Saturday, February 27, 2010


How can you tell an optimist from a pessimist? An optimist thinks it can always be worse.

Friday, February 26, 2010

By Michael Winship

"Two Legal Foes Unite to Fight -- for Same-Sex Marriage"

By Michael Winship

Watching this week's "health summit" in Washington, with both sides barely repressing the urge to turn the Blair House event into the Potomac version of mixed martial arts cage fighting, was discouraging.

To get a little peace and quiet I was tempted to switch to ESPN and search for an hour of the world's greatest soccer riots. At least they make better theater. And there are better-defined goals.

But just when you think that liberals and conservatives will never see eye to eye on anything in this country, there comes an alliance that transcends partisan and ideological lines and takes your breath away. The two powerhouse lawyers who fought each other all the way to the Supreme Court to decide whether Al Gore or George W. Bush would become President are at it again, but this time they're fighting on the same side to defend marriage equality - same-sex marriage - as a constitutional right.

Former Bush Solicitor General Ted Olson and liberal attorney David Boies are in the middle of a case that, win or lose, they expect will wind up at the Supreme Court, just like Bush v. Gore. The former adversaries are united in support of core American values - diversity, equality and tolerance. They've become key players in one of the most important civil rights trials of the last decade, a pivotal legal action that could change contemporary society, but which has escaped the
attention of much of the country.

In May 2008, California joined Massachusetts to become the second state in the union to sanction gay marriage. But opponents launched a movement and succeeded in getting on the ballot a voter initiative to overturn that decision - Proposition 8 While the rest of the nation focused on the presidential race between Barack Obama and John McCain, millions of dollars poured into California for or against
Proposition 8. In fact, after Obama/McCain, it was the year's second most expensive political campaign.

On Election Day, Proposition 8 passed by a 52-48 margin. Voters rejected same-sex marriage and ordered the state constitution amended to define marriage as the union between one man and one woman. In 2009, the California Supreme Court upheld the amendment's constitutionality. But David Boies and Ted Olson filed a legal challenge in Federal court on behalf of two same-sex couples - two men, two women - each of whom had been denied the right to marry.

The trial began in January at the Federal district courthouse in San Francisco. No video of the proceedings was released to the public, but you actually can see reenactments created by two ingenious Los Angeles filmmakers who used transcripts, other reporting and a cast of professional actors to recreate each day's statements and testimony. Go to their Web site at

My colleague Bill Moyers spoke with David Boies and Ted Olson on the current edition of public television's Bill Moyers Journal. He asked them why they had united in the Proposition 8 case. Boies said, "One of the things we have in common on this issue is respect for the rule of law, respect for civil rights, respect for the Constitution... It's not a Republican or Democratic issue. Conservatives and liberals alike want to keep the government out of our personal conduct - want to keep the government out of the bedroom."

"We're not advocating any recognition of a new right," Ted Olson said. "The right to marry is in the Constitution. The Supreme Court has recognized that over and over again. We're talking about whether two individuals should be treated equally under the equal rights protection clause of the Constitution - the same thing the Supreme Court did in 1967, [when it] recognized the constitutional rights of people ofdifferent races to marry."

Boies added, "There are certain rights that are so fundamental that the Constitution guarantees them to every citizen regardless of what a temporary majority may or may not vote for... If you didn't tell the majority of the voters they were wrong sometimes under the Constitution, you wouldn't need a Constitution. The whole point of the Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment is to say, 'This is a democracy. But it's also a democracy in which we protect minority rights...' What
the Constitution says is that every citizen gets equal protection of the law. It doesn't just say heterosexuals."

Asked by Moyers about criticism that a loss could set the marriage equality cause back for years, Ted Olson replied that a legal challenge of Proposition 8 was unavoidable: "We felt that if a challenge was to be brought, it should be brought with a well-financed capable effort by people who knew what they were doing in the courts. Secondly, when people said, 'Maybe you should be waiting, maybe you should wait until there's more popular support,' our answer to that was, 'Well, when
is that going to happen? How long do you want to wait? How long do you want people to be deprived of their constitutional rights in California?'

"... People told Martin Luther King, 'You may lose.' He said, the battles for civil rights are won ultimately by people fighting for civil rights."

Testimony in the Federal case has been completed but the trial goes on. Final arguments will take place in the coming weeks. Then the judge will make his ruling, perhaps sometime this spring. Whichever side loses will no doubt appeal.

