Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Environmental Activist Faces Jail time for Hanging Banners

When Tony Hayward, British Petroleum president, recently met with Congress, he obdurately refused to accept blame for the mess in the gulf of Mexico. The largest contractor in the area, and his colleagues, will likely face civil penalties for the April 20 catastrophe, but no criminal prosecution.

By way of contrast, Ted Glick, policy director for Chesapeake Climate Action Network, will be sentenced in a D.C. district court on Tuesday for having hung two banners "Green Jobs Now" and "Get to Work," inside the Senate Hart Office Building in September, 2009. What is it CCAN wants Congress to get to work on? Climate change, something presumed to be top priority for this administration.

Still, law enforcement cuffed Glick, took him into custody, and he was convicted in May of "unlawful conduct," and "disorderly conduct." This is his third conviction for acts of civil disobedience. Penalties increase for repeat misdemeanors, but it is the U.S. Attorney, in D.C., who is reported to be working sedulously to make an "example" of the green activist who will likely face months, and as much as three years behind bars for nothing more than hanging two banners urging environmental action from inside a Senate building.

The larger question, of course, is what is it the U.S. Attorney's office wants to make an example of? Everything is upside down when, as Mother Jones reports, a human rights group keeping track of CIA excesses like torture is now themselves the subject of an investigation by Attorney-General Holder's appointee, Patrick Fitzgerald.

The U.S. Attorney's office might want to make an "example" of BP, and their ads that fraudulently claim they are environmentally-friendly.

Okay, so, Tony Hayward wasn't caught holding a sign saying "Get to work" in the Senate, but if he had it would have been considered laudable not actionable.

More to the point, isn't Mr. Glick's behavior covered by free speech, or is the First Amendment only applied to protect corporations now?

Few will dispute that the prohibition of unlawful conduct is a good thing, but the ones who should face prosecution aren't, and instead those who have abdicated responsiblity for their actions are. From the outset, Mr. Glick has embraced accountability. His actions are based on his principles not on his profit margins. The same is not the case with BP, and others who circumvent the law with impunity. No executive, or policy director from BP will face jail time.

On Tuesday, July 6, District Judge Frederick Weisberg will be sentencing Ted Glick in a Washington, D.C. courtroom. Surely Judge Weisberg may be prevailed upon to acknowledge that without civil disobedience he would have no job, and indeed we would have no country. Surely Judge Weisberg may be entreated to apply common sense, and support the framers respect for dissent.

Ted Glick hung two banners, last year, from inside a Senate building on the day senators returned to work after summer recess. What an egregious statement about our criminal justice system, and our legal process, if he were to find himself behind bars when Congress returns from summer recess this year.

Monday, June 28, 2010

From Michael Winship

In Summer's Heat, Washington Seeks Refuge in the Loophole

By Michael Winship

I spent part of last week in Washington, DC, and the heat already was so oppressive I recalled the old story that during the summer the British Foreign Service used to classify the capital as a hardship post, allowing embassy employees to go about their official business clad in pith helmets and shorts.

In pre-air conditioning days, the federal government simply shut down so civil servants could escape to some shade and swoon in the sanctuary of a cold drink. But now the bureaucracy grinds on regardless of the temperature, and even as Congress works its way toward summer recess, its members remain active, or at least maintain the appearance of activity, especially with midterm elections just a little more than four months away.

Believe it or not, there actually is some positive, necessary, progressive law being debated and voted upon, but historically, members cannot resist sticking in a finger to stir, then water down the outcome. In the legislative equivalent of Saint Augustine's prayer, "O Lord, help me to be pure, but not yet," even in the early summer heat, the loophole remains more tempting than the swimming hole.

Last Wednesday, the House passed, by a vote of 219-206, the DISCLOSE Act. (In the acronym-sappy world of Capitol Hill, that stands for "Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections.") It's the first congressional effort aimed at beating back the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, the one that unleashed virtually unlimited amounts of corporate and special interest campaign
cash. As The New York Times reported, "The bill would ban spending on political campaigns by corporations that have $10 million or more in government contracts as well as by American corporations that are controlled by foreign citizens." It also includes "a prohibition of corporations and other interest groups in coordinating spending with candidates or political parties, and a mandate that chief executives appear in any advertisement paid for by their companies."

