch meeting at a downtown Washington, DC eatery in 2006. He had just finished lunch with an attractive woman, showed her to the door and then turned heels without missing a beat for lunch number two. He displayed all the charm and political savvy one had heard of and imagined. His goal, in dealing with one of what have been an endless progression of Washington Post reporters and editors he had met–was to show me that he was nobody’s fool. He understood politics, he understood nuance and human nature. I knew and had read all of the backstory of his life — but I was impressed.

The Washington Post obituary by Bart Barnes:

Marion Barry Jr., the Mississippi sharecropper’s son and civil rights activist who served three terms as mayor of the District of Columbia, survived a drug arrest and jail sentence, and then came back to win a fourth term as the city’s chief executive, died around midnight Saturday at United Medical Center in Washington. He was 78. [read more]

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Pepe Eliaschev — Conspiradores en Momentos Dificiles

El fallecimiento de mi amigo y colega, el periodista argentino José “Pepe” Eliashev, me recuerda una historia que merece ser contada. Pepe falleció de cáncer de páncreas en Buenos Aires, el 18 de noviembre de 2014. Tenía 69 años. Durante décadas fue un comentarista y locutor de radio muy popular en la Argentina.

Como jóvenes periodistas de la Associated Press en Nueva York en los años 70, Pepe y yo nos convertimos en conspiradores para frustrar el intento de los editores que supervisaban América Latina de censurar o de limitar las noticias sobre la dictadura militar derechista.

Yo trabajaba en el World Desk en la oficina de AP en Nueva York. Mi trabajo consistía en editar, transmitir y a veces cubrir las noticias del exterior, en inglés, para nuestro servicio mundial en Europa, Asia y África.

Pepe se sentaba a unos metros de mí en La Prensa Asociada –la sección de América Latina que traducía y transmitía noticias en español a México, América Central y Sudamérica. Algunos redactores de esa sección eran, como Pepe, exiliados de países cuyos regímenes represivos dificultaban el periodismo y lo volvían peligroso.

Quedó pronto claro que algunos redactores eran también escandalosamente de derecha e incluso hacían comentarios despectivos sobre los periodistas que trabajan a su lado. En particular, algunos de los editores latinos apoyaban la dictadura argentina, la que en aquel momento estaba sumida profundamente en la Guerra Sucia, que acabaría matando o “desapareciendo” a más de 20.000 personas. Esos editores no sabían que yo hablaba español y que podía oír lo que estaban diciendo.

Pepe me dijo que algunos de los jefes estaban interceptando –“desapareciendo”– historias que podían “avergonzar a la Argentina”. Los editores latinos podían desechar las historias que llegaban habitualmente y además impedir que Pepe, y otros de la sección, cubrieran historias que eran relevantes para la Argentina y una vergüenza para la dictadura.

Sabíamos, sin embargo, que no podían bloquear esos artículos –las inquietudes del gobierno de Carter con respecto a los derechos humanos o el papel de la Iglesia Católica, por ejemplo– si éstos se originaban o seleccionaban en la sección en inglés. Así es como Pepe me informaba cuando alguien trataba de eliminar una historia que pintara negativamente a la dictadura argentina. Todo lo que yo tenía que hacer era guardarla y publicarla en la línea internacional en inglés. Los forzábamos, de esa manera, a traducirla y trasmitirla vía las líneas noticiosas sudamericanas.

La maniobra tenía su importancia, porque muchos diarios de América Latina censuraban sus propios reportajes internos por razones de seguridad, pero las historias que venían de la AP en Estados Unidos podían publicarse con mayor facilidad.

En 1978, en plena Guerra Sucia, hubo una historia que recuerdo en particular. Pepe me dijo que una de las Madres de Plaza de Mayo estaba en Nueva York lista para ser entrevistada.   Hice la entrevista y redacté una historia nacional e internacional sobre los esfuerzos del grupo para encontrar a los niños robados de sus padres prisioneros y asesinados.

Pepe y yo tratamos de no llamar  la atención –esa historia y otras aparecieron en el cable latino como era nuestro propósito. Nuestro único objetivo era asegurar que se pudiera acceder a todas las noticias. Fue una gran satisfacción.

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Pepe Eliaschev–A Proud Memory

The death of my friend and colleague, the Argentine journalist Jose “Pepe” Eliaschev, brings to mind a story that deserves to be told. Pepe died of pancreatic cancer in Buenos Aires on November 18, 2014. He was 69. He had for decades been a popular commentator and host on Argentine radio.

As young newsmen at The Associated Press in New York in the 1970s, Pepe and I were proud conspirators when some supervisors on the Latin America desk tried to censor or limit news about the right-wing Argentine military dictatorship.

I was on the World Desk at AP headquarters in New York. My job was to edit, transmit and sometimes report world news in English for our worldwide service in Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Pepe sat several yards away at La Prensa Asociada — the Latin America desk, translating and transmitting news into Spanish for Mexico, Central and South America. As in the case of Pepe, some were from countries whose repressive regimes made journalism difficult and dangerous.

Others were right-wingers and even made sneering remarks in Spanish, assuming no one could understand. They didn’t know I spoke Spanish. In particular, some of the Latin editors supported the Argentine dictatorship, which at the time was deep into on a Dirty War and would end up killing or “disappearing” more than 20,000 people.

Pepe told me that some of the bosses were intercepting—“disappearing”—news stories that might be “embarrassing to Argentina.”

We knew, though, they couldn’t block stories if the English-speaking side of the desk originated or selected stories to publish – for example, the Carter administration’s human rights concerns, or questions about the role of the Catholic Church.

So Pepe would let me know when someone tried to weed out a story that might reflect badly on the Argentine dictatorship. All I had to do was resurrect the story on the international line in English.  They were then forced to translate and transmit the report to the South American news lines.

This was significant, because many newspapers in Latin America self-censored their own reporting at home for reasons of safety; stories originating from AP in the United States could more easily be published.

One story in particular came in 1978 – the height of the Dirty War.  Pepe told me that one of the members of the organization Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo was in New York and ready to be interviewed. I was able to write a national and international story about the group’s efforts to find children stolen from their imprisoned and murdered parents.

Pepe and I kept our heads down – that story and others appeared on the Latin wire as was only fair and fitting to our role as journalists. The goal was to make sure that all the news was available regardless of politics. It’s a proud memory of my old friend.

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