Friday, October 30, 2009

"Let's Bring Back the Draft"

I'm departing from the usual print motif today posting a riveting, eloquent, and right on the mark essay from Bill Moyers which will conclude this week's Journal:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Who Will Reform Health Care Reform.

Look, I'm as thrilled as everyone that the House reached agreement on a health care reform plan that will ensure medical coverage for 96% of Americans. This is a milestone, and a landmark piece of legislation which will make it through voting process next week.

But, here's my concern. In the proposal, there are numerous references to employers, as well as what happens to those who lose their jobs, but what about those who are unemployed? What about the indigent? I'm not clear on whether the requirements for eligibility for Medicaid will change, or whether that will be left up to the states. Right now, in the state of California, one has to be eligible for welfare in order to get on Medicaid. Those who hover around the poverty line, the so-called working poor, are often ineligible for government programs like food stamps, and Medicaid. Will that change?

Also, this legislation sets up what is called an "exchange," or salad bar of health care options, but what happens to those who come to the table with an appetite, and not the wherewithal to pay? Indeed, they fall into the 4% who are uncovered, the chronically forgotten. 4% certainly sounds like a small enough number, but it works out to be something like 9 million people. When was the last time you made a turkey dinner for 9 million people? That's a lot of stuffing.

In the interest of fairness, just as the bill calls for 2.5% of annual income penalty for those who refuse to get coverage, income eligibility for Medicare must change so that the needs of more unemployed, and unemployed Americans are reflected.

The way the public option measure is worded is such that it comes across as part of the exchange, hence leading one to think that there may only be a marginal difference in cost between the so-called public option and an HMO like Kaiser.

And, what is an affordability "credit?" Is it like a tax credit for carrying insurance? If so, where does that leave the unemployed, and/or the underemployed? Also, what does the below clause mean?

"All individuals will generally be required to get coverage, either through their employer or the exchange, or pay a penalty of 2.5 percent of income, subject to a hardship exemption.

The federal government will provide affordability credits, available on a sliding scale for low- and middle-income individuals and families to make premiums affordable and reduce cost-sharing."

Don't get me wrong. Given that approximately 41 million, or one in every nine Americans have no health insurance now, this plan is a first step, and a good one. But, it is every American's and every member of Congress's duty to read the fine print, and ask the hard questions now. After all, it took more than two hundred years to get this far, and it may take another two hundred to reform the reform.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tales fom the Cryptic

Okay, now that you've had your evening glass of wine, and that hot bath, you're maybe ready for a bedtime story, so what comes to mind is the time I saw Andy Warhol walking down Madison Avenue (Mad, for short).

Yes, that's right, it was, I'm guessing, somewhere around 1980, and I was somewhere around Madison and 33rd, in mid-afternoon, half-in, half-out of reverie---pushing my way through the late lunch crowd to make it back to some desk job for which one finds oneself perenially late. And, there he was---subdued, if saturnine, walking bruised yet awake through the maddening (Mad) crowd. My first thought---to be honest---this isn't Andy, it's an apparition--it's a mirage, but he was light athin-complected and our eyeballs met as if in discernible sea, or acknowledgment as if...

sometime before when I would hang with Roger and Ondine during a weekend jaunt to upstate New York where we'd hunt images....

in between, there was the ineffable, anachronistic Hotel Chelsea, a haunt, I think, that housed us both one time or another as well as more vicious sorts like one named

high viscosity ...

So, now that you're watching the light refracting through the crystal in the wine glass you've left by the side of the bathtub, think about this...

we were all Andy Warhol once.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Here Comes That Third Party...

Hoping for a 3rd party to come along, and do away with the two party paradigm? Well, stay tuned because something is happening in a New York congressional race which portends that change is en route, but not the change you had in mind.

While she may have left politics in Alaska, over the past few days, Sarah Palin proved that she hasn't left politics. The former Republican nominee for vice president has just given an enthusiastic thumbs-up to a 3rd party candidate in an upstate New York congressional race. The offseason election is being held to replace Rep.John McHugh who was recently appointed Army secretary by the president.

Why is a former governor from Alaska interested in a New York congressional race? Meddling seems to be an old school Republican pastime these days. Palin's concern is palpable. She worries that the Republican candidate for the 23rd Congressional District, Dierdre Scozzafava, isn't Republican enough. Would Ms. Scozzafava pass the Barry Goldwater smell test?

Well, the Albany assemblywoman gets the Newt Gingrich good housekeeping stamp of approval. She also has solid support from the National Rifle Association, but this doesn't square with Sarah Palin. "There is no real difference between the Democrat and the Republican in this race," pundit Palin says on her Facebook page.

Palin has elected to throw her full weight behind Doug Hoffman, the Conservative Party candidate, who best represents core Republican Party values like shrinking government, lowering taxes, and selectively affirming civil liberties..

Although Bill Owens, the Democrats in the race, leads both his Republican and Conservative counterparts by a healthy margin, many Republicans are concerned that Hoffman's presence will ultimately result in a loss for the Republicans, an argument not unlike the one made against Ralph Nader by Democrats in 2000.

But, what's happening here is quite different from what happened in 2000. The Green Party didn't result from any seismic divide in the Democratic Party whereas, like an overzealous earthworm, the Republican Party appears to be splitting down the middle with half positioning itself as moderate on issues like choice, and gay marriage, like Scozzafava, and the other half insisting on being true to their Goldwater, Bircher roots. Trouble is, nobody seems to be able to convince the Bircher half that their roots are dyed.

