Sunday, November 30, 2008

From Mr. K

{About Truth}

"Deep, the student, came to Mr. Keuner, the thinking
man, and said: "I want to know the truth."
"Which truth? The truth is well known. Do you want
to know the truth about the fish trade? Or about the
tax system? If, because they tell you the truth about
the fish trade, you no longer pay a high price for their
fish, you will never know the truth," said Mr. Keuner.

By Bertolt Brecht

("Stories of Mr. Keuner," Bertolt Brecht, 1965, translated from the German by Martin Chalmers,2001, is available from City Lights Books, San Francisco)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Not Just A Passing Ghost

After spending 7 years of my life head to toe with the characters of James Joyce and Nora Barnacle, you can understand my amazement when, at 11 A.M. one autumn morning, the phone rang and the person on the other end introduced himself as "Stephen Joyce."

On the morning of September 18, 2008, Stephen James Joyce, grandson, and only surviving relative, of James Joyce, called from France in response to a letter I sent to him some weeks before.

The letter I sent Joyce, at the request of an Irish independent producer, asked for permission to use excerpts from "Ulysses," and a few letters his grandfather wrote to his patron, Harriet Shaw Weaver, in my feature-length screenplay, "Shakespeare & Company," which tells of the censorship struggle to publish "Ulysses;" the Sylvia Beach story.

I was no more prepared for the nearly two hours of conversation which followed than I am to repeat, from memory, what transpires during a dream, and I had to pinch myself to believe that I was, in fact, awake.

What follows is from a collection of notes that were hastily scribbled on pieces of scrap paper on the desk. In the interest of protecting Mr. Joyce's privacy, I will not include anything that might be considered personal, but only that which has universal, historical value:

Among the first things Stephen Joyce told me is that he likes to be called "Stephen James Joyce," and that I'd better be "very careful with the facts," not unlike his grandfather, I thought, who went over the details of a biography someone was in the process of writing about him with a fine tooth comb.

Of his grandfather, ("JJ"), Stephen would say only that he is "not just a passing ghost" to him. And, he said, if he ever wants to talk to his grandfather, all he has to do is close his eyes.

He asked me to keep our conversation "strictly confidential," a request I was fullly prepared to honor until, in the closing minutes of the call, he gave me permission to write about it.

Joyce said that since my screenplay is about the bookstore "Shakespeare & Company," and not about "Ulysses," or his grandfather, per se, it was none of his business what I did, or who I quoted from. He said explicitly that he didn't want to get involved with the project one way or the other.

That said, he told me that the only edition he would authorize me to take passages from is the original 2/2/22 "Shakespeare & Company" version, published by Sylvia Beach, of which there were 1,000 copies printed worldwide. It was a pronouncement he made dramatically, almost defiantly, and one with which I was fully prepared to comply. He mumbled something about the Harry Ransom Center having a copy.

During more than 90 minutes we spent on the phone, Joyce said three times he would "neither help nor hinder me" in my efforts. He asked if I was familiar with that quote which he took from an American play. (When I checked later, I saw that, according to the New York Times, "When the biographer Deirdre Blair first approached Samuel Beckett in the late '70s, 'the first sentence he ever said to me was, 'So you're the one who's going to reveal me for the charlatan that I am,' Blair recalled. But he also told her, 'I will neither help nor hinder you,' adding, 'I'll introduce you to my friends; my enemies will find you soon enough.") The line makes perfect sentence to me, esp. in light of the fact that Stephen Joyce, later in the conversation, confided that Samuel Beckett was among his closest friends.

Also toward the beginning of the conversation, he asked who told me that the copyright for "Ulysses" would expire in a couple of years. He said that copyright depends upon where in the European Union the movie is made. He also insisted, as part of his statement that I have to be "very careful with facts," that Sylvia Beach never spent time in an internment camp (something that contradicts Beach's memoir, Wikipedia, and Harriet Weaver), and that her bookstore never closed, but only relocated.

He noted, too, that the German soldier, to whom my script refers, only appears in a book by Paul Leon, and is thus suspect. When I told him all my research came from Beach's own autobiography, he suggested she could have misrepresented things. He said I have "a problem" in that I have to sort through all the different stories and versions of events leading up to the publication of "Ulysses" in order to get to the "facts" when there is only one person who knew the true story, and that was his grandfather, James Joyce.

I stressed emphatically that my screenplay is not intended to be a documentary, and that I "fictionalized" his grandfather, as well as took liberties with what he calls "facts." I insisted that it is a dramatization, and not intended to be a literal representation of the events that led to the publication of "Ulysses." Later on in the conversation, he repeated the word "fact" in such a way that suggests he appreciated my thinking.

I told him that Samuel Beckett isn't in the script, and why: "Beckett deserves his own screenplay." I also mentioned that his Aunt Lucia only has a few lines, and why. I said I wanted to keep JJ's family, and private life, out of it. I also told him that he isn't in the script. Stephen said that "family meant everything" to his grandfather with which I agreed heartily. He said it's my script, and my call as to who should be in it.

The relationship between father and son is a big one, Joyce noted, and I told him it played a large role in the screenplay. He added that even though he was named "Giorgio," his father liked to be called "George." I told him I knew that. He mentioned his half brother who died young --- 52, something I didn't know. "If you consider 52 young," he said and laughed.

Stephen Joyce gave me a bibliography of sources to read that would help me to come to know his grandfather better; "The Story of a Friendship," by Paul Leon, and others. He said that, of everyone, Harriet Shaw Weaver knew James Joyce better than anyone, and that Ellmann's biography is okay, actually better than widely considered, but Weaver was the most important person in his grandfather's life.

Frank Budgen, he added, was among his grandfather's closest friends along with Vitalo Svevo, an Italian writer JJ discovered. He also mentioned another close friend of JJ's, Valerie Larbaud, and asked me to not confuse Larbaud with another great French poet who has a similar name (Paul Valery?)

Joyce also said he considers the story of Beach's bookstore, "Shakespeare & Company," and Adrienne Monnier's bookstore, "La Maison des Amies de Livres," to be the most important story of our times, and one that needs to be told. That said, he suggested that there would be no Sylvia Beach, or Shakespeare & Co., without, he paused and I yelled out "James Joyce." He spoke of the magical day when Ms. Beach delivered the first copies of "Ulysses" to his grandfather--a book that was published on 2/2/22 -- JJ's 40th birthday --- we both repeated the date together, then laughed like two schoolchildren in a playground. It was a discovery that, yes, we were kindred spirits.

He spoke lovingly of all the great writers who passed through Beach's and Monnier's bookstores. He asked me if I knew about the closing of the Gotham Book Mart, in New York, and spoke of the loss as if he were talking about the death of an old friend.

And, when I mentioned Ernest Hemingway (a main character in the script), he told me how he pictured Hemingway carrying a drunk "Nonno" home from bars on his shoulders.

Joyce said he spent a good deal of time at The Ritz, a bar which was liberated in 1945, and which is also featured in my script.

As if reading from an envelope, he called out my address: "Walnut Creek, sounds like a nice place." I responded with a line from one of his grandfather's letters from Zurich -- "a delightful nullity." He said he knows America well, went to prep school in New York, and then to Harvard. When I asked what he studied there, he responded with: "What do you think I studied?" I told him English and Philosophy. No, no, he said, history and government. He has been married to the same woman for 50 years, Solange, and acknowledged that, while she has no degrees, she knows his grandfather's work well.

