Saturday, February 28, 2009

Another Unitary in the White House?

Now that the lovefest with President Obama approaches its sixth week, it might be time to test the waters, and question some recent eye-opening positions his administration has recently taken on a range of issues from invoking state secrets, backing immunity for telecoms who illegally spied on ordinary Americans to opposing a lawsuit that would require his predecessor, George W. Bush, to publicly divulge the contents of 14 million e-mails which just conveniently surfaced after having been mysteriously "misplaced" for years.

While Obama is said to have initially opposed immunizing telecoms from prosecution, he reportedly voted for the new spy bill Congress passed last summer because it gives the "U.S. presidency broad, warrantless surveillance power." (Wired) In light of Mr. Bush's hyperactive executive branch, it is not unthinkable to consider whether our new president will follow suit.

As you may recall, both Republicans and Democrats gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up for legazing the egregious Bush White House practice of allowing communication behemoths to perform warrantless wiretaps with legislation that allows for even greater domestic surveillance in addition to granting what amounts to unlimited legal amnesty to those telecoms that acted in collusion with the government in breaking existing FISA laws making for a dangerous precedent.

But, a judge in a San Francisco district court isn't entirely sure he's buying into the "state secrets" argument first dished out by Bush, and now scooped up by the Obama Justice Department. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is challenging telecom immunity, as well as the existence of what they claim is a hidden room in a San Francisco AT&T office building specifically designed to provide the National Security Agency with "raw internet traffic."

Recent Obama appointee, and Attorney General, Eric Holder, says there is no reason to think the new administration will differ from its predecessor, and that telecom immunity will continue to be what a Justice Department official calls "the law of the land."

It isn't just a couple of thousand intercepted phone calls, or several million executive branch e-mails, that are of concern here. We are concerned about a pattern of abuse in the implicit affirmation, and application, of expanded presidential powers.

The fact that Justice would defend the George W. Bush's brazen noncompliance with the Presidential Records Act, and ludicrous attempt to disappear many millions of White House e-mails, many of which might be illuminating as to the real reasons behind the invasion of Iraq, has red flag written all over it.

No one would question the assertion that being a wartime president has its challenges. And, surely, the War Powers Act of 1973 allows for a more muscular, and autonomous, executive branch, as well as the right of the president to bypass Congress when taking the country to war in the event of an attack on our own soil. But, it must also be remembered that the War Powers Act was passed on the watch of the first U.S. president to resign the office of the presidency in disgrace, Richard M. Nixon. Moreover, isn't the underlying motive behind Watergate that a chief executive may do whatever it takes to stay in power even if that means trying to subvert free elections?

The excesses of the Nixon era are like a walk in the park compared with those of Bush and Cheney. George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney, took the notion of "executive privilege" to a whole new level which future historians may well see as the real prize in Iraq---not the oil, but more power at home; a presidency on steroids, and the voluptuaries of profit would want nothing less.

While he may be willing to trade immunity for greater wartime authority, it would be reassuring to know that the president who recently took the reins with a popular mandate is one who plans to do more than hold photo-ops with Congress.

We are confident that Mr. Obama, as a constitutional lawyer, is well aware of the pitfalls of presidential hubris, and that he is a firm believer in separation of powers which is why his support for the state secrets argument, his approval of immunity for telecoms that broke privacy laws, and his siding with the former administration's need to keep their own electronic communications from public view alarms as does the idea that any commander-in-chief could find being in the war business a compelling way to broaden their own powers.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Attention must be paid

So Much Depends...

By Michael Winship

In 9th grade high school English, we read that famous William Carlos Williams poem:
so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Beyond its bucolic and haiku-like simplicity, the poem always makes me think of chance and circumstance, of moments and things, animate and other, brought together in seeming random fashion, often to unintended, unexpected effect.

The words came to mind two weeks ago when that Continental Airlines commuter plane fell from the sky outside Buffalo, New York, not far from where my father was born and less than 70 miles west of the upstate town where I grew up.

Fifty people died, one in the house the plane struck as it hit the ground. The 49 on board had flown from Newark airport in New Jersey, just outside New York City. It was a very windy, icy day. Flights were delayed for hours and many decided not to fly - the media was filled with stories of the lucky few who opted out or missed the flight. The friend of a friend here in Manhattan had chosen to drive instead. So much depends...

And then the realization of the impact just fifty lives can have, fifty people brought together randomly with the single common thread of the passengers' need to fly to a place little more than an hour or so away; on business, a brief getaway, to see family and friends.

The night after, we attended a small reception at the home of my friend Tom Fontana, television writer and producer. It was for a new writing program he and others have started up at Buffalo State College, his alma mater. Much talk of the fatal crash - people who knew people who knew people...

Beverly Eckert was killed on the Continental flight. Tom had been there the night she and her husband Sean Rooney met at a Buffalo high school dance. Sean had died on the 98th floor of the World Trade Center's south tower and she had become a dedicated member of the bereaved families fighting for a 9/11 commission and counterterrorism reforms. "My husband's life was priceless, and I will not let his life be meaningless," she wrote.

Eckert had been heading for Buffalo to mark her husband's 58th birthday with a return to his high school, which has established a scholarship in Sean Rooney's name. She had spoken to Tom a couple of days before the crash, excited after a White House meeting the families had with President Obama. "Beverly didn't really change as a person after 9/11," Tom recalled. "But her evolution seemed to accelerate. She suddenly saw the world in a much larger context than ever before and her commitment to make it a better place consumed her."

When we got home from Tom's reception, word that musician Gerry Niewood had been on board, too, flying to a performance with Chuck Mangione and the Buffalo Philharmonic. I knew the accomplished jazz woodwind player only slightly from working on music shows here in New York, but my younger brother and sister had played with him when he and Chuck's brother Gap came to our high school for concerts and "music lab" workshops with the kids.

They both recalled Niewood's Afro-style hairdo in those days, a mighty halo of curly red hair, striking under the spotlights, although my brother Tim, a trombonist then, said, "I mostly remember being scared and in completely over my head when actually performing" with Niewood and the other pros.

A couple of years later, Tim attended a concert Gerry and the Mangione brothers performed with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. They were playing "alongside these very staid, tuxedo-clad musicians. [The orchestra] wore a collective expression of consternation as they struggled to keep up with the jazz musicians... I remember thinking, 'I know exactly how you guys feel...'"

A few days after the crash, my colleague Bill Moyers came into the office with a full page obituary from The Economist magazine. Another killed in the accident, Alison Des Forges was senior advisor to the Africa division of Human Rights Watch. She was one of the first from the outside world to sound the alarm about the genocide in Rwanda that began in 1994. Her calls for international intervention went largely unheeded - the Pentagon would not even jam the signals of Rwandan radio stations directing the murderers to their victims.

Half a million people died in that slaughter, and while much of the world still looked away, Alison Des Forges went to Rwanda, investigated the genocide and produced an 800-page definitive account called "Leave None to Tell the Story" that helped put many of the guilty behind bars. "She took extraordinary risks," The Economist reported, "rushing to the scenes of massacres and questioning killers when their blades were barely dry."

Attention must be paid. Alison Des Forges, Gerry Niewood, Beverly Eckert. In bad times, we do well to remember good lives. So much depends on them.