Of the four plaintiffs - Paul Katami and Jeff Zarillo, Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier - Ted Olson said, "They put a real face on discrimination...If the American people would just listen to what the plaintiffs and the other experts said in this case, they will understand so much more the damage that's done to people... Your relationship doesn't count, and you don't count - you know, that is demeaning. And if the American people see that, they'll see the difference."

David Boies noted, "You could not listen to these people and not be moved by their stories. You could not listen to these people and not be moved by their love for each other, by their desire to be married. By the harm, the pain that they were being caused by not being able to do what we take for granted, which is to marry the person we love."

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 Peter Meryash.

A Refuge for Cowards: Senate Extends Patriot Act

Bill Maher recently told Larry King that the Senate is where "legislation goes to die." Well, not this time.

Wednesday night, after all the cameras were gone and the Senate was filled just with senators, a voice vote was taken sans debate and a resolution passed that extends provisions of the USA Patriot Act, which were scheduled to sunset on Sunday, for another year.

The Democrats who are said to have worked hard to neutralize this legislation that had a built-in sunset clause did little more than wring their hands.

Republicans, so adept at lip synching that same old song about national security, were quick to point to Ft. Hood, and the bungled bombing of an airline on Christmas Day as the rationale behind the Patriot Act. But, what these strident proponents of homeland security neglected to mention is that both the Ft. Hood incident and the aborted bombing of a Southwest Airlines jet happened after the Patriot Act had been in full play for nearly a decade. Go figure.

The House Judiciary Committee passed a measure intended to protect against abuse of library records by the FBI, as well as restrict the use of National Security Letters,governmental demand letters for information. The House bill was also meant to challenge carte blanche surveillance of someone designated as a "lone wolf."

But, thanks to Senate Democrats' temporary state of paralysis, there will no doubt be more warrantless police searches of a suspect's home after their arrest as happened in San Diego, U.S. v. Lemus, a case that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit refused to hear last week with another prominent George W. Bush-era figure, Jay Bybee, sitting on the bench. Bybee, you'll recall, was one of the masterminds of the 2002 "torture memos."

Does anyone know why legislation mired in controversy wasn't subject to full debate in the Senate? Why were the Senate Republicans allowed to bully Democrats into submission? Maybe Democrats don't want to look weak on national security right before a major midterm election. But, in the end, are they more interested in facades than facts?

Here are some facts. According to the Associated Press, those parts of the Patriot Act given a reprieve for another year "Authorize court-approved roving wiretaps that permit surveillance on multiple phones, Allow court-appointed seizure of records and property in anti-terrorism operations, and permit surveillance against a so-called 'lone wolf,' a non-U.S. citizen engaged in terrorism who may not be part of a recognized terrorist group."

Boiled down to the lowest common denominator, all three provisions amount to neutering the Fourth Amendment, as well as eradicating the legal presumption of innocence.

But, facts aren't always convenient. Just ask Mr. Cheney. After all, it is he trying to convince us that the U.S. is no safer today, under President Obama, than it was before 9/11, despite the Patriot Act, so why then should the law that was conceived, and launched on Cheney's watch continue to see the light of day?

Yet, after a historic televised debate on the need to overhaul national health care and in the quiet of the night, a gang of fear-mongerers were allowed to shout down, by voice vote, changes that would have provided a modicum of insulation against FBI, and law enforcement excesses making one thing crystal clear: Congress is now a refuge for cowards.

With any luck, the three important parts of the Patriot Act just extended will meet their maker next February, but not unless Democrats draw a line in the sand. There can be no national security where there is erosion of constitutional protections

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Anybody Remember Alan Bates?

I just happened to be musing about hairy chests, with an old friend, when I remembered seeing the movie "Georgy Girl," as a young girl, which starred Alan Bates. This was one of Bates's less memorable roles in a luminous acting career which included "Gosford Park," "Women in Love," "Hamlet," and "Nijinsky," but it was quite a game changer for me.

You may recall "Georgy Girl" contains a few scenes with a shirtless, hirsute Alan Bates who was quite dashing. I always had a real hankering for hairy chests, even as a fifteen year old whose favorite pastimes were reading "Story of O,"and her parents' marriage manuals. I was just discovering the first rumblings of what could later only be called full blown lust.

After developing an immense crush on Bates, I dashed off a note to him in care of his agent saying only: "I like your hairy chest. The next time you come to New York, why don't we have dinner." I also managed to squeeze in the fact that I was only fifteen.

A few months later, I got a note back on his agent's stationery. It was hilarious, and said something like "Mr. Bates was very flattered by your letter, and your kind offer to have dinner with him the next time he's in New York, but he could get arrested for going out with you." The person who wrote, and/or typed it must have been laughing her socks off.

