Monday, January 31, 2011

January Odds and Ends...

We say good-bye to January and for those of us who live in the snowy woods of the Northeast, it couldn’t come soon enough.  January has also been a politically raggedy month with an over-ballyhooed State of the Union Address with not just one, but two, ho-hum rebuttals from the right.  
Tragically, this month began with an assassination attempt on the life of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.  Giffords survived a severe wound to her head, but 6 others, who had come to talk with her, were killed.  In all, twenty citizens were killed or wounded in a maniacal shooting spree by a young gunman using a Glock automatic pistol with an extended magazine.  As Giffords struggles to recover in a rehabilitation facility in Houston, the other survivors cope with their wounds, and the families of those killed deal with their sorrow, but, unbelievably, our Congress has not yet gotten around to ban the extended magazine which enabled the gunman to get off so many rounds before he paused to reload.
The month is ending with a massive uprising of the Egyptian citizenry against the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, regrettably a staunch ally of the United States.  At this writing we do not know how this will play out, but we do know that the effects will still be felt when all this snow has melted away.
But before we head into February there are a few leftovers that should be mentioned.  
First, the promised protest against the Koch brothers’ semiannual gathering of 200 rightwing Masters Of The Universe at Rancho Mirage in So. California did take place and even got media attention.  The NYTimes reported [Here] that 11 busloads of protesters arrived outside the luxury resort whose entry was blocked by sheriff’s deputies in riot gear and carrying batons.  Meanwhile, the invited guests were whisked in and out of the complex in SUV’s with tinted windows.  (House GOP Majority leader Eric Cantor was expected to attend.)
David Dayen of FireDogLake [Here] reported that at least 25 people were arrested and that “thousands” took part in the protest.  Some of the groups that were represented were MoveOn, CREDO, California Courage Campaign, Cal. Nurses Ass., United Domestic Workers of American, 350.com (an activist environment group) and Common Cause, the principal protest organizer.  It was good to read that when Dayen asked the President of Common Cause if this protest signaled a more aggressive posture from them, his answer was, “Keep watching.”
       
Whoppee.  We shall!
Speaking of the excellent FireDogLake.com., they posted an essay titled “The Blue Collar Life,” written by someone called wavpeac. [Here]  I do not know who she is but she described the working life and background of her 50-year old electrician husband.  It’s written with love and respect and some bitterness for the hard life that her husband must endure to make a living for himself and his family.  It’s a must-read.  Do you think that any of those folks who sunned themselves at Rancho Mirage, including Rep. Eric Cantor, would understand any of it?
And another must-read.  [HereThe Times printed a story about a young man named Maurice Mannion-Vanover who died recently of AIDs.  (Yes, it still happens.)  Maurice was born with the disease in 1990 and his twin sister lived only 20 months.  In 1993 a gay male couple, who were looking to care for a child with special needs, adopted him.  Against all the predictions, the boy survived and thrived.  The couple eventually relocated to Montclair.  
When Maurice fell in love with horses, they bought him one and stabled him in a carriage house on their property.  As The Times’s Peter Applebome put it, Rocky became the only horse in Montclair and became the delight of Montclair children.  Rocky also greeted commuters passing to and from work.  When Maurice died, aged 20, 500 people crowded into his Episcopal  church to say good-bye.  [Here]   
Making sense of it all goes far beyond the known facts of Maurice, the Tims and Rocky the Horse: the way his beloved dog, Hunter, keeled over and died a few hours after Maurice passed on; the way Rocky took Mr. Vanover’s head with his own and drew it close to him, as if sharing grief in a hug. Before the funeral service, Rocky, the Tims and Kindoo walked to the church in front of the hearse. 
Yes, it’s a must-read.  And while you finish wiping the tears away, have you read about the Cooper’s Hawk that has been flying inside the dome of the Library of Congress?  [Here]  I guess the hawk doesn’t like the weather any more than we do.
Snowy January--Begone!...

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Those Koch Boys Again...

Last September we wrote [Here] about an investigative report that appeared in The New Yorker and was written by their splendid staff writer, Jane Mayer, titled “Covert Operations: The brothers trying to bring down Obama.”  The brothers were, of course, David and Charles Koch and they are at it again.  This time the venue for their political and economic planning will be in sunny, luxurious Rancho Mirage in California.
The Koch brothers host two such meetings every year.  The previous one was held last June in Aspen, Colorado.  These meetings are invitation-only affairs offered to only 200 guests, who are urged to wear name tags at all times and to keep the discussions private and confidential.  (Oh, dear!  Where do they pin their name tags on their swimming togs?  Rancho Mirage is reputed to have several gorgeous swimming pools.)
Last June’s discussions were focused on the upcoming midterm elections and raising money for the huge, largely successful, ad campaigns that were directed against Democratic Candidates.  The invitation to the upcoming event, according to thinkprogress.com. reads: [Here]
...We must dedicate ourselves to making major advances in the direction of economic freedom.  Our goal for these meetings must be to advance ideas that strengthen that freedom, beat back the unrelenting attacks and hold elected leaders accountable.  
What an agenda!  How thinkprogress got a copy of the invitation I do not know, but it sounds very Koch-like, doesn’t it?  It also sounds very Friedmanesque, too.  
The list of past guests to these events reads like a Conservative Who’s Who--Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (some claim just before Citizens United v. FEC), talk show folks Glenn and Rush, Senators Jim DeMint, Engineering Industrialists Steve and Betty Bechtel, and so on. [Here]  For a list of last June’s Aspen attendees from thinkprogress.com., click [Here].
This year the group will not be left entirely alone.  Just down the road there will be a counter conference, sponsored by Common Cause and other liberal and progressive groups.  The purpose of the alternative meeting is to call attention to the power and influence of these multi-billionaires and their influence on the American political world.  Mary Boyle of Common Cause said, [Here]
We want to raise public awareness of the harmful influence of corporate money. The Koch gathering embodies all that we consider damaging to our democracy. 
Robert Reich, Berkeley Economics professor and Labor Secretary under Clinton, will be a panel speaker.  He, too, is alarmed at the reach and power of corporate money, calling it: [Here
...the worst I've seen it in my lifetime.  
Reich has a powerful, intelligent voice and is well-respected with high name recognition.  Let us hope that the speeches in opposition to the corporate power, which, unfortunately, will NOT be on public display at Rancho Mirage, will be well covered by the press.
The date for this event?  January 30-31, 2011
Address for the event?    Rancho Las Palmas Resort
            Rancho Mirage, California  
Let’s see what the msm says and does about this event...