Among my favorite Stephen Joyce lines from the conversation: "America never liberated France. France liberated itself." He added, too, how his grandfather never went to America (which I knew), and mentioned a book written by "that woman in California" about his aunt.

He said he is well-aware of what is going on in America, and the differences between California and New York. I told him I heard all about the book, about Lucia, by that writer at Stanford, and find it offensive that she would take that angle on JJ. He objected to the word "angle" which I also used in a different context. Like his grandfather, he has great sensitivity to words.

I told him I think he inherited his grandfather's talent, and wit, and suggested he ought to write himself whereupon he went off on an extraordinary description of the sea which, frankly, so captivated me I was unable to take notes on it. He recalls my having written to him in the past, fondly.

He mentioned an interview which appeared in The New Yorker and said that he had a phone conversation with the fellow who wrote it, and wasn't even told the guy was taking notes; next thing he knew, the story was published in the form of an interview. I confessed that I, too, was taking notes, but he needn't worry about my writing about our talk because I wouldn't be able to read my own notes. He said not to worry, I could write about our talk, in contrast with his original request to keep the conversation confidential.

When he said, again, that he would neither "help nor hinder" my efforts to dramatize his grandfather's story, I asked him if he would write a letter stating that. There was silence on the other end. I told him that my producer might not believe that I got a call from him. After all, I was having a hard enough time believing it myself.I told him I need tangible proof of the conversation as would the producer in Ireland. He said that I shouldn't work with anyone who doesn't trust, or believe, me.

He asked me to send him a note with the Irish producer's phone number, and he would call him to tell him "exactly what he told me." I added, for clarification purposes, that without written permission, we couldn't use the extracts because it is copyrighted material and we could be sued. He replied by saying he could give permission, "and sue you anyway" at which he laughed, and so did I, thinking he's right. There's always reason to sue if one wants to.

Joyce was reluctant to give me his phone number. I completely understood, and asked if he has an e-mail address. He has no computer, or machines except for a FAX machine. I thought about asking for his FAX number, but didn't want to intrude. He doesn't even use a typewriter, he said, but writes by hand (which was his grandfather's custom, for many years). "The mail will do just fine," he said.

While he insists he's not a big fan of the Irish, he said he'd have no objection to an Irish production. He claimed that his grandfather was not Irish, but "a British subject of Irish origins," and told me not to tell that to any Irish producers cause it will rile them up. He asked if I knew the story of Joe Strick, and how the movie rendition of "Ulysses" was banned in Ireland for 40 years because of Irish censors.

He also mentioned how poorly the Irish treated his Nonno and Nanna. But, then, he added laughingly, and lovingly, that he and Solange were involved with the "Ulysses" centennial in Dublin, in 2004, and that he's been to Ireland. I recall saying it's time to let go of the Irish thing, and he agreed with me, adding he has a few Irish friends.

He asked me to send him a copy of my screenplay, and said Solange would read it first, then he would read it, and gave me his word that not one other living soul would see it. He also asked that I include the extracts from "Ulysses" that I wanted to use. He told me I was under "no obligation" to send it; "just don't say you're sending it, and make me run to check the mailbox every day looking for something that never comes." I told him I was scared to death to let him read the script, and he replied "You should be."

Among the last things Stephen Joyce told me was that he wants to be alive, and able to get around, so he could go to the movies himself and see "Shakespeare & Company" when it comes out.

He asked me to remember that he is still that 8 year old boy waiting for his Nonno to come home. More than anything, I don't want to disappoint him.

"Rest assured, you will be hearing from me again," he said. "I sure hope so," was all I could say, except to add what an honor, and pleasure, it was to hear from him. His response: "Don't say an honor; a pleasure, okay, but not an honor. Every time someone says they'll honor me, they stab me in the back."

There are things Joyce and I discussed that I won't include here. Indeed, there were times, during that conversation, that I felt as if I inadvertently entered a room, and caught someone standing naked. Only, this someone made no attempt to hide his nakedness, and invited me to witness his vulnerability with an openness one expects only to encounter in dreams.

At the risk of being audacious, I can honestly say there was an understanding, a bond, between us; one that exists between two people who have suffered deeply, and who share a great love for another human being---his grandfather, and my muse, James Joyce.

Stephen Joyce is misunderstood. He has been maligned by those who fail to recognize that his whole purpose, his raison d'etre, has been to prevent the perverse, crass, crude commercialization of his grandfather's work and life. He is a man with immense gifts of his own who has sacrificed his own future to preserve the dignity of the works, and life, of James Joyce. For this, his grandfather would be hugely grateful.

When it was time to hang up, I felt as if I were about to be roused from a trance. I waited to hear every syllable of the word "goodbye" as if it had come from the mouth of a ghost---not a passing ghost, mind you, but one with whom I had lived for 7 years.

Friday, November 28, 2008

From Victor E. Frankl

"For the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best.

So, let us be alert--alert in a twofold sense:

Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of.

And since Hiroshima we know what is at stake."

(From Victor E. Frankl, M.D., "Man's Search for Meaning," 1947. Dr. Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist, was a survivor of four concentration camps including Auschwitz, and Dachau.)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

What to Give Thanks for

There are times when we think we'll sink from
the weight of our solitude
when the tumult of traffic
the cacophony of fire engines racing down
damp, dark streets poises like a stray
bullet over the drone of traffic
it is at that hour when, tucked neatly into
a goose down dream, I can finally hear myself think
that I give thanks for having a roof over my head,
and just enough heat to remind me how cold it is on the sidewalk
below, and how lucky I am not to have to sleep there.
I am thankful that when I open the refrigerator door, and peek inside, there is food.
How easy it is to forget what life is like without those simple basics.
Thanksgiving is a day we are reminded not only how fortunate we are,
but of those for whom a warm bed, and a hot meal are elusive wishes.

Quote of the Day

"Things do not happen. Things are made to happen."

President John F. Kennedy

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Birthday Jimi Hendrix

Remembering Jimi Hendrix who would have turned 66 years old on Thanksgiving day.

Jimi was born John Allen Hendrix on November 27, 1942 in Seattle, Washington. Widely believed to be one of the great musicians, and performers, of his time, Hendrix was a poet, a visionary, one of a kind; the Jack of Hearts.

As a teenager, in the late 1960's, I routinely ran away from home, and high school, to a little town in upstate New York which was soon to become legendary. It was in Woodstock that I ran into Jimi in The Elephant, a club I liked to frequent. He entered the room in the company of a couple of suits who, undoubtedly, represented him. It was magical to watch him detach from them, and detach so well even gravity couldn't hold him here.

Jimi Hendrix spent 27 years on a planet that wasn't quite ready for him yet. We're ready for you now, Jimi. Keep the fire burning on this rainy day, dream away.

Food for Thought from Michael Winship

Michael Pollan's Food for Thought

By Michael Winship

The writer and activist Michael Pollan has no interest in becoming Barack Obama's Secretary of Agriculture, thank you very much, even though there are a lot of people who think he'd be perfect for the job.