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

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Like going into production

Obama's plan to pull troops out of Iraq is kind of like going into production; expect constant delays.

Baghdad Redux?

Nearly 70% of Americans agree with the new president's decision to add another 17,000 troops in Afghanistan, according to today's Washington Post. True, this is about half what President Obama requested. Still, the increase indicates a significant sea change, especially if you happen to be one of the 17,000 service members deployed there.

While an almost equal number of Americans, 60%, said that we lost more than we gained by the occupation, and plunder, of Iraq, an astonishing 44% still think that Iraq is an integral part of the so-called war on terrorism. And, many also expect greater success to follow a "surge" in Afghanistan as they think it has in Iraq.

One wonders if Kabul will be the next Baghdad with Karachi following close behind. Will the role of the U.S., in this millenium, be that of an empire that profiteers off promoting global instability? Or, will the empire strike back?

It's hard not to think back to Korea and Vietnam, only substitute Iraq for Korea and Afghanistan for Vietnam. One also can't help but think of LBJ who followed in the footsteps of a president, JFK, who had designs, and a plan, to end the war, and how LBJ multiplied American presence, and casualties, exponentially, in the name of ending the Communist (read "terrorist") reign in Southeast Asia.

Any country that is led by its military has accomplished little more than giving last rites to its domestic policy.

We'd like to think President Obama will sidestep the roadside bomb, and military quagmire, of Afghanistan, but war being the racket that it is, one can't help but wonder if that is possible.

This lust for power, in the final analysis, may be all that remains of the human race.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

It's Official!

It's official! Everybody's favorite senator, (second only to Senator Ted Kennedy, of course), Patrick Leahy, announced that the Senate is moving forward with forming a Senate Judiciary Committee version of the 9/11 Truth Commission to conduct a formal inquiry into the misadventures of the Bush administration.

Some of the topics on the menu include torture, violation of FISA law by illegally spying on Americans without first obtaining a warrant, making fraudulent claims to take us into Iraq, destruction of nearly 20 million White House e-mails in defiance of the Presidential Records Act, to name but a few.

If Karl Rove manages to duck any more House subpoenas, he will have earned the nickname of Artful Dodger. Mind you, it's not his artfulness, but instead the flaccidness of Justice in the face of what can, at the very least, be called contempt of Congress.

Let's hope that the Senate hearings are televised in the spirit of the McCarthy House Committee on UnAmerican Activities. More importantly, let's hope that this is not just about truth, but about consequences!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Nationalization and Predators-at-Large

All the major newspapers today have stories about the new administration's nationalizing our biggest banks as a way to deal with assets which have proven to be liabilities instead..

Nationalization sounds so radical, but the postal service has been nationalized for years, and the U.S. government owns Amtrak. Intelligence, as we know it, is nationalized, hence the Department of Homeland Security.

The talk from Obama's people is of the government taking partial interest temporarily in our nation's top 20 most troubled banks, the ones most likely to fall, and the ones most likely to take the FDIC along with them. If this is what it takes to solve the problem of the unchecked exploitation of the American consumer, for a generation or more, by virtue of behemoth interest rates, then so be it.

If I understand it correctly, nationalizing the banks essentially means that the government will guarantee banking giants like Citigroup against bad debt. We've already seen this with the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac---the government is, in essence, underwriting all the mortgages that have gone south.

But, most of the focus of "predatory lending" is not on the lenders, and instead on those who got bank loans who weren't in a position to pay off their mortgages. We need a seismic shift of attention from those unqualified folks who took out the mortgages to the predators who encouraged them to do so.

The media is quick to focus on sexual predators, but is sadly lacking when it comes to exposing financial predators, usurers, carpetbaggers, and those who look to make bundles of money off the misfortune of others.

We see financial predators in every area of American life from credit cards to mortgages to the folks who make zillions off war, our nation's prisons, and the death penalty. If there's a way to realize profit, regardless of the moral subtext, the predators will be out in force.

The underlying question of usury by the banking industry, credit card companies, Wall Street, mortgage companies is not addressed, and until it is, nationalization can only work as a short-term solution. Until financial predatory practices are acknowledged, and resolved, another future economic meltdown is inevitable.

There needs to be greater oversight, and regulation, of the credit card industry, and banks that have been routinely scalping people with unwieldy interest rates. Many who have faced home foreclosure ended up losing their homes because they attempted to pay down their credit card debt.

This problem must be acknowledged before it can be rectified. If temporarily nationalizing the banks means subjugating the profit motive to the greater good, then it might be a step in the right direction, but facing the issue head-on is a better bet.

Until we recognize, and work to eliminate, predatory practices, and free market usury, we will not have solved the problem.

Ultimately, the gravest danger from nationalization comes from concentration in any one central body which may lead to nationalism, and more global predatory practices.


Monday, February 23, 2009

After a few...

Fact is fiction after a few dress rehearsals.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

to the Lion of the Senate

Happy Birthday to Senator Ted Kennedy who turns 77 today.

You are in the thoughts and prayers of all those for whom the words truth, justice, and equal opportunity resonate.

To your health, and many more birthdays to come.


Remember the days when you couldn't wait for Oscar night; when it was tough to pick the best movie?

I remember going to see 90% of the films nominated for Best Picture, and lamenting it when I missed even one of them. Yes, those were the days of "As Good As It Gets," "Julia," "The English Patient," "Terms of Endearment," "Shakespeare In Love," "Schindler's List," and "Road to Perdition."

"Slumdog Millionaire?"

Though I haven't seen her in either "The Reader," or "Revolution Road," it might be worth watching tonight's ceremony for Kate Winslet as she's one of my all-time favorites from "Room With A View," and I'm a Mickey Rourke fan from way back. Sean Penn was magnificent in "Milk," a wonderfully directed, and authentic, film, but I miss how my heart would beat electric at the mere mention of Oscars.

But, none of the movies honored tonight makes me want to run to the movies like "North by Northwest," or "Rain Man." And, the movie that will, no doubt, walk away with the Oscar for best picture would not have been possible without the blood, sweat, and tears of those who pioneered the independent film movement.

Now, I can barely find a DVD worth renting at Hollywood Video, but the odds of finding a DVD to my liking are astronomically greater than the probability of finding one in a theatre that won't disappoint.

Earlier this week, I rented "Gonzo," a wonderful documentary about the life and times of journalist Hunter Thompson. Remember when it was in the theatres? Johnny Depp does the narration, and he's brilliant, as always. The film featured a former president, Jimmy Carter, and presidential candidate, George McGovern, both of whom were friends with Thompson.

I think the film lasted, oh, something like a week, and then went right to DVD. John Cusack's "War" was right next to "Gonzo" on the shelf.

When I showed my screenplay to a friend, his response to it was simply, "I like happy endings." Guess that explains the "Slumdog Millionaire" phenomenon. Guess that rules out "A Brilliant Mind" or, for that matter, "Terms of Endearment."

As the character played by Jack Nicholson, in "A Few Good Men," says: "You can't take the truth." Indeed, we can't which may explain why more people were interested in reading the tabloids than about the break-in at the Watergate Hotel, as the documentary "Gonzo" asserts.

"We want to be entertained," another friend once said. "Nobody goes to the movies to be bummed out." Guess nobody thinks of movies as an artform, or a window into a perverse world.

