Friday, January 30, 2009

Quote of the Day

"I did a lot of things that were mostly right."

Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, at his impeachment trial in Illinois.

courtesy of The New York Times

Jan. 31

"Experience is the one thing you can't get for nothing," Oscar Wilde once said.

I think of my father born January 31, 1918 between wars, and in the midst of an epic flu pandemic,a man who worked hard all his life, who witnessed the Great Depression, and survived it. I think of his strength, and courage. I think how one can be strong, courageous, and gentle, too.

Like Mr. Wilde, my father would say vision comes at a price. But, he would also acknowledge that nothing in sight has any value without vision.

My father was a gambler, though he didn't want to admit it. He was a poet, though he abandoned poetry. He was a pundit, though he was politically savvy, and obsessed, before the age of punditry. He died right before the massacre at Tiananmen Square. This man, who often boasted of being too radical for the Communist Party, would have had lots to say about what happened that day in China.

As a child, my father sang to me about holding my head up high when I walk through a storm, to "walk on with hope in my heart," always feel his arm beneath me when I manage only to float, and mostly to find humor even in the sorry face of adversity; all things I cherish to this day.

It will be twenty years, in April, since he made his sudden, all too quick, departure, but his smile outlives him, and warms me on those cold nights as in places where even the sun is ashamed to shine.

He is with me still.

from Michael Winship

Dr. Gregorian’s 3 R’s: Reading, Writing and Recession

By Michael Winship

That was quite a crowd at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, last week. Thousands of students took to the streets in protest. But it wasn’t an antiwar march – the campus has a reputation for a lack of activism. It wasn’t even a pep rally for UNLV’s beloved, championship basketball team, the Runnin’ Rebels.

No, they came out to raise hell as they never have before because Jim Gibbons, the governor of Nevada, just proposed state budget cuts to higher education of a whopping 36 percent. At UNLV, that could mean a budget slash of as much as 52 percent and possible tuition increases of 225 percent.

UNLV student and employee Helen Gerth told the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “By the time they get through cutting the budget, this will be a ghost town.”

Meanwhile, in Tucson, Arizona, a record thousand people crowded into a meeting of the Arizona Board of Regents to voice their outrage at a proposed cut of more than $600 million from the state’s university system. School presidents there say such draconian budget rollbacks could force the elimination of academic departments, even entire colleges.

Lest you think this is a phenomenon limited to the Great American Southwest, things are bad all over. With state governments looking down the barrel of more than $300 billion worth of deficits this year and next, the long knives are out and money for higher public education is a serial victim. Twenty-six states already have either cut their budgets for higher education, raised tuition fees or enacted a combination of both. When it come to college affordability, a report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, “Measuring Up: 2008,” gives a failing grade of “F” to 49 of the 50. Tuition at public four-year colleges is up an average of more than $6500; at two year schools, almost $2500.

Less and less of that money is going to actual teaching and more of it to administrative and support services. Despite that, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that many college buildings are “outdated, inefficient, even crumbling.”

The states are paring away at their future noses to save their current financial faces, say leading academics, denying dollars to higher education when it’s more of an absolute necessity than ever, providing jobs, retraining those who’ve been laid off, generating the basic and applied research that in the past has driven a country once world-renowned for invention and productivity. As one of those who spoke at the Arizona Board of Regents meeting said, “You cannot cut yourself out of a recession. You must grow your way out.”

Last October, a meeting was convened in New York City, a gathering of leaders of higher public education who came here to try figure out a way to cope with the current economic crisis and its devastating impact on America’s public colleges and universities. The conference was organized by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the philanthropic foundation that fosters and promotes educational opportunity and increased civic participation, and its president, a human dynamo whose career is testament to the value of a lifetime of learning.

Vartan Gregorian, the former president of the New York Public Library and Brown University, is a man of erudition and charm with a passion for philanthropy and wider education. The conference of educators he and the Carnegie Corporation sponsored last fall resulted in a two-page page ad published in major newspapers, an open letter to then President-elect Obama asking that whatever economic stimulus package comes out of Washington in the next few weeks, five percent of it – around 40 to 45 billion dollars – go to higher education that will, quote, “propel the nation forward in resolving its current economic crisis and lay the groundwork for international economic competitiveness and the well-being of American families into the future.”

Gregorian spoke with my colleague Bill Moyers on the most recent edition of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS and noted that it was during another national crisis -- the Civil War -- that Abraham Lincoln had the foresight to sign the Morrill Act establishing public land-grant colleges and universities. Its purpose, the legislation stated, was, not only to create public institutions of higher learning that would teach the traditional curriculum of science and “classical studies” but “to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts… in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.”

Lincoln supported the law because he realized the value of education for people who could use the land grant schools not only to advance knowledge but also to learn a trade. Unfortunately, Gregorian said, the public “has the impression that the land grant universities are providing free education to the public. That’s not the case.”

Public colleges and universities can’t compete with private schools, he said, because the salary differentials are so great, yet, “Eighty percent of our nation’s talent, in every domain, from lawyers to engineers to doctors, come from public higher education.”

Gregorian includes two-year community colleges as well as four-year schools. “We’re talking about how to build the next generation of our youth to be able to compete globally, and re-engineer our nation’s reemergence in the next phase of global competition,” he explained. “We need all the infrastructure. We need all the engineers, all the doctors, all the computer specialists… We can no longer allow 50 percent of our students not to graduate from high school, or 30, 40 percent to drop out from our universities, especially minorities and others…

“We need… to participate as citizens in the fate and future of our country… We cannot have a democracy without its foundation being knowledge, in order to provide progress.”

That need is all the more critical in times of economic crisis and if the states are unable or unwilling to come up with the cash, at least the House version of President Obama’s economic stimulus package that passed this week include billions for higher education, so apparently someone in the administration is listening to the entreaties of Dr. Gregorian and his colleagues. Nonetheless, the legislation still has a long way to go.

There is an upside to the gloom, Gregorian noted. “Merit always counts, especially when the economy tanks. You find the true value of individuals. I can’t tell you how many people are calling me about going into non-profit business… People have suddenly stopped in their tracks and they’re looking to see what they could do otherwise… People confront themselves, their values. It’s like when you leave a hospital with catastrophic news. You see the world differently.”

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, January 29, 2009


Is it my hormones, or maybe it's a touch of vertigo, but I'm actually starting to feel sorry for Blagojevich. He's fighting pretty hard for a "crook." If O.J. Simpson fought that hard, we might almost think he was innocent.

They had to go and impeach Rod Blagojevich just when I was starting to like him, too.

Feeling Normal?

I've always wondered: some people are so normal. Is there a pill for that?

From my high school days, when I was sweet sixteen, I would steal away to the school stairwell to read Sartre, Genet, and Dostoyevsky. I'd watch my classmates putting on mascara in the girl's room, the boys caught up in their hormonal angst, and the girls trying copiously to avoid any signs of theirs, all I could think was: what happened to me that I came out of the womb fist first, thinking about things like ontological rage. Of course, there is medication for that now, so Schopenhauer, or Moliere, need not apply.

There are places where Normal 101 is a prerequisite for job acquisition, and social networking. There are places where conformity is not only encouraged, but mandated. I grew up in a place, Bayside, Queens, where my neighbors honestly thought that surrealism was a sexually-transmitted disease. When I mentioned Nietzsche, the woman who lived above me asked "if you take Penicilin, will it cure that?" No, but you have to learn how to read that which, as James Joyce said, was written "in the language of the outlaw."

Here I was reading "Season in Hell," by Arthur Rimbaud," instead of World Book Encyclopedia in my bedroom in Bayside, thinking I must have been dropped off by some gypsies, and unable to decide if I was Joan of Arc or Allen Ginsberg. We have no outlaws anymore. For at least the past generation, the outlaws have taken all the government jobs.