Pollan disagrees. Laughing, he told my colleague Bill Moyers on the latest edition of public television's Bill Moyers Journal," I have an understanding of my strengths and limitations...I don't want this job," then turned serious as he added, "What Obama needs to do, if he indeed wants to make change in this area-- and that isn't clear yet that he does, at least in his first term -- I think we need a food policy czar in the White House because the challenge is not just what we do with agriculture, it's connecting the dots between agriculture and public health, between agriculture and energy and climate change, agriculture and education."

There's been an Internet-fueled citizen's movement to draft Pollan for the cabinet post. As the author of countless articles and such books as The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals and In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, his thorough reporting, literally getting his hands dirty working on American farms and writing about it, has made him one of our country's greatest experts on how and what we eat.

In an open letter to whoever would become our next president -- or "Farmer in Chief," as he put it in the October 12th New York Times Magazine -- Pollan wrote, "It may surprise you to learn that among the issues that will occupy much of your time in the coming years is one you barely mentioned during the campaign: food. Food policy is not something American presidents have had to give much thought to, at least since the Nixon administration - the last time high food prices> presented a serious political peril...

"But with a suddenness that has taken us all by surprise, the era of cheap and abundant food appears to be drawing to a close. What this means is that you, like so many other leaders through history, will find yourself confronting the fact - so easy to overlook these past few years - that the health of a nation's food system is a critical issue of national security. Food is about to demand your attention."

In 2007, before the financial meltdown had even struck, some 32 million Americans -- at least one in nine households -- had trouble putting enough food on the table. Now, according to the Wall Street Journal, food banks across the country are struggling to meet a surge of people uncertain about their next meal. They've seen a 20% increase in demand -- middle class families, they say, account for most of the growth.

And the day before our annual Thanksgiving binge, the Washington Post reported, "The number of Americans on food stamps is poised to exceed 30 million for the first time this month, surpassing the historic high set in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina <>

"Contrast this with the big bucks being shelled out in the recent $307 billion farm bill, much of it going to massive agribusinesses -- "A welfare program," as Time Magazine described it, "for the megafarms that use the most fuel, water, and pesticides; emit the most greenhouse gases; grow the most fattening crops; hire the most illegals and depopulate rural America."

In a press conference on Tuesday, President-elect Obama cited a report released this week by the Government Accountability Office: "From 2003 to 2006, millionaire farmers received $49 million in crop subsidies even though they were earning more than the $2.5 million cutoff to qualify for such subsidies, " he said. "If this is true, it is a prime example of the kind of waste I intend to end as president."

All well and good, but as a senator, Barack Obama supported that monster farm bill (although he was absent for the actual roll call). He also supported the production of ethanol (a politically expedient move when the Iowa Democratic caucuses were at stake), even though using corn for fuel rather than food raises the price of grain and results in huge emissions of greenhouse gases.

Thus, where food and agriculture are concerned, connecting the dots, as Michael Pollan told Bill Moyers, is a tortuous journey involving internecine politics, international diplomacy, big business, every branch of government and every issue from morbid obesity to homeland security.

Pollan is hopeful that Obama will take advantage of his oratorical skills and bully pulpit to set an example for the American people, perhaps even suggesting "meatless Mondays" for the country - which according to Pollan would have the ecological effect of taking 30-40 million cars off the road for a year - and encouraging home gardening and eating locally; supporting the small farmers who grow fresh food nearby - without chemicals or subsidies.

"I think we have to figure out different solutions in different places, and it's not all or nothing," he said. "We need to let a thousand flowers bloom. We need to try many things in many places, and figure out what works..."Vote with your fork, for a different kind of food. Go to the farmer's market. Get out of the supermarket... Plant a garden.... Declare your independence from the culture of fast food."

Regardless of who Obama chooses as his Ag Secretary, it will be interesting to see if the new president sees fit to make Pollan an unofficial advisor on food issues, an influential voice in his - you should excuse the expression - kitchen cabinet.

Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program
Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS.Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fearful of Hillary Clinton?

Some in the Arab world are reportedly fearful of having Hillary Clinton as our next secretary of state. There is concern that the New York senator is hawkish, and that her pro-Israeli posturing underlies a deeper bias which will, in the end, prevail.

As has been suggested, Senator Clinton, at one time, fully supported the notion of an independent Palestinian state and at a time when that position was controversial. (WaPo) There is every reason to think that she will do so again. After all, many in Israel now support an independent Palestinian state.

Besides, since when does the secretary of state set the foreign policy agenda? Condoleezza Rice surely doesn't, and neither did Colin Powell. It's the president who charts the course we take, and my sense is that Obama may well be the first president, in more than a generation, who is open to critical thinking, and reviewing past policy, where the Middle East is concerned.

There are some who point to the President-elect's appearance before AIPAC, and pledge of support for Israel, as a cause for concern. Candidates often have to say and do things, during their candidacy, which they know will be amended once they're elected. Remember George H.W. Bush's pledge: "Read my lips; no new taxes." Rest assured that Bush pere knew he was going to have to recant that one.

Hillary Clinton will make an outstanding secretary of state, and not for all the cynical reasons that many suggest like, for instance, that she might be a strong contender against Obama in 2012. Clinton will be great at the helm of the State Department because she's a great schmoozer, and because she has the right balance of firmness and finesse.

Anyone who expresses concern that she is more of a hawk than the incoming commander-in-chief hasn't read the fine print. Obama has been transparent, from the beginning, that just because he opposed the Iraq war doesn't mean he opposes war. He's been clear about redeploying troops, not withdrawing them, and has made Afghanistan and Pakistan his target. He even said, recently, that he plans to hunt down and kill bin Laden. If that isn't hawkish rhetoric, what is?

If there is any good news to be found in recent economic events, it is that the crisis in the financial markets will, by necessity, force a seismic shift in focus from foreign to domestic policy.

Having said that, importantly, any difference between Obama and Bush, or McCain, when it comes to foreign policy resides in that Obama is not an ideologue; he's a pragmatist. Moreover, for Obama, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, whereas for the last eight years, there's only been no light, and more tunnel.

That said, while there may be a light at the end of it, we're still in the tunnel. And, if nothing else, the past few months have shown us we have nothing to fear except greed itself.

Regardless of who his secretary of state is, it is essentially Obama who will steer us for at least the next four years. It is up to those of us who voted for him to keep him on task to end not just the war in Iraq, but to put an expiration date on the so-called "war on terror," so we can finally get our economy, and country, back on track again.

Hillary may be on the steering committee, but Obama will be at the wheel.

Feds weighing plan...

to rescue Citigroup, according to today's headlines. When will they weigh a plan to rescue me?

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Bailout for Gonzales?

Everybody balks at the "rescue" of the stock market, savings and loans, and the prospect of bailing out the big three automakers.

But, where is the grumbling when it comes to the Justice Department's approval of using taxpayer funds to rescue some of our highest elected officials from charges of criminal misconduct?

Take, for example, former attorney-general Alberto Gonzales. The Justice Department recently approved his request for a private attorney to defend him against charges that he was up to his proverbial armpits in discriminatory department hiring practices, as well as in partisan firing of nine U.S. attorneys, at twice the cost to taxpayers.

The Department of Justice has staff attorneys in their civil division who are more than able to defend Mr. Gonzales and, while a department civil attorney typically bills at $100 an hour, taxpayers will dole out $200 an hour, with a maximum of $24,000 a month, in compensation so that the former attorney general can have access to private counsel.

