Monday, August 31, 2009

Chopsticks and Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin is planning to make her first trip to Asia in September.

The former governor of Alaska, and Republican vice presidential candidate, says she is going there to learn how to use chopsticks. A reliable source reports that McCain's former running mate confides "You go to Vegas to learn how to play blackjack, and Hong Kong to learn how to use chopsticks."

She is also said to have quipped to a member of the U.S. Embassy in Hong Kong that she's glad to discover "China isn't only something you use to set the table with."

Some are already speculating that the trip presages a 2012 run. To put their minds at rest, the former beauty queen chides "panty hose run, I don't."

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Recognize this...

You may live or die, but recognize this: you're going to have to do it more than once.

Friday, August 28, 2009

From Michael Winship

Courtesy of Bill Moyers Journal, and Public Affairs Television:

Even Camelot Needed Health Care

By Michael Winship

Toward the end of George McGovern's failed presidential bid in 1972, I was helping advance a bus trip for vice presidential candidate Sargent Shriver. The final weekend of the campaign, his caravan would start in New Hampshire and work its way down the Eastern seaboard, holding rallies along the way and winding up in Washington, DC, just before Election Day.

As we spoke with mayors whose cities would be visited, the draw wasn't Shriver but the news that his brother-in-law, Senator Ted Kennedy, would be accompanying him. Even though Chappaquiddick had taken place just a little more than three years before, it was the Kennedy charisma, the power of that family that still got even the most seasoned local politico excited.

Imagine how popular we were a few days later when we had to go back to tell them Teddy wasn't coming. His bad back from that near fatal plane crash in 1964 made a long bus journey impossible to endure. Shriver still drew crowds but it just wasn't the same.

Nearly 20 years later, I ran into Kennedy on an escalator at the AFL-CIO convention in Detroit as he arrived to make a speech. No bodyguards (visible, anyway), no entourage. I thought that I had never seen him look so healthy and vigorous. The gregariousness that made him such a consummate politician was on full display as we chatted and he loudly greeted union officials as we ascended, each a hail fellow, well met.

To those belonging to the post-baby boomer generations, it may be difficult to comprehend the change that took place in America when Ted Kennedy's older brother Jack became President in 1961 - although the successful embracing of the Obama candidacy by young people comes close. As we ended the years of the Eisenhower administration, even though the nation was more prosperous than ever, there was a grayness to everyday life that seemed to shift to Technicolor with the advent of those brief Kennedy years, like Dorothy shaking off the dust of Kansas for Oz.

John F. Kennedy's presidential race against Richard Nixon split my family neatly in two. My dad and older brother were for Nixon, my mother and I favored JFK (but I still have a gold Nixon tie clip my father prized, with an engraved caricature of Tricky Dick that looks more like Bob Hope than the presidential incubus we all came to know and love).

My father and brother came around. I witnessed Kennedy's inauguration on the elementary school's TV set, and was allowed to stay up late to watch the inaugural balls. My mother kept scrapbooks about Jack and Jackie and Caroline and John-John. All of us snapped up stories about family life in the White House and wept when the President died in Dallas. A few years later we would do the same for Bobby.

As time went by we would learn that we had been fooled about a lot of it; that the Wizard was a man behind a curtain, that much of the Camelot legend's glitter was media hype as bogus as fool's gold. But there remained about the Kennedy family a sort of grand, Shakespearean sublimity that applied as equally to the hubris and heartbreak as the good luck and achievement.

Or, in the words of playwright, journalist and Republican Clare Boothe Luce, cited in some of this week's obituaries, "Where else but in gothic fiction, where else among real people could one encounter such triumphs and tragedies, such beauty and charm and ambition and pride and human wreckage, such dedication to the best and lapses into the mire of life; such vulgar, noble, driven, generous, self-centered, loving, suspicious, devious, honorable, vulnerable, indomitable people?"

But how interesting that despite their grossest and most callow foibles and failings, throughout the life and times of the three Kennedy brothers who survived their older brother Joe there was a deep, moral concern for the nation's health that continued right up through Ted Kennedy's death. Notice in their memories of him this week how many friends and colleagues mentioned help that Senator Kennedy got for them
during medical crises of their own.

Vice President Joe Biden remembered that when his two sons were recovering from the car crash that took the life of his wife and daughter in 1972, Kennedy "was on the phone with me literally ever day in the hospital... I'd turn around and there would be some specialist from Massachusetts, a doc I had never even asked for, literally sitting in the room with me."

And in Thursday's Washington Post, Howard Kurtz reported that, "Chris Matthews, a Type 2 diabetic, spoke of Kennedy calling him with advice after the 'Hardball' host had an attack of hypoglycemia. Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist, recalled on CNN that when his father had received a cancer diagnosis, Kennedy called and 'gave me the name of one of the world's foremost experts in cancer treatment. He said, "He's expecting your call. I just talked to him." And he helped pave the way to get my father the treatment that, frankly, saved his life.'"

Perhaps such concern was inspired by the example of the matriarch Rose's selfless devotion to service in the name of the Catholic Church or simply all the time the Kennedy family has spent in hospital wards through the years, nursing or mourning their own.

The first time I ever heard the dreaded phrase "socialized medicine" was during John F. Kennedy's presidency, when the GOP fought his administration's attempts at health care reform. And during his own, all too brief presidential campaign in 1968, when Bobby Kennedy told audiences that decent medical care should not be a luxury of the rich, he quoted Aristotle: "If we believe men have any personal rights at all, then they must have an absolute moral right to such a measure of good health as society can provide."

The only one of the brothers to live beyond the age of fifty and make it to senior citizenship, Ted Kennedy honed his skills as a legislator over nearly as many decades in the US Senate, and universal health care was, in his words, the cause of his life.

Through his years there, Kennedy pushed for it incrementally with the Americans with Disabilities Act, creation of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-Chip), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act allowing folks to hang onto their insurance after leaving a job, the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), increased funds for AIDS and cancer research and community medical centers.