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Preview of Coming Attractions...

The new chair of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is California Republican Darrell Issa.  If everything we hear about his plans to use the committee to investigate, investigate, investigate every Fox-imagined rumor about Obama’s White House, we shall be hearing and reading quite a lot about this man in the coming months..
Issa (pronounced Ice-ah) grew up in Ohio,  His mother was a Mormon and his father Eastern Orthodox of Lebanese immigrants.  He is the second oldest in a family of six children.  Issa left high school before graduation to join the army.  He signed up for defusing bombs, Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD).  When running for office, he claimed that he had provided security for President Nixon by sweeping and clearing baseball stadiums of bombs before games in the 1971 World Series.  (Nixon never attended any games in the series but it makes a good story.)  
When Issa’s father had a heart attack, his son received an army hardship discharge to help the family.  He earned a GED, and attended a small Catholic college.  That first year he was arrested twice, but not charged.  The first time was for stealing a Maserati from a showroom and the second time for having a gun with ammunition in the glove compartment of a car he was driving.  (He had been stopped by police for going the wrong way on a one-way street.)
There also was an earlier instance of a possible car incident when he was in the service.  An army buddy angrily accused Issa of stealing his Dodge Charger.  The next day the car was found abandoned on a public highway.  (Issa has denied the charge.)
These accounts are repeated in both Issa’s biography in Wikipedia [Here] and in an excellent Issa profile by Washington Correspondent Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker (January 24, 2011). [Here]  Lizza is careful to mention that the authorities have dismissed the Ohio car theft and gun charge against Issa, as well as another more serious charge of arson.  (What has surprised me, though, is that these detailed incidents were left in the Wikipedia entry without Issa or his staff scrubbing the stories.)
The arson charge was about the complete destruction of his factory by fire in 1982.  The fire left incendiary-like burn marks, although the supposed source of the fire was a defective electrical socket.  What added to the suspicions of the insurance company was that three weeks before the fire, Issa had increased his insurance coverage from $100,000 to $462,000.  In addition, an employee testified that before the fire, Issa had removed an Apple computer and back-up discs and other invaluable records. 
As Lizza wrote: [Here
The Ohio state fire marshal never determined the cause of the fire and no one was ever charged with a crime.  
Lizza also added that in the course of the arson investigation the Ohio authorities reported that: [Here
We were unable to find the source of his financing for the business ventures he is engaged in at the present time.
After reporting the above statement from almost 30 years ago, Lizza moved on to later chapters in Issa’s life, but it was much like leaving a decaying dead elephant in the middle of the floor.  The stench just doesn't go away.
In 1985 Issa sold his alarm business and moved to California, starting another alarm company, Directed Electronics, Inc., DEI, which are also Issa's initials and whose Viper alarm system uses his voice.  The company has been hugely successful, making Issa a very rich man.  In the 1990's Issa shifted his attention and began to move into conservative politics.  He had his eyes on running for the Senate, but did not win the GOP primary.  
Issa was instrumental in unseating Gov. Gray Davis and although most thought that he would run for the governor's seat himself, he ended up supporting Arnold Schwarzenegger.  He finally settled for running for the House in a safe conservative district near San Diego.  And that’s where he’s been since 2001.
Lizza reports that Issa has hired a group of young media experts to manage his image.  They call themselves Issa Enterprises.  Their purpose is to make Issa into a Washington insider, a power player.  And Issa has the money and the ambition to make it happen.  (May I also add cunning?)
Ryan Lizza ended his fascinating New Yorker profile with a description of a telephone exchange he had with Issa.  He asked the Congressman where he initially got his money to start his company.  After hedging, Issa finally said, 
“Everyone has a past.”
Indeed, Mr. Issa.  So did Joe McCarthy...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sister Margaret McBride, revisited...