All well and good. But here's the loophole: to get the bill passed, Speaker Pelosi and Democratic leadership allowed exceptions for certain tax-exempt and powerful interest groups, including the Sierra Club and primarily, ladies and gentlemen, the National Rifle Association. "Even on the face of it, this is perverse," Dennis Henigan of the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence declared. "The DISCLOSE Act purports to create transparency as a way to attack the influence of special interest
money in politics, yet it ensures secrecy for groups in a position to dump the most money into political campaigns."

This is just the latest loophole engineered out of fear of the NRA's blunt but effective political clout. As the Brady Campaign points out, credit card reform only got enacted when the NRA was allowed to squeeze in the amendment allowing loaded guns in national parks. And the Senate approved a measure that finally allows the District of Columbia to have a voting representative in Congress, but only after an amendment was included that eviscerates DC gun laws.

Then there's Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. Fresh off her runoff victory against state lieutenant governor Bill Halter, and running behind her Republican opponent for the November election, Senator Lincoln decided to provide an influential constituent the gift that keeps on giving: a loophole.

The freshly minted financial reform deal, riddled with concessions, includes a provision that grandfathers banks with less than $15 billion of assets from having to follow new, tougher standards for what constitutes capital, an important measure of a bank's strength and a protection against possible losses from risky investments.

Originally, the exemption was proposed for banks with less than ten billion in assets. Senator Lincoln got it raised to protect a very special friend back home. As reported by Dow-Jones Newswires, without the protection of the grandfather clause, Arvest Bank Group of Bentonville, Arkansas, "could have been forced to raise about $115 million more for its capital cushion."

Arvest is the biggest bank in Arkansas and the only one that holds between ten and fifteen billion dollars of assets. Arvest is predominantly owned by the most powerful family in the state, the Waltons. You know - the owners of Wal-Mart Stores, the second largest corporation in America and since 2005, Blanche Lincoln's second largest campaign contributor - $52,750, according to the non-partisan Center for
Responsive Politics. (Separately, Arvest has contributed another $12,700.)

You do the math.

Yes, compromise is essential to the democratic process and yes, it's almost impossible to get anything passed in Congress without it. But as Washington melts into the miserable, hazy days of summer, seeing our lawmakers stand up more defiantly for the people and not wilt against these special interests would be a change as refreshing as a plunge into a cool, cool stream.

Michael Winship is senior writer at Public Affairs Television.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

before our eyes

We stopped and listened for
peace but
couldn't hear it
We stopped and looked for
beauty but
couldn't see it
We waited for
the children
they grew old
before our
We walked for
miles and
still we
couldn't find
a thing
We drove through
valleys and
on long and
pleased us.
We went out
searching in
the dark for
a strawberry moon..
There was none
as if we merged
with a force larger and
more lethal than
we sensed, so
we dropped a bag of
sand and
proceeded down
that long
country road.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Symphony

A symphony

is a

place where


stands still


waits for


(c) Jayne Lyn Stahl

all rights reserved

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

McChrystal: A Shield?

What better way to insulate the White House, the Defense Department, and the State Department from the glare of media scrutiny than by publication of a scathing interview with the leading general in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal?

Clearly, General McChrystal crossed the line which should come as a surprise to no one, but has he become a shield, or protective agent, for new revelations about war in Afghanistan? It is not the first time the general has done so. It is also crucial to highlight the untenable effront to the commander-in-chief these remarks suggest, but it is equally important to take note of other news that has come from Afghanistan in the past three days alone, news that should take center stage.

In the last three days alone, two major reports have surfaced. First, CBS News announced on Friday the awarding of $120 million contract by the State Department to a subsidiary of Blackwater, now XE, to "provide security services" in Afghanistan, so hundreds of contractors who were forced out of Iraq in recent months have now been conveniently relocated to greener pastures in Afghanistan.

Then, late Monday night, comes word from the BBC, that a congressional subcommittee report finds, after several months of investigation, that "tens of millions of dollars" are being paid to Afghan forces only to end up in the pockets of Taliban warlords. The US taxpayer money is being paid to the warlords, in effect, to provide protection for military contractors working in Afghanistan.

The congressional investigation asserts that members of local government, and police are being bribed along with the Taliban to ensure convoys safe passage. As the BBC article contends, too, "One of the security companies in question is alleged to be owned by two cousins of the Afghan President Hamid Karzai."