It remains to be seen how this bifurcation plays out not just in this New York congressional race, but in the midterm election, and whether or not the Conservative Party, with or without Sarah Palin, becomes a tour de force in 2012.

Those who have been crying out for a 3rd party alternative to Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum can only chuckle at the prospect not of a Green Party White House victory, but that the Conservatives might accomplish in the U.S. what they've done in Canada, and be the first to successfully challenge the two-party system.


Did somebody say something about a "pubic option?"

Friday, October 23, 2009

Bill Moyers and Michael Winship on Justice, Texas-style

Courtesy of Bill Moyers Journal, and Public Affairs Television:

Texas, the Eyes of Justice Are Upon You

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

On October 13, we lost a resolute champion of the law, a man who left his impact the lives of untold numbers of Americans.

His very name made his life's work almost inevitable, a matter of destiny. William Wayne Justice was a Federal judge for the Eastern District of Texas. That's right,he was "Justice Justice." And he spent a distinguished legal career making sure that everyone - no matter their color or income or class - got a fair shake. As a former Texas lieutenant governor put it last week, "Judge Justice dragged Texas into the 20th century, God bless him."

Dragged it kicking and screaming, for it was Justice who ordered Texas to integrate its public schools in 1971 - 17 years after the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision made separate schools for blacks and whites unconstitutional. Texas resisted doing the right thing for as long as it could. Many of its segregated schools for African-American children were so poor they still had outhouses instead of indoor plumbing.

This small town lawyer appointed to the federal bench by President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered Texas to open its public housing to everyone, regardless of their skin color. He looked at the state's "truly shocking conditions" in its juvenile detention system and said, repair it. He struck down state law that permitted public schools to charge as much as a thousand dollars tuition for the children of illegal immigrants.

And Justice demanded a top-to-bottom overhaul of Texas prisons, some of the most brutal and corrupt in the nation. He even held the state in contempt of court when he thought it was dragging its feet cleaning up a system where thousands of inmates slept on the dirty bare floors of their cellblocks and often went without medical care. The late, great Molly Ivins said, "He brought the United States Constitution to Texas."

Some say that justice stings. William Wayne Justice certainly did - and his detractors stung back with death threats and hate mail. Carpenters refused to repair his house, beauty parlors denied service to his wife. There were cross burnings and constant calls for his impeachment.

After he desegregated the schools he was offered armed guards for protection. He turned them down and instead took lessons in self-defense.

You need to understand that while so many Texans have fought and are fighting the good fight in the Judge Justice tradition, others believe in the law only when it sides with them. They long for the good old days of Judge Roy Bean, the saloonkeeper whose barroom court was known in the frontier days as "the law west of the Pecos." His judicial philosophy was simple: "Hang 'em first, try 'em later."

The present governor of Texas seems to be channeling Judge Bean. During his nine years in office, Rick Perry - "Governor Goodhair" as Ivins called him - has presided over more than 200 executions, dwarfing the previous record of 152 set by his predecessor in the Governor's Mansion, George W. Bush. (The most, it is said, of any United States governor in modern history.)

Lethal injection is practically a religious ritual in Texas. In fact, before their sentencing verdict that will send Khristian Oliver to die in just a couple of weeks - on November 5th, to be exact - jurors in the East Texas town of Nacogdoches consulted the Bible and found what they were looking for in the Book of Numbers, where it reads, "The murderer shall surely be put to death," and, "The revenger of blood himself shall slay the murderer." Although it was noted that referencing holy writ was an inappropriate "external influence," two appeals courts upheld the jury's sentence and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

Governor Perry will do almost anything to please the vengeful crowd in the Coliseum with their thumbs turned down. Did we mention that next year he's up for re-election? When it turned out recently that five years ago the state may have wrongfully executed a man for a crime he didn't commit, Perry pulled some particularly shady moves.

In February 2004, Cameron Todd Willingham was put to death for allegedly setting a fire that killed his three young daughters. Governor Perry has willfully ignored evidence from top arson investigators that the blaze was not homicide but an accident.

Now Perry has fired the chairman and three members of the state's Forensic Science Commission just as they were about to hear further scientific testimony that might prove Willingham's innocence. This week, Perry told reporters that the controversy is "nothing more than propaganda from the anti-death penalty people across the country."

They can be short on mercy in Texas. All the more reason to mourn the loss of Justice - William Wayne Justice. Rest in peace, your honor.

(and rest in peace, Molly Ivins)

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, October 22, 2009

The Power Behind the Drone

Dick Cheney, a former vice president, just accused Barack Obama, a sitting president, of "dithering around" and not moving quickly enough when it comes to deciding whether or not to send more troops to Afghanistan. But, why does Dick Cheney care? What is his interest in the current administration's decision, one way or another?

His investment in Halliburton, a company that provides technical products and services for oil exploration, as well as construction of refineries, and pipelines, is well-known. And, despite Mr. Cheney's claim to have divested himself from Halliburton after taking office, there is strong evidence he retained stock options, received deferred compensation, long after he took the oath of office for the first time, and maybe even the second time. His interest in Halliburton should be no more the public's concern now that he is out of office than a current commander in chief's decision to deploy more troops to Afghanistan should be his concern.

And, despite what he may want you to think, this is no longer about Dick Cheney. The former vice president is survived by a hearty squad of Republicans in the House and Senate appropriations committees whose mission is closely aligned with the previous administration's when it comes to contacting with private military contractors, however dubious, to develop drones, aka unmanned aircraft vehicles, small hands-free operated aircraft.