But many believe the time for increments has passed. In Edward Moore Kennedy's name, it's time to do the right thing, the big thing; time to revive flagging support and step up to universal reform. Already there has been far too much shouting and far too little healing.

In Newsweek last month, Kennedy wrote with his longtime speechwriter and advisor Bob Shrum, "I've thought in an even more powerful way than before about what this will mean to others. And I am resolved to see to it this year that we create a system to ensure that someday, when there is a cure for the disease I now have, no American who needs it will be denied it."

Ted Kennedy, resolute in his faith and passionately, unabashedly liberal to the last breath, said he wanted "a good ending for myself." Universal health care - at its best with a public option - would be it.

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

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The balcony...

God's balcony overlooks hell's driveway.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

No Time for Mourning

There are giants who walk among ordinary men. Edward (Teddy) Kennedy was one such giant. And, he would be the first to remind us of something his brother Jack once said: "A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on."

The senator from Massachusetts might also say that this is no time for mourning, but for celebration of a life well-lived and of the work that must go on in his name. And, there is a lot of work to do.

It is he who carried on his brother, JFK's, legacy and fought for the least among us, the disenfranchised, those whose voice was often drowned out by the drone of the corporate machine, and he strove harder than ever to realize President Kennedy's adage "If a society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich."

Profound sadness is not a fleeting thing, it is something that leaves a gaping hole in the heart of a nation. A life cut short, a life unfulfilled, a dream unrealized is one that is endlessly eulogized, but Teddy Kennedy is one who needs no endless eulogies. He was blessed in having made his life one that was filled not merely with courage, but purpose; one not scarred by contempt or anger, but enriched by compassion. He was a man who sought to discard darkness by embracing the light that comes only from diversity.

This is no time for mourning, but for the celebration of a life well-lived, one who knew what his destiny was, and followed it.

The work goes on, not in the absence of a giant, but in the presence of a man who recognized that, in striving, humanity must surpass itself to be inclusive, not exclusive, to encompass those who frequent yacht clubs, as well as those who stand on line at food banks at Thanksgiving.

So, in the end, this is a time to celebrate the life of one who made history stand up and take notice. One who was tolerant enough to listen to friends and adversaries alike, and not take the easy road by hiding behind party lines.

Like his brother Jack, Teddy Kennedy was "an idealist without illusions." He knew his days were numbered, a lesson he learned from the loss at age 31 of his brother, and our former president. He knew every day counts, and would want us not to waste one single day, but put our collective shoulder to the wheel, and continue the work to make this world an infinitely better world than we found it in his name.

He will be missed. He is already missed, but as he himself said "the dream lives on."

Monday, August 24, 2009

An Open Letter to the President on Health Care Reform

Dear President Obama,

Thank you for taking on the hugely important issue of health care reform in the first term of your presidency demonstrating that this issue is top priority for you.

You're quite right that the spiraling cost of medical treatment is affecting every American. You're also quite right to suggest that this is not a quick fix, or instant panacea, but instead part of a process of
transformation. The question is -- what is the endgame? Where do we see ourselves as a nation in ten years from now? Do we see the same behemoth HMOs, and pharmaceutical companies, raking in record profits while the neediest, and most indigent are without any coverage at all?

Is there an exit strategy for corporate greed?

What does affordable mean, and how will any newly instituted legislation ensure that the cost of medical insurance is never in excess of a certain percentage of a person's earnings? Who will safeguard us against unscrupulous employers, those who deceive, or refuse to divulge the exact amount we pay annually for that coverage.

What of the so-called public option? Will it be similiar to Medicare? Will it do away with Medicare, or will Medicare itself be privatized? In the end, will the public option itself be privatized?

In an era of privatizing even our armed services, what assurance do we have that the
health management monopolies of today will not get even fatter than they are? After all, won't they be the ones to benefit the most from any reform that requires all Americans to carry insurance? Having all Americans pay out of pocket for health care is universal coverage of sorts, but it's not the kind of universal coverage that many of us had in mind.

We must not use the Massachusetts paradigm of Mitt Romney which mandates health insurance, like car insurance, often at the expense of those who can least afford to pay for it. Mandating health coverage is no solution for rationing treatment, or superior access to those who are privileged.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, you articulated your belief that mandatory health coverage is not the same as universal health care. You indicated then that you recognized the difference, and would respect it. Has anything changed since that would make you change your mind?

We must consider taking the $2 billion shaved off the defense budget and, instead of spending it on a new supermax federal prison as Secretary of Defense Gates suggests, spend it to supplement monthly premium payments for those who can't afford to make them.

Further, we must lighten our military load, and troop commitments in Iraq, and Afghanistan, and re-route at least half of the $10 billion a month currently spent on war to cover as many Americans as possible.

The idea that, by now, the notion of taking defense money and spending it on education, and health care is a cliche shows just how cynical, and desensitized to the egregious, gaping needs of 45 million who are uninsured we have become.

The idea of forming health care cooperatives is fine, and very new age, if you can afford to buy in, but just as a food coop doesn't work for people who go to food banks, a health care cooperative won't work for those who can't afford to pay to play.

A revolution begins with a single step, and it often ends there. And, while many are ready to rise up against the gargantuan profits, and gluttony of the giant private insurance carriers, and drug companies, others are prepared only to continue to stuff their pockets.

The only viable longterm change in the health care is single payer, but until such time as that option can be implemented, there can be no animal calling itself reform that doesn't protect the public's interests. Anything less is tantamount to moving the furniture around on the Titanic.


Jayne Lyn Stahl

Friday, August 21, 2009


The algebra of desire beats the calculus of fulfillment.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Obama: Don't Stop at Gitmo

In 1942, somewhere around 110,000 Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans were either coered to relocate, or underwent internment in the United States.

As you know, it was by executive order issued by then President Franklin D. Roosevelt that anyone of Japanese ancestry could be excluded from the entire West Coast, including all of California. We were at war at the time, and the Japanese were the equivalent of what we now call "enemy combatants."