So, when the media focus moves from nonstop coverage of the oil spill in the gulf of Mexico to calls for General McChrystal to step down, news of nearly $200 million more of taxpayer money being funneled into Afghanistan, over the coming months, for "protective security services," as well as the millions of US government money being paid to the Taliban to protect private security firms in Afghanistan will be essentially lost in the shuffle.

Not lost, however, is the biblical corruption, and visible sense of outrage by inhabitants of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, as well as the world community that can only agree now with the wisdom of another general, Smedley D. Butler, from the 1930's, who said, quite astutely, that "war is a racket." The only progress made in the past seventy years is that the press has become even more adept at cooperating with the Pentagon is covering its tracks.

Willingly or otherwise, the media have again become enablers of war.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Father's Day

Father's Day is a day to celebrate men, the men in our lives past, present, and future, and those who are responsible not just for bringing us into the world, but for helping to make us who we are today.

The fellow in the top hat next to the seated girl is my father, David Darwin Stahl, with his sister Sylvia. He was about three, and she was six.

You who read this must also be thankful to have had a father you love, and know that, whatever the world throws your way, you will walk with your head a little higher thanks to him.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Real Shakedown

To say that the American consumer stood by helplessly for the past few years while Chevron, Exxon-Mobil, and big oil made record, gargantuan profits is almost a cliche, but it's true, and that fact makes Texas congressman Joe Barton's apology to British Petroleum even more egregious.

After all, it is big banks, big business, and big bailouts that has been the catalyst for rising, ambiguous, but nevertheless obdurate discontent which has tried to coalesce into a coherent party, the "Tea Party," with an identifiable platform. Not surprising, then, that ultra conservatives like Dick Armey and John Boehner managed to extrapolate a faux apology for his apology from Barton.

If it seems like everything is upside down these days that may be because it is. The congressman from Texas should instead be apologizing for the gluttony of corporations and their ongoing shakedown of the American family, especially in light of a study released Wednesday, the 2009 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress prepared for Congress by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The discovery of $1 trillion of mineral resources in Afghanistan was stunning enough to make the front page of last week's New York Times despite the fact that the United States Geological Society has been issuing reports dating back thirty years attesting to Afghanistan's mineral wealth. Yet, the shocking findings from HUD have been eclipsed by coverage of the gulf disaster. Yes, pelicans are not the only one endangered by corporate misadventures, the American family is, too.

Take a look at some of these findings from McClatchy: nearly 200,000 families were driven by foreclosure, and job loss into homeless shelters last year alone, a rise of approximately 30% since 2007. While the number of homeless individuals fell, the number of homeless families has increased two years in a row.

Another recent study also indicates that in the period from 2007 to 2008 the number of families who move in with others, or double up, has increased by nearly 10%, and that those so-called doubled-up families ultimately end up homeless.

The president's plan to put $20 billion of BP funds in escrow for victims of the oil leak in the gulf of Mexico is intended to keep these families from being driven into homeless shelters by this catastrophe. This is not just about a rescue plan for victims of a grossly deregulated, mismanaged, and unsupervised oil company. This gesture on the part of the White House reflects a way of seeing the world that suggests government intervene on behalf of the disenfranchised, and not to divest them of their resources even further, a worldview not shared by Rep. Barton and his conservative counterparts in Congress.

The release of these startling statistics comes on the eve of the announcement of the Obama administration's proposal to create a national plan to address the crisis of the rising number of homeless families. Given his remarks about BP, House Republican, the Representative from Texas, Joe Barton, will undoubtedly regard any monies allocated to deal with homelessness as a "slush fund" for the indigent.

Is this where the "family values" folks, those who brought us Newt Gingrich and the "Contract with America," back in 1994, have taken us? Remember, too, that Gingrich wasn't the only one on the steering committee the last time the neo-conservative faction of the Republican Party prevailed. Dick Armey and John Boehner were hands-on editors of legislation that cut cash welfare, espousing personal responsibility for individuals, and laissez-faire, free market deregulation for corporations. The retraction doesn't remove the apology any more than the worldview can be hidden by a change of suit. The driver may be different, but power steering comes with the vehicle.

And, Joe Barton is no stranger to power steering. He was first elected to the House from Texas in 1984. Barton has a special interest in corporations like British Petroleum. In 2004, a year that found an estimated 12% of Americans living below the federal poverty line, Barton was chosen to chair the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

His Web site proudly announces that Rep. Barton is a vigorous proponent of deregulation, and says he is responsible for the first electricity deregulation bill to pass a House subcommittee. It also touts his commitment to promoting what he himself calls a "convervative agenda" which earned him the distinction of being hailed by the National Journal as one of the "Republicans to Watch" back in 2003.