From its first flight, on February 2, 2001, the drone to end all drones, the MQ-9 Reaper, aka Predator B, has, in the words of Air Force Chief of Staff T. Michael Moseley, moved from primarily being used for "intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaisance roles before Operation Iraqi Freedom to a true hunter-killer role," a vehicle which essentially amounts to a robotic attack squad. When used as directed, Predator B is one piece of equipment designed and intended to kill by remote control.

There are 28 Reapers, or Predator Bs, in existence, and each one costs approximately $10 million to build. They are deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems--- a San Diego based company that supplies both the U.S. Air Force, and Navy with its equipment. The company's Web site states that it "provides unmanned aerial vehicles and radar solutions for military and commercial applications worldwide." Our interest is in the aerial solutions it provides for our military and with our tax dollars.

Notably, GAAS parent company, General Atomics, was reportedly the single biggest corporate underwriter of congressional trips between 2000 and 2005. General Atomics spent more than $500,000 on close to 90 trips taken by members of Congress, at taxpayer expense, most of which were supposedly focused on the unmanned Predator spy planes used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But, in 2002, a top aide to a Republican California congressman, Jerry Lewis, was allegedly paid by General Atomics to vacation with her husband in Italy. Shortly after returning from her trip, Letitia White resigned her position, and went on to become a lobbyist for---you guessed it, General Atomics.

It does get dicey. While she was still working for Rep. Lewis, who represents a district conveniently close to GAAS headquarters in San Diego, the congressman just happened to be at the helm of the House Defense Appropriations Committee.

Oh, and right around the time of the first MQ-9 flight, in 2001, General Atomics was sued for overcharging the U.S. government, and taxpayers, for projects the company completed between 1992 and 2001.

Rep. Lewis currently serves as the ranking Republican member on the House Appropriations Committee which is responsible for funding all federal programs, a fact Mr. Cheney, no doubt, finds heartening given that Lewis was among those who signed off on unmanned aircraft vehicles in much the same way that Cheney effectively converted the executive branch into a vehicle that can be run by remote control

Should the president choose to listen to those, like Dick Cheney, or anyone in a congressional appropriations committee who can justify spending close to $300 million on drones and, at the same time, argue that there's no money for a public health care option, he will not only be "dithering," but he will be complicit with the ongoing gang rape of American taxpayers by defense contractors.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Nobody can say that Newt Gingrich isn't thinking about posterity. He reportedly offered to make a donation to a sperm bank. The only problem is, Bank of America rejected him!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Tea Baggers and Birchers?

By now, word has gotten out that FreedomWorks, the right wing organization chaired by Dick Armey that advocates for lower taxes, and smaller government, is the same group behind tea baggers who opposed Obama's stimulus plan. Protests against the $787 billion congressional bailouts have been widely linked to Rep. Armey, and the Washington, D.C. nonprofit, but it doesn't stop there.

If you take a look at at who is behind the so-called Tea Parties, co-founders and major funders of FreedomWorks Charles and David Koch, it is plain as day that the same forces that declared another young, progressive president, John F. Kennedy, to be a traitor are behind the effort to take down the Obama presidency.

Who are Charles and David Koch? They are the sons of Fred Koch, of Koch Industries, a company whose name has come to be synonymous with big oil in America. Charles and David Koch may be found, too, on Forbes list of twenty wealthiest people in the world,. The Koch brothers are heirs not just to Fred Koch's vast fortune, but to his pet project the far right wing John Birch Society. Back then, as reported by Exiled Online, Los Angeles was regarded by many as the "heartland" of the Birch Society.

So, it should come as no surprise then that it was at the Hollywood Paladium, back in 1961, that JFK warned against those "fringes of our society who have sought to escape their own responsibility by finding a simple solution, an appealing slogan or a convenient scapegoat...They equate the Democratic Party with the welfare state, the welfare state with socialism, and socialism with communism. They object quite rightly to politics intruding on the military--but they are anxious for the military to engage in politics."

Sound familiar? How about this: "Rightists Picket Kennedy Speech--3,000 Parade in Los Angeles in Orderly Demonstration," some carrying signs reading "Disarmament is suicide," and "Veto Tito." (NYT, November, 1961)

Well, what Kennedy called "armed bands of civilian guerillas" are back again, and funded by the same folks as nearly half a century ago, the sons of Fred Koch, founding member of the John Birch Society, and the same way they went after JFK, they're going after Barack Obama.

It doesn't stop there. The so-called American Energy Alliance, also in Washington, D.C., has been working overtime to agitate against key climate control legislation sponsored by Reps. Henry Waxman, and Edward Markey, both Democrats. Reportedly, AEA had, for some time, occupied the same office as Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. Yes, that's right, the same Charles Koch, son of Fred Koch; the Koch of Koch Industries, the nation's biggest private oil and gas concern. Charles and David Koch, founders of Freedomworks, also own Koch Industries.

As Southern Studies.Org suggests, Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation was among those most vehemently opposed to the $787 billion economic stimulus bill, an opposition that had Tea Parties as a symptom when the underlying disease was racism, and cultural xenophobia.

There is little doubt that the offspring of the founders of the Birch Society would also be behind a movement to call into question the legitimacy of the first African-American president in U.S. history.

The radical right wing "fringes of our society," in 2009, are remarkably similar to those from fifty years ago only instead of Rush Limbaugh, it was Barry Goldwater who suggested then President Kennedy was "riding on the left wheel all the time."

Once the smoke clears from behind the smokescreen that has become the mainstream media, the puppet masters may be seen to be the usual suspects--the Birchers of yore, rearing their same ugly rhetoric all over again.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Something to fall back on...

I think God invented balls, so the brain would have something to fall back on.