Last May, NYTimes columnist Nick Kristof introduced us [Here] to a courageous woman--a nun--Sister Margaret McBride, who had been an admired and revered senior administrator in a Catholic hospital in Phoenix, Arizona.  Kristof quoted doctors who described Sister Margaret as “saintly.”
However, in late 2009 a young pregnant mother of 4 was admitted to the hospital, suffering from pulmonary hypertension which was threatening her life and the life of her fetus.  If the pregnancy were allowed to continue, both the fetus and the mother would die.  The final decision to abort the pregnancy was made, Kristof reported, after consultation with the patient, her family, her doctors and after advice with the hospital’s ethics committee.
Sister Margaret was chair of the ethics committee and obviously agreed with the committee’s decision.  When Thomas Olstead, the bishop of Phoenix, heard about the decision, he ex-communicated Sister Margaret, ruling that excommunication was “automatic” when she gave her consent to the medical procedure, even though the life of the mother was at stake and the fetus was doomed with or without an abortion.
The remainder of Nick Kristof’s May column was about the saintly nature of Sister Margaret.  Dr. John Garvie, the head of the hospital’s Gastroenterology Department, wrote to The Arizona Republic saying that “She [Sister Margaret] works tirelessly and selflessly as the living example and champion of compassionate, appropriate care for the sick and dying.”  The same doctor wrote to Kristof adding “...that we have no one to take her place.” 
Kristof also noted that at the same time that Bishop Olstead was “automatically” excommunicating the good nun in Arizona, the world-wide Catholic Church was punishing by defrocking the individual priests who had abused innocent children, but never, never, never by excommunication.
Last Wednesday, Nick Kristof updated the story of Phoenix’s St. Joseph’s hospital and Sister Margaret and it isn’t pretty.  Just days before Christmas Bishop Olstead ended the relationship of St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center with the Roman Catholic diocese.   As Kristof put it: [Here
Now the bishop, in effect, is excommunicating the entire hospital — all because it saved a woman’s life.
We should also note here that Sister Margaret is still working for the hospital, only in a different capacity, and I suspect that this hospital/diocese severance is revenge and payback for the hospital's support of Sister Margaret.   
I am not a Roman Catholic and am not in a position to judge the theological impact this would have on an individual patient at the hospital.  I can imagine that it would be wrenching and painful for those believers on staff and for patients in treatment, if they chose the hospital because of its religious affiliation.
There is danger for patients of all faiths when Catholic doctrine dictates specific medical treatments, particularly to women.  Kristof noted that an Oregon hospital was severed from its affiliation with the church because the hospital offered its patients tubal ligation on demand.  Two Catholic-affiliated hospitals in Texas ceased offering the procedure solely because of the church’s insistence.
According to Kristof, 15% of American hospital beds are in Catholic-affiliated hospitals which have particular points of view about women’s reproductive options.  Those positions are perhaps comfortable for many Roman Catholic women, but not for all.  And what about women who are forced to use the services of those hospitals because it is the closest or perhaps the only hospital available to them?
We are gratified to learn that Sister Margaret continues to be employed at St. Joseph’s, but how tragic and painful excommunication must be to this devout, caring, gentle soul.
For shame, Bishop Olstead... 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Day After...

Well, the State of the Union Address is finally over and everyone can get back to work, and that includes the President.  I hear no raves, but plenty of sighs of relief.  FireDogLake.com, that excellent website of progressive and liberal bloggers, posted a number of reactions to the speech and all of them said much the same thing, “Close, but no cigar.”
One of the FDL bloggers, John Chandley, who writes under the name Scarecrow, summed up his thoughts in his title, “Obama Ignores the State of the Union, Makes Nice Speech.” [Here]
If you ignore virtually every major problem facing America, particularly those posing immediate crises for unemployed families, broken communities and struggling states, and focus only on what a country would normally do in ordinary times, then you’ll find some things to like in the President’s address to Congress. Yeah, we should invest in education, and energy, and infrastructure. 
Agreed.  And as we wrote the other day, remembering FDR’s 1944 list of economic freedoms for everyone in the country, we would hope that every President would remind us to keep our eyes on the least among us--the least strong, the least affluent, the least physically fit, the youngest and the oldest.  The Koch brothers and the Pete Petersons can (and do) take care of themselves.  Obama gave only passing reference to the poor and unemployed.
The general atmosphere in Congress during the State of the Union Address seemed friendly and collegial, as it should always be.  (The chair left empty for Gabby Giffords was a gentle reminder to everyone to behave.)  Even Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R, WI) Republican response that immediately followed the President’s remarks was what one would expect from Mr. Lugubrious.  
What was totally unexpected was Michelle Bachman’s response that CNN ran right after Ryan’s remarks.  It was also streamed live on the Tea Party Express website.  Why CNN ran her response is beyond me.  In so doing, the network gave equal time to The Tea Party.  I wonder why.
Of course, most of us were still reeling from the speech Bachman delivered over the week-end to Iowans For Tax Relief in which she displayed a shocking ignorance of American history.  I could not find a transcript of her remarks, only a video [Here] and this abridged transcript and remarks from TalkingPointsMemo.com. [Here]
Bachmann (R-MN) also noted how slavery was a ’scourge’ on American history, but added that ‘we also know that the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States.’
‘And,’ she continued, ‘I think it is high time that we recognize the contribution of our forbearers who worked tirelessly — men like John Quincy Adams, who would not rest until slavery was extinguished in the country.’
It’s true — Adams became a vocal opponent of slavery, especially during his time in the House of Representatives. But Adams was not one of the founders, nor did he live to see the Emancipation Proclamation signed in 1863 (he died in 1848).”
Listen to the whole speech, [Here] at your peril.  Bachman obviously also does not even know that many of our revered “founding fathers” were slaveowners, men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  Later on the Rachel Maddow show, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D,NY) summed up Michelle Bachman as “clearly not in touch with the mother ship.” [Here
Just remember this woman would like Obama’s job.  
Yes, indeed!  It’s going to be an interesting two years until November Election Day 2012.
Fasten your seat belts...   

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

His Eye Was On The Sparrow...