The decision to provide this legal bailout for one of its own has been called "exceptional" by a former department higher-up, and is just one of the many perks awarded, at taxpayer expense, to what history may someday regard as among the perps of the most egregious government corruption this country has yet seen.

Gonzales, you'll recall, stepped down from his position as the head of Justice last year after his involvement in the hiring scandal which consisted of his attempt to ensure that only those with Republican party pedigrees could join their ranks, as well as his reputed participation in the notorious terminaton of nine US attorneys who refused to engage in spurious, and partisan, pre-election voter fraud prosecutions.

George W. Bush's pick for attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, will indeed need top tier legal advisors to bail him out of this affair, but there may be yet another reason he wants to retain private law firms, at a cost of 200% more to taxpayers, and that is because he's also facing indictment, along with his former boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, on charges of abuse, and neglect, of prisoners in a federal detention center in southern Texas.

On Wednesday, an arraignment was scheduled for later this week by a Texas judge which would require both Vice President Dick Cheney and the former attorney general to appear in court, but rather than being served with warrants, like you and I would be were we to be arraigned on criminal charges, the vice president and his former attorney-general are instead being issued only a summons in light of their so-called public service.

And, just what are the allegations, specifically, about Mr. Cheney's "public service" with respect to this case?

According to The Associated Press, a grand jury is looking into abuse of power, and conflict of interest, on the vice president's part, in using his influence over Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, under whose umbrella federal prisons fall, to increase the bottom line for the Vanguard Group, in which he has immense interest, and which has holdings in companies that work with federal prisons. In short, Mr. Cheney stands to gain as much from a rise in the rate of incarcerees as he, and Halliburton, do in extending the war in Iraq.

Prisons are hugely profitable these days which may explain why the U.S. now has the dubious distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the industrialized world with fully 1 in every 10 Americans behind bars.

It should come as no more of a surprise to anyone that Dick Cheney is among those making lots of money off the prison-industrial complex any more than it should come as a surprise that, on his watch, the War Crimes Act of 1994 was overturned, and replaced by the Military Commisssion Act of 2006 which grants immunity to any member of his administration for misdeeds in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib or, for that matter, federal detention centers anywhere in the U.S.

But, let's get back to Alberto Gonzales. What is his role in this affair? He is alleged to have obstructed justice by preventing an inquiry into prisoner abuse at federal prisons in which Mr. Cheney, and his Vanguard Group, have holdings.

So, in a nutshell, our tax dollars are going into paying for private attorneys to defend the former top law enforcement official in the country from criminal charges including breaking the law by discriminatory hiring practices, and attempting to cover-up neglect, and abuse, of federal prisoners in detention centers effectively owned by the vice president of the United States.

The indictment charges both Cheney and Gonzales with "organized criminal activity;" remember when they used to call it government?

We're all entitled to a defense, and due process, in our system of justice, even those who have denied a defense, and due process, to others.

The question here is whether taxpayers should foot the bill to the tune of $24,000 a month, or $288,000. Granted, that's not nearly as egregious a figure as $700 billion in bailout money to Fanny and Freddy Mac, other banks, and the wash n' wear wolves of Wall Street, nor is it even close to the $25 billion proposed for the big 3 automakers. But, if you or I broke the law, would we expect tax dollars to go toward bailing us out? That Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Gonzales, and all the rest of these K Street mobsters will get to retire at taxpayer expense is an outrage.

It is adding insult to injury for taxpayers to rescue Mr. Gonzales. At the very least, he should be denied representation by Justice Department civil attorneys, and should be made to pay his own legal bills.

Glad to see...

I'm not the only one going through Menopause. The stock market is, too.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Come now, you gentlemen...

"Gentlemen, I have had men watching you for a long time,and I am convinced that you have used the funds of the bank to speculate in the bread-stuffs of the country.

When you won, you divided the profits amongst you, and when you lost, you charged it to the bank.

You tell me that if I take the deposits from the bank and annul its charter, I shall ruin ten thousand families. That may be true, gentlemen, but that is your sin!

Should I let you go on, you will ruin fifty thousand families, and that would be my sin!

You are a den of vipers and thieves.

I intend to rout you out, and by the eternal God, I will rout you out.”

Andrew Jackson

the seventh President of the United States, addressing a delegate of bankers in 1832

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mike Farrell: Letter to the Editor

The below comes courtesy of Mike Farrell, President of Death Penalty Focus, and will appear in the 11/23 issue of The Los Angeles Times:

October 18, 2008

Letter to the Editor, Los Angeles Times

The torture experienced by Joe Iberri (Dead Man Waiting, L.A. Times, 11/17/08) is the ultimate example of the utter uselessness of capital punishment. For this man to go through the past 27 years in excruciating pain, waiting for the law to deliver the “justice” it promised him, is inexcusable in a civilized society.

If the perpetrator of this vile crime had been sentenced 27 years ago to spend the rest of his life in prison without any possibility of parole, Mr. Iberri could have gone on with his own life. Instead, he has spent it obsessing over the inch-by-inch progress of Mr. Edwards’ journey through the labyrinthine system the U. S. Supreme Court has created in an attempt to make state killing meet Constitutional muster.

Millions of taxpayer dollars, part of which could have been used to help Mr. Iberri receive counseling to deal with his grief, have been wasted on a system the state insists will keep us safe and bring “closure” to the suffering and loss Mr. Iberri has experienced. As these 27 years have proven, society is safe with Mr. Edwards locked away, and, as Mr. Iberri himself says, there is no such thing as “closure” when one has lost a loved one to violence.

All our hearts go out to Mr. Iberri. The false promises made by apologists for a hideously expensive, dysfunctional, ineffective killing system shame us all while adding insult to his grievous injury.


Mike Farrell
President, Death Penalty Focus

"This Just In..." from Michael Winship

Courtesy of Bill Moyers Journal and Public Affairs Television:

This Just In from Middle Earth

By Michael Winship

QUEENSTOWN, New Zealand –

You might think it hard to think about politics when you’re in a place as extraordinary as this on New Zealand’s South Island.

The landscape fills the eye with glacial and volcanic lakes, valleys and mountains so breathtaking and eerie in their beauty they inspired director Peter Jackson’s vision of mythic Middle Earth when he adapted J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings into three epic motion pictures.

In the cab on the way from the airport the driver immediately announced he had worked four days as an extra on the second film of the trilogy – “The Two Towers.” He was proud to say he played a refugee from Rohan escaping the evil Orcs.

At least I think that’s what he said. The New Zealand accent plays tricks with vowels. On Saturday, it took me a while to figure out what a tour bus driver meant when she said the only mammal indigenous to the country was the “bit.” I finally realized she was talking about bats.

Then she kept insisting we’d soon be riding on a cruise missile. Visions of hurling to earth astride a bomb a la Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove danced through my head until I understood she was saying “cruise vessel” – the three-masted ship we were taking on a voyage around Milford Sound.

Actually, she and the taxi driver were just about the only people I met here who opened the conversation without talking about Barack Obama’s victory, as well as our congressional elections.

This trip began in Auckland, New Zealand, on the North Island, where I was attending an international conference of writers, all of whom were eager to discuss recent events in the States.