JFK -- 1961

"There have always been those fringes of our society who have sought to escape their own responsibility by finding a simple solution, an appealing slogan or a convenient scapegoat... They look suspiciously at their neighbors and their leaders... They find treason in our finest churches, in our highest court, and even in the treatment of our water. They equate the Democratic Party with the welfare state, the welfare state with socialism, and socialism with communism. They object quite rightly to politics’ intruding on the military — but they are anxious for the military to engage in politics. "

From speech by John F. Kennedy at the Hollywood Paladium in 1961

Monotonous Rex

Okay, things could have been different. Sophocles could have been living in the age of tap dancing, or Neil Simon and, instead of Oedipus, given us "Monotonous Rex." It doesn't take a Greek to smell tragedy.

Living off the ocean of Maui, Max, an escargot, happened to find himself falling deeply and devoutly in lust with a shark named Hugo. When he's not out crawling on the shore, Max imagines himself drinking cappuccino in Venice waiting for Hugo to show up, but there are no sharks in Venice, not even goldfish, so instead he decides to thumb a ride to Montauk.

It's a cloudy day, late May, with the kind of wind that bites. Max spots his brother on a nearby sand dune rolling around in butter and garlic salt.

In another life, he could have written fiction like O'Henry instead of a tragedy. He could have been a great Russian tragedian. Yet, in this life his destiny is inextricably bound to those who plumb the deep sea.

If he could name one book as his favorite of all time, it would be "Moby Dick," of course, though he swears it's about sharks not whales. He's also convinced, as Hugo tells him, it's never incest when two sharks sleep together. Max takes a deep sigh, and curls up in his shell like a foiled accordion.

How monotonous, he thinks, when nothing is taboo.

Friday, October 16, 2009

"The Nobel Prize with an Asterisk," by Michael Winship

"The Nobel Prize with an Asterisk"

By Michael Winship

Despite the graciousness of his speech at the White House last Friday, President Obama's acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize did have an air slightly reminiscent of Lincoln's story about the man who was tarred, feathered and ridden out of town on a rail - if it wasn't forthe honor of the thing he'd just as soon walk.

Inger-Marie Ytterhorn, a member of the Nobel committee that chose him, told the Associated Press this week, "I looked at his face when he was on TV and confirmed that he would receive the prize and would come to Norway and he didn't look particularly happy." After all, Obama has been President for barely nine months and yes, he has made some fine speeches in support of peace and bettering international relations. But was that enough to merit the award? Was he winning it more for who he's not - George W. Bush - than for who he is?

Sadly, much of the initial reaction in the United States was churlish and scornful, ill-informed, and frankly, as un-American as those of the knee-jerk right who cheered when Obama's quick trip to Copenhagen failed to win the Olympics for his Chicago hometown. We are less serious as a nation than we should be. The empty-headedness and inanity of much of the media and political response to the announcement bears testament to that unhappy truth. We would do better to see
ourselves as others see us than to scream in protest and sarcasm when another part of the world wishes to honor our President and us.

But some of us sincerely felt that it may have been better for the President and the country NOT to have accepted the Nobel- to have made a gracious speech of thanks but no thanks - regretfully declining the award until he had proven himself worthy through actual deeds and positive signs of progress. If nothing else, it would have silenced at least some of the critics and given President Obama some breathing room to do what he says he wants to do without the restraints of even greater global expectations.

After all, take a look at the world around us, and America's place in it.

President Obama talks the talk when it comes to climate change and nuclear arms control, curbing the atomic ambitions of Iran and North Korea, encouraging both harmony and diversity among the religions of the world. All well and good; even exemplary.

But little concrete action has been taken. For all the talk of
closing our prison in Guantanamo, chances are that he will not meet his
deadline of shutting it down within a year. Many of the transgressions
on human rights that took place there and elsewhere in the name of a
global war on terror continue, unresolved and unpunished.

He has spoken out for a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians but has made no progress, the window of opportunity slammed down on his fingers by Israel, with no help from Hamas. Our troops are still in Iraq, despite promises of significant withdrawals, and the Nobel announcement came in the midst of deciding whether or not to send even more American men and women into Afghanistan, where many of them may die. When told about Obama's new honor, an Afghan bank worker said
to a reporter from the Los Angeles Times. "I'm not sure I understand. This isn't for peace here, is it? Because we haven't got any."

Better then to call this prize, as many have, including the Nobel committee, an aspirational award - the committee expressing its own audacity of hope. As the President himself said, "I know that throughout history, the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it's also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes."

According to an article by political scientist Ronald Krebs in an upcoming issue of Political Science Quarterly, since 1971, the peace prize has been presented as just such an aspirational incentive 27 times. So the President is not alone. The head of the Nobel committee told reporters, "We do hope this can contribute a little bit to what he is trying to do."

Consider the prize encouragement, a vote of support for vision and inspiration, a recognition that after eight years of a unilateral, destabilizing imposition of American exceptionalism on the world there's an attitude adjustment working its way through our foreign policy.

Dignity is part of it. So is humility - listening to other nations instead of ordering them around with the bluster of a swaggering county sheriff.

The potential is there. Whether Barack Obama can overcome or solve the dilemmas he inherited - or the crises created on his own watch by his own hand - will be proof of whether good intentions can become reality or simply pave that infamous road to hell.

In 1961, another young president, John F. Kennedy, met with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev at a summit conference in Vienna, Austria. It was a time when Cold War tensions between the two countries were high, just weeks after the failed, US-backed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. Kennedy pointed to one of the medals on Khrushchev's lapel and asked what it was. The Lenin Peace Prize, said Khrushchev. Kennedy replied, "I hope you keep it."