I couldn't help but think then, as I do now, what a gracious, generous, and classy thing it was to even respond, and what a sense of humor! It says a lot about Alan Bates, the man.

Amazingly, Bates would have turned 76 on Feb. 17th. He passed away two months before his 70th birthday. Rest in peace, Alan Bates, and know that your hairy chest has found a permanent home in my memory.

Monday, February 22, 2010


Liquor is distilled; corruption perfected.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Rating System for Apologies?

Tiger Woods managed to take center stage today. He even made the stock market blink.

Yes, the all too public apologia of this professional golfer was even able to upstage the Justice Department's seismic announcement that it's going to let former Justice Department lawyers and architects of the "torture memos," Jay Bybee and John Yoo, walk away from criminal indictment.

Moreover, the longest mea culpa in recent memory also deflected media attention away from alleged nuclear proliferation in Iran, the ravages of an earthquake in Haiti, and the upcoming presidential announcement on health care reform.

Frankly, anyone able to watch more than four minutes of the live footage deserves my vote about as much as any other Roman at the Colisseum, but where are the Christians? Oh, that's right, they're busy loading their guns, and preparing for rifle practice, I mean, midterm elections.

Arguably, the only thing more absurd than Woods's completely unnecessary mass media act of self-flagellation may have been watching cable news pundits rate his apology.

One couldn't help but imagine what might have happened if the judges, and juries who presided over infamous Salem Bay witch trials had a rating system for confessions of a bunch of confused women who merely wanted to say whatever they had to, so they could go home to their families. It might not have been necessary to burn witches at the stake, after all. Instead, the witches would simply self-immolate in a flash of mortification that might almost make us all believe they really did die for our sins.

Bill Moyers and Michael Winship on American Justice

What Are We Bid for American Justice?

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

That famous definition of a cynic as someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing has come to define this present moment of American politics.

No wonder people have lost faith in politicians, parties and in our leadership. The power of money drives cynicism deep into the heart of every level of government. Everything - and everyone - comes with a price tag attached: from a seat at the table in the White House to a seat in Congress to the fate of health care reform, our environment and efforts to restrain Wall Street's greed and prevent another financial catastrophe.

Our government is not broken; it's been bought out from under us, and on the right and the left and smack across the vast middle more and more Americans doubt representative democracy can survive the corruption of money.

Last month, the Supreme Court carried cynicism to new heights with its decision in the Citizens United case. Spun from a legal dispute over the airing on a pay-per-view channel of a right-wing documentary attacking Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential primaries, the decision could have been made very narrowly. Instead, the conservative majority of five judges issued a sweeping opinion that greatly expands corporate power over our politics.

Never mind that in at least two separate polls an overwhelming majority of Americans from both political parties say they want no part of the Court's decision; they want even more limits on the power of money in elections. But candidates and their campaign consultants are gearing up to exploit the Court's gift in the fall elections.

Just this week, that indispensable journalistic Web site Talking Points Memo reported that K&L Gates, an influential Washington lobbying firm, is alerting corporate clients on how to use trade associations like the Chamber of Commerce as pass-throughs to dump unlimited amounts of cash directly into elections. They can advocate or oppose a candidate right up to Election Day, while keeping a low profile to prevent "public scrutiny" and bad press coverage. And media outlets already are lickingtheir chops at the prospect of all that extra money to be spent buying
airtime - as much as an additional $300 million dollars. That's not even counting production and post-production costs of campaign ads, which are considerable. A bad situation just got worse.

If you want to know just how much worse, look to the decision's potential impact on our court system, where integrity, independence and fair play count the most when it comes to preserving faith in our system. It's as susceptible to the lure of corporate wealth as the executive and legislative branches are.

Ninety-eight percent of all the lawsuits in this country take place in the state courts. In 39 states, judges have to run for election - that's more than 80 percent of the state judges in America.

The Citizens United decision makes those judges who are elected even more susceptible to the corrupting influence of cash, for many of their decisions in civil cases directly affect corporate America, and a significant amount of the money judges raise for their campaigns comes from lobbyists and lawyers.

In the words of Charles W. Hall, a spokesman for the non-partisan, judicial watchdog group Justice at Stake, "Corporate bottom lines are not affected by whether a bank robber gets 10 or 20 years in prison. The bottom lines are affected however by whether a large scale lawsuit is upheld or overturned."