Whoooops--- big thumbs up to "Mary Poppins," big thumbs down for "Schindler's List," and "Platoon." Better save "Platoon" and "Apocalypse Now" for the real live battlefield. Nobody wants the ravages of war, and an eyewitness view of an internment camp, to interfere with their popcorn.

We want happy endings---everywhere but in real life.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Case of the Missing E-Mails

Nothing new in the announcement that the Bush White House has recently stumbled upon more e-mails documenting its activities during its 8 year tenure.

And, at a time when we're accustomed to hearing figures like $785 billion, and $2 trillion, routinely bandied about, the fact that something like 14 million e-mails have suddenly emerged, according to the Associated Press, is not nearly as startling as it would have been in the pre-stimulus years.

But, the timing couldn't be any better. Now that Mr. Bush is back in Dallas, and our new president is sitting on the fence about whether to pursue an official investigation into executive branch wrongdoing, what better time to leak the finding that 14 million electronic messages were mysteriously "misplaced."

Reportedly, the Bush White House has recently acknowledged, too, its remarkable prowess in being able to resuscitate many thousands of other e-mails, of the estimated 5 million previously disappeared, from computer hard drives. Where was Lazarus when we needed him most?

Here we thought Mr. Bush and his sidekicks, Cheney and Rumsfeld, were busy fighting their war on terror when they were playing with their laptops on Capitol Hill. Think about it---when was the last time you sent 14 million e-mails? Imagine writing "Weapons of Mass Destruction" 14 million times.

What is stunning here is not merely the number of e-mails that went missing only to be rediscovered after Bush left town, but the interest of the Justice Department,under Obama, in stopping a lawsuit that aims to recover the e-mails, and bring their contents to light.

For some time now, the National Security Archive has been after the Bush administration for its violation of the Presidential Records Act which requires presidents to preserve written communications, one of the many laws the previous administration took it upon itself to bend, break, or completely circumvent.

But, as an attorney for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, D.C. suggests "The new administration seems no more eager than the last" to deal with the issue of the obvious efforts, by the previous executive branch, to cover their tracks. Any computer novice will tell you that everything is stored on hard drives, and the fact that Bush and friends got away with contending that millions of e-mails were irretrievable is ludicrous. Assuredly, Richard Nixon would do exactly what George W. Bush is doing, and indeed he did when he erased hours of tapes. The only difference is that Mr. Nixon resigned from the presidency in disgrace; Mr. Bush rode out of Dodge in broad daylight.

President Obama has called for more openness in government. As the head of the National Security Archive suggests, someone ought to tell that to his Justice Department.

Friday, February 20, 2009

from Bertrand Russell

"The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time."

Michael Winship on "the Root of All Hypocrisy"

On Capitol Hill, Money is the Root of All Hypocrisy

By Michael Winship

The great movie comic and professional curmudgeon W.C. Fields once said, "You can fool some of the people some of the time - and that's enough to make a decent living."

Watching the news from Washington unfold this week, the truth of the late comedian's words never seemed more right. The antics of the august members of the House and Senate remind us once again that money is the root of all hypocrisy - especially in politics.

Take United States Senator Roland Burris, appointed by former Illinois governor and clown prince Rod Blagojevich to fill the seat vacated by Barack Obama. Testifying before the impeachment committee investigating Blagojevich, Senator Burris claimed he had no conversations with anyone from the governor's clan of cronies prior to his appointment. Now he says, oops, I just remembered - the governor's brother asked me to raise $10,000. Or was it $15,000?

Luckily, Senator Burris still has some space in Chicago's Oak Woods Cemetery on that spiffy mausoleum he had built with a list of all his accomplishments. Like some ancient Egyptian pharaoh ordering up the hieroglyphics for his made-to-order pyramid, the senator has room to have inscribed there one final act of public service. "Resignation" would seem to fit rather neatly.

Then there are Republican congressmen John Mica of Florida and Don Young of Alaska. As the McClatchy News Service reported, both stood with their party - good and true, cool conservative men - voting against President Obama's economic stimulus. So did every other GOP House member. Twice.

But then, eager to ride a gravy train with a popular President at the throttle, each of them had the chutzpah to issue press releases praising aspects of the stimulus package - while never mentioning they'd actually voted "nay." This was followed by the spectacle of several other Republican House and Senate members who voted against the stimulus going back home during the President's Day recess and touting the money the bill will provide their constituents.

But the prize of the week - the ever-loving, loving cup - goes to the multitude of Congress members - both Democrats and Republicans - who enjoyed balmy Caribbean breezes and substantial campaign contributions thanks to the largesse of financier Robert Allen Stanford, now accused of bilking investors of some $9 billion and, like W.C. Fields, making a decent living at it.

Stanford prefers being called "Sir Allen," as befits a Texas charlatan. He was knighted by the governor-general of the West Indies island of Antigua, off-shore headquarters for his alleged con game. He bankrolled "fact-finding" missions to Antigua and other Caribbean ports-of-call for several members of Congress, including Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn and New York Democrat Charlie Rangel, chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

Stanford Financial Group was a main sponsor of last month's Texas state pre-inaugural ball in DC and his political action committee gave $10,000 to help cover the costs of last year's Congressional baseball game (the Republicans won, for the eighth year in a row, 11-10). "Sir Allen" partied with Nancy Pelosi and Bill Clinton at the Democratic National Convention last summer. And when Tom Delay was still House majority leader, he flew the friendly skies in Stanford's private jet 16 times in three years - including a trip to Houston for Delay's arraignment on money-laundering charges.

Stanford showered millions on political campaigns, much of it from 2001-2002, the very time Congress was debating a bill to curb financial fraud with a computer network linking regulatory data bases. Two of the biggest recipients were Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida - who at the time was chairing the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, another big beneficiary of Stanford love - and Republican Senator John McCain. Three key Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee - then Chair Paul Sarbanes, Charles Schumer and Christopher Dodd received checks, too. The reform bill never got out of the Senate.

According to the non-partisan and indispensable Center for Responsive Politics, over the last decade, Robert Allen Stanford spent nearly $5 million lobbying the Senate and House, on top of $2.4 million in campaign contributions to Federal candidates. Now that he has been tracked down by the FBI and charged with "massive, ongoing fraud," many politicians are rushing to give the money back to charity, including President Obama, whose campaign received $4600.

Altogether, however, Stanford's contributions were a spit in the bucket of what he's alleged to have swindled, and just a tiny slice of the multibillion-dollar pie the lobbying business has become in Washington. Already, lobbyists are jumping all over President Obama's economic stimulus, so much so the Washington D.C. Examiner newspaper renamed the bill "The Lobbyist Enrichment Act" and reported that, "In the first weeks of this year, about 50 companies, trade associations, municipalities or non-profits retained new lobbyists explicitly to lobby on the stimulus bill."

According to Washington Post associate editor Robert G. Kaiser, the lobby industry "has helped moneyed interests protect their status and privileges, undermined government regulation of business and turned our elected officials into chronic money-chasers."

Kaiser, an intrepid, longtime reporter and native Washingtonian has a new book out titled, So Damn Much Money: The Triumph of Lobbying and the Corrosion of American Government. He appeared as a guest on the current edition of Bill Moyers Journal on public television.