Now Obama has received the Nobel Prize for Peace. The months and years ahead will determine whether he deserves to keep it.

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

Monday, October 12, 2009


Dead guys live longer.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

U.N. Secretary General Owes Peter Galbraith an Apology

On September 30th, Peter Galbraith, the highest ranking American, and deputy to U.N. ambassador, Kai Eide, was fired for disclosing Eide's efforts to understate voter fraud in the recent Afghan election. It was not the Norwegian diplomat, Eide, but U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who dismissed Galbraith.

Now, nearly two weeks later, Eide acknowledges "widespread fraud" in the election, and pervasive stuffing of ballot boxes which led to Karzai's disputed victory. Karzai discounts any instability in the election, and instead blames western forces in his country for attempting to invalidate it.

Eide claims that, as his dinner guest, Galbraith was privy to conversations that were intended to be confidential in nature, and that his divulging what amounts to criminal activity was a breach of good taste. Using the same logic, were Eide to confess to murder, at the dinner table, would Galbraith would be expected not to reveal that, too?

An even larger question, of course, is what does complicity on the part of the United Nationas, and a top U.N. official to conceal a stolen election say about the integrity of the U.N.? Has the U.N. now become a partner in the bolstering of puppet regimes?

Since his sudden termination, Peter Galbraith has refused to back down. He has not gone quietly into that night, but has chosen to "rage, rage against the dying of the light." Four U.N. staffers who reported directly to Galbraith have resigned over his treatment.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon owes Mr. Galbraith an apology as does the U.N. ambassador in Afghanistan, and Mr. Galbraith's immediate superior. It is never okay to yell fire in a crowded theatre unless there is a fire, and not to do so then becomes, effectively, arson. And, ultimately, it must never acceptable to fire a man for telling the truth.

Should he want his job back, Mr. Galbraith must be reinstated at once.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Interview with Al Qaeda

It was a warm afternoon last autumn when we finally arranged to meet at a five star hotel on the west side of Los Angeles. The infamous Santa Ana winds were blowing dry heat in the hotel lobby with such ferocity that the flag perched outside was shaking like an arthritic mermaid.

Shortly past 1 p.m., a slender, rather ebullient man appears in the revolving doorway. His head is partially covered by a hood, and he is wearing a tan seersucker suit. He is accompanied by his guide who goes only by the name Thomas. Thomas seems, at first, to be a translator, but this is not the case.

In fluent English, tinged with overtones of the south Bronx, the hooded man approaches my table. I reach for his hand.

“I’m Al,” he said, “Al Qaeda.” I signal to him to sit down. “I’m sorry to have kept you waiting.”

“Not at all,” I stammer awkwardly. “What shall I call you?

“Call me Al.” I think of "Moby Dick," and "call me Ishmael."

The punch from earlier that day starts to come up on me as I thumb through pages of questions hastily prepared for the meeting.

Thomas, the guide, senses the oncoming spirited debate, so he excuses himself to feed the meter, insisting he’s going to feed all the meters within a five mile radius. We're left alone for an intimate chat which is only interrupted by a radiant starlet server’s endless solicitations for libations.

Al orders banana Daiquiris, (I stopped counting at three), and it’s Pellegrino on the rocks for me. I pull out a tape recorder the size of a matchbook, and ask if he minds if I tape him. He swivels around anxiously in his seat—no, no tape, so I reach for the attaché case next to my seat with the yellow legal pad, and a couple of ballpoint pens in it. Startled, Al jumps up --I reassure him; no need to worry---I’m here alone, and have no intention of harming him.

He reaches in his shirt pocket for a cigarette ---“You can smoke out there,” I tell him.

We settle down for what, to him, must be an interminable talk, most of which will appear in New Street Times, but for now this excerpt:

Moi: What does the phrase “war on terror” mean to you, Al?

Al: War on terrible---terrible war, one that is going badly.

Moi: Why terribly?

Al: Lacks definition.

Moi: Tell me a bit about you. Did you go to university?

Al: Yes, I have a degree in Economics.

Moi: Got any hobbies?

Al: Speed dialing.

Moi: What is your favorite novel?

Al: “War and Peace.”

Moi: Do you have Internet access?

Al: Yes.

Moi: An e-mail address?

Al: Of course

Moi: Are you still living in a cave?

Al: Never.

Moi: Do you think the American election will affect you, or your activity?

Al: Like I said, I majored in Economics.

Moi: Do you know why, for the past eight years, many thousands of U.S. and allied forces have been looking for you?

Al: I don’t know. Maybe I owe them money.

Moi: How would you define a terrorist?

Al: Anyone who swindles you under the shield of ideology.

Moi: Would you call yourself a terrorist?

Al: I never swindled anybody What’s scary is the illusion that one can replicate myself, and become a tribe. I thought only spiders could do that. It’s rather sinister.

Moi: What is?

Al: The illusion of being a collective noun, and not an individual.

Moi: Do you think you have committed a crime?

Al: Specifically?

Moi: Have you blown up any buildings?

Al: Not lately, at least, none that I can recall.

Moi: Why would the CIA, FBI, and presidents past and present think so?

Al: I’m clueless. I’ve been farming in Helmond Province for the past eight years, and raising four children. My wife is a school teacher. My father was a country lawyer –the equivalent of your public defender.

Moi: So, you weren’t a Freedom Fighter.

Al: I’m not a soldier. I’m an accountant by trade, and a farmer.

Moi: Do you see the west as occupiers of your sovereign land?