Now, think about this. Over 400,000 so-called illegal immigrants a year are being held in hundreds of county jails, private prisons, and federal detention centers pending deportation, that is four times the number of Japanese we interned here one year after the attack on Pearl Harbor. We may infer from this that the undocumented, and in some cases long term residents whose visas have expired, are now being seen as an enemy of war, only the battlefield is corporate profit.

And, as if it were possible for anything to be more egregious, according to an article in the New York Times, more than 1 in 10 of immigrant fatalities that have taken place in detention, over the past half dozen years, has gone unreported, and has been "overlooked," or left out of the official roster of detainee deaths given to Congress last spring.

Since assuming office, in January, the Obama administration has already added another 10 deaths to the more than 100 that have been recorded since October, 2003, not including that of a young Ethiopian whose bungled suicide attempt, in a Florida correctional facility, resulted in his early, and needless demise.

But, the larger, and obvious question is how is it that a muscular government agency like Immigration and Customs Enforcement which has been so steadfast, and meticulous, in rounding up hundreds and thousands of men, women, and children, can miss as many as 10% of those who have died in their custody?

Last weekend, the new head of ICE, John Morton, reportedly demanded that his field offices "make sure that other deaths had not been overlooked." If you happen to be the father of that Ethiopian youngster, or a Cuban, Mexican, or Iranian who disappeared from the roster of those immigrants who have died while in U.S. custody, I think you might find the notion that their death might have been overlooked outrageous, and offensive.

How much more dehumanizing can it be than to overlook the collateral damage of a corporate complex which has come to include prisons, but which also includes illegal sweatshops.

It is fair to say what has been called a "war on terror" has really been a war on immigration.

While all the focus lately has been on closing another eyesore of a detention center, in Cuba, that currently holds fewer than 100 men, the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of immigrants passing through our prison system, many held for months at a time, without federal oversight or regulation, boggles the mind.

We understand that President Obama is said to be working on changing the detention system. It is hoped he will consider that, in any given year, we are incarcerating 400% as many immigrants in the United States as Japanese we interned during World War II.

The president might also want to think about investigating, and abolishing, illegal immigrant sweatshops, including garment factories in Los Angeles and elsewhere, as well as slapping hefty fines on any corporation that profits from the labor of those whose relatives may well be stranded, awaiting deportation, in a federal prison in Louisiana.

From Michael Winship

Tom DeLay and the Woodstock Nation

By Michael Winship

A sorry state of affairs. If it wasn't for all the 40th anniversary celebrations of Woodstock, the primary cultural contribution of the month would be the announcement that former Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas will be a contestant in the next round of Dancing with the Stars.

Still, better to see DeLay trotting the boards of ABC's hit "reality" show than back marauding the halls of Congress - or roaming faraway Saipan with now imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff, praising the US possession's sweatshops as "a perfect Petri dish of capitalism." ("It's like my Galapagos Island," DeLay enthused.)
When he makes his debut on Dancing with the Stars, you have to wonder if Tom will specialize in that favorite Lone Star dance, The Cotton Eye Joe, or more appropriately, some variation of The Sidestep, immortalized in Broadway's The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

The corrupt governor in the show sings, "Ooh, I love to dance a little sidestep, now they see me now they don't. I've come and gone and, ooh I love to sweep around the wide step, cut a little swathe and lead the people on."

No doubt there will be a lifting groundswell of GOP voting that will keep DeLay light on his feet through at least the first rounds of the competition. But as far as leading people on, the ex-congressman would do well to remember what happened the last time he tried to jury tamper with the scorekeeping on Dancing with the Stars.

You see, this is not The Hammer's first time at the rodeo. Three years ago, several weeks after his resignation from Congress, he sent a letter to his fan base urging them to vote for country singer Sara Evans, a Dancing with the Stars contestant.

"Sara Evans has been a strong supporter of the Republican Party and represents good American values in the media," DeLay wrote. "From singing at the 2004 Republican Convention to appearing with candidates in the last several election cycles, we have always been able to count on Sara for her support of the things we all believe in... One of her opponents on the show is ultra liberal talk show host Jerry Springer. We need to send a message to Hollywood and the media that smut has no place on television by supporting good people like Sara Evans."

Jerry Springer wound up outlasting Evans, who dropped out of "Dancing with the Stars" in the midst of a messy divorce during which she accused her husband of serial adultery. He made similar charges against her.
So it goes when bad things happen to good people.

Now if DeLay equated the comparatively harmless Springer with smut on TV, goodness knows what he would have made of Woodstock, the peace-love-music, free-for-all celebration that in 1969 churned upstate New York dairy farmer Max Yasgur's pastures into mud.

DeLay was 22 back then, perhaps just a hair past prime for the Woodstock generation, but still in his pre-probity days. He might have enjoyed himself (remember that while in the Texas state legislature his nickname was "Hot Tub Tom").

At the time, he was working on his final credits toward a bachelor's degree from the University of Houston. He majored in biology, which before he went into politics led to a career not, surprise, in evolutionary science but insect extermination.

Me, during the summer of Woodstock I was getting ready to go away for my freshman year of college. I saw one of the first ads for the festival in the Sunday edition of The New York Times and enlisted one of my high school English teachers and her husband to go with me - they even had the requisite Volkswagen microbus. And the concert site was only a four-hour drive away, tops.

Alas, my plan fell through for that most rudimental of reasons: my mother said no.
Several months later, at the end of my freshman year, some friends and I hitchhiked to a midnight showing of Michael Wadleigh's extraordinary Woodstock documentary. Hard to imagine that four decades later anyone would have the creative courage - or chutzpah - to try to recapture the experience.

But two sets of filmmakers have done just that and the results are terrific. Taking Woodstock, a feature film directed by Ang Lee and written and produced by my friend James Schamus, is a funny, touching look at the festival from the periphery. The performances are on pitch and the movie captures the period and the event perfectly, without once slipping into caricature or retrospective smugness - not a whiff of contemporary filmmakers betraying their subject matter with a "weren't they adorable and feckless back then" attitude.