Indeed, events of the past week have shown that Joe Barton is just that -- a Republican to watch, a Newt Gingrich Republican, one who is more concerned about cleansing the airwaves of indecency than of cleansing the Gulf of Mexico of the corporate corruption that caused this crisis in the first place.

At a time when a record number of Americans, nearly 40 million, receive food stamps, as Reuters projects, when twice as many have been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer than just a year ago, when we have a record number of working poor, people who earn marginally more than their weekly unemployment benefit amount, it boggles the mind that anyone, but an unabashed apologist for special interests, would even dare to publicly support a company that has fast become emblematic of laying waste to nature in the interest of turning a profit.

It boggles the mind when the shakedown of the American worker has never been greater with a grossly disproportionate amount of wealth deposited in the laps of the upper one percent of the population that asking a corporation to take responsibility for the damages it has incurred on working men and women would be condemned by any member of Congress.

If there is any good news to come out of what may be the greatest man-made calamity to impact nature, and wildlife, of our times it is the naked truth that the GOP, and their partners in crime the oil companies, want to put working people in this country on an austerity program while they pay themselves, and their chief executives millions to accomplish little more than photo ops, and evasive testimony to Congress.

Joe Barton was around for the last midterm Republican revolution, and he may single handedly have defeated the next one.

"Miley, We Hardly Knew Ye" by Michael Winship

"Miley, We Hardly Knew Ye"

By Michael Winship

Amidst all the news of petrochemical malfeasance in the Gulf -and thank you Rep. Joe Barton, pride of Texas, for your apology to BP, demonstrating everything that's wrong with a Congress jammed too snugly in the pocket of big business - I watched teen sensation Miley Cyrus on David Letterman Thursday night.

Oh my. Listening to her, I thought, there is no there there. And that made me sad.

When Gertrude Stein wrote, "There is no there there," she was referring to the loss of her childhood home in Oakland, California. At 17, Ms. Cyrus already seems to have lost her entire childhood, careening into her majority like a runaway bus with a bomb on board.

Not that she isn't a smart, savvy young woman with talent. But of course, she's more than that - she's a Disney-manufactured phenomenon, with hit records, movies, the Hannah Montana TV series and sold out concert tours, a role model to millions of adoring girls who buy up all the Miley-related merchandise they can get their hands on.

"You represent popular culture," Letterman told her and he was right, with all the good and bad that implies. Then he asked, jokingly, "Are you looking for the warmth the spotlight can't provide?" Ms. Cyrus said, firmly, "No."

Maybe she should send out a search party. Scrape off the increasingly heavy makeup and toss aside her pounds of bling and all that seems to be left is a chilly hollowness, a jaded, world weary, adult-sounding nonchalance signifying nothing; an attitude far too mature in one so young. Unfortunately, it's one that's assumed and emulated by a lot of other teenage kids: too cool for school and pretty much everything else.

Call it the curse of the child star, one that goes back at least as far as Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, if not farther. A few years ago, I was on a set in Hollywood, where a TV special I had written was being shot. A number of child actors had been cast in it. One of them, who had been involved in both a successful TV series and a hit movie, was having her childhood slowly drummed out of her by a stage mother who spent most of the day working the phones to find more and more work for the kid. Each morning, when the child arrived on the soundstage, the mother made her walk around and make a show of kissing me, the producer, and the director.

It was creepy. She was still a smart, sweet kid, but you could see that everything natural was being taken away from her as adults sought to make the most of her ability while she was still young.

Recently, a friend was telling me about the misbehavior of a popular movie actor on a film my friend had written. The actor had hit it too big, too young; like Cyrus, he was a star at 17 and it had ruined him as a human being.

When I was 17, David Letterman said, I had a paper route. I know what he means. When I was 17, I was working in my father's drugstore in upstate New York, marking merchandise with a grease pencil and running out for coffee.

But that summer, I was given the extraordinary opportunity to go to school in England, studying literature and drama. It was a grown-up setting, for sure, and it changed my life but nevertheless, no one tried to stop me being a kid. Adults kept their eye on us in a caring, non-mercenary way. Even when I developed a serious crush on a red-haired girl in my classes over there, the feeling was reciprocated but we were chaperoned most of the time. Besides, unlike kids today, we were clueless when it came to matters of the heart and libido.