During the 1990s, candidates for high court judgeships in states around the country and the parties that supported them raised $85 million dollars for their campaigns. Since the year 2000, the numbers have more than doubled to over $200 million.

The nine justices currently serving on the Texas Supreme Court have raised nearly $12 million in campaign contributions. The race for a seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court last year was the most expensive judicial race in the country, with more than $4.5 million spent by the Democrats and Republicans. Now, with the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, corporate money's muscle just got a big hypodermic full of

As Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in his 90-page Citizens United dissent, "At a time when concerns about the conduct of judicial elections have reached a fever pitch... the Court today unleashes the floodgates of corporate and union general treasury spending in these races."

States that elect their judges, he said, "after today, may no longer have the ability to place modest limits on corporate electioneering even if they believe such limits to be critical to maintaining the integrity of their judicial systems."

No wonder that legal experts, including former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (the only living current or former Supreme Court member to have been an elected state court judge), have called for states with judicial elections to switch to a system of merit selection.

Judges would be appointed but possibly subject to "retention elections" in which voters can simply vote thumbs up or down as to whether jurists are qualified to remain on the bench.

Until such changes are made, the temptations of corporate cash mean that in those states where judicial elections still prevail there hangs a crooked sign on every courthouse reading, "Justice for Sale."

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

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities -- Take 2

It's only about an hour drive, on a good day, from Braintree to Cambridge, Massachusetts, but they are worlds apart. And, it's not so much a question of geography, but of race.

In late July,2009, you'll recall, a distinguished professor of African-American studies at one of the oldest, and best universities in America, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., was arrested, and detained by Cambridge police for several hours after they were called to investigate what looked like a home robbery in an affluent residential part of the city. Before leaving campus, Dr. Gates apparently lost his house keys, something that happens to most of us at one time or another, and only aroused suspicion when he tried to force his way into his own house. A neighbor spotted him, and called police.

The Harvard professor was arrested, once inside and after producing irrefutable proof of identity including his driver's license, and Harvard I.D. card, according to The arresting officer booked Gates for disorderly conduct after "exhibiting loud and tumultous behavior" which allegedly involved screaming and name-calling.

Now fast rewind to 1986, and have a look at the treatment another professor, Amy Bishop, received at the hands of Braintree police who showed up at her family residence after as a youngster she shot, and killed her brother. According to the AP, there were no ballistics tests done after the shooting, and more than a week elapsed before authorities even questioned members of Bishop's family about the murder.

The death of Amy Bishop's 18 year old brother, Seth, was ruled accidental, the case was closed, and the police file mysteriously vanished into thin air. It is only in the wake of this University of Alabama biology professor's recent killing spree, that claimed the lives of three of her colleagues, that anyone has called for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding her brother's death.

What's more, not only did Bishop put a bullet in her brother's chest, she then went to a local car dealership, pointed the shotgun at employees, and demanded a getaway car for which she was caught, but never charged.

When they were finally questioned by police about the shooting, the Bishop family backed their daughter up when she said she was only trying to learn how to load a shotgun. Mission accomplished. The families of three of her colleagues will attest to that.

What we learn from the incidents in Braintree and Cambridge is that prosecution is selective.

Braintree's current district attorney now says that even if the shooting had been accidental, there was probable cause to arrest Bishop in 1986, and charge her with assault with a dangerous weapon, carrying a dangerous weapon, and possession of a firearm. Why was the case summarily dropped, and the file lost?

And, a larger question is -- how far have we come, really, when a Harvard professor, who happens to be black, loses his keys and is arrested in his own house, after producing documentation proving that he is the home owner, is held for several hours, and only released when it is discovered that not only is he a distinguished professor and scholar, but a friend of a sitting president? Think about the fact that Professor Gates's arrest, and detention, comes nearly a quarter of a century after a young woman shoots and kills her brother, under suspicious circumstances, then terrorizes a car dealership, for which she is neither charged nor investigated.

Who would think, even for an instant, that had Henry Louis Gates, Jr. been a white man trying to gain access to his home in a quiet, residential part of Cambridge that he would have been humiliated by being booked, and having to serve several hours at his local police station?

Those who talk about racial profiling are right, but there is another factor at play here which is that not only race, but socioeconomic status played a role in the instant vindication of a young woman who clearly grew up to think that she could get away with anything, and she would have had it not been for her university's refusal to grant her tenure.

The sooner the criminal justice system faces up to the egregious, and grossly unfair arrest and conviction rates of people of color as compared with their white middle class counterparts, the better.