I cannot remember more hype and predictions and fluff and puffery for any previous State of the Union Address, can you?  After all, the event occurs every year.  Even Michelle has been dragged into the drama with the WH press office announcing a list of people who have been invited to sit with the First Lady.  Even poor Cmdr. Mark Kelly, Rep. Giffords’s husband, was invited.  He declined the invitation--obviously.  
CrooksandLiars.com has done us another great service by digging back and finding this great Franklin D. Roosevelt State of the Union Address.  It’s been referred to as FDR’s Second Bill of Rights.  It was heard on January 11, 1944.  (I wrote “heard” rather than “delivered” because the speech had been taped.  Roosevelt had been ill with the flu and was unable to address Congress directly.)
This was FDR’s opening: [Here
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. ‘Necessitous men are not free men.’  People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident.  We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all, regardless of station, race, or creed.
The following are the fundamental economic rights that Roosevelt listed in that 1944 State of the Union speech. 
The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being. 
A year and three months later, FDR died from a massive stroke. Yet, here we are, more than 50 years later, still struggling to effect the fundamental economic bill of rights that FDR had envisioned and had taught us yearn for.
FDR kept his eyes on the least fortunate in our society and never lost sight of them.  More importantly, his vision of a just society gave us a political language for the morality we had learned at home, at school and in church.
On the other hand, the Republican Party of Herbert Hoover believed that if the upper income folks prospered so did the rest of society.  Why?  Well, the wealth would sort of “trickle down” the economic ladder.  That philosophy, while fundamentally demeaning, at least acknowledges that there are the unemployed, the poor, the working and middle class below them.  Today’s GOP doesn’t even say that because they simply ignore the poor and concentrate on the wealthy. 
I am certain that Rep. Paul Ryan’s GOP rebuttal, which will be delivered immediately after the President’s address, will reflect this same old GOP philosophy but couched in slicker language.  We’ll write more on this tomorrow.
Let us hope that Barack Obama and his speech writers have learned a little something from FDR’s vision and not Ronald Reagan’s.  Will the President describe the present despair of the long-time unemployed, the homeless and the dispossessed when he sketches his vision for America’s future? 
Will Obama’s eye be on the sparrow or on the corporate vultures?....
   

Sunday, January 23, 2011

SOTU revised--we hope...

Have you ever heard or seen so much ballyhoo about a State Of The Union address?  (Full Disclosure: when I first saw the SOTU abbreviation, I admit that I had to look up what it stood for.  I know we live in a world of texting and tweeting, but really...)  Yes, the State of the Union speech is important and, in fact, is mandated by our Constitution (Article II, Section 3).  This one is particularly important after a midterm election in which the President’s party lost its majority in one of the Houses of Congress, but it still is not as monumental as the WH and the msm are making it.  Meanwhile, the Senators and Representatives are turning it into a Second Grade party, worrying about who sits with whom.  
This speech seems to be positioned by the WH as the start of the 2012 presidential campaign.  I’m almost bored with the whole show already.  Aren't you?  Don’t they know that two years is a long, long time in life and particularly in politics?
The President has even sent out a preview of the speech.  [Here]  I have received the trailer in an email and even received an invitation to view The Speech with other Democrats in a home over an hour and two expensive ferry rides away.  [No, thank you.]
The NYTimes placed a long preview/analysis of the upcoming speech as their top Sunday news story, even though the reporters, Jackie Calmes, Jeff Zelemy and contributors Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Helene Cooper, tell us [Here] that Obama is still working on the address .[The emphasis is mine.]
The annual address on Tuesday, with much of the nation watching, will pull together themes suggested by Mr. Obama over the past two months as he has moved rapidly since the midterm elections to retool his presidency.
...Mr. Obama has signaled that after two years in which his response to the economic crisis and his push for passage of the health care bill defined him to many voters as a big-government liberal, he is seeking to recast himself as a more business-friendly, pragmatic progressive.
That means emphasizing job creation, deficit reduction and a willingness to compromise in a new period of divided government.
Why is it when I read statements about the so-called “divided” government, folks seem to forget that it is only Congress that is divided?  The presidency is still in the hands of the Democrats or was the last time I looked.
However, the line in the article, obviously written after speaking to WH staff, that completely shocked me was this:  [Here]
Advisers said the president would describe five “pillars” for ensuring America’s competitiveness and economic growth: innovation, education, infrastructure, deficit reduction and reforming government.
Five pillars?????  Either this is a shocking piece of ignorance on the part of the Times reporters or the WH staff --or both.  
Is the White House serious or were they rolling the Times?  Are they really going to frame the President’s new economic program with the parallel wording of the core belief system of Islam???   
Isn’t this the President who has tried to convince the GOP wingnuts that he is not a secret moslem?  Why, then, would he chose to describe his new economic model with the same language as the Five Pillars of Islam?  Let us hope that one of these “advisors” was pulling the reporters’ legs.  
Yet, the only blogger whom I have read who has picked up this MAJOR bumbling stupidity is Tristero at Hullabaloo.  [Here]

The WH has 48 hours to figure out the goof.  The President is still polishing and revising the speech.  Wasn’t that the reason why he didn’t attend Sargent Shriver’s funeral?
That's what we thought.  Were we wrong?...

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Glenn Beck, Dangerous Fool...