Not that all is lost. This week, I attended the 8th grade graduation of my girlfriend's niece Lexi in Philadelphia. The ceremony was in a church, the girls were in white dresses, the boys in school blazers, ties and khakis. Each endeavored to be as grown up as possible but they were still caught up in jokes and wisecracks, still relishing sweet memories of science fairs, May Day dances and the school production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Seventeen is a few years away, thank goodness.

But Miley Cyrus, well, as columnist Maggie Lamond Stone wrote, "I almost wish I were your mother for a day or two, so I could tell you the one thing that you don't seem to understand: growing up is a process. It is not an event. I'm glad you're seventeen and finding yourself and trying to make it as an adult in the music business, but why do you need to do it overnight? The headline yesterday was 'Miley
Cyrus: I'm Not Trying To Be Slutty! ' That was not an easy conversation with my daughter, I don't mind saying."

Youth is wasted on the young, they say. Ms. Cyrus certainly seems to be wasting hers, but she's in no way entirely to blame. Shame on the grown-ups who have exploited her. Shame on the media's manipulation of a role model's obvious problems.

And shame on those of us who have enjoyed her music, then reveled in the gossip of her growing pains.

Michael Winship is senior writer at Public Affairs Television.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

106 years ago

In less than five hours, it will be 106 years since the first Bloomsday which was, of course, on June 16, 1904, a day that celebrated Leopold Bloom's odyssey through the streets of Dublin.

June 16th was also a special day for Jim Joyce and his Nora Barnacle, whether she remembered or not, and for the rest of us as "Ulysses" bears witness for the prosecution of modernity.

Indulge me in a bit of iconography. Iconograph or iconoclast, this age belongs to Dedalus in his Sunday finest, and Molly whose Bloom ever on his lips remains.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Late Bloomers

Wednesday, June 16th, will mark the 106th anniversary of Bloomsday, the day that James Joyce first met his lifelong partner, and future wife, Nora Barnacle, and the day on which all the action of "Ulysses" took place.

Every year for nearly ten, since I completed the draft of "Shakespeare & Company" the story of Sylvia Beach's struggle to stand up to censors and be the first to publish Joyce's great "Ulysses," I promised myself and the indomitable JJ spirit, his story would soon come to the screen. Taking a deep breath here; well, it hasn't happened yet.

Leopold Bloom was a late bloomer, too, as was Joyce himself, so in that spirit, here are some memorable JJ quotes which will, one hopes, whet your appetite to discover the Dublin between your own ears.

From James Joyce:

"When I die Dublin will be written in my heart."

"A man's errors are his portals of discovery."

"History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to escape."

"Come forth, Lazarus! And he came fifth and lost the job."

"I fear those big words, Stephen said, which make us so unhappy."

"Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past."

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

And, one last one from Bloom himself:

"A nation is the same people living in the same place."

Friday, June 11, 2010

"The Supreme Court Says NO..." Michael Winship

The Supreme Court Says NO to the People - Again

By Michael Winship

At a dinner party, an ever-so-proper aristocrat who had been at the British evacuation of Dunkirk 60 years ago, remained tightlipped despite intense questioning from the other guests about what he had seen there.

Finally, he shuddered at the memory and exclaimed, "The noise, my dear, and the people!"

An apocryphal story, perhaps, but the high-falutin' Supreme Court of the United States has the same attitude toward America - this would be such a great country if it wasn't for all the noise and people.

Bad enough that last week the court narrowly redefined Miranda rights in such a way that seems to say that if one of those aforementioned people is arrested and remains silent about their right to remain silent, anything you do say, if you say something, can and will be held against you. An interpretation as worthy of Lewis Carroll as it is George Orwell.

But of course such reasoning is not surprising from a court that ruled earlier this year that corporations are people, too - really BIG people - whether you're a major banking entity bilking the little guy for billions or a petrochemical giant obscenely filling the Gulf of Mexico with crude, like Rabelais' Gargantua, relieving himself from the towers of Notre Dame and drowning the city of Paris.

The Supreme Court's infamous Citizens United ruling cited free speech as its reason, giving corporate America the right to pour unlimited money into political and issues campaigns, lavishing cash on whichever candidates run fastest to do their bidding. This week, the Supremes went even further, proving once again that when it comes to American politics and government, money talks, and it does so with the biggest, loudest megaphone dollars can buy.