What happened that day in the picket fence house of a suburb 75 miles outside of Boston is no more representative of that town than the arrest of a Harvard professor on charges of house burglary represents life in Cambridge. This is not about geography, but preconceptions on the part of law enforcement, and the courts. Such prejudice needs to be scrupulouslyexamined, and quickly overcome.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Columbus ...

"Christopher Columbus, as everyone knows, is honored by posterity because he was the last to discover America."

~ James Joyce (1882-1941)

special thanks to Philip Proctor for the quote

Friday, February 12, 2010

By Michael Winship

From the Annals of Sno-Cone Science

By Michael Winship

There's a vintage Bob and Ray radio sketch in which Bob plays "Mr. Science," a parody of TV's "Mr. Wizard." He's trying to explain to his young protégé Sandy "the miracle of gas refrigeration."

"Doesn't it seem paradoxical to you that a refrigerator is made cold by a flame?" Mr. Science asks.

Sandy exclaims, "Holy cats! Wait 'til I tell the gang at school that! I thought it was made cold by the ice cubes, Mr. Science!"

Sandy's slippery grasp of physics and Mr. Science's increasingly convoluted explanations characterize the debate over climate change that was taking place in Washington and the media this week. As the capital and much of the Eastern seaboard were digging themselves out from two big snow events, climate change deniers were pointing to the frozen tundra on the Potomac as evidence that global warming is a fraud.

Virginia's Republican Party used the blizzards to put out a snarky ad attacking two of the state's Democratic congressmen who voted for the cap-and-trade bill last year: "Tell them how much global warming you get this weekend," the spot chortled. "Maybe they'll come help you shovel."

Right-wing Senator Jim DeMint sent out a Twitter tweet: "It's going to keep snowing until Al Gore cries 'Uncle!'" And the daughter and grandkids of Republican Senator James Inhofe built a six-foot igloo on Capitol Hill with signs announcing "Al Gore's New Home" and "Honk if you [heart] Global Warming." Once again, the GOP mines comedy gold.

Granted, debating global warming while stuck in a snowdrift can seem a little counterintuitive, especially if you tend to willfully deny scientific evidence and prefer to limit your knowledge of the cold to such things as sticking your tongue on the schoolyard flagpole and enjoying the occasional Sno-Cone. And scientists didn't do themselves any favors when the phrase "global warming" was coined. Compared to "climate change," it's much too easy to misinterpret, intentionally or not. (As some have suggested, "global weirding" might be more accurate and helpful.)

In truth, and to get way too basic, warmer air holds more moisture and when temperatures get colder it falls from the sky as a lot of snow. Not to mention that short term weather phenomena, like blizzards, don't necessarily reflect overall climate trends which are measured over decades and more.

And by the way, as the progressive Web site Media Matters reports, if we can momentarily shift our East Coast-centric eyes from our own icy weather, note that they're having trouble getting enough snow at the Olympics in Vancouver and Rio de Janeiro is wilting from its worst heat wave in half a century.

One big fact that convinces me of the reality of climate change is the seriousness with which America's defense and intelligence agencies are taking it as a worldwide threat. The American Security Project, a Washington think tank, reported last month that the Central Intelligence Agency has relaunched a program "to share surveillance and other data with scientists monitoring climate change," including satellite photos. And in September, the CIA announced it was creating a Center on Climate Change and National Security that will study "the effect environmental factors can have on political, economic, and social stability overseas."

The Chief of Naval Operations has established "Task Force Climate Change" to "assess the Navy's preparedness to respond to emerging requirements, and to develop a science-based timeline for future Navy actions regarding climate change." Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has set the year 2020 as a deadline for the Navy cutting its use of fossil fuels by half.

On February 1, the Pentagon issued its Quadrennial Defense Review, which establishes defense strategy and priorities and evaluates potential international risks. It cites intelligence assessments that "climate change could have significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to poverty, environmental degradation and the further weakening of fragile governments. Climate change will contribute to food and water scarcity, will increase the spread of disease and may spur or exacerbate mass migration.

"While climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world."

Among its other findings, the review cites a 2008 National Intelligence Council report that more than 30 U.S. military installations were "already facing elevated levels of risk from rising sea levels. DoD's operational readiness hinges on continued access to land, air, and sea training and test space. Consequently, the department must complete a comprehensive assessment of all installations to assess the potential impacts of climate change on its missions and adapt as required."

Consider yourself warned and, one hopes, suitably chastened. As Sandy tells Mr. Science, "I'm never going to throw an ice cube from a moving car again. Boy, Smokey the Bear's got enough trouble as it is!"