Fast forward to 2009: here I am now, in the Bay Area, thinking I must have been dropped off by gypsies. How is it that so many advocate for diversity, but don't have a clue what to do with iconoclasm, free-thinking, and diversity of ideas? Think about this: where would we be now were it not for a handful of noncomformists---one guy in particular around whom a whole religion has sprung, and been practiced for two thousand years.

Feeling normal? I'm not either, yet I'm not invested in not being crazy. Back in 1971, poet Gregory Corso told me: "Janie, baby, if anybody calls you crazy, take it as a compliment!" Bless his soul. That's easier said than done. I don't know about you, but I have nothing but contempt for the folks who have made a career selling the great American normal lie. These are the folks who invariably hid behind their mother's skirts when somebody called them "chicken," and are actively hunting down chicken now--you know, the Ted Haggard types, some of whom are paraded through town wearing the scarlet letter of noncomformity.

If you're rich enough, of course, you're no longer called crazy, but "eccentric."

For one whose worst subject was math, I have always been drawn to the algebra of audacity. Lord knows, I've spent the better part of half my life trying to pass for normal, without success.

There is such an awesome preoccupation with normalcy; my word, if Galileo lived now and was afraid of being called crazy, we'd still think the world is flat. And, indeed, perhaps it is.

Quote of the Day

"Of course World War II was, among other things, the biggest public works program in American history."

Russell Baker

Monday, January 26, 2009

What if we held an impeachment, and nobody came?

You've got to admire newly ousted Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich's chutzpah, or cajones, for showing up on the set of "The View," and making the rounds at the talk circuit, today instead of showing up for his impeachment proceedings though he's clearly not setting any precedents in not showing up. Karl Rove, who's been subpoenaed by the House Judiciary Committee, was a no show when he was subpoenaed, on GWB's watch, to testify about what he knew about the illegal firing of nine U.S. attorneys, and framing Don Siegelman, a popular former governor, on corruption charges.

The only one framing Blagojevich is Blagokvetch himself. There are some who might argue, and wisely, that the only thing unique about the Illinois governor is his impossible to spell surname.

What I'm wondering is how history will see us in, oh, say about a hundred years given that we impeached one of our most effective presidents, Bill Clinton, for lying to a federal grand jury about having extramarital sex in the Oval Office while letting among our most corrupt chief executives, George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney, off the hook for breaking the Presidential Records Act, lying to Congress and the American people about the so-called weapons of mass destruction, illegal government surveillance, and countless other violations of the Constitution and international law? For shame, America, impeach a guy over extramarital oral sex, but not waterboarding?

Remember the old saying---everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it. It's starting to look at lot like that in Washington, D.C., too, lately.

(In memoriam Paul Newman whose birthday is today)


Life is one gift that can't be exchanged.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Pfizer and Wyeth

The New York Times reports that pharmaceutical giant Pfizer plans to buy Wyeth for an estimated $68 billion which may spark a drug consolidation trend.

Clearly, the pharmaceutical industry may be the only one that doesn't require a bailout!

(The funds behind Pfizer's bid are being provided by four banks that received federal, or taxpayer, bailout money: Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America)

Friday, January 23, 2009


I had a dream last night that I was in Manhattan
It was a stormy day I had my
best shoes on, and in
the midst of skyscrapers, traffic
endless museums I realized I forgot my
umbrella. When I crossed
Sixth Avenue, to take the subway,
a spaceship swooped down by
the curb partially obscuring the rear of
a taxicab.
A masked man leapt out.
"Where are you off to?" he asked.
"I'm on my way home for an umbrella," I told him.
"That's a long way to go to get away from a little rain."


From The Associated Press:

Newspaper claims suspect transformed into a goat

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — One of Nigeria's biggest daily newspapers reported that police implicated a goat in an attempted automobile theft. In a front-page article on Friday, the Vanguard newspaper said that two men tried to steal a Mazda car two days earlier in Kwara State, with one suspect transforming himself into a goat as vigilantes cornered him.

The paper quoted police spokesman Tunde Mohammed as saying that while one suspect escaped, the other transformed into a goat as he was about to be apprehended.

The newspaper reported that police paraded the goat before journalists, and published a picture of the animal.

Police in the state couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Belief in black magic is widespread in Nigeria, particularly in far-flung rural areas.

"Walking Down to Washington"

By Michael Winship

The image from Barack Obama’s inauguration that will stay with me forever is people walking. Walking from wherever they lived or were staying in Washington, DC. And all headed for the exact same place.

In the hours before dawn on January 20th, they already were moving down Connecticut Avenue outside my brother and sister-in-law’s apartment: groups of two and three and four or more; some wearing backpacks and carrying signs, quietly converging on the National Mall.

For many, shoe leather was a familiar form of protest. For years, they had walked or marched to speak out against bigotry, poverty and hunger; against violations of human rights; against wars in Vietnam and Iraq. They had marched on the Pentagon and from Selma to Montgomery, but this time they were putting one foot before the other in celebration.

I had taken Amtrak down from New York City two days before. Among the passengers, a jumble of different languages but in almost every conversation, the name, “Barack Obama,” clear as a bell.

The train was full, and then packed as we left Baltimore, following the same route Obama’s whistlestop tour had taken the day before, jammed with visitors on their way to DC. A schoolteacher from Missouri took advantage of the short train ride to talk to her students about A. Philip Randolph, the African American labor and civil rights leader who organized African American sleeping car porters in the ‘20s and ‘30s, and the March on Washington with Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1963.

She told me she had planned her trip in October. “When I saw those 100,000 people at the Obama rally in St. Louis, I thought, ‘This is a done deal,’” she said. “’I’d better make my reservations.’” She announced to her fellow faculty she’d be taking an extra day or two off after Martin Luther King’s Birthday. “One of them said, ‘That’s not a real holiday.’ I didn’t say a word. She was not going to spoil my Obama moment.”

That afternoon, we trekked to the Mall for the afternoon “We Are One” concert at the Lincoln Memorial, 17th Street lined with vendors peddling buttons, posters, hats, hand warmers and everything but Barack Obama Dessert Topping (there were Obama perfumes and air fresheners). The hundreds of thousands who came to see Bruce Springsteen, Bono, Stevie Wonder, BeyoncĂ©, Pete Seeger and James Taylor, among others, were just a foreshadowing of the millions who would arrive on Tuesday.

So, too, were the friendliness and high spirits of the crowd, despite the cold, but often tested by a lack of coordination among the various police and security forces on hand. They seemed to know how to get people where they wanted to go but not how to cope once it was time to for everyone to head home. It was an all too familiar story – there was no exit strategy.

Monday was a day of parties and events, and already, trying to get from point A to point B in downtown DC was a challenge made nearly insurmountable by flying roadblocks, unloading trucks and the tendency of tourists to leap out of cars, blocking intersections to take pictures of the Capitol – using the cameras of every passenger, one at a time.

At the three House of Representatives office buildings, shivering people lined up by the hundreds as it seemed every single Congressman or state delegation had simultaneously scheduled receptions. Once you got inside, at moments the scene was just a few degrees of separation from that party after Andrew Jackson’s 1825 inauguration when voters trashed the White House until they moved the spiked punch to the front lawn, setting a standard for Beltway bacchanalia only surpassed when the Redskins play a home game.

But Tuesday morning, everything and everyone came together and it was wondrous to behold. The predicted day of overcast gave way to bright sunshine. On every street people walked and walked until they reached the Mall and filled it to maximum capacity with anticipation. I have been in massive demonstrations there since the Vietnam moratorium in 1969, and none of them could compare. In the words of one little girl, it was bigger than Six Flags.

Yes, there were too many official standing room tickets with room for too few people (I was one of those with a ticket who couldn’t get in) and yes, trying to exit the city via rail that afternoon was an experience I wouldn’t wish on a Fox News analyst. (Again, no exit strategy – at Union Station, hundreds were haphazardly herded cheek by jowl into a far too narrow passageway and slowly, crushingly shoved through a single narrow exit. I finally popped through like a grape, just in time to catch my train.)