On Tuesday, the court issued an unsigned, emergency order halting an essential part of Arizona's model campaign finance system. It grants matching funds to candidates who accept public financing limits but find themselves running against wealthy candidates whose pockets are so deep, money is no object.

As The New York Times reported, the stay "will probably remain in effect through both the primary in August and the general election in November. The court instructed the candidates challenging the matching fund law to file a prompt appeal. If the court agrees to hear the case, as is likely, it is unlikely to be argued and decided before the November election." By then, of course, the damage will be done.

In the long run, the ruling could have an impact on similar finance campaign laws in other states, including Connecticut and Maine, but it immediately impacts 133 candidates running for state office in Arizona, including incumbent Governor Jan Brewer, whose recent signing of the state's notorious illegal immigration bill has made her the favorite for the GOP gubernatorial nomination.

But she is a publicly funded candidate who was due to receive more than $2.1 million under the current Arizona system. Without the matching funds, according to the state's Clean Elections Institute, "That amount will drop by 66 percent to $707,447." One of her opponents, businessman Buz Mills, already has spent $2.3 million, much of it his own money. Not surprisingly, he hailed the Supreme Court's order as "a tremendous victory for Arizona taxpayers and the First Amendment."

The New York Times quoted Richard Hasen, a professor at Los Angeles' Loyola Law School: "The developments in Arizona show just what a tough litigation environment it is right now for those in the lower courts seeking to defend reasonable campaign finance regulations. Without matching funds provisions, public financing programs are unlikely to attract substantial participation from serious candidates, who fear being vastly outmatched by self-financed opponents or major independent spending campaigns."

The ruling came down the same day that California voters rejected Proposition 15, which would have experimented with a publicly financed campaign system similar to Arizona's - starting with the next two elections for California's secretary of state.

Ironically, that defeat and the Supreme Court's action in Arizona occurred on a primary election day that saw Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina emerge victorious as California's Republican Party candidates for governor and senator respectively. Each of them spent millions and millions of their own money to win. Whitman says she's ready to spend $150 million of her eBay fortune to defeat Democratic candidate Jerry Brown. No matter who comes out on top, that kind of cash will generate a lot of smoke. Ordinary people may once again be outshouted by monied interests that wield their financial power like an authoritarian, plutocratic cudgel.

We need a constitutional amendment rejecting the anti-democratic course this Supreme Court has chosen. An amendment that establishes an equitable, public campaign financing system that levels the playing field for anyone who wants to run for office, no matter what their income or bankrolling connections. And we need it now.

Michael Winship is senior writer at Public Affairs Television.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Remembering Artie

"Shoot for the moon--if you miss, you'll end up in the stars."

Artie Shaw

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Gordon Gekko for Governor of California?

All the buzz about the primary results in California, and across the country, tonight are about how this may yet be the "year of the woman," but one thing comes across loud and clear from California, this is certainly the year of the corporations. As of June 8, the Republican nominee for Senate is Carly Fiorina whose name is synonymous with Hewlett Packard. And, in the governor's corner is Meg Whitman, Madame E-Bay.

Consider the irony in a state that is home to the highest foreclosure rate in the country, that has taken twice the amount of government bailout money as Michigan and New York, two of the three states in the top rungs of economic sewage, yes, and in a year which has witnessed a populist revolt against big business, the Republican Party is delivering two candidates, one for governor and the other for the Senate, both of whom are synonymous with big business.

Until 2008, Meg Whitman was the president and chief executive officer of E-Bay, and her Republican Party counterpart in the Senate, Carly Fiorina, was the CEO of Hewlett Packard. And, if the endorsement from Sarah Palin alone isn't enough to make shivers run up and down your spine, think about this. Wasn't it perfect timing for the Supreme Court to conveniently grant corporations the right to free speech just in time for a state governorship to go on the auction block?

The world of TV punditry has roundly proclaimed former California governor, Jerry Brown, to be a fighter. Well, the Democrats better come out swinging in the state that has an official unemployment rate creeping up to almost 14%, that has the highest gasoline prices in the country. What amount of television advertising would make people crazy enough to place not one, but two multizillionaires at the helm? Whitman would make Schwarzenegger look like a socialist by the time she's done, too.