Michael Winship is senior writer for Bill Moyers Journal on PBS. Check local listings for time

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Rain

When the rain comes
they hide their heads.
They are not
always sure
it will

(c) Jayne Lyn Stahl

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

In Another Life

At some
point in
another life
we will
meet and
we will
as if

© Jayne Lyn Stahl

Monday, February 08, 2010

How Much Is Too Much Information?

Okay, here we go again, another politician has been sacrificed at the altar of public opinion.

And, on a day when Jenny Sanford, wife of Appalachian Mountain Trail's very own South Carolina governor, Mark Sanford, appeared on "Larry King Live" to detail the detumescence of her marriage, and bolster her book sales came word that the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor of Illinois dropped out of the race on Superbowl Sunday after scandal broke about his alleged altercation, and abuse of a former girlfriend.

Evidently, extramarital, and domestic transgressions are a bipartisan affair.

Democrat Scott Lee Cohen, an Illinois businessman, lost his bid for his first elected post as word broke that he was arrested five years ago for allegedly shoving then-girlfriend, Amanda Eneman, into a wall, and threatening her with a knife. He was charged with domestic abuse, and a trial date was set to which his girlfriend was a no show, so charges were dropped. Repeat, charges were dropped.

This is by no means meant to minimize domestic violence, but only to point out that it was the Illinois Democratic Party, terrified by the idea of losing the midterm election, that pulled the plug on Cohen's campaign which is less than a week in the making. This rapid political demise was hastened by head honchos in the Illinois Democratic Party who are in a hurry to "find a strong replacement."

But, whose background is so lily white, to borrow a phrase, that it won't falter when subjected to intense, and intensifying scrutiny?

One has only to look at the parade of politicos who have been rolled over the coals over the past few years, a list that includes former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, aforementioned South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, and a mounting campaign to unseat current New York governor Paterson. Whatever happened to "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone?"

In this age of instant information, the larger question is -- how much information is too much? It was lying before a Grand Jury about an extramarital dalliance in the White House that caused the last impeachment of a U.S. president, Bill Clinton, but lying to Congress about weapons of mass destruction didn't prevent another president, George W. Bush, from a dignified retirement.

There's nothing wrong with information, per se, but why would anybody care to know the name Rielle Hunter, or to see photographs of a former presidential candidate's love child? Does it make us feel better to witness a moral lynching?

To add insult to injury, Cohen's ex-girlfriend, a woman once charged with prostitution, actually had the chutzpah to issue a statement through her attorney in which she said that the Illinois nominee for lieutenant general "isn't fit to hold any public office." Is Ms. Eneman any more fit to judge his worthiness for public office?

More importantly, how did this country allow a tabloid mentality to metastasize such that we can no longer distinguish those who seek, or hold political office from the lotharios of dimestore novels?
If things continue at this rate, we will have begun our descent into demonocracy.

Bottom line: when boundaries between what is private and what isn't dissolve, there can be no serious discussion about free speech.

What Democrats are inaugurating now is nothing less than campaign pre-emption. A concept which was previously applied to the battlefield by the Bush administration, pre-emptive strikes, is now being applied to the campaign trail.

Forcing candidates to step down is the political equivalent of hysterical pregnancy. Fear of losing is all too often what is most responsible for lack of success.

L'esprit de l'amour

When I was a young girl, a high school student in my late teens, I would take the Trailways bus to Woodstock, New York, and there I met the most enchanting fellow. His name was David, and he was a student at the Art Student's League. We met through a friend of mine, Sandy, who had a huge crush on him.

I don't think David and I exchanged more than a dozen words once in front of Sandy's cottage, and another time when we ran into each other on Tinker Street in town. A very bizarre thing happened, something that has not happened often since. I couldn't get him out of my mind.

On the ride home to Queens, David's face would appear in a mass of clouds out the window, and his long blonde hair, and slender body would emerge in my dreams. My homeroom periods were spent immersed in desire.

After a few weeks, I called the Art Student's League and asked to speak to him. As it happens, David was there, and he came to the phone.

"David, this is Jayne, do you remember me?"

He laughed, and said "Yes, yes, of course."

"I want to come and live with you," I announced. There was about a 30 second delay, and he then said;

"When are you coming? I'll pick you up at the station."

So, I packed my little overnight bag, and left a poem on the pillow, "Telegram," telling my parents that I was off on another adventure, and entreating them not to "take it personally" if I need to escape from time to time.