Still, it was worth it. For the ceremony, I wound up with folks at an open house in an office building that overlooked the crowds and the north side of the Capitol. We saw most of it on TV sets but with our own eyes caught glimpses from the balcony of the motorcade heading up the Hill, the cannons firing their 21-gun salute, the helicopter carrying the Bushes away (some of the people near me took off their shoes and faked a toss in the chopper’s general direction).

Whether you voted for or against President Obama, you couldn’t help but be caught up by the display of spirit, support and yes, patriotism. The gathered millions were inspired by each act of the ceremony, through Aretha and Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma and poet Elizabeth Alexander and civil rights veteran Joseph Lowery, paraphrasing the late, great bluesman Big Bill Broonzy’s “Black, Brown and White Blues.”

And the speech, of course. John F. Harris wrote in Politico, “With one swift stroke—just 18 minutes of words, delivered with a stern tone and a steel gaze—Barack Hussein Obama sliced through the usual clutter and ambiguities of American politics and revealed what it looks like when history turns on a pivot.”

There will be disappointments – big ones, perhaps – there will be mistakes and missteps, there will be times when the actions of this new President may infuriate as often as inspire. And the problems we face are daunting.

But on Inauguration Day, as I saw those hundreds of thousands making their way to see the swearing-in, walking and rejoicing in that moment, I thought of Sister Pollard, the older woman of whom Martin Luther King, Jr. often spoke, who walked to and from work every day during the 1955-56 Montgomery Bus Boycott.

My feet are tired, she said, “but my soul is rested.”

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

Monday, February 2nd


Wind whines and whines the shingle,
The crazy pierstakes groan;
A senile sea numbers each single
Slimesilvered stone.

From whining wind and colder
Grey sea I wrap him warm
And touch his trembling fineboned shoulder
And boyish arm.

Around us fear, descending
Darkness of fear above
And in my heart how deep unending
Ache of love!


Trieste, 1904

(Monday, February 2nd is James Joyce's birthday)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Murder in Moscow

An open letter to Dmitry Medvedev, president of Russia:

Your Excellency:

On January 20, Stanislav Markelov, lawyer for the independent newspaper Novaya, was gunned down on a Moscow street.. As you may recall, Mr. Markelov was counsel to journalist Anna Politkovskaya who was shot to death in the elevator of her apartment building in Moscow in October, 2006. An award-winning journalist, Politkovskayaya was investigating reports of torture and abuse in Chechnya.

Anastasiya Baburova, a young reporter who was walking alongside Markelov when he was shot, reportedly attempted to apprehend the gunman, but was herself shot in the head, and later died in hospital. Baburova and Markelov were attacked as they left a press conference at the Independent Press Centre.

Just hours before he was killed, Mr. Markelov formally protested the early release of a Russian army officer who had been convicted in 2003 for the murder of a Chechen girl. It is chilling to think that among his last words, Markelov said "I understand now that there is no rule of law" in Russia

Ironically, on the same day that this prominent human rights lawyer, and a young Moscow journalist, were brutally assassinated in your country's capital, we, in the United States, celebrated the inauguration of President Barack Obama who has vowed to restore the rule of law in the U.S. I call upon you, as president of Russia, to initiate a new era in which those who investigate, and report, misdeeds by private corporations, or government officials, will not have to fear for their lives.

Just as economic instability can spread from country to country, continent to continent, respect for a free press, the denunciation of torture and corruption, and affirmation of the rule of law can likewise spread.

President Obama is taking swift and decisive action to address the misadventures of the Bush administration. I submit to you, Mr. President, that it may well be time for Russia, too, to abandon the corruption, and fear-mongering of your predecessor, commit to finding out the truth, no matter where it leads, and see to it that justice is done so that never again will the streets of Moscow be stained with a writer's blood. I am confident you agree that anything less is cowardice.

There are some who may think it naive to suggest that Russia and the U.S. must opt for a future of mutual cooperation, and mutual respect for a free press, but really there can be no future without both cooperation and mutual respect.

The savage violation of those who report on injustice and corruption can no longer be tolerated. Glasnost is a Russian word, yes? It is time for Russia to experience the kind of transformation that will support a probe into human rights abuses in Chechnya, and in Moscow, too, as the murder of a journalist is itself a human rights violation.

As one of the 3,300 writers who are members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, I am writing to express my shock and outrage at the gunning down of lawyer Markelov and journalist Baburova.

I respectfully call on you, and Russian authorities, to initiate a full and impartial investigation into these egregious assassinations, and to bring those responsible for carrying out and ordering the killings to justice. I also call on the Russian authorities to unequivocally condemn all attacks on the independent press and to take urgent measures to ensure the safety of journalists.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Quote of the Day

"For a long time now, there's been too much secrecy in this city."

President Barack Obama

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


As I rode a Bay Area train home from work today, I looked at a few young men---African-Americans with baggy pants and banger attitude. My impulse was to wax poetic. I wanted to shake them and say---"hey, homes, we got ourselves a black man in the White House! Guess I won't be hearing the "N" word from you guys again. Guess maybe you'll stop shooting each other up with guns, and drugs," but instead I saved it for my mother who I greeted only with these words----"So, how does it feel to have the first shvartzer in the White House?" I despised the derogatory word for black I heard as a child, the first profanity I learned in Yiddish, and fought against it as soon as I could speak loud enough to be heard.

We are a society that has maxed out on stereotypes. We are a nation in which the dirty lie of equality, and justice, has penetrated every pore of our body politic.

As a youngster, I was already maxed out on the ignorance, prejudice, and refusal to look beneath the surface, and the irony of any group of people denouncing another group based on preconceived notions that are patently false. There is nothing more shocking than racism stripped bare, and nothing more noxious than its denial.

Even those who were most virulently bigoted forty years ago have surprised us today by saying they are proud to be alive to witness the election of our first African-American president, not because of his color, but because he is a credit to the human race.

Appearances aside, hatred takes a long time to die.

We have come a long way. But, there is still a long way to go. Truth is, there are too many men of color on death row. Truth is, there are too many youngsters of color in our nation's jails instead of universities. The unemployment rate for black Americans is nearly twice that of whites, and though African-Americans comprise 13% of our population, they make up nearly half of those we incarcerate. If you are black in America, you are 8 times more likely to be a victim of a crime by another black person than if you are white.

It's time to put the "N" word to bed forever. It's time, too, to admit that until we have equal opportunity, and equal protection under the law, we are still a racist country.

There will be those who see the election of Barack Obama as confirmation that the time has come to dismantle affirmative action. They're wrong. Until we are stripped of prejudice, and every person regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, has the same shot up at bat, we are not ready to eliminate any program that works toward the goal of economic equity.

The youngsters on a Bay Area train are living proof that it isn't about aptitude, it's about attitude, and America's attitude shifted bigtime today.

President Obama can't fix everything, but he can sure give us a headstart in the right direction. And, does it ever feel good to be able to say "President Obama!"

Monday, January 19, 2009

We Have Overcome

We shall overcome because
we have overcome.
We have overcome when we no longer
think of ourselves as
Jewish Americans
Muslim Americans or
Italian-Americans but
as Americans
we are closer to that day.
We have overcome when we "judge a man not
by the color of his skin, but by the content of
his character" and no longer confuse what we see
with what is.
We have overcome when we can unapologetically
think first
before firing
and recognize our own face in that of an
We have overcome
when we no longer attempt to
quantify, or qualify, injustice, but eradicate
We know we have overcome when we accept that
nations, too, have destinies, and that we are
responsible for the destiny of ours not
our forefathers not our president but
we have overcome when, after his
inauguration tomorrow,
we join Barack Obama,
and work with him to make this country,
and this world, a better place.


All the major news organizations are reporting that today, January 19, would have been Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 80th birthday. This is erroneous.

While we commemorate Dr. King's birthday variously, according to which day of the week is works best as a national holiday, Rev. Martin Luther King was born on January 15, 1929 not on January 19th.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

What Martin Luther King Might Have to Say about Inauguration Day

Some powerful words from Martin Luther King, Jr. whose presence is felt this year more than any and who, more than many, recognized that there cannot be equality, in America, without economic justice:

"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom. "

"Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal."