(In fact, Schamus told me the only thing people who were there in 1969 think Taking Woodstock lacks for atmosphere is the stink created by acres of muck and half a million people.)

So, too, with Woodstock: Now and Then, directed by the great documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple. Using footage from the original Wadleigh documentary, combined with a wealth of other archival material and new interviews with many of the participants, Kopple tells the story of the concert from its inception through the bitter financial wrangling that tore its promoters apart from the moment the music was over.

In his New York Times review, critic Mike Hale wrote, "In one way her film is probably truer to the actual experience of the average Woodstock attendee than Mr. Wadleigh's was. She focuses less on the music, which for some portion of the half-million people in attendance was merely a rumor."

There is a fearful, ironic symmetry in the Times' praise of Kopple's documentary, for one of the most interesting points of her film is how that paper, as well as other publications at the time, initially tried to shape their coverage to match a prejudiced preconception.

It was a "Nightmare in the Catskills," the Times editorialized. "What kind of culture is it that can produce so colossal a mess?... Surely the parents, the teachers and indeed all the adults who helped create the society against which these young people are so feverishly rebelling must bear a share of the responsibility for this outrageous episode."

New York Times reporter Barnard Collier, who was covering the actual concert, pushed back. Interviewed in Kopple's film he recalled, "When the stuff started getting back to New York, the editors there said, this is not what we want. We want a story about what a mess this is. They wanted me to write a story that said Woodstock was a catastrophe about to happen. I said I wouldn't write it. They said, you gotta write it. I said, I refuse to write it, unless it gets in [my] way. I said, and you gotta read it to me before it goes in, so that I know somebody hasn't penciled it, you know, taken it apart. "Finally, I got to [Times executive editor] Scottie Reston, and Scottie Reston said, okay, we'll go with it the way you see it."

In this time of dying newspapers and the domination of television news by cable networks featuring bombastic opinion and little else, it's wistful to remember a time when a reporter could persuade an editor to do the right thing. Wistful as well to reflect on a Woodstock Nation that never really materialized, its moment of rhythm and harmony trumped by the heavy-footed dance stylings of men like Tom DeLay.

("Taking Woodstock" opens at theaters in New York and Los Angeles August 26 and nationwide on August 28. Woodstock: Now and Then already has premiered on the VH1 and The History Channel cable networks. Keep your eyes open for repeats. )

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, August 16, 2009

Jimi: A Moment

Okay, so, it was the spring of 1967, and I had run off to Woodstock where I lived with a sweetheart of a guy named Tim who took me in, fed me, and nursed me back to health after a ridiculously long, frightful bout of flu. I had been reading a lot of Baudelaire, Jean Genet, and Arthur Rimbaud, and aspired to be a poete maudit, the "anti-Christ" as I liked to call it.

After I regained my balance, while Tim went to work, he worked a night job, I put on my low cut dress, my black silk stockings, high heels, and strutted off to a bar called The Elephant.

One night, or should I say one morning at about 2 A.M., I was sitting with a group of people I barely knew, drinking a lot, and being generally rowdy when, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted the most beautiful man----tall, very slender, high cheekbones, with the longest fingers I have ever seen on anyone. He was wearing a pink satin outfit. All I could think was "what a phenomenal looking man," and then I realized it was Jimi Hendrix. Jimi was with two middle-aged white guys in suits. They walked across the room, and sat down at a table about 50 feet away from me.

The people at my table started to scream "Look, that's Jimi Hendrix, that's Jimi Hendrix," so I took my chair and turned my back on all of them. I folded my arms dramatically, and rolled my eyes up signifying my embarrassment.

I turned my head to the area where Jimi was sitting with his two manager-looking types, and saw that Jimi quiclkly moved away from the guys he was with, folded his arms dramatically, and rolled his eyes back in his head. Our eyes locked, and we both started laughing. We shared a moment. One that has never left me, and never will.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Free speech?

They only call it "free speech" when they're buying.

Michael Winship on health care

The Gorilla Dust of Health Care

By Michael Winship

When I was 15, my father was in a near-fatal car collision with a semi-trailer truck. At Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, NY, he lay in a coma for two months.

As the medical bills mounted and the insurance was running out, my mother had to make an agonizing decision. My father would have to be airlifted to the VA Medical Center in Kansas City, where his veteran's benefits would defray the costs. She would go there with him; arrangements would have to be made for someone to take care of her home and kids while she was away. For how long, no one was certain.

Miraculously - almost as if he realized what was going on - Dad suddenly emerged from his coma and was released from Strong a short time later. He never fully recovered from the accident, but for that moment, at least, further domestic upheaval and financial chaos were averted.

Flash forward nearly 30 years and it was my mother who was now in the hospital, diminished physically and spiritually by dementia. Her children made the choice together but it was my sister, who had become her chief caregiver, who bore much of the brunt of the decision not to resuscitate.

In the months and years prior to my mother's death, the kind of end-of-life counseling that health care reformers are talking about - not the bizarre, phony "death panels" falsely conjured by Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Betsy McCaughey and others, now including Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley - would have been welcome.

Everyone has personal stories like these, or certainly friends and colleagues who have had similar difficult experiences with our current health care system. We know it has to change, which makes it even more infuriating and frustrating that the national, you should excuse the expression, "dialogue" on the issue has deteriorated into so much gorilla dust, a hurling of invective, menace and disinformation meant to intimidate and force a retreat.

Those vein-popping, pistol toting, don't confuse me with the facts town hall meetings are more like hockey brawls than an open exchange of ideas. But this uncivil disobedience and bullying are just the tip of the spear, the front line of an all out offensive on the streets, in the media and on Capitol Hill aimed at turning the debate over health care reform on its head and possibly keeping any kind of change from happening at all.

On Friday, Bloomberg News reported that 3,300 Washington lobbyists are working on health care: "That's six lobbyists for each of the 535 members of the House and Senate, according to Senate records, and three times the number of people registered to lobby on defense. More than 1,500 organizations have health-care lobbyists, and about three more are signing up each day. Every one of the 10 biggest lobbying firms by revenue is involved in an effort that could affect 17 percent of the U.S. economy."