I admit that I do not watch t.v. and certainly not FOX so I had to be pointed to this latest Glenn Beck inanity.  (h/t to Tristero at Hullabaloo.)  It appears that Beck has had a campaign against a CUNY graduate school Professor of Political Science and Sociology, Frances Fox Piven, and her late husband, Richard Cloward.  
Beck claims that Piven and Cloward were the architects of what Beck calls the “Cloward-Piven strategy” which The Nation tells us is a phrase invented by rightwing activist David Horowitz. [Here]  Beck has just picked it up and has made it his own.  Recently Piven has called for a mobilization of the unemployed, but Beck has blown this out of recognition.  The Nation charges that Beck has claimed [Here] that Pliven (and her husband):
 ...engineered the financial crisis of 2008, healthcare reform, Obama's election and massive voter fraud, among other world-historical events.
Beck has featured Piven in at least 28 broadcasts and features her in his website The Blaze with a large headline, “Frances Fox Piven Rings In The New Year By Calling For Violent Revolution” with an article by Jonathon M. Seidl and 578 hate-filled comments.  Seidl writes that: [Here]
She’s [Piven] considered by many as the grandmother of using the American welfare state to implement revolution.
I’ll stop with that quotation.  You can write the rest.  However, the website is a valuable peek into the mind of rightwing conspiracy theories.  In fact, I was reminded of the same paranoid ideation from the McCarthy era and from Fred Koch’s John Birch Society in which Communists were imagined under every bush and fluoridation was part of a sinister Communist plot to poison our drinking water.
The current rash of personal threats and comments against Frances Piven are chilling, particularly after the Tucson slaughter.  The Center for Constitutional Rights has sent a letter to Roger Ailes, Fox News President, urging him to help in silencing Glenn Beck’s crusade against Professor Piven.  As the CCR website wrote:  [Here]
Repeated Branding of 78-Year-Old Professor Frances Fox Piven as ‘Enemy of the Constitution’ Incites Death Threats.
It will be interesting to see if anything changes.  
Prof. Piven has described obscene emails that she has received and threats of violence.  In an interview on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman [Here], Piven told how she had gotten a phone call from a person who described himself as a graduate student from Michigan State Western University and asking whether he and a fellow student could video tape an interview of her for a term paper.  She was recovering from an automobile accident, but she invited them to her home for the taping.  A few days later she became aware that edited bits of the interview were being shown on the Beck show. (I admit that the teacher that is still within me saw red at this betrayal!  How horrible to twist Piven’s gracious and generous offer into an attack against her, but I suppose the Beck folks simply felt smug.)
I urge you to click on the Goodman interview to hear and see the entire Piven statement.  [Here]  She is a very interesting and impressive woman.  Piven pointed to what she called a vast propaganda effort.  She added that the problem was not just Glenn Beck but also Rupert Murdoch.
Who could disagree?...

Friday, January 21, 2011

He’s no sweetheart...

Joe Lieberman has just announced that he will not seek re-election in 2012.  
What is it with these politicians who feel compelled to announce years ahead of time that they will retire?  Is it an inexpensive way of sending out one’s resumé?  No stamps.  Just a mike and the press will do it all for you?  Why not open the office door and yell down the hall?  One is sure to snag some powerful lobbyists with powerful employers who would be thrilled to bag a high-name recognition, ex-Senator and vice-presidential candidate.
In his tour of various talk shows, he stopped by Morning Joe on Thursday morning during which he was questioned about his continuing strong defense of our war in Iraq. [Here]  When asked by Mika Brzezinski whether, in retrospect, he would still vote for the Iraq war, given that there were no WMD, he said he certainly would.  When Arianna Huffington pressed him further, Lieberman answered, (as reported by Steve Benen at Washington Monthly): [Here] [The emphasis is mine.]
When Huffington said there's nothing in the Duelfer Report to bolster Lieberman's conclusions, the senator replied, ‘I don't think you've read it, sweetheart.’
Benen was as shocked as we are.  He commented: [Here]
I find it nothing short of remarkable that a United States senator in 2011 would be so condescending as to call a woman ‘sweetheart’ on national television. In context, Huffington was calling Lieberman out on his transparent falsehoods, which no doubt irritated him, but frankly, I don't care what the context was. Huffington deserves an apology.
(Don’t hold your breath for a Lieberman apology.)
On Wednesday, the NYTimes’s Gail Collins reviewed Lieberman’s public career for us and I suspect he wished that she had never heard of him.  Collins has roots as a Connecticut reporter in the 1970‘s and I suspect that their paths have crossed many times.  She doesn’t have much nice to say about him.  
Normally people look particularly appealing when they’re promising to go away.  This time, not so much...Lieberman has reached a point in his public career when every single thing he does, including talking about his grandparents, is irritating.
Collins wrote that Lieberman expected to be the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee in 2004 and when the party turned to John Kerry instead, he was deeply shocked and hurt.  Collins quoted Bill Curry, a state Democratic politician, as saying about Lieberman that he had never seen anyone...”take anything so personally.  He became so bitter about Democratic liberals.” 
Two years later when young progressives came into the state to help defeat Lieberman in the Connecticut Democratic senatorial primary, he became even more bitter.  When he ran as an Independent, he must have felt vindicated.  Collins put it another way.  She wrote that the win “...cemented his sense of exceptionalism.”  (Ouch!)
After campaigning hard for GOP nominee John McCain in 2008, he continued to caucus with the Democrats in the Senate, but helped to drag out the health care debate until everyone was weary of the subject.  Collins ended her column with this tongue in cheek line:
You will find it all in my upcoming book, ‘Everything Bad Is Joe Lieberman’s Fault.’
Her final line was funny and in many ways eased away some of the sting of the column.  However, I doubt if thin-skinned Joe Lieberman would or could read it that way.
I am sure that when Arianna Huffington flatly contradicted Lieberman the morning after the NYTimes ran the Collins column, Joe had had enough of sharp-tongued, sharp-penned, smart females.  I also bet that Lieberman’s “sweetheart” was as condescending a dismissal as Arianna has heard in a long, long time.
I am amazed that more women haven’t picked up the insult and written about it.
I have...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Clearing The Desktop...