The fix is in, he told my colleague Moyers, eliminating a fair competitive system. We should ask for more transparency, Kaiser suggests. And campaign finance reform would go a long way to making a difference, but he doesn't think it likely anytime soon.

The "everybody does it" syndrome took over in Washington a long time ago and, in general, an indifferent, cynical public seems unmotivated to do anything about it. "They do not expect Congress to do the right thing," Kaiser said, "They do not expect high ethical standards. On the contrary."

So why should the lobbyists and the government stop their profitable roundelay if we fail to do anything to stop the music and fall for the "everybody does it" meme? Do we deserve what we get?

The way lobbyists, special interests and politicians regard the citizenry brings to mind another W.C. Fields aphorism, the title of one of his movies: "Never Give a Sucker an Even Break."

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

Robin Hood 101

Aren't we glad Governor Schwarzenegger is so elated about his state senate's approval of a budget? But, how about the rest of us who live, and work, in California? Is there anyone among us who won't be adversely affected, and impacted, by the state sales tax, and license registration fee.

And, what about the 20,000 state workers who received layoff notices? How about the state's public elementary schools, and senior's programs, which will receive draconian cuts? I'll bet if you're the mother of a fourth grader, anywhere in California, you're not out there toasting the budget. Every person collecting disability, or SSI, in this state, who goes to bed hungry, or lives out of their car, won't be nearly as enthusiastic, either.

Look, I agree with Schwarzenegger when he says "it's Math 101" You have to raise taxes when there's a behemoth budget deficit, but I'm sick to death of his party's mantra "tax and spend liberals" as if the Democrats are responsible for the economic caldron in which we find ourselves. To the contrary, the current financial meltdown is strictly a bipartisan affair.

No one would argue against raising taxes as a fundamental requirement to closing a budget gap--- the question is, whose taxes should we raise? How about the capital gains tax? How about taxes on yacht owners, or owners of private planes? How about a progressive state sales tax that has a graduated tax on luxury items like signature Mercedes, or a graduated car registration tax? No doubt, a plan like this would mean taxing those who go to the governor's country club at a rate much higher than the one to which they've become accustomed.

California still remains a state of vast wealth. The problem is that wealth is immunized, and is recession-proof. The latest state budget will ensure that it remains so.

The spectre of Reaganomics is alive and well and living in California. But, as we've seen over the past two decades, the only thing that trickles down is corporate greed and corruption.

Instead of Math 101, we suggest that California's governor, and state legislature, bone up on Robin Hood 101, and start taking from the rich and giving to the poor instead of the other way around!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Eric Holder is right!

Attorney General Eric Holder was right today when he called us "a nation of cowards" in our refusal to confront the ugly truth of racism in America, and how we self-segregate by isolating ourselves in our own little racial, religious, multicultural bubbles.

Red Room is the only Web site, except for my own, to post a piece I wrote, a few weeks ago, intended to address the very subject. The piece was called "Attitude." None of the mainstream media blogs would touch it. I guess some might find the piece offensive.

We should be offended, and uncomfortable, until bigotry, and hate no longer plague us. Racism won't go away by simply electing a black president nor is that enough to engender economic opportunity, and social equity.

In a country with an unchallenged history of emphasizing conformity, from the days of Salem Bay to those of the House Un-American Activities Committee, if closet Klansmen were made to feel like freaks, funny how quickly they'd disappear. Joe McCarthy, after all, didn't exist in a vacuum; he had plenty of help.

Things may appear to be better, but we've got a long, long way to go. Kudos to our new attorney general, as well as our president, for saying so.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Some Advice for the Governeggor...

As you know, Arnold Schwarzenegger, California's governor, sent out 20,000 pink slips today to state workers. I wonder how many of those layoff notices went to state bureaucrats earning more than $100,000 a year?

You'll recall that, thanks to the governor's budget slashing, many who work at the DMV, and other state offices, have seen their hourly pay reduced to marginally above minimum wage.

I wonder how many in California's state legislature would like to have their paychecks reduced to a proportionately low level? How would bureaucrats respond to having their refrigerators raided, credit lines frozen, and loans to refinance their mortgages rejected?

It looks like central casting picked the right guy to play the Terminator.

While it may be heartening to see Arnold Schwarzenegger directing his focus on the environment, global warming, and refusing to buckle on emissions standards, the sad truth is that the rich, in his state, have gotten even richer, and the poor even poorer. Yes, gross disparity in wealth is a national phenomenon, yet it is more egregious in California than virtually anywhere else in the country.

And, the $60 million question is: given that California has the sixth largest economy in the world and, simultaneously, among the highest foreclosure and unemployment rates in the country---what happened to the money? Forget toxic assets, what about toxic denial, and what does this have to do with the bailing out everyone except for the beleaguered consumer.

It's mighty decent of the governor not to take a salary, but Logic 101 says that California's budget deficit would benefit more if he hit on those with the deep pockets instead of consistently going after the little guy in his state.

If Tolstoy...

If Tolstoy were alive today instead of "War and Peace," we'd have "War and Pizza."

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Same Number

Think about this: the same number of Americans that believe in UFO's, 100 million, also own firearms.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

"Ecce Puer"

Of the dark past
A boy is born.
With joy and grief
My heart is torn.

Calm in his cradle
The living lies.
May love and mercy
Unclose his eyes!

Young life is breathed
Upon the glass,
The world that was not
Comes to pass.

A child is sleeping;
An old man gone.
O, father forsaken,
Forgive your son!"

By James Joyce

Written in celebration of the birth of his grandson, and only surviving heir, Stephen James Joyce, on February 15, 1932.

A Feminist at Fifty

I wasn't born a feminist. Life made me one.

Don't get me wrong, I love men. I just wish we would see the likes of Nietzsche, Kafka, and Darwin in skirts. So far, this has yet to happen.

There's always Susan Sontag, of course, Anais Nin, and Virginia Woolf, but there aren't nearly as many women in the annals of world literature as there are men. And, for that matter, how many Helen Thomas's, Molly Ivins, and Maureen Dowds find themselves on the op-ed pages of our mainstream newspapers?

In 2007, Modern Library, a division of Random House, released the results of their board's selection of the 100 best novels, and fewer than 10% of them were written by women.

Can it be that the females of the species are genetically less predisposed to higher order thinking? The Kabbalah would certainly have one think so, but so might Bill Maher. But, all I can think about is why. Is it just that the big bad corporate media won't allow us to penetrate that glass ceiling? Glass does break, after all. Or, do women have some personal responsibility for our conspicuous absence on registers that include seismic innovators from Galileo to Einstein?

When the women's movement was at its zenith, in the 1970's, I was out protesting the war in Vietnam, joining groups like Students for a Democratic Society, and participating in antiwar sit-ins, at SUNY/Buffalo, with friends and professor friends like J.M. Coetzee. I considered myself a humanist not a feminist, and thought feminism reductive as it didn't address the exploitation, and unfair burdens, placed on men.

No doubt, guys have their issues to deal with, too. Look at how many rich and powerful men who got scammed by Madoff have taken their lives in the past few months alone. Men still suffer under the weight of gender expectations that they be breadwinners, and providers, even though women now make up 49% of the workforce.