"A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan. "

"He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it."

"Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted."

"Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see."

Somehow I think Dr. King would agree that it's not about who is sitting in the White House, but who put him there. We must help Obama make history, together, one citizen at a time.

This is the beginning, not the end, of the struggle for, as Martin Luther King says, "We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now."


"A time will come when a politician who has wilfully made war and promoted international dissension will be as sure of the dock and much surer of the noose than a private homicide. It is not reasonable that those who gamble with men's lives should not stake their own."

H.G. Wells


Friday, January 16, 2009

by Michael Winship

Inauguration Day Is Time to Move On

By Michael Winship

As Barack Obama prepares to be sworn in, I recall an old National Lampoon record album – record albums, remember those? – from the final weeks of the Watergate scandal that comically suggested that President Richard Nixon be given a “swearing OUT” ceremony.

There followed a series of blistering curses and calumnies directed at the soon-to-be departed and disgraced chief executive, delivered by someone impersonating the Reverend Billy Graham.

You have to wonder if amidst all the fanfare and hoopla Barack Obama isn’t quietly swearing a bit beneath his breath as he beholds what his about-to-be-predecessor has left for him. Hercules mucking out the Stygian stables is as nothing to the heaps of bungle and botch confronting the next commander-in-chief.

Not that there’s anything new about freshly inaugurated presidents inheriting a mess. George Washington, who took the oath of office on the balcony of Federal Hall here in New York, at the corner of Broad and Wall Streets, was taking over a newly independent, penniless collection of squabbling states that couldn’t even pay the soldiers who had won the Revolution. Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton had to negotiate a bailout from the Banks of New York and North America just to cover the salaries of the President and Congress.

When Abraham Lincoln was sworn in on March 4, 1861, his hand on the same Bible Barack Obama will be using, the union was dissolving into Civil War. Jefferson Davis already had been inaugurated as president of the Confederacy just two weeks earlier. Lincoln’s predecessor, James Buchanan, whose inert and inept presidency had done nothing to prevent the union’s imminent collapse told him, “If you are as happy on entering the White House as I am on leaving, you are a very happy man indeed,” then skipped town to his country estate near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. (A little more than four years later, he would drive his carriage to the Lancaster depot and stand in silent tribute as Lincoln’s funeral train passed.)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, of course, became president as the country was shivering and starving through the fourth winter of the Great Depression. Twenty-five percent of us were unemployed, stocks had plunged seventy-five percent after the Crash of ’29 and new investment and industrial production were non-existent.
So it has been throughout America’s stormy past: two steps back for every three forward, periods of boundless optimism countered by times of fear and desperation, a government alternately depended upon or despised.

The crises Barack Obama faces may not seem as overpowering as those confronted by Lincoln or FDR, but perhaps no other president has taken over a government in such total and complete disrepair. For the last eight years, George Bush has ruled over a government the very concept of which he and his cronies loathed.

As right-winger Grover Norquist – once described by the Wall Street Journal as the Grand Central Station of conservatism – infamously opined in 2001, "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” This, apparently, was the Bush team’s fantasy, although rather than reduction, they seemed to have favored a strategy of malign neglect and abuse to get the job done.

It’s not just the financial meltdown and Katrina and Iraq and Afghanistan and alleged violations of civil liberties and the Constitution – although especially chilling was this week ‘s Bob Woodward interview in the Washington Post with retired judge Susan J. Crawford, convening authority of military commissions – the woman in charge of determining which Guantanamo detainees should be brought to trial.

She told Woodward the military tortured Mohammed al-Qahtani, a Saudi who allegedly was planning to be the 20th hijacker on 9/11. "I sympathize with the intelligence gatherers in those days after 9/11, not knowing what was coming next and trying to gain information to keep us safe," she said. "But there still has to be a line that we should not cross. And unfortunately what this has done, I think, has tainted everything going forward.”

A few weeks ago, the nonpartisan, investigative Center for Public Integrity, released an in-depth report titled “Broken Government,” a chronicling of more than 125 of what the center calls “systematic failures across the breadth of federal government,” from the Securities and Exchange Commission to the Federal Labor Relations Authority to NASA. You can read it at:

“Many of the failures are rooted in recurring themes,” the Center reports. “Agency appointees selected primarily for ideology and loyalty, rather than competence; agency heads who overruled staff experts and suppressed reports that did not coincide with administration philosophy; agency-industry collusion; a bedrock belief in the wisdom of deregulation; extensive private outsourcing of public functions; a general failure to exercise government’s oversight responsibilities; and severely slashed budgets at understaffed agencies that often left them unable to execute basic administrative functions.” Whew.

In its defense, the White House has turned out three tomes of its own, all of which may be read at
One of them is titled, “100 Things Americans May Not Know about the Bush Administration Record.”

The 100th thing is, “Directed Unprecedented Preparations for a Smooth Presidential Transition.” Not a moment too soon, some would say. Time to move on.

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, January 15, 2009

Crown Prince of Neverland

I have a confession. I'm not a blogger. In fact, I wasn't even sure I knew how to write a blog until I heard the 43rd president of the United States give his swan song on primetime television tonight.

Oh, and yes, I have another confession. I wasn't able to watch all of it, but suffice it to say that from what I did watch, whoa, baby, we're into some pretty heavy denial here. How can a commander-in-chief claim that we have a burgeoning democracy in Afghanistan when the Pentagon is planning to increase the number of troops there by 30,000 as soon as his successor takes office?

Also, does he really expect people to think that "economic collapse" happened accidentally while he was in office, and that it would have happened regardless of who was in the White House? Oy!

The man who insists his raison d'etre, since 9/11, has been to keep this country safe neglects to mention that, more than seven years later, he still hasn't finished processing it.

The president who has attempted among the most memorable jihads against the environment and wildlife in Utah, and throughout the nation, who has worked sedulously to take us back to the days when Creationism trumped Darwinism, who has infused ideology into HIV/AIDS programs by supporting abstinence-only sex education both here and abroad, and who vetoed legislation enabling stem cell research; the same executive branch that ordered the redaction of military reports, demanded the destruction of 5 million White House e-mails, and forced science into public compliance with party line on global warming wants us to believe it was an accident that we are in the shape we're in today? The leader that has given the biggest tax relief to Fortune 500 companies, and the upper one percentile of the population, wants us to think that he made the hard choices. Whether he did or not, we, and the entire planet, will have to live with them for a long, long time.

Like I said, I consider myself a virgin until now, and am happy to report President Bush got something right today. We're witnessing a burgeoning democracy, alright, only it's not in Afghanistan, it's in the U.S.A. We're leaving never neverland behind and, who knows, with a bit of luck we may grow up yet.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"Returning to the fight"

Osama bin Laden has been keeping up with George W. Bush's approval ratings. In a new audiotape released today, the former freedom fighter commented that 75% of the American people are ready for a new president.

I think it's safe to say, too, that the American people are also ready for a new adversary. Bush and bin Laden have something in common---both catalysts for global warfare have reached retirement age.

But, next up at bat, President -elect Obama points to the bin Laden tape as evidence that the "war on terror" is far from over, pledging to move the theatre of battle from Baghdad to Kabul. What will he use for funds, or does he intend to finance the military with what's left of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? What happened to the idea of recycling that $10 billion a month now spent in Iraq?

Hillary Clinton seems to agree with Obama that being at war wasn't a mistake; we picked the wrong battlefield. And, reportedly, Obama has given heads-up to the Pentagon to send something like 30,000 more US troops to Afghanistan.

The Pentagon is also getting ready to be busy on another front---the spin front. Oh, as we've seen from the early days of shock and awe, this is nothing new for the Pentagon. It merely signals what you might call a return to the fight.