As we have sat in horror, seeing and reading about the events that had occurred in Tucson, items have piled up on our desktop that should be mentioned.  
To begin with, we note with sadness the passing of R. Sargent Shriver at 95.  He was often simply identified as a Kennedy in-law, with the press passing over his many accomplishments as the Director of the Peace Corp., as a leader in Johnson’s War On Poverty, and as Ambassador to France.  His wife, Eunice, the creator and director of the Special Olympics, passed away two years ago.  What special people they were in their efforts to help the forgotten ones--the poor, the handicapped, and disabled.  Who, outside their family, will take their places?  Who in the coming generations will care as deeply as those two did?  We honor and salute them both and say farewell to Sargent. [Here]
In the coming weeks, let us try to ignore the stupid and media-catching sentences that the new GOP Senators, Congressmen and Congresswomen, and Governors are pumping into the msm.  I can’t blame reporters for picking up some of the nonsense because they make a living this way, but still...  Do we really need to know that the newly installed Alabama Governor made a speech in which he said that only those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior are his “brothers?” [Here]  He did say that he was governor of all Alabamans BUT only those who were "true" Christians (by his definition) were his “brothers.”  I am certain that if I lived in Alabama I would take comfort in that.  (I’m particular about familial members.)
Let us offer up a particular deaf ear to what is floating downwind from the Hill.  Remember that many of those folks have been saving up outrageous things to say since mid-November and now is their chance!  Newly-elected Nevada Senator Mike Lee’s statement [Here] that disaster relief is not a federal matter (“It’s Unconstitutional!”) or Congressman Steve King’s curt dismissal of the idea [Here] that pre-existing conditions should be a part of any national health care reform are just two examples of the hot air.
As I used to say to my dog Sammy as we walked past a particularly interesting or ferocious dog, “Pay no attention!”
Wednesday’s NYTimes ran an account of a newly found letter that the Vatican had sent to the Irish bishops in 1997 warning the bishops that Rome had serious questions about the bishops‘ policy of  reporting child abuse to civil authorities.  As the Times reporter Laurie Goodstein gently put it: [Here]
The document appears to contradict Vatican claims that church leaders in Rome never sought to control the actions of local bishops in abuse cases, and that the Roman Catholic Church did not impede criminal investigations of child abuse suspects.
The article goes on to say that this letter will prove invaluable to the abuse victims who are pursuing lawsuits against Rome.  They are calling this document the “smoking gun” that they have been searching for.
Let us hope that this letter will speed the closure on these cases so the victims can begin to rebuild their lives--and perhaps their faith. 

And, finally, let’s end on a positive note.  We understand that Gabby Giffords will be moved on Friday, probably by medevac, to the TIRR Memorial Herman Rehabilitation Hospital in Houston, Texas.  By some accounts this center is the finest rehab facility in the world for brain trauma injuries.  We are also told that she stood on her feet today.  What glorious news!  [Here]
In an appreciative piece about Gabby, Robert Reich, the economist, wrote about telling her to be careful after her front office door and window were shattered last March.  She laughed and told him: [Here]
 I’m tougher than nails.  Nothing’s gonna stop me.
If “tough” means courageous and positive, we certainly have seen it.  
She has the admiration and best wishes of the nation...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Where are you headed, Mr. President?...

I live in the woods and today a steady rain was sloshing and melting the snow outside.  Yet, through all that dripping water, I could hear the laughter and cheers from Wall Street, from David Koch’s NYC penthouse, and even from the U.S.Chamber of Commerce way down in D.C., as they heard about Obama’s latest turn to the right.  This time its all about deregulation.  (Does that ring a familiar Milton Friedman-esque bell?)
This is how the Washington Post’s Lori Montgomery phrased it: [Here]
President Obama on Tuesday ordered every federal agency to conduct a systematic review of existing regulations, a concerted effort to banish red tape at a time when the administration is eager to promote economic growth and to repair its fractured relations with the business community.
With a new executive order and two presidential memorandums, Obama laid out a regulatory strategy that aims to walk the fine line between protecting public health and safety and freeing business to pursue profits. Many of its principles are already in use, senior administration officials said. But the formal order puts agencies across the government on notice that, when making new rules, they must avoid "unreasonable burdens on business," as Obama put it in an op-ed in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal.
The noisy cheering that I heard today was from Thomas Donohue, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce President, and House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor.  Both said, in effect, this is a good first step, but we must go much, much further.  More.  More.  More...
It is interesting that this executive order was not placed on the first page of the NYTimes, but was buried in the Business Day section [Here] where it certainly could belong, but the importance of the story deserved more attention.  However, one gets the feeling that The Times editors were miffed that the Wall Street Journal got the first nod. [Here]
I am sure that there should be second and third critical examinations at all government regulations, but I’d rather the initiative come from intelligent consumer-oriented folks like Elizabeth Warren rather than ambitious, headline-grabbers like Darrell Issa.  (For an interesting Issa profile, read Ryan Lizza’s “Don’t Look Back” in the January 24, 2011 New Yorker.)
Obama’s tone today is the antithesis of F.D.R.'s when Roosevelt said this in October 1936 just before the general election in his bid for a second term. [The emphasis is mine.] 
They (business interests) had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.
Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.
It is clear that Barack Obama is on a different tack than F.D.R. ever took.  Maybe Obama took the wrong book with him on his Hawaiian vacation.  Instead of a biography of Reagan, he should have taken one of FDR.  What about James MacGregor Burns, The Lion and the Fox (1870-1940)?  That would surely safely guide him through a possible second term. [Here
The question is: will Obama know to “come about” when he sails too far to the right???
Hard Alee, Mr. President!... 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Martin and Bobby Remembered...