Men are still not allowed to admit that they feel depressed, to cry, or say they need someone to talk to. Still, despite the obvious pitfalls, like having to live up to a stereotype of "manhood," there are many more advantages to being born of the male persuasion.

After adding a few gray hairs, and a few more years, I see the world differently at fifty (more or less) than at 20. After all the technological inroads, scientific advances, the legalization of choice, we are still lightyears behind where we should be when it comes to gender equity. Women are still not taken as seriously, in the arts and sciences, as their male counterparts. And, while I may not identify myself as a "woman writer," others do, as if they were grading on a curve.

Ever think about what would happen if Friedrich Nietzsche had been born Frederika, or Bob Dylan had been born Barbara instead of Bob? Most likely, instead of "building monuments," Barbara would have been taking down notes.

Surprisingly little has changed over the past thirty-odd years. Women who choose to devote their lives to their writing are still made to feel like freaks. While this is clearly less the case now than in the days of Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, and Anne Sexton, women poets suffer depression, and die by their own hand, at rates astonishingly higher than their male counterparts.

We're still made to feel as if we must choose between a life devoted to our creative work, or a life devoted to our man. Men don't have to make that kind of choice. James Joyce, author of what is widely considered the greatest novel in the English language, had a partner who may not have understood every word he wrote, but who understood that his work was his reason for living. He didn't feel that it was necessary to subordinate his physical desires to his creative urges.

Often it is seen as conjugal heresy to evolve at a rate higher than one's spouse.

Again, I'm not speaking about career women here, but women artists, when I say that women still don't have the same options as men of having a full life, and still face making wrenching choices.

It would be great if we could make the argument that men are oppressing us but, in truth, it's our value systems, and what we strive for, that keep us down. That said, I came up on the tail end of the Beat Generation, knew Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, and I can only name one woman who was considered a member of that movement, Diane di Prima. In light of the obscurantist view of women in literature, still prevalent today even in selectively progressive cities like San Francisco, one can understand why Sylvia Plath, and not her husband and fellow poet, Ted Hughes, was the one who ended up with her head in the oven.

You may have caught Nikki Giovanni interviewed recently on Bill Moyers Journal. She was brilliant, and I couldn't help but be struck by her allusion to Snow White, and the "Some Day My Prince Will Come" song. I thought back on all the princes who've come and gone in my life; those I've loved more, those I've loved less.

I couldn't help but recall how many restless nights I spent looking up at the ceiling, and prevailing upon higher powers to help me find my astral twin; time that could have been far better spent writing for cripe's sake.

Close your eyes and think about this: how many guys lay around in their Victoria Secret lingerie crying their eyes out because they have no one to spend New Year's Eve with? Nope, guys are better compartmentalizers-----they're better at going to work, and focusing, in the midst of marital catastrophe, or a third world war.

Frankly, I think guys get the short end of the stick precisely because they're socialized into thinking they're less "manly" if they show a little emotion. Guys need to be able to express their feelings more, and women need to stop visualizing themselves as incomplete without men.

Women have to learn to reinvent themselves the way men do. Somehow, we feel less than fulfilled if we aren't at the nucleus of a nuclear family. Our focus is on outward creation---giving birth to that which is corporal not cerebral.

Human beings are evolving physiologically at a pace far greater than their intellectual, and emotional, pace. If things keeps up this way, this can only mean a technologically evolved species that can't figure out how to tie its shoes.

I wasn't born a feminist. Life made me one. I only wish it made me richer for it.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Down the Mountain

When I was in my late teens, I'd often run away from home and hang out in a little town in upstate New York called Woodstock. This was before the Woodstock Festival.

Late one summer evening, in the pouring rain, I was lying on the bed in my cabin in a deserted cul de sac looking up at an Edith Piaf poster, in the throes of hormonal angst, thinking how no man would ever want me, and I'd be all alone. Out of the blue, a car pulled up in the driveway. I could see headlights flashing.

I threw on a coat quickly, and ran outside. A car door flung open. When I looked inside, the driver asked simply "You sent for me?" I recognized him, at once, as the man who owns the travel agency in town, an Englishman, blonde, late 30's, quite handsome. "But how did you know..," I stammered. "Quit asking questions, and get in" was all he said.

He whisked me up to the top of the mountain, and an A-frame with fabulous views. We didn't just make love, we made magic all night.

In the morning, he got up to shower. I started to dress. "Where do you think you're going?," he said. "You have to clean the sheets."

"Clean the sheets," I shouted!

"What were you thinking?"

"I was thinking about how to negotiate my way back down the mountain. Thanks for the wake-up call. I'm halfway there" was all I could muster except for a few choice expletives.

As he fished around on the dresser for his car keys, I remember hearing him say: "Nobody gets to sleep with destiny without cleaning up afterwards."

Being Born

I wasn't born a feminist. Life made me one.

Don't get me wrong, I love men. I just wish we would see the likes of Nietzsche, Kafka, and Darwin in skirts. So far, this has yet to happen.

There's always Susan Sontag, of course, Anais Nin, and Virginia Woolf, but there aren't nearly as many women in the annals of world literature as there are men. And, for that matter, how many Helen Thomas's, Molly Ivins, and Maureen Dowds are there?

Can it be that women are genetically less inclined for higher order thinking? The Kabbalah would have one think so, and so might Bill Maher. As I get ready to go out to dinner, I think about why this is. Is it just that the big bad corporate media won't allow us to penetrate that glass ceiling? Or, do women have some personal responsibility for our conspicuous absence on the roster of the all time greatest minds?

Watching Nikki Giovanni being interviewed on Bill Moyers Journal, I was struck by her allusion to Snow White's theme song: "Some Day My Prince Will Come," I thought back on all the princes who've come and gone in my life, those I've loved more, those I've loved less.

More importantly, watching Nikki Giovanni's interview last night, I thought about how many restless nights were spent looking up at the ceiling, and prevailing upon higher powers to find my astral mate, time that could have been far better spent writing for cripe's sake.

Close your eyes and think about this: how many guys lay around in their Victoria Secret lingerie crying their eyes out because they have no one to spend New Year's Eve with? Nope, guys are better compartmentalizers-----they're better at going to work, and focusing, in the midst of marital catastrophe, or a third world war.

Frankly, I think guys get the short end of the stick precisely because they're socialized into thinking they're less "manly" if they show a little emotion. Guys need to be able to express their feelings more, and women need to stop visualizing themselves as incomplete without

Women have to learn to reinvent themselves the way men do. Somehow, we feel less than fulfilled if we aren't at the nucleus of a nuclear family. Our focus is on outward creation---giving birth to that which is corporal not cerebral.

Change will come only when women also accept that to create a piece of art has as much value for a woman as to create a child. To paraphrase the Bob Dylan line: "She not being born is busy frying."

Nikki Giovanni

Bill Moyers interviewed poet, and activist, Nikki Giovanni last night, from whence comes this amazing Giovanni quote:

"Life is a good idea!"

Friday, February 13, 2009

"The Oligarchy's Bailout Ball"

The Oligarchy's Bailout Ball

By Michael Winship

You know what they say - half a million dollars just doesn't go as far as it used to.

News from the White House that $500,000 was the cap the government wants to put on executive salaries at the banks receiving bailout cash had some on Wall Street and along the plush corridors of Manhattan's swank Upper East Side hollering "Unfair!" (But without those unsightly street demonstrations and picket lines, of course.)