According to the Defense Intelligence Agency, 60 detainees, who have been released from Gitmo, have fallen off the wagon, and are now believed to be engaging in terrorist acts; keywords---believed to be. About one third of the released have been described as "returning to the fight." Isn't it reassuring to know that detainees aren't the only ones who are ready for a renaissance of combat. We are, too, only we're moving the frontier to Afghanistan. Maybe it belonged there in the first place, but what happened to the first place---seems to me we left it behind five years ago.

What compelling timing, too, to release a report that describes high rates of recidivisim among released detainees---right around the time an incoming commander-in-chief announces his decision to close Gitmo. The Pentagon isn't shy either about making it known that it wants to continue to hold about half of the 255 currently at Gitmo, indefinitely, without charges, and without access to the evidence against them, and despite the absence of any tangible threat against America or Americans.

A Pentagon spokesman claims that the rate at which detainees return to nebulous, and nondescript, acts of terror has risen by more than 10%, and that these threats are no longer limited to Iraq, but can occur in Afghanisan, and "around the world."

Isn't torture an act of terror? Consider the stunning statement today from Susan J. Crawford, the person Robert Gates appointed two years ago to be one of the Bush administration's key military trial overseers. Ms. Crawford has concluded, unequivocally, that Gitmo detainee "Mohammed el-Qahtani was tortured," and that any evidence obtained from his interrogations is inadmissible in court.

If the response to Osama bin Laden's commentary is that the war isn't over, it's merely relocating, can we expect to see more of the same from Obama, despite the rhetoric, and is this why the CIA is now willing to provide liability insurance to nearly two-thirds of its interrogators?

If not, then President-elect Obama must show that closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay is more than a symbolic gesture , and not like sentencing someone to die, and housing them on death row for the remainder of their lives.

We must ask ourselves if those we release from detention are the only ones who pose a grave risk to global security by returning to the fight. We do, too.

The time to eliminate Osama bin Laden was five years ago. He is now a figurehead, a cliche, and it would be naive to think that by ridding the world of bin Laden, we'd be getting rid of the potential for terrorist acts.

Recidivism begins at home. We must not return to the fight, but to the table. The use of military force provides only short-term solutions. Only through sustained dialogue, education, understanding, and a spirit of compromise can we ever hope to overcome man's inhumanity to man.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

How did he get the name...

Madoff, you ask?

Cause he made off with the cash....

Liability Insurance for Interrogators?

If leading Democratic senators have their way, agents and officials with the Central Intelligence Agency will be immunized against prosecution for any criminal activity arising from taking commands, and/or employing "alternative methods" of interrogation, under George W. Bush, and under future presidents

Senator Dianne Feinstein, newly appointed head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, (sic), told the Associated Press that the CIA was just following orders from the National Security Council, and the executive branch, hence they should not be held legally liable for their actions. We need Intelligence to tell us not to hold Intelligence responsible for how they get intelligence?

What's more, on Sunday morning President-elect Obama told ABC News that it is "unlikely" there will be criminal charges filed against national security officials who were involved in harsh interrogation practices, or wiretapping. This will be in keeping with what Obama insists will be his administration's policy of "looking forward as opposed to backwards," a kind of Zeno's Paradox.

Obama also now thinks that the prospect of shutting down among the most notorious, despised, and universally condemned detention centers, Gitmo, within the first 100 days of his tenure, will be "a challenge." An even greater challenge in the coming months and years will be explaining to the American people how effective the holding center for "unlawful enemy combatants," in Cuba, has really been in keeping us, and the rest of the world, safe unless, of course, you don't include what's going on now in Gaza as part of what is often called the war on terror. Yet an even greater challenge for the next administration may be to figure out who the real terrorists are.

Since the days of George H.W. Bush, one thing has become crystal clear---no ideology can hope to survive without windshield wipers.

When asked if he has any plans for the equivalent of a 9/11 Commission to look into any criminal activity, or violation of constitutional integrity, by the Bush administration, the President-elect indicated that he wants the focus to be on keeping America safe instead, and not have intelligence agents be distracted by "lawyering." Who can argue that there's too much lawyering, in America, as it is, yet not enough adherence to laws, at least not enough law enforcement when it comes to our lawmakers and elected officials.

Few would question Obama's assertion that closing Gitmo within a few months isn't plausible. Senator Feinstein has called for closing the detention center in Cuba in a year. Does the President-elect think that a year is a reasonable timeframe? Does he have a concrete plan in place for closing not just Gitmo, but other detainee holding centers in Afghanistan and Iraq that are holding thousands, not hundreds? We think so, and are ready for him to implement it.

Notably, Obama wasn't the only one making the Sunday morning T.V. talk circuit. President Bush was, too, and the outgoing president joined the vice president in defending waterboarding holding to the party line that the information obtained through this, and other traditionally illegal means, helped to save American lives. The president added: "Look, I understand why people can get carried away on this issue, but generally they don't know the facts."

The candidate who has been dubbed "no drama Obama" has gone on record saying he considers waterboarding torture, and that there will be zero tolerance for torture in an Obama administration. Yet, on the same day, and in a separate interview, his predecessor, and the 43rd president, George W. Bush expressed confidence that 44"understands the nature of the world and understands the need to protect America." We find the fact that Bush would say this about Obama, or anyone else elected to be our next head of state, frankly scary.

Well, we don't profess to have all "the facts," but about a year ago, the CIA said it would assume the full cost of providing "legal liability insurance" for employees of the agency, and indicated that an estimated two-thirds of its work force would be eligible for legal cover from prosecution.

So, a government that granted immunity to telecoms who violated consumer privacy laws by eavesdropping on the personal conversations of millions of their customers now wants to provide insurance that will immunize their agents from having to face future criminal charges if they find themselves breaking constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment, and/or international law.

Senator Feinstein has said that the White House is responsible for giving the directives as to what kinds of interrogation methods should be used just as the approval for ordering the egregious gunning down of innocent Iraqi civilians in Haditha, and elsewhere, came from the top, so those who followed commands should be held harmless. If this is true, do we let the shooter walk because his sergeant gave him the command to fire the gun?

"We're going to continue our looking into the situation and I think it is up to the administration and the director" as to which course to pursue when it comes to holding accountable those who broke the law, then made it law, Feinstein contends. It's time for our elected officials to start taking responsibility for their actions, and if they're unwilling to do so, then it's time for a new administration to start holding them responsible.

Now that we know who shouldn't be prosecuted, maybe the good senator from California can tell us who should be?

This presidential campaign has proven irrefutably that the major discernible difference between a Democrat and a Republican is that a Democrat shoots himself in the foot whereas a Republican shoots you in the foot. And, should you have any question about that, just ask Dick Cheney.

But, who can argue with President-elect Obama when he says that "we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards," and that he wants to "get things right in the future" instead of focusing on "what we got wrong in the past."

No one would be presumptuous enough to advise the next commander-in-chief what he should do to get things right in the future, but a good place to start, especially given the military build-up in Afghanistan, might be to take a look at why the agency entrusted with carrying out detainee interrogations is now assuming the full cost of providing legal cover, and has increased the number of those eligible to nearly two thirds of its staff.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

from Gen. George C. Marshall

"Once an army is involved in war, there is a beast in every fighting man which begins tugging at its chains… a good officer must learn early on how to keep the beast under control, both in his men and in himself.”

Gen. Marshall was U.S. Army chief of staff during WWII

H. Res. 34

On Friday, a bill came before the House, H Res. 34, that recognizes Israel's right to defend itself against attacks in Gaza. Among those making statements about that resolution was Rep. Dennis Kucinich:

"In Gaza, the United Nations gave the Israeli army the coordinates of a UN school and the school was then hit by Israeli tank fire, killing about 40. The UN put flags on emergency vehicles, coordinating the movement of those vehicles with the Israeli military, and the vehicles came under attack killing emergency workers. The Israeli army evacuated 100 Palestinians to shelter and then bombed the shelter killing 30 people. Emergency workers have been blocked by the Israeli army from reaching hundreds of injured persons.