According to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, in the first half of the year, this adds up to $263.4 million worth of high-level kibitzing around the House and Senate office buildings and various other DC locales where ears and elbows are bent in advance of twisting arms. Bloomberg notes, "Drugmakers alone spent $134.5million, 64 percent more than the next biggest spenders, oil and gas companies."

The attacks on Bill and Hillary Clinton's plan for health care reform back in the '90s were a tiptoe through the tulips compared to the current assault. That's because it's about a lot more than attempting to ease the financial pain of illness - or a socialist government takeover of medicine, depending on your point of view. Organizers (such as former Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey's FreedomWorks), special interests and people who are just plain mad as hell have turned it into a shrill national referendum, reigniting age-old prejudices and fears that bubbled at the surface during last year's presidential campaign.

What's interesting is that there appears to be an emerging backlash from some of the more reasoned thinkers of the conservative movement. It seems to have begun late last week with a blog entry by former Bush speechwriter David Frum on his website, He asked, what if the right wins the health care fight? What happens then? "The problem," he wrote, "is that if we do that... we'll still have the present healthcare system... We'll have entrenched and perpetuated some of the most irrational features of a hugely costly and underperforming system, at the expense of entrepreneurs and risk-takers, exactly the people the Republican Party exists to champion."

Frum elaborated while in conversation with my colleague Bill Moyers on the current edition of public television's Bill Moyers Journal. "They're going to pass something," he said of the health care reform fight. "So the question for Republicans is what do you want that to be? You have an interest here, too. You would like to see the rise in healthcare costs slow. And you would like to see more room in the federal budget for tax cuts in the future... But if the Republicans win, this is not going to be a great victory for individual liberty. It's going to be a
victory for the status quo."

Frum's sentiments have been echoed and amplified by conservative economist Bruce Bartlett. He's worth citing at length. Writing on the Daily Beast website on August 12, Bartlett noted that, "Because reforming Medicare is an important part of getting health costs under control generally, Bush could have used the opportunity to develop a comprehensive health-reform plan. By not doing so, he left his party with nothing to offer as an alternative to the Obama plan. Instead,
Republicans have opposed Obama's initiative while proposing nothing themselves.

"In my opinion, conservative activists, who seem to believe that the louder they shout the more correct their beliefs must be, are less angry about Obama's policies than they are about having lost the White House in 2008. They are primarily Republican Party hacks trying to overturn the election results, not representatives of a true grassroots revolt against liberal policies...

"Until conservatives once again hold Republicans to the same standard they hold Democrats, they will have no credibility and deserve no respect."

One way to reestablish some shred of that credibility would be any kind of viable health care reform alternative from the GOP. Another would be to engage in a more reasoned debate. Neither has happened so far, and in the heat of the current ugly fray, neither seems likely.

Too much of the gorilla dust they're throwing has blown back into their own eyes.

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

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Not in My Town: Remembering Woodstock

If given the chance, there are few things in life I'd change. Signing that petition, and boycotting what was to be most historic rock concert of all times, is one of them.

Back in the summer of 1968, locals circulated a petition to keep a big music festival out of the town of Woodstock proper, to protect the best kept secret, a small artist's colony roughly 90 miles outside of New York City, from becoming Atlantic City in the Adirondacks.

I was a teenager making an annual summer, and spring break, pilgrimmage to the mountains for a retreat from crowded subways, and perpetual noise. The town was so small back then that, sooner or later, you were bound to bump into yourself.

As memory serves, I had just finished liberating cigarettes, and crab meat from the local market, and handing them out on Tinker Street, when someone approached me to sign a petition. As one who has made a career of avoiding petitions, I cringed. "Why sign it?" I asked. "To keep the noise, and crowds, out of town" was the answer. Sounds good to me, so I signed it. I shared the vitriol, and resolved not only to keep the festival out of Woodstock, but not to attend as a gesture of defiance.

From the spring of 1966 through 1968, I boarded a Trailways bus, at Port Authority, and took off for weeks at a time on many adventures during the summer, and spring break without my parents knowing. Some days were spent listening to demos at Cat Mother and the All Night News Band's place with Tommy Flanders, hanging out at The Elephant with Jimi Hendrix at the next table, living with fair haired boys who studied at the Art Institute, and visiting Father Francis' church which he built with his own hands, and where I instantly fell in love with stained glass. It was, in the best sense, a magical time.

And, as autumn made its stubborn, inevitable approach, it grew more and more difficult to return to a middle class neighborhood in the borough of Queens where people still think surrealism is a sexually transmitted disease.

You can see why even those, like myself, who were most opposed to petitions would sign one to keep a music concert from forever changing the face, and course, of a small country town.

Due to protest from the town, or for other unknown reasons, word spread quickly that the festival would instead be held in White Lake, not in Woodstock proper, though ironically, it came to be known as "Woodstock" anyway, despite being held in 600 acre dairy farm, in another county, 43 miles away.

Now, amazingly, as I look back, 40 years later, the only thing I have less use for than petitions is regret, but I can say this: i f I had it to do over again, I would have gone to that festival instead of sticking my nose up at it, thinking it was a bunch of teeny boppers intent on commercializing something precious. Nothing has ever been that precious to me again. Like the song goes, "Oh but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Health Reform: The Way It Breaks Down

After nonstop coverage of the resistance to Obama's health care reform, and after weeks of trying to unravel the abstraction that is the so-called public option, it's quickly becoming clear that the working man, and middle class citizen will both benefit from this reform, but the poor won't.

The indigent, those who are, in a profound sense, recession-proof as they're always hardest hit, will receive what Obama calls an "exemption," meaning they won't be required to buy health insurance. Whether it's affordable or not, working people, and the middle class, will be required to pay monthly premiums, and carry health insurance, so this health reform essentially works out to be a stimulus package for the insurance companies, HMOs, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies as they are the ones who stand to gain because they won't have to foot the bill for deadbeats.