Wouldn't you think California would have had enough of terminators? After watching all the Tea Party rallies over the past year, one would think people would be sick and tired of Enron, AIG, Chevron, Bank of America and, dare I say it, the E-Bay mentality? But, in keeping with the sado-masochistic dimension ever present in our foreign policy, maybe not.

How much more out of touch with the man, and woman, on the street is a Whitman or a Fiorina? Does the man in the street's opinion matter especially in a state where, increasingly, the man in the street is fast becoming the man on the street? And, in the end, how much will that vote cost? Picturing Whitman running a serious campaign as a populist is like watching an episode of "Survivor" filmed at the Waldorf Astoria.

State Democrats need to show that voting for Meg Whitman only proves Wall Street is now bicoastal, and that if Gordon Gekko could, he would run for governor of California. It's not just about corruption; it's about corruptibility.

Survivor TV is one thing; survivor politics another

Monday, June 07, 2010

From Walt...

"For my enemy is dead
a man as divine as myself is dead."

Walt Whitman

From Michael Winship

A Guide through Israel’s No-One Land

By Michael Winship

“Where is the balance between wisdom and force?”

I’ve thought of that question several times over the last few days, as accusations and counteraccusations fly over Israel’s May 31 fatal commando operation against the flotilla of humanitarian aid ships attempting to break the blockade of Gaza. Nine civilians were killed, including a 19-year-old American citizen of Turkish descent.

On Monday, four others died, Palestinian divers shot by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) off the Gaza coast. Israel says the divers were preparing a terrorist attack; the commander of Palestine’s al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade says it was just a training exercise.

That oh-so-relevant question of wisdom and force is posed in one of a series of essays written by Henry Ralph Carse, a theologian and scholar living in Jerusalem during the Palestinian uprising known as the Second Intifada. They’ve just been published by Ziggurat Books in a collection titled No-One Land: Israel/Palestine 2000-2002 (e-mail: A copy was waiting on my doorstep when I got home from the Memorial Day weekend, just as news broke of the Israeli raid on the aid ships.

“Nothing adds up,” he writes in the preface. “There is a deep flaw here, a wound in human nature through which the fear and killing flow unstaunched. This should not happen, not for the sake of liberty or security or revenge or guilt or sovereignty. The whole thing is wrong.”

The words are as true today. “A decade has passed since the opening throes of the Second Intifada brought ‘the situation’ to fever pitch,” Carse continues. “But it has been a decade of awakening for no one. We have been sobered by what we learned, but this is ‘newsworthy’ to no one… No one is wiser, no one is free.”

Henry Carse is from Vermont and we have known each other for many years. A graduate of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, the University of Kent at Canterbury in the UK and The General Theological Seminary here in Manhattan, he has lived in the Middle East for four decades, drawn there at the age of 18. “With my guitar and long hair and idealism, I was running away from many shadows, the least subtle of which was called Vietnam,” he recalls. “Israel was the place I chose. I found it more interesting than Canada, so here is where I ended up.”

Henry married and divorced in Israel, had four children, became an Israeli citizen and was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces, as were his kids. When I visited him and my friend Anne almost exactly six years ago, he was teaching at St. George’s College, an Anglican-Episcopalian school for continuing education in East Jerusalem in the West Bank.

An experienced and knowledgeable guide, he took me around the still magnificent Old City and to the Palestinian town of Abu Dis to see the 28-foot-high Israeli security wall, covered in Hebrew, Arabic and English graffiti: “Wall = War,” “Yes to love, no to wall.”

We gave a Palestinian hitchhiker a ride to an Israeli checkpoint; he was trying to get to his mother in the hospital. We traveled to the ancient desert fortress Masada and floated in the viscous waters of the Dead Sea. And through it all, Henry expressed a deep love for this place often tinged with despair and a sense of futility, just as it flows through No-One Land.

“I believe, even now, that the nonviolent option is the only way for Israel and Palestine,” he writes. “Whatever the caliber of my weapon, if I am shooting the ‘other,’ I am forced to deny that the ‘other’ is like myself. I can only kill from a desperate position, a position, a position behind a veil, from which I cannot afford to see the human beauty and uniqueness I am destroying. This is true whether I am detonating a powerful explosive from 100 meters away to rip through a busload of children, or launching the missile that shatters the body of the doctor on his way to care for a neighbor. The rock in the hand and the high-velocity projectile in the gunbarrel are unalike in strategic weight, but they are identical in the fear and desperation, the bluster and the numbness they represent. It’s all bad magic, bad medicine, and it is turning us to stone.”