“This is your Mandela moment,” South African Kwazi Diamond declared to me the first day. “This was the world’s election.”And so it was, but once again it’s more than a little embarrassing to realize yet again how little we Americans know about the electoral politics of other nations compared to what they know about ours.

In fact, New Zealand had its own national election just four days after America’s – literally as we were flying here. Hands, please, if you knew that. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t until I arrived.

They had a turnout here of 78.69% of enrolled voters – and were disappointed. It’s the second lowest voting rate in more than 20 years.

We, on the other hand, were reasonably delighted with a 62% turnout – only about four million more than 2004, despite predictions of a massive bump this year in the number of those casting ballots.

Like President-Elect Obama, New Zealand’s new leader, John Key, is 47 years old and having to hit the ground running, facing a major economic crisis, his country already in recession. But unlike Obama, Key is taking office almost immediately and heading straightaway for Peru, to attend a meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Forum (APEC).

What’s also different – perhaps appropriate in a land that’s upside down from us and where water spirals down the drain in a different direction – is that the political shift here is the opposite of that back home in the States. John Key is a conservative replacing a liberal – the Labour Party’s left-leaning Prime Minister Helen Clark, who served in office for nine years.

Key has formed a coalition government that he characterizes as “center-right,” including representation from the free market party known as ACT and the Maori Party that represents the country’s indigenous people – about 15% of the nation’s 4.3 million population. Traditionally, the Maori – among New Zealand’s poorest and most disadvantaged – have aligned with Labour.

Coincidentally, despite the Obama win, the idea that the United States also is a “center-right” country and should so be ruled is being pushed in America by such conservative commentators as Pat Buchanan, Charles Krauthammer, and Joe Scarborough.

They’ve been seconded by former Bush campaign strategist Matthew Dowd who advised Obama to "govern from the center, where the vast majority of the country is," while Hillary Clinton's adviser Mark Penn wrote in the Financial Times: "Stick to Centrism."

Newsweek agreed, declaring in a headline a couple of weeks ago: "America remains a center-right nation -- a fact that a President Obama would forget at his peril.”

But on the other side, the argument is made that Barack Obama's election marks a revival of the progressive tradition stretching back to the New Deal and beyond – to Lincoln's vision of a strong national government and a wider, more generous embrace of just who constitutes, "We, the people."

The one thing that’s clear in both America and New Zealand is that Obama and his team were right – these were elections about change, about throwing the long-seated rascals out, period – whether they were conservative or liberal in their outlook.

Quite simply, the time had come.

In the elections’ wake, Tapu Misa, a newspaper columnist in the New Zealand Herald, wisely chose to quote Alfred, Lord Tennyson: “The old order changeth, yielding place to new, And God fulfills himself in many ways, lest one good custom should corrupt the world.”

Whether change will lead to improvement and advancement, or simply signal motion without action, is now the formidable challenge faced by both our nations.

Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs programBill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS.Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at

Monday, November 17, 2008

More Than A Prison

Last night, in his first interview since being elected, Barack Obama told "60 Minutes" that among his top priorities is to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

But, Guantanamo Bay is not just a prison, it's a state of mind, and a legal limbo in which hundreds have been trapped since 2002.

And, as what the President-elect calls "part and parcel of an effort to restore America's moral stature in the world," it's not enough to simply relocate the 250 currently housed at Gitmo to high security prisons on U.S. soil, like the proposed facility at Fort Leavenworth.

This notion of bait and switch justice doesn't cut it, especially in a technological age when information often spreads faster than the speed of light.

Nor is it morally acceptable to merely re-route detainees to countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, or Somalia where heinous interrogation techniques are not subject to the Geneva Conventions.

In fact, judging by our behavior, over the past six plus years, it would seem that compliance with Geneva is optional with the vehicle.

Changing the dressing on a wound doesn't heal the wound, it only covers it.

The Obama administration must take a closer look at the systemic, indigenous, corruption in the concept of military tribunal itself which is tantamount to a kangaroo court, as well as how they intend to prosecute detainees once they're returned to domestic soil, and in full compliance with the Constitution, as well as international law.

It's fine and dandy to restore due process, and attempt to undo the damage caused not just to how we look to the rest of the world, but how it is that we could twist the law such that we could hold anyone indefinitely, without charging him, without access to evidence, or counsel, for six years with impunity.

We must also ask ourselves what kind of perverse logic could come up with a designation like "unlawful enemy combatant," a phrase coined by Donald Rumsfeld and for the sole purpose of divesting detainees of rights afforded any prisoner of war.

Merely closing down the physical edifice that is Guantanamo without addressing the underlying concept behind it, and transferring detainees from Cuba to Kansas, or anywhere else in the U.S. without examining this rape of due process is not a solution, but a placebo, and an insult to the American sense of justice. As Jameel Jaffer, of the American Civil Liberties Union, says it doesn't "solve anything to close down Guantanamo to reopen it inside the US under a different name."

And, what about all the other Gitmos, the ones we don't know about in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere?

We have to address the idea, not just the physical structure. We have to ask how it is that the U.S. got to a place where it could circumvent the Magna Carta, and the Geneva Conventions, indeed, 500 years of international law, strip people of their basic rights as prisoners of war, hold them indefinitely, and under egregious conditions, grant them a dubious, abstract designation---"enemy combatant"-- bypass human rights conventions, and immunize those whose acts are criminal from being tried by setting up the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

Moreover, it's essential for this new administration to look into secret holding cells around the world, as well as the process by which prisoners are flown from countries that don't sanction torture, on paper, to those that have no proscriptions against torture.

While President-Elect Obama is about the business of using his executive order powers to undo some of the mischief of the Bush years, might we suggest he would do the country good by overturning the Military Commissions Act of 2006, too. Restoring "moral stature" isn't about cosmetic surgery. It's not about rearranging the furniture on the Titanic.

Restoring America's moral solvency is about recognizing, and admitting, to ourselves, and to the rest of the world, that we made some very big mistakes, so we can be sure to never to repeat them.

Rest assured that memories of their years at Guantanamo will be engraved in the minds of every person we detained there for as long as they live. When we close Guantanamo we must do more than shut down a prison, but the sensibility that created it.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Freedom of Sexual Expression?

A Washington, D.C. based 501(c) non-profit, Woodhull Freedom Foundation, thinks freedom of expression also means the freedom to express one's sexuality, and to enjoy sex, as well as "works to affirm sexual freedom as a fundamental human right by protecting and advancing freedom of speech and sexual expression...through research, advocacy, and public education to affirm sexual freedom."

WFF addresses "laws, government policies, and corporate practices that restrict sexual freedom and discriminate against people on the basis of their consensual sexual expression."

Additionally, their mission is to "educate the public on the importance and value of sexual freedom and counter the arguments of groups seeking to restrict sexual rights," and to "advocate for decriminalization and social acceptance of consensual sexual expression."

To find out more about the Foundation, and the important work they're doing, please visit their Web site at the link below:

Saturday, November 15, 2008

By way of...


It's heartening to see the many who took to the streets today to show their outrage against Proposition 8 , a proposition which is a travesty, and an insult to the constitution.

In light of my stubborn insistence on inference, the power of innuendo, and nuance, I never spelled out my position on Prop. 8. So, by way of amplification, and for the record, I voted "No" on Prop. 8, and feel as strongly about the attempt to rescind the June ruling as I would if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned. It's never okay to grant a right, then take it away.