Ultimately, the taxpayer foots the bill, not the hospitals, so in the long run, the taxpayer will benefit from the plan as long as there is oversight, or regulation, of the health management providers, hospitals, clinicians, and drug companies who participate in the plan.

Those, like myself, who think that single payer is the best way to go will have to accept the idea that there is too much resistance, and too much change intolerance, for now, to make that work and, alas, the same people speaking out the loudest about the President's plan for reform are, ironically, those like Dick Armey who would like to see Medicaid and Social Security disappear.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Easy Street

Easy Street wasn't built for traffic.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Eric Holder and PR 101

It looks like Attorney General Eric Holder is on the verge of appointing a criminal prosecutor to investigate waterboarding, and other illegal acts that were part of the interrogation policies put in place under the Bush administration. We've heard this for awhile now, but Holder appears to have decided on a criminal probe According to today's Los Angeles Times, members of the attorney-general's staff have even shortlisted possible prosecutors.

The heaviest focus of the probe appears to be on the interrogators, and others, who have carried out orders, and who may have crossed the line. Justice appears to be principally concerned with detainee deaths, and the "waterboarding of prisoners in excess of Justice Department guidelines."

But, the very notion that Justice would establish new guidelines which would legitimize practices traditionally abjured by most industrialized countries, including our own, is enough to make one's blood boil as is the evidence that guidelines for what is permissible, as set forth in the infamous Bybee memo of August, 2002, tweaked long standing constitutional, and international, prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment. Where did we go wrong when any waterboarding at all would fall within the parameters of "Justice Department guidelines?"

While the President has made his own feelings about criminalizing the program by which the government acquires information from alleged terrorists known, he has left just enough wiggle room to go after the fall guys like, for instance, the interrogators, CIA officials, and private contractors who carried out then Vice President Dick Cheney's iron fisted commands for performance-based interrogation. But, thanks to the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which easily passed Congress, the architects of the war on terror are immunized from prosecution for their misdeeds.

And, one thing remains perfectly clear. If Mr. Holder goes through with a criminal probe, and indictments that extend only as far as the guys (and gals) who acted under command so that the President can save face, protect his predecessor, and secure support from his base, not only will we be the laughing stock of the civilized world but, more importantly, we may be opening the door to international outrage, and extradition by Spain, Belgium, and the United Kingdom where there is no immunity for war criminals.

Yes, one can't very well prosecute those who gave commands to torture as long as they have been granted a shield of immunity from war crime charges by the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

Congress passed, and then President George W. Bush signed, the Military Commissions Act casting aside habeas corpus, constitutional protections against unlawful and indefinite detention, allowing the unitary executive to exercise complete control over who to designate enemy combatant, as well as what the definition of torture is.

There can be no serious inquiry into egregious, arguably criminal, misconduct unless there are consequences, and there can be no consequences unless, and until, the Military Commission Act is overturned.

The anti-torture statute states that an interrogator must "specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering" in order to be accused of torture. While it may generally be difficult to prove that it is someone's intention to hurt someone else, a recently declassified CIA report reveals two detainees, in U.S. custody, Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, were each waterboarded, in the space of one month, at least 83 times; no one can argue holding someone's head under water to simulate drowning 83 times is anything less than the intentional infliction of severe physical, and mental, suffering.

But, what were the intentions of those who strove for legislation that nullifies the War Crimes Act of 1994, thereby giving themselves immunity from being prosecuted for any potentially criminal military misadventure. Clearly, this was what the Military Commission Act was intended to do.

To add insult to injury, there is now liability insurance for interrogators, and high ranking CIA officials. This is part of the terror infrastructure Dick Cheney's administration left in place. It is up to the Obama administration to ensure that future presidencies don't get to redefine torture such that it becomes "enhanced" interrogation..

We agree with Human Rights Watch advocacy director, Tom Malinowski, when he says that "an investigation that focuses only on low-ranking operators would be worse than doing nothing at all."

Worse still, it sends a message to future generations, future presidents, and to the world that Justice can get away with mocking justice by immunizing those whose liability is greatest.

The only way to ensure accountability for practices that are widely acknowledged to be tantamount to torture, acts that even the President himself calls torture, is to restore liability, and clear the path for unfettered prosecution of those who orchestrated, and engineered, these heinous acts.

Unless, and until, the Military Commissions Act is revoked, President Obama, and Congress, any action undertaken by the attorney-general amounts to little more than rearranging the furniture on the Titanic, and a thinly veiled effort at public relations.

Friday, August 07, 2009

for Joey

We didn't talk much
there wasn't
much need to
Most of the time
you'd come to my tiny
McDougal Street flat
the one
with the bathtub
in the
most of the time
you'd take me
with your cowboy boots on
lightning fast
the formica
table beneath us.
We understood
each other
you and I
like a couple of
gypsies or
starry eyed teens
at a perennial
It was something
we carried with us --

By Jayne Lyn Stahl

from "Riding with Destiny"

From Michael Winship

Courtesy of Bill Moyers Journal, and Public Affairs Television:

Neighborhood Watch on Planet Earth

By Michael Winship

For a bit of change, let's talk about a different kind of health care reform -the kind that affects the health of the planet.

The other evening, I was listening to All Things Considered on NPR. Robert Siegel was interviewing Dr. Hal Levison, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, about the king-sized comet that slammed into Jupiter a few weeks ago.

The comet's impact - it punched a hole the size of the Pacific Ocean, and would have annihilated a lesser planet, like Earth - was discovered by an amateur astronomer in Australia. Siegel asked how such an event escaped the notice of the world's great observatories.

"There are only a few really large telescopes," Levison explained. "They're hard to get time on, and so they're dedicated to particular projects. And the amateurs really are the only ones that have time just to monitor things to see what's happening."

"Part of the Neighborhood Watch looking out the front door," Siegel suggested.
Neighborhood Watch Dr. Levison liked that analogy and so do I. Combined with the recent passing of space enthusiast Walter Cronkite and the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, it got me thinking about the value of exploring the cosmos at a time of economic destitution on the ground and a national deficit that makes the word "astronomical" seem inadequate.