David and I spent weeks together. We didn't talk. We didn't have to. We made love inside, outside, morning, noon, and night. When we awoke, he knew if I wanted coffee, and vice versa. We were like Adam and Eve in the garden before language, before corruption.

Summer wore on, and I had to go back to school, so I sadly left David who I was to see one more time, the following year, in Woodstock. He looked at me, smiled, and said "I could pick up where we left off, right here, right now, as though time doesn't exist." And indeed it doesn't--not then, and not now.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Michael Winship on lobbyists

Lobbyists Retreat but Never Surrender

By Michael Winship

George Washington's birthday is approaching and with it will come the attendant mythology, hatchet and cherry tree, wooden teeth, throwing a silver dollar across the Potomac River - or the Rappahannock.

Of course, as the old joke goes, a dollar went a lot further then. Today, if you tried to hurl a silver dollar across the Potomac, chances are some member of Congress would snatch it in flight like oneof those nature film grizzly bears grabbing a salmon in mid-leap.

And the more likely person doing the throwing would be a lobbyist, tossing coins in the air to keep the playful legislator's attention. The other day, the non-partisan Center for ResponsivePolitics reported that more than 15,600 companies spent at least $3.2 billion on federal lobbying last year. Five hundred thirty-five members of the House and Senate, more than 13,000 registered lobbyists in DC -
you do the math.

This week, White House Special Counsel Norm Eisen blogged about President Obama's plans to further crack down on lobbyists by updating the Lobbying Disclosure Act and getting Congress to mandate "low-dollar limits on the contributions lobbyists may bundle or make to candidates for federal office," bundling being that insidious practice by which you raise a lot of money by hitting up a number of people for contributions and "bundling" their donations together.

Good luck with that, Norm. As we've seen, lobbyists are brilliantly devious at figuring out ways into the inner sanctums, and whoever's behind the door tends to welcome them with open arms, as long as they've arrived with the secret password - "Cash."

Example: last weekend, both Democratic and Republican members of Congress held retreats, ostensibly to go away some place and sagely contemplate their navels, discussing issues and plotting strategy. Guess who else was there?

The House Republican Caucus chose to stay near Washington at the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel, all the easier for lobbyists to make a quick sprint up Interstate 95 and pitch woo. Among those addressing the Caucus were President Obama - you've seen the video of his give-and-take with them last Friday - and the ubiquitous former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, the GOP equivalent of a rash that won't go away.

The meeting was organized by the Congressional Institute, which describes itself as "a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to helping Members of Congress better serve their constituents and helping their constituents better understand the operations of the national legislature." It holds seminars for legislators and their staffs, publishes a handbook on floor procedure and sponsors the annual Congressional Art Competition.

The reality, as the Center for Media and Democracy's SourceWatch Web site reports, is that the Congressional Institute is "funded by corporate contributions and run by top Republican lobbyists." Twelve of its 14 board members are registered lobbyists, including its chair, Daniel Meyer of The Duberstein Group, a lobby firm founded by former Reagan chief of staff Ken Duberstein; vice chair Barbara Morris-Lent,
who has been a consultant to Verizon and is the wife of former Republican Congressman Norman Lent; and its secretary Gary Andres, a columnist for Rupert Murdoch's right-wing Weekly Standard and vice president of public policy and research for the lobby company Dutko Worldwide. Many of them are former Republican congressional staff members; two of them worked for ex-Speaker Gingrich.

A list of the Congressional Institute's financial contributors reads like a Who's Who of corporate America: among them have been General Motors, Lockheed Martin, Time Warner, UPS, Merck and tobacco giant Altria.

Lee Fang, a researcher for the progressive Center for American Progress Action Fund, paid a visit on the Republicans at their Baltimore hotel. In the time before Congressional Institute representatives told him to scram or face arrest, he found out quite a lot.

The aforementioned Dan Meyer was on his way to the retreat - his Duberstein clients include Goldman Sachs, BP, HealthNet and AHIP, the health insurance industry trade group that fought tooth and nail against the public option in the health care fight.

Also in attendance, according to Fang, was Institute board member Michael Johnson. A lobbyist at the OB-C Group, Johnson "touts himself as a 'Republican heavyweight' whose firm represents the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, JPMorgan Chase, and the health insurance giant WellPoint." And as he was pointed to the exit, Fang spotted John Sampson, chief lobbyist for Microsoft.

Meanwhile, Democrats chose to bask in sunnier climes, and some select lobbyists decided to grab their towels and Jamba Juice and enjoy the balmy weather with them.