A post that I wrote a few days ago that appears here, and on The Huffington Post, "On the Fight for Marriage Equality," seems to have drawn the ire of a community that I have always strongly defended, or maybe it drew contempt from the knee jerks among them; nevertheless, I state here, without equivocation, that my post was never intended to insinuate that gay marriage isn't an issue, or trivialize the notion of equal rights for any group who is disenfranchised. When I said that gay marriage is not the "signature issue" of our times, I did not mean to suggest that it is not an issue.

In the previous piece, my argument was only that there are other elements of the fight for gay equality that deserve as much dedicated attention, such as the need for funding that doesn't have an "abstinence-only" prerequisite attached to it, and access to affordable pharmaceuticals, as well as vocal opposition to the politicizing of science which, frankly, would have saved many more lives than legalized same sex unions.

I, for one, would have enjoyed seeing people show up nationwide to voice their outrage at the hate crime killings of Matthew Shepherd, and a 15 year old student, Larry King, in Oxnard, California who was brutally slain by a classmate last February.

Rep. Barney Frank, and others in Congress have worked sedulously to pass hate crime legislation which speaks to the heinousness of these human rights abuses which diminish each and every one of us, gay or straight.

It is, in a word, heartbreaking that today's national massive outcry didn't happen before Election Day as it would have kept Prop. 8 from passing in the first place. And, instead of pointing fingers at those who funded Prop. 8 campaign, it might be more productive now to look into why there wasn't a more concerted effort to mobilize a protest against the proposition before people went to the polls on November 4th.

The issues are many; the path of proaction, rather than reaction, is the most effective path. But, hindsight is often twenty-twenty. All we can do now is clean up the mess, not just the one made by those who want to turn back the clock on civil rights, but the one made by a decade of confusing religious orthodoxy with medical practicum.

Efforts to stifle dissent, and diversity of thought, with threats of blacklisting, are equally offensive whether they come from those on the left or those on the radical right.

The thought police of political correctness, in the end, only add to the carnage of ideas, and the demise of satire. When we create a social, political, and artistic environment in which one shudders to think of the level of exorciation Lenny Bruce would be forced to endure, we kind of have to stand back and take a long, hard look at whether the ends justify the means.

The victory of a black man in the White House holds the promise that nuance, and complexity has triumphed over reductive vision of good guys and bad guys. For nearly a decade, the intellectual environment has been under attack as much as the natural environment from those incapable of moral complexity. And, indeed, there is nothing more sinister than reducing the world to one dimension.

Ultimately, no one wins when ideology, whether progressive or reactionary, is allowed to prevail over diversity of ideas, and human will.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

On the Fight for Marriage Equality in California

I'm as upset about the outcome of Proposition 8 as anyone else is, but I don't think that it is the signature issue of our times.

The President-elect's plans for what to do with detainees, once he closes Guantanamo Bay, how to handle military tribunals, whether to incarcerate indefinitely without charges, should be of more concern, as well as ongoing infractions to the First and Fourth Amendments.

Forgive me if this seems cynical, but I've never been a big fan of marriage---gay or straight anyway, and I'd rather see people take to the streets of Beverly Hills, Long Beach, and San Francisco over waterboarding, warrantless electronic surveillance by the National Security Agency, or the fact that the federal reserve is refusing to make public the names of those who received close to $2 trillion of taxplayer money in what Bloomberg describes as "emergency loans."

I'd like to see people take to the streets about the abstinence-only requirement that has accompanied the granting of federal funds to state, and international, clinics that provide much-needed contraception, and HIV/AIDS research.

I'd also like to see people take to the streets about the implied selective survival policy initiated by the neo-conservative wing of the Republican party in making drugs needed to treat HIV/AIDS unaffordable to the vast majority of those who suffer from the disease worldwide.

It's good to see people doing their civic duty by exercising their First Amendment right to freedom of assembly, but there are many who would like to see other elements of the First Amendment protected by the elimination of so-called "public indecency" FCC fines.

Yes, everyone should have the right to marry, and to get divorced, regardless of sexual orientation, but this is a time when there ought to be more concern with who's getting sacked than who they're in the sack with.

But, renegers need not apply; once a right is granted to someone, it must never be rescinded. This goes for Roe v. Wade, too, of course.

Marriage has never been a one size fits all institution, nor should it be. And, judging by the current divorce rate, far be it for anyone in those glass houses to throw stones, or to claim the familial high road.

But, we need to get our priorities in order. Please, please, please let's get about the business of working to restore our tattered Constitution, to end mercenary, irrelevant wars, to challenge the designation of "unlawful enemy combatant" as pretext to defy habeas corpus, stop the insidious practice of extraordinary rendition, and frame the debate such that human rights are the issue, not the rights of one sex, or another, to tie the knot.

Monday, November 10, 2008

From Alice Walker

From "An Open Letter to Barack Obama, " by Alice Walker

"I would advise you to remember that you did not create the disaster that the world is experiencing, and you alone are not responsible for bringing the world back to balance. A primary responsibility that you do have, however, is to cultivate happiness in your own life. To make a schedule that permits sufficient time of rest and play with your gorgeous wife and lovely daughters. And so on. One gathers that your family is large. We are used to seeing men in the White House soon become juiceless and as white-haired as the building; we notice their wives and children looking strained and stressed. They soon have smiles so lacking in joy that they remind us of scissors. This is no way to lead. Nor does your family deserve this fate. One way of thinking about all this is: It is so bad now that there is no excuse not to relax. From your happy, relaxed state, you can model real success, which is all that so many people in the world really want. They may buy endless cars and houses and furs and gobble up all the attention and space they can manage, or barely manage, but this is because it is not yet clear to them that success is truly an inside job. That it is within the reach of almost everyone...
We are the ones we have been waiting for."

November 5, 2008

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Off duty Chicago Police Accused of Election Night Hate Crimes

As Christina Ballard and Cornelius Voss were on their way home after celebrating Barack Obama's victory, on election day, three youngsters in the back of their car rolled down the window cheering, and calling out Obama's name.

Three unmarked police cars reportedly pulled up beside them, and are said to have pepper sprayed the youngsters. The officers are accused of having used racial epithets, and shouted out "white power," while spraying the children.

When the family tried to file a police report, immediately after the incident, they were given the runaround, so the next day, the only recourse they had was to report the incident to the Independent Police Review Authority for redress.

A spokesperson for the IPRA would say only that they're looking into these accusations, and that there were "multiple allegations" of law enforcement spraying civilians that historic night, one estimate suggests that there may have been dozens of incidents.

The mainstream media, for the most part, has dropped the ball on this story which appears in The Chicago Sun-Times, as well as on a few local radio stations. The family who took their hate crime claim to the IPRA is also filing a federal lawsuit. Their claim, and others like it, must be addressed expeditiously, and there must be swift consequences.

The actions of these officers who, ironically, hail from President-elect Obama's home district are tantamount to hate crimes, must be widely publicized, and universally condemned.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Kristallnacht 2008

On the eve of the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, come revelations that blueprints were found, from 1941, in a Berlin flat that reveal the plan to expand the concentration camp at Auschwitz, and annihilate 11 million European Jews.