As a kid, I was in thrall to the space program. Squinting into the night above rural upstate New York, my family and I sometimes could see those early, primitive satellites traverse the dark sky, and my younger brother, a skilled amateur astronomer to this day, would haul out his telescope for us to look at the craters of the moon, or Jupiter or Saturn's rings.

In the auditorium of my elementary school, a modest, black and white television set was placed on the stage so we could watch the space flights of Alan Shepard and John Glenn, and for a class project in the sixth grade, I tracked the mission of astronaut Gordon Cooper, dutifully moving a tiny, construction paper space capsule across a map of the world as Cooper orbited the planet 22 times.

Six years later, in 1969, we sat downstairs in the family room of our home and watched the mission of Apollo 11. I remember Cronkite's exultant, "Oh boy!" as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the lunar surface, and staying up through the night to watch the first moonwalk. (Years later, editing a TV series on the history of television, colleagues and I noted how, in his excitement, Cronkite almost talked over Armstrong's "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.")

As time went by, America became blasé about space exploration. The budget for moon landings was curtailed after the first few, and flights of the space shuttle became commonplace save for the horrific, fatal explosions of Columbia and Challenger.

We speak now of returning astronauts to the moon and manned missions to Mars yet efforts to do so seem half-hearted. But there can be no denying the greater understanding of the universe gained from the amazing images obtained by the Hubble Space Telescope, and data from satellites and unmanned interplanetary probes. And beyond the jokes about Tang and Velcro, NASA and the space program have generated advances in a range of technologies.

Which brings us back to that notion of the Neighborhood Watch, for one of the most valuable contributions of our exploration of the skies has been the knowledge gained from being able to examine our own earthly neighborhood from the distance of space.
Invaluable information is obtained from satellites monitoring weather and the damage created by drought, floods, fire, earthquakes and climate change. But that fleet is aging and few new satellites are being launched to replace them.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Jane Lubchenco, the new head of the National Oceanic and Administrative Administration (NOAA), was quoted in the British newspaper The Guardian. "Our primary focus is maintaining the continuity of climate observations," she said, "and those are at great risk right now because we don't have the resources to have satellites at the ready and taking the kinds of information that we need... We are playing catch-up."

The paper went on to report that, "Even before her warning, scientists were saying that America, the world's scientific superpower, was virtually blinding itself to climate change by cutting funds to the environmental satellite programmes run by the Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA. A report by the National Academy of Sciences this year warned that the environmental satellite network was at risk of collapse."

This news comes on the heels of a NOAA report that the world's ocean surface temperature for June was the warmest on record and the release of more than a thousand spy satellite photographs of Arctic sea ice that were withheld from public view by the Bush Administration.

On the morning of July 15, the National Research Council issued a report asking the Obama administration to release the pictures; the Department of the Interior declassified them just hours later. A source told the Reuters news service, "That doesn't happen every day... This is a great example of good government cooperation between the intelligence community and academia."

The images are remarkable. You can see a selection of them online at Arctic ice is in retreat from the shores of Barrow, Alaska, along the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska and west of Canada's Northwest Territories, and from the Bering Glacier, among many other sites.

"The photographs demonstrate starkly how global warming is changing the Arctic," The Guardian noted. "More than a million square kilometres of sea ice - a record loss - were missing in the summer of 2007 compared with the previous year. Nor has this loss shown any sign of recovery. Ice cover for 2008 was almost as bad as for 2007, and this year levels look equally sparse."

One reason, of course, for the Obama White House's release of the dramatic photographs is to bolster support for the climate change bill narrowly passed by the House and now awaiting action in the Senate.

The bill's a thin soup version of what many believe needs to be done. It inadequately reduces emissions, gives away permits and offsets to industry, and, as Erich Pica of Friends of the Earth recently told my colleague Bill Moyers on "Bill Moyers Journal," strips away the Environmental Protection Agency's authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

But even this watered down version of the climate legislation is in jeopardy, collateral damage from the health care reform fight. "A handful of key senators on climate change are almost guaranteed to be tied up well into the fall on health care," the Web site reports. "Democrats from the Midwest and the South are resistant to a cap-and-trade proposal. And few if any Republicans are jumping in to help push a global warming and energy initiative."

If true, it's hard to imagine a bill passing before December's UN climate change conference in Copenhagen. Harder still, without a law of our own, to imagine the United States being able to convince China, India and developing nations to pass climate regulations and change polluting behaviors.

In other words, there goes the neighborhood.

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


Time is the biggest challenge for me. Whoever invented it deserves mortality.

(from "Waiting to Download")

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Another Scandal Near New Orleans

There has been no shortage of news stories about how detainees have been treated at Guantanamo Bay, and Abu Ghraib before it. Likewise, there has been a lot of talk about so-called enhanced alternative interrogation techniques like waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and how even dogs have been used as a means to get "enemy combatants" to cooperate with intelligence interrogators, but the mainstream media has been conspicuously silent on the subject of prisoner abuse at federal prisons, and one private prison, in particular, in which men have been given solitary confinement for staging a hunger strike to protest conditions in which they're being held.

According to an article in New American Media, 100 immigrant detainees at the Southern Louisiana Correctional Center, a private prison about four hours outside of New Orleans, are being subjected to solitary confinement for complaints that run the gamut from lack of medical attention, even for major illnesses, no phone access to lawyers or family members, paucity of soap, toiletpaper, and toothpaste for weeks at a time, and even having to share their cells with rodents and insects.

A Jewish detainee said he was denied Kosher food, and others say they have been made sick by the food. Notably, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has oversight of the facility.

So far, there have been half a dozen hunger strikes, each lasting a few days, to call attention to the indignities detainees routinely suffer, and 60% of the men reportedly have participated in these hunger strikes.

Two detainees told of being brought to the "hole," and given solitary confinement, for speaking out about dissatisfaction with their confinement. Such retaliatory practices pale by comparison to some of the nightmare stories we've heard from Gitmo, but we must ask if ICE and INS view immigrants, who are here legally or otherwise, as "enemy combatants," too?