"You Try to Live on 500K in This Town" was the tongue-in-cheek headline in last Sunday's New York Times. Just add up private school tuition, mortgage payments, maintenance fees and wages for the nanny and you're already up to more than $250,000 a year - and that's pre-taxes, assuming you're paying any. Then tote up payments and upkeep on vacation and weekend homes, charity balls, car and driver - pretty soon you're maxing out your American Express Black Card.

But they work hard for their multi-million dollar salaries and bonuses, perks and solid gold benefits, complained some of the financiers. Besides, executive headhunters say, the money giants just can't get good help for anything less. Good help? Spare us the kind of moguls who helped us straight into the current deep, dirty hole we're trying to climb out of.

"Like spoiled, petulant children," is how Washington Post columnist Steven Pearlstein described them. "These guys won't be happy until the government agrees to relieve them of every last one of their lousy loans and investments at inflated prices, recapitalize every major bank and brokerage and insurance company on sweetheart terms and restore them to the glory days, so they can once again earn inflated profits and obscene pay packages by screwing over their customers and their shareholders."

Pearlstein was reacting after the five percent dive that stock prices took following freshly minted Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's announcement of the Obama Administration's Financial Stability Plan. It's the latest iteration of the bank bailout plan intended to go hand-in-hand with the economic stimulus package. Combined, as much as three trillion dollars may be at stake.

The plan immediately was attacked by many as too vague and ineffective. Part of the trouble, critics say, is that Geithner isn't part of the solution, he's part of the problem - former head of the Federal Reserve in New York and a protégé of Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, who last month retired as senior counselor at Citigroup. That's the bank the government agreed to insure against projected losses of $306 billion, on top of bailouts totaling $45 billion. In other words, Geithner's a player.

The New York Times reported that in preparing the Financial Stability Plan, Geithner opposed tougher conditions on investment firms sought by others in the White House. Geithner, the Times wrote, "successfully fought against more severe limits on executive pay for companies receiving government aid... resisted those who wanted to dictate how banks would spend their rescue money. And he prevailed over top administration aides who wanted to replace bank executives..."

This week, on The Baseline Scenario, a blog he co-founded, MIT professor of global economics and management and former International Monetary Fund chief economist Simon Johnson wrote, "There comes a time in every economic crisis, or more specifically, in every struggle to recover from a crisis, when someone steps up to the podium to promise the policies that - they say - will deliver you back to growth. The person has political support, a strong track record, and every incentive to enter the history books. But one nagging question remains. Can this person, your new economic strategist, really break with the vested elites that got you into this much trouble?"

That question caught the attention of my colleague Bill Moyers, who interviewed Johnson on the current edition of Bill Moyers Journal on public television.
The problem, Johnson told him, is that via millions spent for political contributions and lobbying efforts, the revolving door that sees elites shuttle between jobs in government and business, and by creating a situation in which technical knowledge is limited to a privileged few, the banking and financial services industry has become a kind of ruling oligarchy that stifles attempts to shake up the status quo and make the real change necessary to get us out of the current crisis. "Either you break the power," Johnson said, "or we're stuck for a long time with this arrangement...The policy that we seem to be pursuing, of being nice to the banks, is a mistake. Both from a technical/economic point of view, and from a deeper political point of view... [The banks] think that we're going to pay out ten or 20 percent of GDP to basically make them whole. It's astonishing."

Johnson has written on The Baseline Scenario blog what he thinks needs to be done: "Reboot the financial system. Find out immediately which banks are insolvent using market prices. Allow private owners to fully recapitalize, if they can. Have the FDIC, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, take over all banks that cannot raise enough private capital, and try to re-privatize those banks quickly, while making sure the taxpayer has strong participation in the upside."

Unfortunately, Johnson fears the oligarchy will prevail. "My intuition is that this is going to get a lot worse," he told Moyers. "It's going to cost us a lot more money. And we are going down a long, dark, blind alley.. Eventually, of course, the economy will turn around. Things will get better. The banks will be worth a lot of money and they will cash out.... We and our children will be paying higher taxes so those people could have those bonuses. That's not fair. It's not acceptable. It's not even good economics."

Johnson doubts the political will exists to do what needs to be done. According to Tuesday's Boston Herald, last August, another former Treasury Secretary and Rubin pal, Lawrence Summers, now chairman of the National Economic Council, hitched a ride back from the Democratic National Convention on board a Citigroup corporate jet - "the same type that... Citigroup infamously wanted to replace last month with a new $50 million French jet."

Summers didn't pay for the trip, but Citi said it has paid the appropriate taxes. The Herald reported that the plane "was the same one former City chief executive Sandy Will took on vacation to Mexico last month, it reportedly includes a full bar, crystal stemware and 'pillows made from Hermès scarves.'"

When you've got it, flaunt it, Larry. Why go to hell in a handbasket when you can fly there executive class, leaning back on a French silk pillow? It's good to be part of an oligarchy.

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, February 12, 2009

Intellectual Obesity

Nobody can deny that obesity is a big problem in this country, but those who are morbidly obese intellectually pose an even graver threat.

Republicans are clearly suffering from a severe case of intellectual obesity which comes, in part, from eating too many sour grapes. If Judd Gregg's stepping down as commerce secretary nominee is their idea of getting back in shape, they're in worse trouble than they've been since about as far back as Abraham Lincoln.

After nearly a generation of living like rich cats, lapping up the excess luxury that came largely as a result of the labor of 98% of the rest of us, they complain about a stimulus that invites a value system designed to invest in opportunity not decadence. One needs merely to look at what was left out of the stimulus, under the rubric of "compromise," to recognize the flatulence of the 44th president's opposition.

If trimming the fat means cuts to education, and the arts, while insulating Wall Street, banks, and the credit card industry from this economic plunge, those who emphatically rejected the original stimulus package should be more concerned with whether their constituents are able to read the fine print, in fifty years from now, than expanding the deficit. After all, Reagan and his neophytes have presided over the greatest national debt since this country's founding and, if left to their devices, by 2050, we'll be faced with two choices: Mandarin or Szechuan.

No one is suggesting, for a moment, that the Republican Party is the only one responsible for the monstrous deregulation that has gotten us to where we are today, only that their pecular penchant for personal profit, and gluttony, have taken us to the edge of a bipartisan financial cliff.

But, as Rep. Barney Frank suggests, "I think it would be a very big mistake to assume that the Obama administration is going to be as lax as the Bush administration" when it comes to keeping an eye on how the banks manage their bailout money. Moreover, it is reasonable to expect that the Obama administration will sleep with one eye open, and push for greater regulation of banks, and credit card companies. By way of contrast, the only rules George W. Bush's administration were concerned with were the ones they could break legally.

What honeymoon there was in Washington ended quickly; no surprise there. Obama is not far off when he suggests his presidency will be determined by what happens to 98% of America over the next 12 to 18 months. And, even Houdini would be hard-pressed to pull us out of this one which is why it's imperative to look at the ideas not just the numbers. It is under this new administration when, for the first time in decades, there is the opportunity to make significant progress towards eliminating homelessness, hunger; make health care, and college, accessible to all.