According to today’s Washington Post, one hundred survivors rescued in Gaza from ruins blocked by Israelis. Relief agencies fear more are trapped days after neighborhood was shelled. Today the US congress is going to be asked to pass a resolution supporting Israel’s actions in Gaza. I’m hopeful that we don’t support the inhumanity that has been repeatedly expressed by the Israeli army. The US abstained from a UN call for a cease fire. We must take a new direction in the Middle East, and that new direction must be mindful of the inhumane conditions in Gaza."

Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH)

January 9, 2009

Friday, January 09, 2009

from Michael Winship

Courtesy of Bill Moyers Journal, and Public Affairs Television:

What Am I Bid for the American Wild?

By Michael Winship

We've all seen those sitcoms or movies in which someone stumbles into an art auction and, not knowing how it works, idly scratches his nose or pulls his ear and finds himself the owner of a Rembrandt.

Better yet, there's one of my all-time favorite films, “North by Northwest.” Surrounded at an auction by the bad guys, Cary Grant makes outrageous bids and yells insults until the police arrive and unknowingly haul him off to safety. (“How do we know it’s not a fake?” he shouts about one painting. “It looks like a fake!” A woman sitting in front of him turns and replies, “You’re no fake. You’re a genuine idiot.”)

The Friday before Christmas, a college student in Utah who‘s neither fake nor fool pulled a Cary Grant at a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) auction of oil and gas leases for land between two of the most austerely beautiful national parks in the United States – Canyonlands and Arches.

Tim DeChristopher, a 27-year-old environmental activist and economics major at the University of Utah, was protesting the auction outside a government office building in Salt Lake City and decided to see what would happen if he went inside.

Instead of being immediately hustled out, he was asked by a clerk, “Are you here to bid?” He showed his driver’s license and was given a paddle, no questions asked. Then, as his incredulous roommate looked on, DeChristopher started bidding. “It was just raise my arm as often as possible, Bidder No. 70,” he told a reporter, “I was trying to make it obvious I was there to disrupt the auction.”

But before you could say, “Going, going, gone,” DeChristopher had “bought” 13 lease parcels – around 22,500 acres – for some $1.7 million and, according to BLM officials, driven up other bids by about half a million dollars. At that point, people started to complain and he was taken away by BLM security. Among his competitors: Kerr-McGee, a subsidiary of Anadarko Petroleum, the country’s second biggest independent oil producer.

The auction was part of the fire sale the Bush administration has been holding as it winds down, selling off oil and gas parcels as part of an apparent overall strategy to further carve up American wildlands and deregulate the environment as much as possible before noon on January 20th.

The White House may as well have a sign on the fence that reads, “Final Days! Everything Must Go!”

At the end of October, the BLM adopted Resource Management Plans for five field offices in Utah that oversee around 8.7 million acres of public land. Almost immediately, oil and gas lease sales of 360,000 of those acres were announced.

Environmental groups filed suit to stop the sale of 100,000 of the acres near national parks and monuments until the National Park Service could do an environmental impact analysis. Nonetheless, the auction at which DeChristopher became a surprise bidder went ahead.

In a November editorial, The Salt Lake Tribune described the Resource Management plans as “an eleventh-hour effort of Bush’s BLM to eliminate federal protections for Utah’s redrock treasures and give extractive industries… a virtual free hand,” a belief echoed by Tim DeChristopher in a blog entry he wrote the day after the auction.

“When faced with the opportunity to seriously disrupt the auction of some of our most beautiful lands in Utah to gas and oil developers, I could not ethically turn my back on that opportunity. By making bids for land that was supposed to be protected for the interest of all Americans, I tried to resist the Bush administration’s attempt to defraud the American people.” Some of the land, he said, was selling for as little as $2.25 an acre.

The BLM is contemplating restaging the auction. And whether Tim DeChristopher’s case will come before a Federal grand jury remains up in the air – no one’s even sure whether he broke any laws, and an investigation is ongoing.

A legal defense fund has been established and they’ve even started trying to raise $1.7 million to buy the leases upon which he bid (As of Friday, January 9, $45,000 in contributions had come in, enough for the initial payment, DeChristopher said, but the BLM says it’s too late – he’s already in default.).

There’s a website – – and DeChristopher’s legal team includes powerful Utah defense attorney Ron Yengich and Pat Shea, who ran the Bureau of Land Management during the Clinton administration’s second term.

Shea told The Salt Lake Tribune that he admires DeChristopher’s “integrity of purpose” and suggested to the Associated Press that the ease with which his client gained access to the auction – without a bond or other proof of the ability to pay – was indicative of the Bush administration’s “rush before the door slams behind them: ‘Let’s get as many leases out as possible.’” During his BLM tenure, Shea said, access was more tightly controlled.

Tim DeChristopher’s spur-of-the-moment action comes from a long tradition of civil disobedience in America and the belief that, in the oft-quoted words of the June Jordan poem he cites on his blog, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

He wrote, “We have been told that the best we can do is to sign an Internet petition and send our donations so that Big Green could hire lobbyists to fight our battles. The upswelling of grassroots energy is finally responding that we are willing and able to do much more.”

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

Quote of the Day

About the horrific situation in Gaza:

"We are all very conscious that peace is made on the ground, while resolutions are written in the United Nations.”

David Miliband

British foreign secretary

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Mis-leading Ladies

Sarah Palin is not a happy camper, or so she told Politico. The Alaska governor thinks that the press is giving Caroline Kennedy preferential treatment. She is interested in seeing how Kennedy "will be handled," and whether the media will use kid gloves.

Moreover, the former Republican vice presidential candidate says there is what she calls a "class issue" behind the scrutiny to which she has been subjected, but she never really expands on what exactly she means by that. She describes herself as "momma grizzly" when it comes to protecting her daughter from the paparazzi, but what she neglects to say is that, for the past several years, she could have been the poster child for the upwardly mobile.

Indeed, since 1992, Ms. Palin rose from a member of Wasilla's city council to being Wasilla's mayor. Then, in 2002, she took aim at the job of lieutenant governor of Alaska, but missed, and went on to chair the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Committee after which she became Alaska's first female governor.

By way of contrast, while she was the daughter of the closest thing this country has had to royalty, after graduating from Radcliffe, Caroline Kennedy went to work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where she met her future husband, exhibit designer Edwin Schlossberg. Kennedy went on to get a law degree from Columbia University, and co-author two books on civil liberties. She serves on the boards of several notable nonprofits, and has been a steadfast supporter of poetry. But, for the most part, she has spent the past several years gainfully employed raising her children, a fact she readily, and unapologetically, acknowledges (something that might indeed bring a big smile to her father's face).

I guess if one considers "class" a static thing, Governor Palin's argument that the media favors Caroline Kennedy based on her lineage would make sense, but one would have a hard time making that assertion stick in an age when two of our country's presidents were raised by single moms, including Barack Obama, one was a peanut farmer, and another an actor.

Ultimately, then, Palin's observations about class, and treatment, or mistreatment, by the media are misleading, and don't hold water except insofar as they make for compelling irony given her party affiliation.

But, irony aside, Sarah Palin is right about one thing. The media spend a lot more time on our leading ladies then our misleading ones. Take, for example, how little air time was devoted to revelations, last month, that another leading lady, and outgoing secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, in her capacity as national security advisor, helped former White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales, cover his tracks when he lied to Congress with his contention that the CIA originated the spreading of false information about Iraq's attempt to acquire uranium back in 2002.

Indeed, Condi Rice has been given a get out of jail free card despite the findings of a House committee that both she and Gonzales misled the public and Congress; Rice in her public assertion that she wasn't aware the CIA had doubts about the Iraq uranium issue before the controversial announcement despite the contention of George Tenet, former director of the CIA, that the CIA sent memos to the White House questioning the Iraq uranium claim well before the broadcast.

Rice has also managed to escape friendly fire when discussion of who approved waterboarding, and other alternative interrogation methods, comes up despite her presence, and participation in meetings at which these techniques, tantamount to torture, were openly discussed, and approved.