Al: I don’t see it as my sovereign land. I only own a piece of it.

Moi: Are you fighting to defend that?

Al: I’m not fighting.

Moi: Are you prepared to take your battle to the shores of the USA now, or have you done that at any time in the past?

Al: Where would a poppy farmer and seasonal accountant get the funds for that?

Moi: Osama bin Laden?

Al: Don't know the man.

Moi: What do you think of the west’s notion of a vast Islamic conspiracy, or jihad to destroy Israel, and the Christian world?

Al: Islam has grown, and continues to grow. We presently outnumber Christians about tenfold. This isn’t a question of conspiracy, or ideology, but of changing demographics.

Moi: If you could shape the future for your grandchildren, how would it look in, say, forty years from now?

Al: There would be no nations, per se, but only continents, and planets, hence no economic imperative for domination. People would be addicted to health. The current financial carcinogens we have in place, which are outmoded, would cease to exist. There would be no free marketers, no socialists, no communists, but instead a hybrid world economy. No one would be fat; no one would go hungry.

Moi: Do you have anything to say to those who see you as a threat?

Al: If you want to see a real threat, look in the mirror.

Al stood up, took a pack of cigarettes out of his shirt pocket, and headed out to the parking lot where Thomas stood fidgeting with a roadmap.

He waved, and vanished into thin air.

(by jayne lyn stahl

Friday, October 09, 2009

From Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Courtesy of Bill Moyers Journal, and Public Affairs Television:

In Washington, The Revolving Door Is Hazardous to Your Health

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

On Tuesday, October 13, the Senate Finance Committee finally is scheduled to vote on its version of health care insurance reform. And therein lies yet another story in the endless saga of money and politics.

In most polls, the majority of Americans favor a non-profit alternative - like Medicare - that would give the private health industry some competition. So if so many of us, including President Obama himself, want that public option, how come we're not getting one?

Because the medicine that could cure our healthcare nightmare has been poisoned from Day One - fatally adulterated, thanks to the infamous, Washington revolving door. Movers and shakers rotate between government and the private sector at a speed so dizzying they forget for whom they're supposed to be working.

If you've been watching the Senate Finance Committee's markup sessions, maybe you've noticed a woman sitting behind Committee Chairman Max Baucus. Her name is Liz Fowler.

Fowler used to work for WellPoint, the largest health insurer in the country. She was its vice president of public policy. Baucus' office failed to mention this in the press release announcing her appointment as senior counsel in February 2008, even though it went on at length about her expertise in "health care policy."

Now she's working for the very committee with the most power to give her old company and the entire industry exactly what they want - higher profits - and no competition from alternative non-profit coverage that could lower costs and premiums.

A veteran of the revolving door, Fowler had a previous stint working for Senator Baucus - before her time at WellPoint. But wait, there's more. The person who was Baucus top health advisor before he brought back Liz Fowler? Her name is Michelle Easton. And why did she leave the staff of the committee? To go to work - surprise - at a firm representing the same company for which Liz Fowler worked - WellPoint.

As a lobbyist, you can't tell the players without a scorecard in the old Washington shell game. Lobbyist out, lobbyist in. It's why they always win. They've been plowing this ground for years, but with the broad legislative agenda of the Obama White House - health care, energy, financial reform, the Employee Free Choice Act and more - the soil has never been so fertile.

The health care industry alone has six lobbyists for every member of Congress and more than 500 of them are former Congressional staff members, according to the Public Accountability Initiative's LittleSis database.

Just to be certain Congress sticks with the program, the industry has been showering megabucks all over Capitol Hill. From the beginning, they wanted to make sure that whatever bill comes out of the Finance Committee puts for-profit insurance companies first - by forcing the uninsured to buy medical policies from them. Money not only talks, it writes the prescriptions.

In just the last few months, the health care industry has spent $380 million on lobbying, advertising and campaign contributions. And - don't bother holding onto your socks - a million and a half of it went to Finance Committee Chairman Baucus, the man who said he saw "a lot to like" in the two public option amendments proposed by Senators Rockefeller and Schumer, but voted no anyway.

The people in favor of a public alternative can't scrape up the millions of dollars Baucus has received from the health sector during his political career. In fact, over the last two decades, the current members of the entire finance committee have collected nearly $50 million from the health sector, a long-term investment that's now paying off like a busted slot machine.

Not that we should be surprised. A century ago, muckraking journalists reported that large corporations and other wealthy interests virtually owned the United States Senate - using bribery, fraud and sometimes blackmail to get their way. Jokes were made about "the Senator from Union Pacific" or "the Senator from Standard Oil."

One reporter in particular was out to break their grip. His name was David Graham Phillips. One day in 1906, readers of Cosmopolitan Magazine opened its March issue to discover the first of nine articles by Phillips titled, "The Treason of the Senate."

He wrote, "Treason is a strong word, but not too strong, rather too weak, to characterize the situation which the Senate is the eager, resourceful, indefatigable agent of interests as hostile to the American people as any invading army could be, and vastly more dangerous: interests that manipulate the prosperity produced by all, so that it heaps up riches for the few; interests whose growth and power can only
mean the degradation of the people, of the educated into sycophants, of the masses toward serfdom."

The public outrage provoked by Phillips and other muckrakers contributed to the ratification of the 17th amendment to the Constitution, providing for the direct popular election of senators, who until then were elected by easily bought-off state legislators.

Of course, like water seeking its own level, big money finds its way around every obstacle, and was soon up to its old tricks, filling the pockets of sympathetic and grateful politicians.