Today I found myself flooded with memories about Dr. King.  Some were part of the King legacy--the “I have a Dream speech,” the marches, the bus boycott, the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony. Some were personal--events in and out of my classroom.  
I remember where I was when I heard “The Dream” speech on the radio.  I was driving across a beautiful causeway with Long Island Sound on my right and a bay and harbor on my left.  I started to cry and had trouble steering, but I heard every word.  I still hear them.
There is another scene that I remember vividly, only it involves King’s death.  This is a scene that I read about before I saw filmed footage.  It was Robert Kennedy’s statement to a crowd that had gathered in Indianapolis to hear him give a campaign speech on that fateful evening in April, 1968.  
Kerry Kennedy, Robert’s daughter recreated that scene for us and reprinted his extraordinary, spontaneous speech.  Read the entire speech [Here] with some lines from Arthur Schlesinger, setting the scene.  
Kennedy had climbed up on a flatbed truck in a parking lot.  The crowd was noisy and expecting a rousing campaign speech.  They had not heard the news about King.  Here are some of the highlights of that Kennedy speech:
I have bad news for you, for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world, and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and killed tonight." [There was a terrible gasp from the crowd...]
Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice for his fellow human beings, and he died because of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it is perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black -- considering the evidence there evidently is that there were white people who were responsible -- you can be filled with bitterness, with hatred, and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country, in great polarization -- black people amongst black, white people amongst white, filled with hatred toward one another.
Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love.
...My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: 'In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.'
What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice towards those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black...
...Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and to make gentle the life of this world.
Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people. 
Thank you, Kerry Kennedy, for reminding us.  
I wonder how many of our nation’s current leaders have even heard of Aeschylus...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Are You Ready?...

I am beginning to think that we are going to have to reinvent the entire New Deal before long.  Bit by bit, its fundamental programs and ideals appear to be under attack from the right in wave after wave which seem to be externally choreographed.  
This concerted, sophisticated attack is new in my political memory and I’ve lived a long time.   In fact, I was a baby when FDR was first elected.  I was a child and teenager when union membership became a fact of life and a source of strength for working men and women.  Social Security pensions were enacted when I was in grade school and Brown v. Board of Education desegregated schools when I began my teaching life.
Yes, I thought this was settled history, settled policy and, if you will, settled public morality.  However, the very existence of unions are under attack these days and so are the economic policies that we have associated with them.  (Typically, in my neighboring school district, the teachers are working without a contract and yet the highly paid superintendent has been given a substantial raise.)
Crooks and Liars, that marvelous liberal blog, has posted a video of FOX’s Bulls and Bears Panel in which all the talking heads, except the poor lone Democrat, were lauding the current GM plan to link plant productivity to pay raises.  (Doesn’t this sound strangely similar to promoting and paying teachers based on their students‘ test scores?  Interesting similarity, eh?  Sounds as if they have found a talking point that sounds great to them.)
This GM plan sounds strangely similar to “piece work” which was something that the original UAW organizers fought against.  In the first assembly line, Henry Ford fired workers who had to leave their posts for bathroom breaks.  By the way, one of the rights that striking workers won in the bloody Flint Strike in 1936-7 was the right to talk in the lunch room.  (Talk is dangerous.)
I wonder if young people today even hear in classrooms the names of the great American labor leaders, such as Walter Reuther [Here] and Hugo Chavez [Here], and union advocates, such as the great Frances Perkins? [Here.]  Probably not. 
Another bleak forecast for this year (2011) is the number of homes that are expected to be foreclosed. [Here] Realtors are predicting that this year will be the bleakest year since the housing collapse in 2006.  At the present time more than 5 million Americans are behind in their mortgages.   A real estate tracking firm predicts that 1.2 million homes will be foreclosed this year.  [Here
I cannot begin to imagine the heartache and despair that that figure represents.   More than half of the foreclosures last year were focused in five states: California, Florida, Arizona, Illinois and Michigan.  I wonder how many of these foreclosures were accompanied by legal and proper paperwork?
And, yes, all of the above thoughts are connected.  The attack on the very foundations of the union movement and the growing despair of the most vulnerable in our society with no effective and outraged governmental response means that the spirit of the New Deal is dying for the first time since it was born in the 1930’s.  
Social Security and Medicare will be attacked from the rightwing directly after the Congress deals with the new Health Care Plan.  The billionaire brothers Koch and Pete Peterson have been waiting for this moment for years.
Do you think Obama is ready for them?...    

Saturday, January 15, 2011

If Not Now, When?...