You'll recall that Kristallnacht, November 9-10, 1938 was the night when nearly 100 Jews were slaughtered by Nazis, and close to 30,000 sent to concentration camps. Kristallnacht marked the beginning of what we now know as the Holocaust.

As Reuters reports today, this latest discovery of 28 pages of architectural designs includes plans for a huge Gaskammer, or gas chamber, crematorium, and Leichenkeller, or corpse cellar, at Auschwitz, and provides proof that the meeting of Nazis at Wannsee Court was to make plans for wide scale extermination of European Jews.

Importantly, those who like to think that those who served Hitler often had no idea what was in the works are repudiated as the German newspaper, Bild, reports, "These documents reveal that everyone who had even anything remotely to do with the planning and construction of the concentration camp must have known that people were to be gassed to death in assembly-line fashion."

Moreover, as Bild asserts, "The documents refute once and for all claims by those who deny the Holocaust even took place."

The best way to honor those who perished 70 years ago, along with the 6 million who were to follow, is not only to remember, but to work tirelessly to end genocide in Darfur, and wherever it rears its ugly head throughout the world, as well as work to eradicate a perverse, pathological mindset that engenders scapegoating, and monstrous abuse of power.

There is nothing indigenous to the water in Germany that predisposes its natives with rancor and hate. We are no more immune from this climate today than the Germans were around the time of the Weimar Republic. It is only through acknowledgment of the universal human capacity for evil that we can overcome it.

Friday, November 07, 2008

From Bill Moyers Journal

Obama Shows Us Where We’re Headed, Where We’ve Been

By Michael Winship

Whether you’re a Democrat, Republican or Mugwump, you look at Tuesday night’s remarkable election results and the nationwide reaction and can’t help but wonder at how far our young country has come – and, at the same time, how long it’s taken.

You probably saw those photos of the big Obama rally in St. Louis, Missouri, a couple of weeks ago – 100,000 people attended.

If you looked closer, in the background, you could see an old building with a copper dome turned green with age. That used to be the courthouse. Slaves were auctioned from its steps, and in 1846, 162 years ago, Dred Scott and his wife, two slaves, went there to appeal to the court for their freedom, arguing that they had lived in states and territories in which slavery had been outlawed and so should be let go.

They were, briefly, but soon were returned to slavery. When their appeal reached the United States Supreme Court in 1857, Chief Justice Roger Taney refused to free them. He ruled that slaves did not have the rights of citizens because Dred Scott and his wife were, quote, “beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

Seventeen years later, January 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and in November of that year, 145 years ago this month, he traveled to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where the battlefield was still freshly soaked in the blood of North and South, to assure all Americans that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

And yet more than a century would pass before we would come anywhere near making his words true. Much more blood would be shed and lives lost toward achieving Lincoln’s aspiration, the one for which he was martyred, too. Montgomery, Birmingham, Selma.

In 1964 came the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act the following year. And still there was violence and still there were words of hate.

There’s a certain irony that this year it was in the electorally important state of Pennsylvania and from Lincoln’s own party that so much bitter, often racially-oriented attack came during this campaign.

In their hunger to turn their state to the McCain column (unsuccessfully), the Pennsylvania Republican Party in particular pulled out the stops with virulent robocalls, flyers and last-minute TV ads that once again tried to stir ugly emotion and jingoistic reflex by re-conjuring the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

As gracious in defeat as John McCain was Tuesday night, it cannot be denied that his candidacy and the desperation with which the status quo tried to cling to power created an atmosphere of ugly accusation and insinuation unlike any we’ve seen in our lifetimes, and not just in the race for the presidency.

Take, for example, the unsuccessful campaign in North Carolina of Senate incumbent Elizabeth Dole who, in the ultimate Hail Mary play accused her Democratic opponent Kay Hagan of Godlessness.

Yes, some Democrats did it, too, and in the past, candidates have accused each other of far worse; of traitorous, seditious acts and heinous, imaginative transgressions of the flesh. But this year’s venom was conceived in kneejerk ideology and instantly brought to your home or office by the Internet: cyberspace, 24-hour news and talk radio deliver poison into the body politic’s bloodstream with unparalleled speed and unfiltered ferocity.

This week, the majority of this nation rejected such hate. President-elect Obama ran a campaign in which the color of his skin was not so much an issue but an integral aspect of what has made him the complex and original man he is.

When Harry Truman became President after the unexpected death of FDR, he said he felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on him. Barack Obama must feel a little of that, too, but unlike Truman he has chosen this particular trajectory of his own free will and been given a mandate for change.

He will reside in a White House and rule this country with men and women who work in a white marble Capitol, both of which were built by slaves long ago but not so faraway.

And so we will hold this moment dear, turn it in the light to savor the beauty of each facet, even though we know there are hard times ahead, difficult decisions and, as Obama said, false steps.

Chances are, he and we will be disappointed; sometimes by him, sometimes by each other. From time to time, hearts will break. So it goes. Yet, as the song goes, the world will be better for this.

After 9/11, the French newspaper Le Monde’s headline read, “We Are All Americans.”

In the years that have followed we denied that proffered hand; we drove wedges, built walls, waged war that isolated us not only from other countries but squandered the solidarity and strength that existed within ourselves.

On Tuesday, as a nation we stood in line, waited our turn to cast our ballots, did what we do best. And when the results were announced we watched a man and his family stand on an outdoor stage in Chicago.

He asked for our support, regardless of party or race, and finally, for a moment at least, together we were all Americans once again. It’s a good start.

Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs programBill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS.Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at

Hank Rosenfeld on...

the election of Barack Obama as our next president:

"It's amazing the SACRIFICES made to get ONE good thing out of the struggle, right? MLK, Malcolm, JFK, RFK, allllll the way up to Studs and Gramma. Alllll sacrificed as Kesey wrote, on "the altar of form" so the next leap can be made. Wow. What a night. Wotta Country."

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Dylan on electing Obama

"I was born in 1941. That was the year they bombed Pearl Harbor. I've been living in darkness ever since. It looks like things are going to change now."

Bob Dylan

on the election of Barack Obama
concert at Northrop Auditorium -- November 4, 2008


While in the midst of basking in the afterglow of Tuesday's election results, the longest high I've had without inhaling, I got an e-mail from a friend this morning alerting me to what he thinks is an ominous Web site.

I'm not drawing any conclusions here and, as a lifelong supporter of free speech, far be it for me to challenge the right of anyone to express themselves in cyberspace or in virtual reality.

But, given the hate-filled, and volatile, political atmosphere created in these last few months courtesy of the McCain/Palin campaign, to ignore a virtual red flag might have tragic consequences given what Rachel Maddow has described as the "venomous" attacks on Obama at Palin rallies which as Congressman John Lewis insists can contribute only to "sowing seeds of racial divide."

So, in light of these considerations, and in this context, I feel compelled to cast light on what visuals, and verbiage, suggest is a disturbing Web site:

The site attempts to pass itself off as an innocent purveyor of political bumper sticker whose aim is "entertainment," but consider the following questions it poses:

What if Obama relinquished his presidency in 2009..."Change we can hope for."

Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974, facing almost certain impeachment."Change we can count on." We can not be held responsible for any repercussions you may face while making a bold political statement. "

What is Biden 09's idea of "making a bold political statement?" More importantly, in the fuselage that remains of our democracy, the Rush to judgment Limbaughs are waiting in the wings to abscond with our dreams, and remind us that divided we stand.