While more than half of Americans give a big thumbs down to Charles Darwin on evolution, according to the latest Gallup poll, when it comes to meat and potatoes issues, they recognize those whose corpulence has increased in direct proportion to their own hunger.

No one's suggesting that any member, of any political party, needs to start an ideological fast, only that bad cholesterol is also a metaphysical thing. Those who sign off on behemoth executive salaries, or deferred compensation plans, are indulging in the kind of feeding frenzy usually associated with sharks.

Over the next four years, as part of a regular work-out regimen, we must be reminded that those who most want the Obama phenomenon to go away also want to be first in line to fill their pockets with our hard labor.


Imagination is our only salvation.

Would it be irreverent?

Would it be irreverent to say Happy Birthday, Abe-y Baby!

Abraham Lincoln

16th President of the United States

Born 200 years ago today

(Yeah, I admit I'm bored---you would be, too, if you had a dream that Robert Redford picked up your dry cleaning!)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


On his blog today, Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, said he considers the stimulus package passed by the Senate is "anti-religious." Maybe the former presidential candidate was confusing the stimulus package with a vibrator.

Remember the good old days--when somebody didn't like you they'd call you queer? Now they call you "anti-religious," too! This kind of talk belongs in a locker room, and not coming from the mouth of any elected official.

But, which part of the $828 billion stimulus package does Huckabee find objectionable? Can it be the tax cuts for individuals and families, assistance for the jobless or low income Americans, aid to states, and huge increase in spending on education, healthcare, and technology? Or, maybe it's the proposed $50 million for arts funding which hangs in the balance thanks to prominent Democratic senators pandering to members of his party.

Can it be the addition, by the Senate, of a $70 billion provision to protect what's left of this country's middle class from being forced to pay the alternative minimum tax that has Huckabee so ticked off?

After all these years of Gingrichitis, one would think Mr. Huckabee, and his tribe, would be reassured by President Obama's recent announcement that he intends to expand federal support for faith-based initiatives, and communities, which are what Obama calls "a force for good greater than government."

Yes, the kind of "force for good" that has driven members of the military who aren't Rapture junkies to prozac; the kind of good that has banned funding for HIV/AIDS programs, both here and abroad, unless they require abstinence-only education, even in the face of unprecedented death, globally, from this horrific disease; a force that, were it up Huckabee, would lead an unwed mother, even one who was raped, to follow through with a pregnancy that is unwanted, and for which she is unprepared.

I think, after the Bush years, most of us are willing to concede that just about any force is greater than government, but that if we must have some form of governance, it must be one that works for 98% of us, not the 2% who belong to Mr. Huckabee's country club.

"For all the talk about bipartisanship, this Congress is blatantly liberal," Huckabee says. On his blog, he observes how "Emily's List, radical environmental groups, et. all have a seat at the decision making table in Washington these days;" yes, and right across from Halliburton and Blackwater! But, who would consider hiring independent contractors to go to Iraq, as an adjunct army, to fire away often at unarmed Iraqi civilians "anti-religious?" Who would think divesting our schoolchildren of government subsidized lunch as anti-religious? Why would anyone think of blocking food, and humanitarian supplies, from reaching 1.5 inhabitants of the Gaza strip as anti-religious? It's Emily's List, Greenpeace, the ACLU, and the NRDC who are the infidels. What does that make the born-again gang---infidel lite?

Not since the witchhunt days of Salem Bay have we seen so much hypocrisy trying to masquerade as public decency. Not since the Joe McCarthy years have we seen such a devaluation of American patriotism; the counterfeiting of American principles in the form of a Patriot Act.

Ah, but indeed, the devil isn't in the details, but in the details' pants. What the former governor of Arkansas is so hot and bothered about is a provision in both versions of the stimulus bill that would prohibit higher education funds for being used on a "school or department of divinity." Yes, friends, what Mr. Huckabee is so upset about is congressional affirmation of the separation of church and state---to think -- how blatantly liberal, and anti-religious, oh, and how unabashedly constitutional.

Quote of the Day

"English is my second language. Laughter is my first."

Paul Krassner

Sunday, February 08, 2009

James Dean

Happy Birthday, James Dean, whose favorite book was "The Little Prince" by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, and whose favorite poet was Federico Garcia Lorca.

You are remembered for "East of Eden," "Rebel Without A Cause," and for having said this:

"Only the Gentle are truly strong."

February 8, 1931 - forever

Friday, February 06, 2009

by Michael Winship

Get Away from Those Spinning Doors

By Michael Winship

Not even three weeks in office and President Barack Obama is discovering that being in charge is no bed of roses, even when you have a garden of them just outside your Oval Office windows. February’s frost has bitten a bit of the bloom off the new President’s aspirations as the swamp of hypocrisy and partisan inertia that is Beltway Washington took its toll.

Weighed down by tax return problems and charges of DC influence peddling, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle pulled out as President Obama’s candidate for Secretary of Health and Human Services – just as the President was trying to accelerate momentum for Senate passage of his economic stimulus plan, and the Republicans were equally trying to slam on the brakes.

Daschle’s withdrawal, coupled with the same day, tax-inflicted stepping down of Nancy Killefer, who was to be the White House’s chief performance officer, forced President Obama to use a lightning round of network interviews he’d intended as stimulus promotion to defend himself against charges that his oratorical hopes of cleaning up government and solving all its problems had hit a speed bump.

The resulting “I screwed up” mea culpas were refreshing in a town where shifting blame to the other guy is the standard modus operandi. But whether contrition for the cameras, combined with President Obama’s continued high popularity, can translate into forward-moving action remains unknown. By week’s end, President Obama had dropped his conciliatory tone of bipartisanship and gone on the attack to try to rescue the stimulus package.

But one thing the Daschle affair and the problems with other Obama appointments makes clear is that while new administrations come and go, what hasn’t changed – yet – is the phenomenon of the revolving door, the back-and-forth fandango of lobbyists moving into government jobs at the same time that officials out of power parlay their resumes into suites on K Street. Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives – all are guilty.

A recent report from the non-partisan organization CREW, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, found that of 24 men and women who served as cabinet members during the Bush Administration, seventeen of them left office and raced to private sector jobs with some 119 companies. Sixty-five of those businesses spend money lobbying the United States government – and 40 are directly hitting up government agencies the former cabinet secretary was in charge of.

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft started his own lobbying firm. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham joined the board of Occidental Petroleum. Tom Ridge, the first Secretary of Homeland Security, is well-known for his involvement with companies profiting from the fear of terrorist attack or natural disaster, including Lucent Technologies and Home Depot, where duct tape is king.

But the poster boy seems to be former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, who CREW says has worked for 42 different companies since he left the Bush cabinet in 2005. They include Centene Corporation, which runs Medicaid plans in seven states; the pharmaceutical company Novartis; and even an operation called Whey Cool Health Foods. Logistics Health, a medical readiness company of which Thompson is president, saw its federal contracts go from $19.9 million in 2003 to $104.8 million in 2007. The company claims Thompson never contacted folks at Health and Human Services on its behalf, but Logistics’ founder and chairman told a Wisconsin newspaper, “Tommy really is able to get us in to see the right people.”