In her NYTimes column last week, Gail Collins reminded us of this preview: [Here]
In 2009, Gabrielle Giffords was holding a 'Congress on Your Corner' meeting at a Safeway supermarket in her district when a protester, who was waving a sign that said 'Don’t Tread on Me,' waved a little too strenuously. The pistol he was carrying under his armpit fell out of his holster.
'It bounced. That concerned me,' Rudy Ruiz, the father of one of Giffords’s college interns at the time, told me then. He had been at the event and had gotten a larger vision than he had anticipated of what a career in politics entailed. 'I just thought, ‘What would happen if it had gone off?  Could my daughter have gotten hurt?’ 
Unfortunately, we now know the answer to this father’s question.  What is extraordinary is that the commentary following the Tucson slaughter has not been about the incredibly lethal weapon that the killer used but has mainly been about the so-called toxic rhetoric in our political discourse.  Little has been said about our need to pay attention to the weaponry that is now widely available to the general public.  As Collins pointed out in her column, today’s handgun technology could not have been imagined by the authors of the Second Amendment.  (Collins titled her essay, “A Right to Bear Glocks?”)
Collins also wrote that the reason that there has been so little discussion of a hard, new look at gun control is “because they’re afraid of the N.R.A., whose agenda is driven by the people who sell guns and want the right to sell as many as possible.” [Here]
The N.R.A. was established in New York in 1871 by two Civil War veterans who were concerned with the lack of marksmanship of their fellow soldiers.   They sponsored shooting events and other gun related events.  Today, the N.R.A. has four million members and is known primarily for its fierce advocacy for gun rights.  Recently, it has flexed its muscle in other areas far afield from marksmanship.  For instance, the NYTimes has pointed out that it became involved in the health care debate and even fought the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. [Here]
A glimpse at the very sophisticated and complex NRA website gives one an indication of the organization’s power and broad interests with streaming text highlighting proposed gun legislation running across the bottom of the screen. [Here]  
One of the staunchest House gun control advocates, Carolyn McCarthy (D, NY) is preparing legislation to outlaw the extended ammunition gun clip that was used in the Tucson shooting.  Certainly no one can argue that the 30 plus bullet clip is needed for self-protection or for hunting.  However, even Rep. McCarthy is mindful of the power of the NRA.  She was quoted by Politico as saying, “...[w]e have to look at what I can pass...I don’t want to give the National Rifle Association--excuse the pun--the ammunition to come at me, either.” [Here]
It’s shocking to read that even Carolyn McCarthy is forced to be aware of the power of the NRA.  McCarthy went into politics after her husband was killed and son permanently disabled by a rampaging killer on a commuter train.  Her bona fides are blood-tested.  
On Friday, NYT’s Bob Herbert recounted the last deadly slaughter of April, 2007 at Virginia Tech in which 32 students and faculty were killed by one crazed gunman.  This horror is retold in a documentary film, “Living for 32,” produced by Maria Cuomo Cole, which tells the story of one of the students, Colin Goddard, who survived several wounds, returned to the college, and now works for the Brady Center To Prevent Gun Violence.  
All Goddard wants is for simple legislative steps to be taken so that gun owners can still enjoy their constitutional rights and that we can all live safely without worrying about a Jared Loughney killing or maiming us.  
Who could vote against that?  

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Guns, Guns, Guns...

Some years ago when I had a Boston Whaler and a house at the seashore, I also had two young neighboring boys living on either side of me who were both in their cowboy stage.  Rain or shine, throughout one hot summer, they would show up at my door with jeweled holsters and elaborate six-shooters at their sides.  They even wore them over bathing trunks.  Both sets of parents hated the incessant noise from the caps in the guns, but seemed incapable of saying “no.”
The boys and I were good friends and I enjoyed having them underfoot--most of the time.  In the early summer I took their mothers and the boys on a quick spin around a creek where I kept the boat.  They loved it, but what they dreamed about was an even longer spin, beyond the harbor into deeper water.  Their dream grew into a wild imagined adventure and became part of every conversation I had with my young friends.
Then I had an inspiration.  I tried to make a deal with them.  I told them that I would take them both out on a long water adventure, complete with a picnic lunch on a distant beach, if they would gather up their six-shooters and every other gun (toy) they owned.  We would pack them up, weight them down and assign them to Davy Jones’s locker when we were in very deep water.
Their faces fell and they both got up and silently left.  I brought up my bargain several more times that summer but the reaction was always the same.  And as you can quess, our friendship was never the same again.
I thought about that summer when I read Nick Kristof’s NYTimes’a op-ed, “Why Not Regulate Guns as Seriously as Toys?”  Kristof’s essay begins:
Jared Loughner was considered too mentally unstable to attend community college.  He was rejected by the Army.  Yet buy a Glock handgun and a 33-round magazine?  No problem.
Kristof need not have gone much further, but he did with some sobering statistics.  He tells us that there are 85 guns in the United States for every 100 people.  (Gulp!)  Every day in America 80 people die from guns and many more times that number are injured.  He writes that since the Tucson slaughter 320 or more Americans have died from a gun shot, either self-inflicted, accidental or intentionally homicidal.
The presence of a gun in a household makes that household less safe, not more so. 
If all of this is obvious and statistically provable, why is there not currently a nationwide movement to control and curb all guns?  Why were the laws outlawing the extended clip that the Tucson killer used allowed to expire?
In the current discussion about the uncivility of our present public discourse, we should not forget our own recent history of violent talk and violent behavior.   Robert Kennedy Jr. [Here] reminds us of the shockingly poisonous political atmosphere in Dallas in 1963 when his Uncle Jack was gunned down.  
Sarah Brady and her husband, Reagan’s Press Secretary who was gunned down with the President, have spent the better part of the last twenty years working for gun control legislation. [Here]  Carolyn McCarthy who has been a strong advocate for gun control, lost her husband and saw her son permanently impaired because they happened to be on the same Long Island commuter train with a deranged man with a gun. [Here]
Must we be victims of the violence that too often accompanies guns to advocate for their control?  Must we have stout hearts to withstand the political pressure of the NRA?  
I have lost track of my young friends.  I’m sure they’ve forgotten their fixation on those six-guns, but I bet they both have a gun in their homes.  They might even be members of the NRA.  But perhaps they’ve grown completely away from that emotional stage that Freud called “latency,” where guns and buddies are so important.[Here]  I hope they have.  
Unfortunately, too few American males seem to have...