As another presidential candidate, John Kerry, pointed out in a piece he published recently on The Huffington Post, the "ugliness" which was omnipresent at McCain/Palin rallies could only lead to a situation in which "Audience members hurl insults and racial epithets, call out 'Kill him!' and 'Off With His Head," and yell 'treason' when Senator Obama's name is mentioned."

Frankly, the chorus of boos heard at the mention of Barack Obama's name, during John McCain's concession speech on election day, sent shivers up and down my spine. Protecting freedom of expression has always been a balancing act, and it is no less important now that free speech be protected, as well as freedom of assembly, if only to prove that new leadership means an end to "free speech zones," and harassment of the press which characterized the Bush years.

As recently as the Republican Convention, in August, reporters were rounded up like cattle, and jailed, for the simple crime of trying to capture authentic news. Similarly, we now know that members of the secret service were dispersed at Sarah Palin rallies, on the pretext of crowd control, to isolate journalists from the crowds when their real intentions were to mitigate against an authentic representation of the crowd's reaction to the Republican vice presidential nominee.

The First Amendment has been invoked to protect the most execrable, and reprehensible, rallies of the KKK. The First Amendment likewise protects groups like the National Rifle Association from thinly veiled death threats it makes on writers, like myself, who did little more than describe a senseless shooting rampage by an off-duty police officer in a small midwestern town as a way to argue for tighter gun control legislation, and more rigorous police department pre-employment evaluation.

But, in an emotionally charged political climate, such as the one we find ourselves today, in which the stubborn vestiges of racial divisiveness persist, as was abundantly evidenced by all the secret service protecting Barack Obama, how can responsible investigative measures not be taken to find out just who is behind a Web site, what their objectives are, and why they are inviting viewers to make a "bold political statement" by attempting to thwart one of the most popular presidencies in decades. Are we being asked to believe that the intent of this Web site is solely to sell bumper stickers?

The paranoia generated by the Bush years, his USA Patriot Act, and Department of Homeland Security, must not be allowed to go nuclear, and promote even more fear as justification for dissolving freedom of expression.

While we must protect the First Amendment, we must also protect Barack Obama from any, and all, who might wish to harm him and abort our latest Declaration of Independence from the mental tyranny of the past eight years.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Who needs superlatives...

After eight years of an administration whose greatest accomplishment was turning power into a four letter word, we get to celebrate, finally.

And, as a wise friend says, "superlatives have lost their meaning today."

Who needs superlatives when we can say--

Hooray, Obama, Hooray, America...

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Who's Watching?

When we vote today, there will be many by our side we cannot see, but they will be watching us. Some will have front row seats but, for the most part, history is standing room only.

Walt Whitman once wrote that for all we know he may be looking over our shoulders now, and he may be right. If we're especially quiet, we may hear the urgent whispers of gratitude from Thomas Jefferson, John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and the good grey poet himself, as well as everyone who marched in Alabama, and who gave their lives for the cause of civil rights.

We know, too, that off in the distance are Arthur Miller, Paul Newman and Studs Terkel, as well as all those who stood up to Joe McCarthy, and the blacklisters.

Doing the right thing always costs more. Why that is, who can say, but it does. Rest assured that butchers sleep better than most of us. All too often, humankind has been most unkind. Nothing we do today will change that, but can only present the promise of change, and cast an urgent light on the transgressions of those who think that justice can be bought, and sold.

For too long, we have allowed ourselves to live in a land where opportunity is a commodity obtainable by some, and denied to most. Our actions, this November 4th, may just change that.

The Brahmin of supply-side economics have finally met their destiny in the dungheap that is the financial market.

More importantly, we are coming to see that the movement for world peace can never be separate from the movement for world prosperity. We are hoping Mr. Obama will fix that, but we must see to it that he does.

When we go to the polls today, we may also hear the urgent whispers of gratitude from the rest of the world. We can no longer afford to disappoint them.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

"and in some not too distant tomorrow..."

"Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty."

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Letter from Birmingham Jail"

April 16, 1963

A Side Order of Naivete

This morning, The London Times reports that the Obama team has already been talking about how to deal with post-partum depression following his historical victory, and right they are. The way things are stacking up, people are flocking to the polls thinking that they will elect a president who all buts walks on water.

The presidential hopeful is right to try to mitigate against any kind of emotional upheaval which may well result when people realize that the country, and the world, is so deeply immersed in this economic morass, socioeconomic disenfranchisement, racism, and religious intolerance that even Houdini would be hard pressed to step into the Oval Office, wave a wand, and make everything better.

After all, we're electing a mere mortal not a Greek god who will serve in our nation's capital, and not on Mt. Olympus. Only those who are naive to the point of idiocy would believe that either McCain or Obama will have clean hands at the end of his first term. No one walks away from the battlefield with clean hands. The difference is that one candidate recognizes and respects the limitations of the presidency while the other will push for even more inflated power.

Apart from this, keep in mind that Obama not only studied constitutional law, he taught it, while a McCain presidency virtually guarantees continuing his predecessor's efforts to transform the Bill of Rights into the Bill of Frights.

More importantly, Obama is invested in having a second term which means he'll have to listen to the people who gave him the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue whereas McCain is a one trick pony. If McCain's choice of Palin as his running mate indicates what his cabinet will look like, we should be scared, very scared if he manages to overcome the odds and prevail on Election Day.

Rest assured, McCain/Palin will finish what Richard Nixon attempted, and Bush/Cheney came close to finishing---nothing short of the complete subversion of democratic principles that distinguished us from a monarchy, or a totalitarian state.

While only the most egregiously naive wouldn't acknowledge that both candidates have been "corporatized," and are knee-deep in special interests, only one candidate knows what it's like to watch his mother have to fight to keep her insurance.

That said, anybody who expects Obama to be a miracle worker will be disappointed to find, after Inauguration Day, that they may have to accept not only his fallibility, but their own, and that his power is inextricably tied to their investment in him. Isn't that what the framers had in mind when, as Jefferson asserts, they fled from tyranny? Didn't they demand not only transparency, but that the doors, and windows, of government would be open? We may expect no less from the senator from Illinois should he prevail on Tuesday.

Should Obama win, we may also look forward to a presidency that will force us, at long last, to take a long hard look at the racial divide, and the unequal opportunity for young people of color in a country where more African-American youngsters are in our nation's prisons than universities.

There is no other presidential candidate, this election year, with the vision, and the power, to transition from an "us" against "them" mentality--not McCain, Nader, Barr, McKinney; the only who holds the promise for unity, and equality, as well as even the faintest optimism for the future is Barack Obama.

Most of all, we must never forget that those we elect to be our president serve at the pleasure of the people, and are renters only; the White House belongs to us!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Never forget that...

those who get to inhabit the White House are renters only----we own it!

"morning after pill"

If things don't turn out like we want on Nov. 4th maybe someone will come up with a "morning after pill" for elections!

On flag pins...

From Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.:

"Patriotism is not pinning a flag pin to one lapel to free up both hands, so you can tear up the U.S. Constitution."

Courtesy of newly released, must-see, independent film, "The Warning."

How About This?

How's this for a compromise: Barack Obama for President, and John McCain for Christmas.

We can always use a new character actor for Scrooge!