Back in 2002, a former CIA deputy reportedly spoke with Rice, and advised her to avoid making any public assertions about uranium enrichment in Iraq, one of the principal pretexts for taking the U.S. to war. Yet, in 2003, Rice agreed that the claim never should have found its way into a speech based on what she had only recently learned when she had that information long before, and suppressed it, thereby deliberately misleading Congress, and the American people.

What is the common denominator between Condoleezza Rice and Sarah Palin? Both women are political careerists, and party apologists, and both have more than the lion's share of talent in the art of deception. In her recent bid for the executive branch, Palin has proven herself to be quite adept at coming across like the girl next door, and the paragon of unpretentiousness, when even Macbeth would envy her singleminded ambition.

And, as another misleading lady, Ms. Rice has managed to deflect the kind of high voltage charges that have been leveled at former attorney general Gonzales, and others in the Bush camp, both in terms of their active efforts to tweak traditional definitions of torture, politicize Justice by using party affiliation as a prerequisite for employment, and try to legitimize an illegal war.

No one will dispute that Caroline Kennedy has had certain advantages from birth, but the insinuation that this progeny of a family that has, for generations, worked to dispell economic, and racial, disparity in this country will in some way work to secure the betterment of others who have the advantage of being born well is flat out misleading and false.

More importantly, no one can accuse Ms. Kennedy of being a misleading lady. What you see is what you get. She has never tried to come across as anything other than what she is--a wife, mother, attorney, lifelong supporter of civil liberties, education, poetry, and humanitarian causes.

Governor Patterson would be wise to give Caroline Kennedy the opportunity to complete the remaining two years of Hillary Clinton's term in the Senate. As Kennedy herself has said, there are many different ways to perform public service, and she would be a refreshing change from those who have made a career of manipulating public opinion in their own favor.

Monday, January 05, 2009


Barack Obama's decision to select Leon Panetta to be the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency was as good as it gets. Panetta will not only add dignity, but moral decency to the position.

Yes, Panetta is an "unconventional" choice, a word Caroline Kennedy used to describe herself, but consider the corruption inherent in the more conventional options. Consider, too, where we are today as a result of decisions made by former CIA directors.

Maybe those prominent Democrats who oppose Obama's choice like Sen. Dianne Feinstein would prefer to resurrect what she calls "intelligence professionals" like George H.W. Bush? If so, then they should have voted with John McCain for another hundred years of war in Iraq.

It's up to the Senate to confirm him, of course, but given the former White House chief of staff's strong anti-torture stand, whether he makes it through the confirmation process or not, this is a clear signal of the direction in which the President-elect is going to take us, and a powerful statement against so-called "alternative" interrogation techniques of the Bush regime.

However the Panetta appointment plays out, the President-elect is showing us he will not play ball with the toxicity that tried to pass itself off as national security for the past eight years for which he gets an enthusiastic thumbs-up from anyone who wants to see a change from business as usual in the agency.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

One Month After Inauguration Day

On Feb. 20, one month after Barack Obama is sworn in as our next president, he must file a brief to let the Supreme Court, and the American people, know how he stands on the Bush administration's policy that says the commander-in-chief "may order the military to seize legal residents of the United States and hold them indefinitely without charging them with a crime." (NYT) We hope Mr. Obama will honor his election pledge, and affirm his commitment to human rights for if we illegally detain one, we may illegally detain any.

One month after he is inaugurated, the 44th president will have the chance to address, and begin to ameliorate, the moral vertigo from which this country now suffers. Many of us who have called for the new administration to revisit terminology such as "unlawful enemy combatant," and the policy of holding prisoners of war without charges, as well as without access to evidence against them, hope that Mr. Obama stands firm on his stated intention to close Guantanamo Bay, and end the heinous practice of extraordinary rendition.

It is hoped, too, that, through rigorous investigation, other clandestine detention centers, which currently hold thousands in Iraq, and Afghanistan, will be brought to light. Those, like our current vice president, who argue that information obtained from detainees by using "enhanced alternative interrogation" techniques have kept this country safe from another terror attack, fail to point out that testimony obtained from torture is inadmissible in court, thus not only do we act contrary to centuries of international legal precedent by waterboarding, but we also act at cross-purposes when using coercive measures to acquire confessions that aren't worth the paper they're written on.

While there may not be a whole lot Mr. Obama can do about foreign policy in that he must, after all, play the hand he's been dealt, we're confident that he will make his mark when it comes to domestic policy, as well as reigning in the runaway expansion of the executive branch. The White House has done to the Constitution, and the Geneva Conventions, what Israel is now doing to the Gaza strip, and the paranoia of this administration rivals even that of the Nixon administration.

It is often the case that paranoia derives from an exaggerated sense of self-importance. This is surely the case with the administration of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Clearly, President-Elect Obama has a lot on his plate now, but the position he takes on the power of the presidency, as well as the rights of those we detain, will be the bell heard round the world.

That bell must toll for all of us--for the ironworkers, those disenfranchised in federal prisons, to the innocent on death row; for the unlikely terrorist who has been divested of due process to the homeless veteran who sleeps in the doorway of despair. Were it to be otherwise, the forces of darkness that took hold will have cemented their grip, and no president will ever be able to undo their damage again.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

U.S. Thwarts U.N. Demand for Gaza Cease Fire

Aren't you proud of your country when you find out that we're only one of two that refused to sign a treaty calling for a halt in production of cluster bombs, and when you hear that the U.S., effective tonight, stands in the way of a United Nations call for an immediate end to the Israeli ground, and air, assault of Gaza.

As the Associated Press reports, U.S. deputy ambassador Alejandro Wolff is cynical about the prospects of Hamas sticking to any agreement to stop the killing. In light of this, Wolff issued a statement saying that any cease fire "would not be adhered to and would have no underpinning for success, would not do credit to the council." Maybe so, but it would do a huge credit to the world community as indicated by the overwhelming support for an end to the violence from the 15 member nations present at the meeting.

But, we the solipstistic war merchants, the cannibals of international law, the vandals of history, progenitors of the Bush doctrine of preemption, a country in which 80% of its people believe in some kind of God, we think it a waste of time to condemn a mindset that justifies mass murder in the name of self-defense?

No one is sanctioning the rocket attacks by Hamas on southern Israel which continue even as I write, but to send ground forces into an area occupied by 1.5 million people, and to claim the lives of hundreds of civilians, as well as create the kind of upheaval last seen in Beirut in the name of protecting one's sovereignty, what kind of twisted logic is this? When we speak of so-called collateral damage, we must first ask---whose collateral, and what's damaged?

While some might argue that it's unsafe to send journalists into a war zone where their very survival is threatened, why have we heard so little, in the U.S., of the humanitarian crisis that has been taking place in Gaza for months now, and has been allowed to escalate to the point of explosion? Where is our concern for the stifling of information, and a preemptive war on dissent?
Clearly, the Bush doctrine involves only selective preemption, and information is this administration's largest casualty.

There are no good guys here. The politics of divide and conquer which has led to American-backed civil war in Latin America, Iraq, Pakistan, and now in Gaza, must end. America must get out of the business of state-sanctioned murder.

Neither Israel nor Hamas is innocent when even one civilian dies. Palestine has a right to exist as does Israel. Palestinians, who live within Israel, have as much a right to live freely, with dignity, and equal opportunity, and not to live as second class citizens.

All world leaders, the United Nations, men and women of conscience must come forward, call for an immediate cease fire, and for Israel to withdraw its troops from Gaza at once.

Friday, January 02, 2009

from Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Making "Duck Soup" Out of 2009

Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

As 2008 ends and this New Year begins, with all its fledgling promise despite turmoil and crisis, it’s also that time when the media offers its lists of ten best or worst this and that of the previous year, an exercise that simultaneously entertains and infuriates.

Forced at knifepoint to make such lists, at least ours would be a little different.