Maybe you thought the in-and-out revolving door would shudder to a halt with a new President who vowed to clean up Dodge and campaigned on the promise that no lobbyist would find job security in the White House. The day after his swearing-in, President Obama signed an executive order barring former lobbyists in government positions from overseeing anything related to their past business interests.

Apparently, that presidential executive order comes with an asterisk: no lobbyists in charge – except when they are. Take Deputy Secretary of Defense designate William J. Lynn III, former executive and lobbyist with Raytheon, world’s largest manufacturer of guided missiles, including the Patriot missile. Raytheon received more than ten billion dollars in defense contracts last year. Lynn says he lobbied for “only a handful” – missiles, destroyers, warheads, a radar system, a spy satellite. Some handful. But because both the President and Defense Secretary Robert Gates insist he’s the only man for the job, Lynn’s been given a waiver.

Also please give a big welcome to anti-tobacco lobbyist William Corr, the newly designated number two at Health and Human Services. He insists he’ll stay out of any HHS business that has to do with tobacco, won’t even yell at anyone smoking in the elevator. We’ll see.

According to The Washington Times, nearly two dozen of President Obama’s executive level appointments have worked as registered lobbyists. “Even the toughest rules require reasonable exceptions.” That was the explanation of White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. True, there’s an argument to be made for bringing in people with expertise and experience in maneuvering the mazelike intricacies of big government. But with so much money at stake, so much power too easily corrupted, the perpetual revolving door remains a big problem.

Ah, sigh the jaded cynics and opportunists who spawn along the shores of the Potomac, the more things stay the same, so what can you do? What you can do is speak up, and, as the late Molly Ivins would say, keep raising hell. Otherwise, that breeze you’ll feel blowing out of Washington will never be the winds of change; just a fetid gust generated by Beltway blusters of hot air and the endless spin of those damned revolving doors.

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

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Cheney Unplugged

Maybe you happened to catch our illustrious former vice president, Dick Cheney, interviewed earlier today by Politico, when he publicly admitted to endorsing "enhanced interrogation techniques," specifically referring to waterboarding. Cheney was arguing for what he considers effective legislation like the USA Patriot Act, and warrantless electronic surveillance of private citizens. His stunning admission to breaking the law was broadcast over the world wide web, and during primetime news hours, for everyone in this country, and around the world, to hear.

To add insult to injury, Mr. Cheney then asserted that President Obama's foreign policy which puts thought before action, proaction before preemption, will lead to what he calls another "terrorist attack."

He added that he shudders to think people like Obama, Holder, Panetta, and others in the new administration, are actually more concerned about reading people their rights instead of holding them indefinitely, without charges, without evidence or counsel, at Gitmo, or in Iraq, Afghanistan, and secret detention centers around the world. Why would anyone care about due process, and the rule of law? Puh-leeze!

Nothing, repeat, nothing that Al Qaeda can do has been more damaging to the Constitution, and the very democracy Cheney and gang profess to be protecting. That this is old news, and nothing is being done about it, is, arguably, the greatest indictment against America since our inception.

What would possess a former vice president to step forward now, so close to what amounts to a landslide election for the opposing party, and on the heels of a crucial "stimulus" vote? Clearly, Cheney is trying to incite Senate Republicans to fight for more funding for defense, and less for education. But, isn't his talk with the press rather like a bank robber stopping by the local branch of a bank he just hit for coffee and cookies? Maybe Dick Cheney is preparing to write his memoir which he plans to call: "The audacity of audacity!"

Close your eyes for a minute, and picture the videotape of Osama bin Laden warning America of another attack with that of Dick Cheney. Isn't their message, really, the same ---fear, fear, fear. Seems to me they have something else in common----neither Cheney nor bin Laden needs a bailout!

What does it say about this country's values that Tom Daschle is forced to step down for not paying taxes on a private car and driver given to him as a Senate perk while George W. Bush, Alberto Gonzales, and Dick Cheney get to retire at taxpayer expense!

The $60 million question, though, is where is our outrage that any elected official can break the law, and be arrogant enough to publicly admit it confident that he will inevitably escape prosecution for his acts.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A Woman over 50

I think the main problem with being a woman over 50 is that we're passed over for $7 an hour jobs by young women who are willing to work for $6!

Tom Daschle

It is regrettable that former Senator Daschle withdrew his nomination for health and human services secretary in the Obama administration. Tom Daschle is a good man. He was a good senator, and he would have been an asset to the Obama administration.

He made a mistake. It's not as if he failed to pay federal taxes. He didn't pay taxes on a perk that was provided for him in his Senate position. This is not to excuse what he did, only to provide some perspective.

President Obama is right. Both his mistake, and his withdrawal from nomination, must not be used to obscure Tom Daschle's long, and distinguished, service to his country nor to challenge the principle of universal health care for which he stands.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Only for Comfort

There was no getting
warm the
you drove me to
the station
dripping from
damp with
How is it your chest grows
beneath the covers now where once
my hands lay.
Nothing sinks
quite the
way it used to
not even gravity.
I am haunted by
your absence.
how is it you manage to
live somewhere with
white sand and
a spanking blue sea
your pulse
under the pillow
only for

by jayne lyn stahl

I Agree with Barney

I agree with Rep. Barney Frank, chair of the House Finance Committee, that those in Congress who are complaining the most about President Obama's stimulus package don't make a peep when it comes to congressional appropriation of $10 billion a month on the war in Iraq.

Yes, those, largely Republicans, who moan and groan about the pork in the stimulus package see the grotesque expansion of the defense budget to widen the war in Iraq not as pork but as prime rib. Frank is right---the defense budget must be cut, and we, as a nation, must revisit our values.

Indeed, the whole paradigm of the military industrial complex, which another president, Eisenhower, warned against, doesn't work. If it did, we wouldn't be where we are today.

How important are cluster bombs, spy programs from outer space, and the kinds of "star war" defense programs of Reagan when an estimated one in five children, in this country, live in poverty, and the number of homeless is growing daily? And, those who find themselves fortunate enough to have a roof over their heads, often live in conditions that are one step above squatting. Do we call it "pork" when a budget includes increases to spending on education, health, the arts, unemployment, food stamps, and family planning? When we reward the landlords, and the CEOs, whose family values are we extolling?

When the Senate votes on the President's stimulus package, they must keep in mind that what Mr. Obama is proposing, in essence, is moving us from a wartime to a peacetime economy. We have only to look at the egregious loss of manufacturing jobs to realize that the old capitalist model of war as fueling prosperity is dangerously outmoded. Time to try something else.

Barney Frank is right. Those same folks who brought us the Republican Revolution, back in 1994, are still around to nudge us into thinking that they've got the copyright on protecting the American family, but it is their values, their wars, and their lack of judgment that has gotten us where we are today. What's more, the founders never intended to put a warning label on the Constitution: "Caution: democracy may be hazardous to your health."

It's time now to turn the tables: to restore dignity, and opportunity, to every working man, and woman; to ensure that, when one loses one's job, one is no longer forced to forfeit their health coverage, to provide women with alternatives to unwanted pregnancies, to show, once again, that hard work, not chicanery, will lead to a better life.

Sunday, February 01, 2009


"Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age."

James Joyce

Born Feb. 2, 1882

Happy Birthday! James Augustine Aloysius Joyce

Funny, isn't it, how birthdays outlive us all.