Today, none dare call it treason. So why not call it what it is - a friendly takeover of government, a leveraged buyout of democracy.

Outrageous? You bet. But don't just get mad. Get busy.

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

Research provided by producer Gail Ablow and associate producer Julia


Congratulations to Pres. Barack Obama for award of the Nobel Peace Prize! Bravo

I'm confident that what inspired the Nobel Committee to grant this award will also inspire our commander-in-chief to seek peaceful, not military resolutions to the world's crises.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Is it...

Is it "more bang for your buck," or more buck for your bang?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Too Big to Fail?

The only time one might expect to hear FDR refer to something as "too big to fail" was when he was in bed with Eleanor.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Playing Strip Poker with Tiresias

Playing Strip Poker with Tiresias

I claw my way into
the cage where he sits
a forgotten lion
waiting to
be tamed.
“What do you say,
old man-- is there
room for
one more? “
“Pass the whiskey,
and my hat.”
I do as he says,
and wait for daylight.
I have come a long
way to see

by Jayne Lyn Stahl


Saturday, October 03, 2009

Remembering Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde has a birthday coming up in about two weeks. It's true, he's a dead guy, but I think of him anyway, and now even more so in light of what Roman Polanski is going through.

I have no doubt, none whatsoever, that Oscar would be facing a similar fate now to the one he faced more than a century ago. We've come a long way? I don't think so. The mob mentality is pervasive as are the moralistas. Not that I'm comparing Mr. Wilde with Mr. Polanski---Oscar would have none of that, but he would equally abjure the duplciitous, hypcritical, mind numbing stupidity of those pompous, self-righteous philiistines who condemned him.

Some things never change--ignorance and intolerance among them.

Friday, October 02, 2009

From Michael Winship

Courtesy of Bill Moyers Journal, and Public Affairs Television:

Gelbart and Schulberg: Two Writers Depart an Ever Stranger Land

By Michael Winship

You certainly can argue that the depths to which our so-called democratic dialogue has sunk are nothing new. Politicians and advocates have been slinging mud since the earth was cool enough to hurl.

The undeniable difference today is the speed and variety of the compost being thrown. With the 24-hour instantaneous delivery systems offered by radio, TV and the Internet, people are feeling more and more compelled to say ludicrous, shameful things in public that just a short time ago they would have hesitated to say in private.

Rational pleas for ceasefires go unheeded. But this week, conservative Rick Moran, the freelance writer (and brother of ABC News' Nightline co-host Terry Moran) who runs the archly named Web site Right Wing Nuthouse, went out on a limb and urged sanity.

He wrote, "Employing reason and rationality to fight Obama and the liberals is far superior to the utter stupidity found in the baseless, exaggerated, hyperbolic and ignorant critiques of the left and Obama that is [sic] passed off as 'conservative' thought by those who haven't a clue what conservatism means...

"Exaggeration is not argument. It is emotionalism run rampant. And at its base is simple, unreasoning fear. Fear of change, fear that the powerlessness conservatives feel right now is a permanent feature of American politics, and, I am sorry to say, fear of Obama because he is a black man."

Stir into this perverse brew some of the illogical bloviation being bruited about in the chambers of the United States Congress and you have the perfect recipe for the death of rational political discourse in America.

Listen to Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada during the markup of the health care reform bill in the Senate Finance Committee this week, arguing that in comparison to other systems around the world, "If you take out accidental deaths due to car accidents, and you take out gun deaths because we like our guns in the United States and there are a lot more gun deaths in the United States - you take out those two things, you adjust those, and we are actually better in terms of survival rates." Huh?

Or Democratic Senator Max Baucus of Montana arguing that while he's in favor of a public option, he can't vote for it because it won't get the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster - in part because he won't vote for it. For corkscrew sophistry, that ranks right up there with the story of the American officer in Vietnam who said we had to destroy the village to save it.

All of which brought to mind the summer's passing of two writer friends and colleagues, each of whom had a sure grasp of mass hysteria and a prescient eye for the demagoguery and bureaucratic bunco that are running more rampant than ever.

Budd Schulberg died in August at the age of 95. We first met - briefly - in 1975 at a public television auction where he was presenting a pair of boxing gloves autographed by Muhammad Ali. Years later we would serve together on the council of the Writers Guild of America, East.

The fight game was one of Budd's great passions - his novel, The Harder They Fall, perfectly captured the underside of the boxing world, its story loosely based on that of world heavyweight champion Primo Carnero, a fighter brought down by crooked managers.

Budd made three other great contributions to American literature. First, the classic Hollywood novel What Makes Sammy Run? an account of the movie business so graphically accurate and acerbic (his father had been the head of Paramount), the studios offered to ride him out of town on a rail - the third rail, preferably. Its antihero, the appallingly ambitious and grasping Sammy Glick, became a synonym for the crassness of show business and more.

"It was America," Schulberg wrote. "All the glory and opportunity, the push and the speed, the grind of gears and the crap."

Budd relished the story that Tom Cruise wanted to make a movie version of the book - if they could just make Sammy a little nicer.

To that literary success, add the Academy Award-winning screenplay for On the Waterfront and Schulberg's script for the movie A Face in the Crowd, a stunningly prophetic look at media, the cult of personality and their impact on American society and politics.

Its main character, a talk show host named Lonesome Rhodes is a ratings smash whose folksy charm hides a ruthless, country-fried fascist with political aspirations - Sammy Glick with hayseed in his hair.