A dozen senators headlined the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's winter retreat at a Ritz Carlton resort in Miami Beach, a cozy little hideaway with 375 guest rooms, "sumptuous" marble baths, spa and a $2 million dollar art collection.

The senators included DSCC chair Robert Menendez, Carl Levin, Frank Lautenberg, Claire McCaskill and Bernie Sanders. Riding in the wake of their surf were 108 lobbyists - special guests who shared meals, receptions and "informal conversations" with the legislators.

According to the Web site, among those attending were "top lobbying officials for many of the industries Democrats regularly attack: Represented were the American Bankers Association, the tobacco company Altria, the oil company Marathon, several drug manufacturers, the defense contractor Lockheed, and most of the large independent lobbying firms."

The price of admittance wasn't released but the maxiumun contribution to the DSCC for similar events is $30,000 a head. Interesting when compared to recent remarks by Senator Menendez. Politico's Ben Smith quoted a January 27 Menendez press release: "In the upcoming elections, voters will face a choice between Republicans who are standing with Wall Street fat cats, bankers and insurance companies - or Democrats who are working hard to clean up the mess we inherited by putting the people's interests ahead of the special interests"

Hearing all this makes me think we should stage a national intervention and ship the entire 111th Congress off to a different kind of retreat, a sort of political rehab facility. They would be kept isolated from lobbyists and special interests for as many weeks as it takes for them to be weaned from money and pork and made to pay attention to the needs of their constituents - and the nation.

There would be lectures, motivational speakers, readings from the Federalist Papers, and daily screenings of "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." And emblazoned across its entryway would be a denunciation of money and politics, Thomas Jefferson's 1816 battle cry to "crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country."

I know it's just a fantasy, but I feel better already.

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 03, 2010

Question of the Day

Now that the Supreme Court has granted First Amendment rights to corporations, will they soon be able to marry?

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

James Joyce

James Joyce would be 128 years old today. Joyce, as you know, was the author of "Ulysses," which is widely considered the greatest novel in the English language.

A little known fact about JJ. He was fascinated by the movie business, and was a big fan of Charlie Chaplin. And, in his last years, he even tried his hand at writing a screenplay.

Given the latest announcement that "Avatar" has been nominated as best picture, if he could talk today, Mr. Joyce might say: "I'm glad I didn't live long enough to write for Hollywood."

Monday, February 01, 2010


If you have to check the mileage, you can't handle the vehicle.

Special Needs Students in Higher Education

An issue that isn't being discussed as much as it should be, especially at the community college level, is what happens with students who were identified as "special ed" in public school, and now find themselves in the college system? I'm speaking specifically of those students who are considered SED, or Severely Emotionally Disturbed?

Many developmental, i.e., remedial reading and writing classes at the junior college level have a number of students who were in special education classes in public school. Often, there's no clue except when the students hand the instructor a progress report, often at the end of the semester. Understandably, student privacy is paramount, and they should not be coerced to identify themselves to an educator as special needs, and thus be subject to preconceived, and biased notions of what those needs are.

But, to place a teacher, whose background is in literature and grammar, and who has never taken a class in Psychology, in a classroom with SED students, is to invite a potential disaster at worst, or to deprive the student of the sensitivity to his needs he has come to expect.

Who's being protected by this policy of secrecy about student's needs---the student? teacher? or the school district? Clearly, mandating teacher preparation in special education, at the university level, would not be cost-effective, but what is the alternative? At best, an unfulfilling, and frustrating experience for the student, class, and teacher, and at worst, potentially jeopardizing school safety.

Yes, of course, these students have as much a right to go to college as any other student has, but is it in their best interest to be taught by instructors who have no background, and no clue, about their circumstances? Moreover, don't educators have rights, too?

An inordinately high percentage of crimes on campus are committed by students in the so-called developmental classes, but what percentage of crimes on campus are committed by students who were identified as "severely emotionally disturbed" in public schools? Further, if a violent act is committed by a student on an educator, isn't the school district liable for not informing the teacher that he was at risk?

This is an issue that needs to be addressed before something tragic happens again. Students who are at risk put everyone else at risk, and they need to be taught by those who have the appropriate training. Bottom line: if we have special education classes in public school, then we must have a cognate system for the colleges, or there will be many more Virginia Techs

At a time when the U.S. has beefed up its defense budget, and is performing active interventions in the domestic affairs of foreign countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen under the rubric of "national security," the funds allocated to education pale by comparison. The 2011 federal budget provides for ten times as much for the Pentagon than for the Department of Education.

There can be no greater threat to our national security than underprepared educators, and underfunded schools