In mid-July, a field office director for ICE visited the prison, said he found everything satisfactory, and denied claims that detainees went without soap and toothpaste for weeks on end.

When asked about the practice of isolating immigrant prisoners, a spokesperson for ICE called it precautionary "medical isolation." Some might interpret so-called medical isolation as nothing less than a veiled preemptive strike against dissent. Clearly, it isn't merely coincidental that concerns with medical well-being correspond with prisoner expressions of disgust with their environment.

It is our understanding that a handful of detainees remain in isolation. Both their hunger strike, and ICE's retribution have gone largely unnoticed, and unreported, by the mainstream press.

That said, several notable national advocacy groups, like the Center for Constitutional Rights, have written to Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, expressing their outrage, and urging her to immediately investigate conditions at the prison.

What was her response? Last month, Napolitano denied a court petition that demanded "legally enforceable detention standards" at facilities that house immigrant detainees. DHS chose instead to continue so-called performance based standards enforced by private contractors.

It is not exactly breaking news that the U.S. is now in the business of awarding contracts to private companies like Blackwater to operate federal prisons, and immigration centers, within our borders, but DHS now says it is turning over decisions as to how those prisons are run to the contractors, too.

This is, in itself, not shocking. What is shocking, and scandalous, is how little attention holding immigrants in prisons inside our borders, as well as ICE practices are getting from the mainstream meda, and our elected officials, especially in light of all the righteous indignation over torture at Gitmo. It is nothing short of dereliction of duty for the major news organizations, in this country, to ignore another scandal of this magnitude so close to a city whose name has become synonymous with government scandal.

As the press release from the Center for Constitutional Rights states: "Solitary confinement as retaliatory punishment for peace protest of conditions is unacceptable. The men must be taken out of solitary immediately, and the Department of Homeland Security must commit to investigating these reports with the seriousness they deserve."

The mainstream media, too, must commit to covering this story with as much vigor as it covered Hurricane Katrina because the unlimited, and in many cases unwarranted, detention of immigrants in private prisons in Florida, Louisiana, and elsewhere in this country must be exposed, and Fourth Amendment protection must be extended to everyone within our borders. If we treat others who emigrate to our country as enemy combatants, we must expect the same treatment from them.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Le Monde N'Existe Pas Entre Nous

Le monde n'existe pas
entre nous
je te cherche dans
les rues de rilke
je te cherche dans
les rues fellini
je te cherche dans
un grand
ou les enfants
jouent avec
le feu
comme un ange
sans eglise
un ange vrai
vraiment le monde
n'existe pas
entre nous.

en anglais

The World Doesn't Exist Between Us

the world doesn't exist
between us
I look for you
on streets of rilke
I look for you
on streets fellini
I look for you
in a big
department store
where the children
are playing with
like an angel
without a church
a real angel
really the world
between us.

By Jayne Lyn Stahl

from "Riding with Destiny"

(c) 1991 -- all rights reserved

What is the difference...

What is the difference between a right to lifer and a birther? A right to lifer delivers.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

At the 7-11

On my usual walk for exercise, I stopped off at the 7-11 about a mile from my house. After picking up a few packs of Lifesavers, something I can't bear to be without since quiting smoking nine years ago this month, I meandered over to the cash register to pay for the mints.

Standing in line waiting to buy a pack of Lucky Strikes, low menthol, was a robust 40th something creature with a shaved head. He was covered with tattoos from chin to toe.

"Let me get a lottery ticket,too" he told the cashier who, by the way, is from Belgrade.

His other feathered friend, with the spiked hairdo, moved closer.

"Yeah," he continued, "I'm what you call white trash," he turned rather emphatically to look at me after his announcement.

"Excuse me," I said, "were you talking to me."

"You heard me----white trash, sister."

"Is there an "h" in the word white," I asked not without curiosity.

He laughed.

"You know," I said, "it's very upsetting to hear people refer to themselves in the pejorative."

He turned to me, and said, emphatically:

"I'm trash, and proud of it. Besides, you look like the kind who gets upset easily, sister."

He managed to get my dander up with that one, so I looked at the cashier, the gent from Belgrade who, by this time, was laughing.

"Okay," I said "you've convinced me."

He scratched out his lottery ticket, grabbed his pack of cigarettes, and headed out to a predictable pick-up truck replete with barking dog, and scattered beer cans.

"The dude was right in the first place" I told the cashier who shook his head and laughed.

What I can't figure out, for the life of me, is why anyone would be proud to be called trash? Could it be a kind of populist revolt against those who are well-schooled, refined, sophisticated, and maybe not as white as they are? Maybe not as mighty white as they are. Maybe "trash" is a euphemism for white supremacy, but what a bizarre moniker.

"We all come to look for America," said my Belgrade friend, "but nobody can find it anywhere."

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Multiple Choice Test for the State Department

Having become quite proficient at making up tests lately, and in light of the reports that July was the deadliest month for U.S. and allied forces, in Afghanistan, I've come up with a multiple choice exam for the State Department::

On a separate sheet of paper, please answer the following questions by circling the correct response:

1. The United States is engaged in Afghanistan to:

(a) fight the Taliban

(b) fight Al Qaeda

(c) fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda

(d) none of the above

2. Osama bin Laden is, or was, a member of which group:

(a) the Taliban

(b) Al Qaeda

(c) the Coalition to Avoid Unwanted Pregnancy

(d) AARP

3. An "exit strategy" is:

(a) a sign over the emergency exit on an aircraft

(b) a symptom of Irritable Bowel Syndrome

(c) a form of contraception

(d) a game plan to end occupation of a sovereign state.

4. The term diplomacy applies to all of the following except:

(a) talk as a method of problem solving

(b) travel to hold meetings with foreign heads of state

(c) air strikes, and pummeling of civilians a.k.a. collateral damage

(d) searching for common ground

5. By the year 2020, the U.S.will be:

(a) out of Iraq and Afghanistan

(b) in North Korea, and Iran

(c) in Pakistan

(d) in outer space