One would be favorite headlines of the year from The Onion, the hilarious weekly that doesn’t bill itself as “America’s finest news source” for nothing. If you can read it without laughing, you probably have been paying too much attention to your 401K. Some of the ones we liked best:


Of course, the problem The Onion’s editors have is that reality too often resembles parody. Take the story of Chip Saltsman, the guy campaigning to be chairman of the Republican National Committee by promoting himself with a CD featuring a song called, “Barack, the Magic Negro.”

That ditty, you’ll recall, was made famous on Rush Limbaugh’s minstrel show, as sung by an Al Sharpton impersonator. Even The Onion couldn’t come up with that one.

Or the claim by Governor Rod Blagojevich that those wiretaps actually reveal how hard he’s been working for the people of Illinois. And the circus that ensued when he tried to appoint Roland Burris, a veteran Illinois politician, to Barack Obama’s Senate seat – the one the governor allegedly was ready to sell just weeks ago to the highest bidder – and Senate Democrats said, “No.” No? From members of Congress for whom pay-for-play is as casual a game as Tic-Tac-Toe?

Look at New York’s Senator Charles Schumer, chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. According to The New York Times, the week after he attended a breakfast of financial high rollers and promised them that Democrats would make sure their $700 billion bailout got through Congress, those same fat cats sent $135,000 in campaign contributions.

Or New York Congressman Charlie Rangel, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, who reversed himself on a tax break for a business called Nabors Industries the same month that company donated $100,000 to a City College school for public service named after – all together now, class – Charlie Rangel. Life imitates satire – and vice versa.

Which brings us to our other unusual list. The best movies of… 1933.

Naturally, the original King Kong is on our list.

So are The Invisible Man and 42nd Street.

But our number one choice: The Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup. Why? Because as we enter this final month of the Bush years, the parallels are remarkable.

Sometimes it feels as if we live not only in the United States, but also in the side-splitting state of Freedonia, the imaginary country in which Duck Soup takes place. In 1933, a time much like now of calamity, fraud and peril, the Great Depression gripped America. Franklin D. Roosevelt had just become President and declared a New Deal, while in Germany, Adolph Hitler was named chancellor, the beginning of the Third Reich.

As all of this was taking place, the Marx Brothers – there were four of them then; Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo – shot Duck Soup, a comedy that almost inadvertently transcended slapstick, becoming a trenchant send-up of power and vanity and the disastrous consequences of both.

Freedonia is bankrupt and asking for a bailout – sound familiar? The wealthy Mrs. Teasdale, played by the redoubtable Margaret Dumont, says the only way she’ll come up with the money is if the country appoints as its new leader Rufus T. Firefly – played by Groucho, as only a true clown can play a charlatan. He sings, “The last man nearly ruined this place, he didn’t know what to do with it. If you think this country’s bad off now, just wait ‘til I get through with it.”

Cabinet meetings are run with a decorum worthy of contemporary Washington. (Finance Minister: “Here is the Treasury Department's report, sir. I hope you'll find it clear.” Groucho: “Why a four-year-old child could understand this report. Run out and find me a four-year-old child, I can't make head or tail of it.”)

Freedonia’s Axis of Evil includes neighboring nation Sylvania, and Groucho/Rufus Firefly handles diplomacy with all the tact of a neo-conservative. In anticipation of a meeting with his rival’s ambassador, he says he will offer his hand in friendship.

But suppose the ambassador doesn’t do the same? “A fine thing that will be,” says Firefly. “I hold out my hand and he refuses to accept it. That will add a lot to my prestige, won’t it? Me the head of a country, snubbed by a foreign ambassador! Who does he think he is? …Why the cheap ball-pushing swine, he’ll never get away with it, I tell you! He’ll never get away with it!”

Before you know it, the two countries are at war for no good reason, the rabble-roused, flag-waving public buying in as if taking directions from cable news.

Duck Soup is now seen as one of the great antiwar comedies of all time, right up there with Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (written with Terry Southern and Peter George).

Back in 1933, the world situation was grave and it was hard to hear the laughter over the sounds of civilization collapsing. Our chuckles today compete with the sound of renewed violence in the Middle East, melting glaciers sliding into the sea and champagne glasses shattering on the gold bricks of Wall Street.

Our situation may not be as desperate as the one that faced the first audiences of Duck Soup, who found in darkened theaters some relief from the grim world outside. Our current woes, nonetheless, are real, which maybe is why a little humor is the best antidote.

As Beaumarchais, that 18th century playwright who doubled as a politician said, “I quickly laugh at everything for fear of having to cry.” This, from a man who managed to survive the French Revolution.

So Happy New Year – but keep your fingers crossed.

Bill Moyers is managing editor and 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, January 01, 2009

How to Build a Better Mouse Trap

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: "Build a better mouse trap, and the world will beat a path to your door," and that was before he could have met Dick Cheney.

After seeing the film "Frost/Nixon," with a friend, on New Year's Eve, I was struck by how dis- similar Richard Nixon is from, say, Dick Cheney. Consider, for example, last month's ABC interview with the vice president, and Cheney's assertion that waterboarding is an effective way to interrogate detainees, and that he thinks Guantanamo Bay should stay open as long as there is a "war on terror" (translation: as long as he's in the prison business).

One is almost moved by Nixon's acknowledgment of wrongdoing to David Frost. Compared with the current inhabitants of the executive branch, Nixon looks honest. Indeed, he even looks like a beauty queen. Admittedly, Nixon's confession didn't happen until the last inning, but the first president of the United States ever to resign told a talk show host, on national television, that he did things that were not worthy of his office, and stopped just short of admitting he committed a crime.

Contrast Nixon's contrition with the obstinate refusal to acknowledge any wrongdoing, or failure, on the part of the current administration, one that has violated the Presidential Records Act by destroying 5 million White House e-mails, as well as engaged in warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens in defiance of FISA, broken international law, the Geneva Conventions, spit in the face of the Magna Carta, and issued executive memos approving the use of torture on prisoners held in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and the meter's still running. Mind you, this is only what we know they've done--stay tuned for what we'll find out if/when our new attorney general, or an independent prosecutor, decides to dig deeper.

The first sign that something might be rotten in the state of Denial was when former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales hired a private lawyer after stepping down. Then, of course, there was Gonzales' recent entanglement with Dick Cheney, and an attempt by a prosecutor to try them both on charges of war crimes for the way they handled inmates in a Texas federal prison, a case which conveniently fell apart.

Assuredly, Cheney and his partners in crime will get to retire, and reap the benefits of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 which they instituted to reverse the 1994 War Crimes Act, and immunize themselves from criminal prosecution.

Mr. Cheney will go on the public speaking circuit, and Mr. Bush will go on to work on his presidential library, or will send Laura Bush out to speak for him. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will, most likely, return to college teaching. And, in a country famous for attention deficit disorder, as well as short term memory loss, after six months of President Obama, it will be like President 43 never happened. It's already starting to feel like President 43 never happened.

But, unless we learn to build a better mouse trap, we're only going to see more hubris on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue than we know what to do with, the kind of arrogance that drove Richard Nixon to tell David Frost something is "not illegal if the President of the United States does it." Oh, yes it is, and to think of Dick Cheney, Nixon on steroids, perfecting his golf game, or doing target practice at taxpayer expense, laughing all the way to the bank, makes one's blood boil.

If we can put a man on the moon, and Sarah Palin on the ballot, for cripe's sake, why can't we figure out how to move the Hague to K Street, or at the very least, build a bigger mouse trap, one strong enough to hold even the most virulent presidents, and vice presidents, until they can be held responsible for their actions.

The Still Point

"Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance."
T.S. Eliot

Fireflies light up
the roof confused by
a moon that is
more or
less full. I am
alone while
waiting for
who is stuck at
an airport.
The tiny bird
next door is
hoarse from
chirping in
an empty house.
Everything exists for conflict
even the dumb trail of
dust that climbs
the stairs
duped into
believing the dance
survives all,
even us.

jayne lyn stahl
january 1, 2009

The best way...

to avoid a hangover is not to drink!