Sounding remarkably like the Limbaughs and Becks of today, he proclaims, "I'm not just an entertainer. I'm an influence, a wielder of opinion, a force... a force!"
But Schulberg himself was not without hubris. Sadly, he also will be remembered for his role as a friendly witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee during the era of the Hollywood blacklist. For a time, he had been a member of the Communist Party, and when questioned identified several other writers as members.

As journalist Victor Navasky wrote in an afterword to his book, Naming Names, a comprehensive and perceptive chronicle of those times, "The fear conspired to divide and sometimes destroy decent people of good will who for years had been colleagues and compatriots. The wounds won't heal. The issues are passed on from generation to generation."

Publicly, Budd claimed not to regret what he had done. But for what it's worth, in the decades following that awful period, I think there was an attempt at redemption. Budd endeavored to be a staunch member of our union and to share his creative gifts with others, especially through his work with minority artists at the Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center in Harlem and the Douglass House Watts Writers Workshop in Los Angeles. Was that enough? It's not for me to decide.

The other death was that of Larry Gelbart, the great comedic writer of movies, TV, and theater who died in September. He was 81, and in his will, reportedly, he asked that his tombstone read, "At last, a plot."

We first met in 1987, when I interviewed him for a book and a PBS series on the history of television. "The only way you can get any feeling out of a television set is to touch it when you're wet," he claimed, and yet in the long-running TV version of the movie M*A*S*H, co-produced with Gene Reynolds, Larry managed to combine pathos and slapstick humor, telling dark jokes against the backdrop of the Korean War - the show's thinly disguised metaphor for Vietnam.

Gelbart, too, was a union stalwart, combative right to the end, when he was outspoken about recent elections at the Writers Guild of America, West. During the 100-day writers strike that began in 2007, although he couldn't walk the picket line, he took an active role, helping with strategy and manning phones.

It was Larry who advised me that for a writer to pin his or her hopes for career satisfaction on movies or television alone was a sure way to a broken heart - that it was important to find your voice in other kinds of writing as well - books, articles, pieces like this.

For Gelbart it was the stage, with such shows as A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, City of Angels, and a brilliant piece of satire and wordplay called Mastergate.

Written in the wake of the late '80s Iran-contra hearings, Larry's take on the inanities of legislative posturing seem as likely as much of the nonsense being spouted at this week's Senate Finance Committee sessions.

Here's his fictitious chairman, Senator Bowman, announcing that, "This panel, which intends to give every appearance of being bipartisan, will be ever-mindful of the President's instructions to dig down as far as we can, no matter how high up that might take us. Let me emphaticize one thing at the outset. This is not a witch hunt. It is not a trial. We are not looking for hides to skin nor goats to scape. We're just trying to get all the facts together in one room at the same time in the hope that they'll somehow recognize one another. Our chief goal, of course, is to answer the question: 'What did the President know. And does he have any idea that he knew it?'"

In the Heavenly Kingdom or the Elysian Fields or wherever it is gifted writers go to die, Larry Gelbart and Budd Schulberg must be watching the current scene, shaking their heads in both recognition and wonder.

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, October 01, 2009

Equal Opportunity for Priests: A Final Word on Polanski

In Miami today, two men, both in their 60's, sued the archdiocese for sexual abuse they allege took place more than 40 years ago. One man says, when he was 14, he was drugged and raped by a priest when he went to church to grieve the loss of his parents.

I think it's high time the clergy get their fair share of public contempt, and cries for paying their debt to society, to which Roman Polanski is forced to listen day in, and day out, in his cell in Zurich.

What's more, it's equally offensive, and absurd, when one thinks about the way many seem to obsess on the prurient angle of Polanski story -- e.g. the fact that he allegedly had anal sex with the girl. If it had been oral sex, would that have made it better? Why doesn't the mainstream media do as good a job when it comes to covering, or uncovering, different predatory acts by rogue clergy?

Really, the church has been a sanctuary for closet sex offenders for generations not just the ones who come to confess, but those who run the confessionals. Children have been victimized for generations, and yet how often are priests sentenced to 42 days in psychiatric lock-up? How often do we hear calls for them to pay their debt to society? Do they have a debt to society, or is it that just for celebrities and we ordinary folk?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not, for a minute, suggesting that these two priests in Florida be outed, and eviscerated in the public square like Mr. Polanski. All I'm saying is they deserve equal time, and an equal opportunity for a fall from grace.

Shotgun Confessions

Okay, am I the only one who thinks the biggest enemy we face now isn't the Taliban, or Al Qaeda, but bad taste?

Just when it looks like we've heard enough about Roman Polanski's capers, and after we finally laid Michael Jackson to rest, David Letterman has to go and open his own peculiar pandora's box by revealing affairs with staffers and an attempt at extortion, both before a live audience.

We must really love reality, in this country, because we can't seem to get enough reality TV. Either that, or we have some celebrity whose water is about to break pouring his heart out about transgressions that, frankly, we could have done just fine without hearing about.

In this, what someday may be known as "too much information" age, we know which stars are wearing underwear, which senators are in bed with whom, and who's playing footsie in the stall next to us. Jeez, I liked it better back when boundary issues had to do more with foreign policy.

Call me old-fashioned, but I'd much rather hear what Dick Cheney told the FBI about Valerie Plame, as a federal judge ordered today, than about rogue sex acts committed by overzealous celebrities.

What's more, if there are to be any redactions, they should apply to gratuitous salacious details of sexcapades not egregious violations of law committed by elected officials!

And, in the end, as the song goes--you don't need a Letterman to know which way the wind blows.

What happens?

What happens when you cross a reptile with a quayle? A Republican!


Americans are such moralists--maybe that's why we're so immoral.