And yet despite the violent, mad intransigence of both sides present and past, Henry remains hopeful that “the political aspects of this ugly struggle will be resolved, and that two nations will dwell side by side.” Hopeful enough that a few years ago he founded Kids4Peace, a program that brings Israeli, Palestinian and American children of the three Abrahamic faiths to summer camps in the United States and Canada, places where they can talk and play and learn to be friends.

That may be the only hope, to catch potential antagonists when they’re young and pray they learn to outgrow the bitterness and revenge.

“What is the balance between wisdom and force?” Henry Carse asks. “… As our power to be compassionate falters, the Occupation and its consequences continue killing us all. Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, have swallowed enough evil tidings to destroy the souls of both nations, and still neither has the courage to loosen the deadly grip. Silenced by dishonesty, we send more kids with guns to spread the rule of state terror and the rule of partisan terror – all for nothing but to defend the Occupation – or to destroy it. Then, silenced by grief, we bury the dead. If another more honest witness does not step in, the lines of battle will soon pass through every classroom and bedroom in this land. Someone must redraw the border between sanity and cruelty; already we have forgotten where that boundary once stood.”

Real peace, Henry writes, “can only be realized between two very real enemies who are ready to compromise. We need Israeli peacemakers, and we need Palestinian peacemakers, too. Where are they?”

Another good question.

Michael Winship is senior writer at Public Affairs Television.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Standing Water

As a youngster growing up in a mostly white, middle-class suburb of New York, I felt the contemptible urge to conform. Girls my age all starved themselves to look like Twiggy. Everybody watched "Ed Sullivan," and ate Mallomars. To fit in, one had to wear garish red nailpolish, and keep one's nails so long they should have been registered as weapons.

I admit, I was a weird kid. After taking a bath, from time to time, I'd wrap myself in an exotic, warm towel and sit on the toilet seat staring at standing water that didn't quite make it all the way down the drain. This is what it must mean to be normal, I thought, to be in a permanent state of intellectual stasis neither in the tub nor down the drain.

Often, too, when I took the local train from Greenwich Village back to Main Street, Flushing, I'd ask a passenger if they'd heard of surrealism. One man told me he had, and he was convinced a shot of penicillin would cure it. Get me out of here, I thought, out of a place where seeing the world differently was seen as a socially transmittable disease.

Those of us who can remember the sixties are glad we don't have to relive them, or do we?

A frightening residual effect of the so-called new normal is this phenomenon of "neighborhood watch," neighbor keeping track of neighbor. There's even a sign on the street where I now live advising people to call police if they see anything "unusual or out of the ordinary."

My neighbor perfectly exempifies the so-called new normal when she talks about going through the newspaper to make bids on homes that were taken over by banks in foreclosure. Someone else's loss is her gain. I can recall, too, my neighbors in Manhattan telling me that they checked the obituaries to find vacancies for family members.Yes, I know, this is what is known as the lowest common denominator.

As a country, we are pregnant with the lowest common denominator. We've become so adept at social homicide that we no longer have to use bullets, just the default position of conform or perish. We now view adaptability as virtue, and the desire to radically transform oneself and the world as insanity. Nobody would cut Galileo any more slack today than back in his times.

Have we, as a society, become so agoraphobic that there is no longer room for the Andy Warhols, Salvador Dalis, and Dantes of the future? How can we factor someone like Don Quixote into this equation?

By striving for the middle rung, we may have eliminated unrealistic highs and lows, but we've essentially condemned civilization to a pool of standing water that is neither replenishing itself nor destroying itself, but has instead slowly, and noxiously, shown itself to be as devoid of imagination as it is of purpose.

Striving for normalcy, by definition, can only engender and prolong mediocrity

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Question of the Day

"He who despairs of the human condition is a coward, but he who has hope for it is a fool."

Albert Camus

Whose Allen Is this?

For Allen Ginsberg whose "books were published in heaven"

Whose Allen is this?
this is your Allen
my Allen
this is Walt Whitman’s
Peter Orlovsky’s
Allen operatic pizza boy
Allen chimney sweep
cat getting fucked in
a dumpster Allen
Allen of the New York Times
too big for
This is Garcia
Allen Allen of
rosaries and robin
hoods acid
Allen of street
urchins who beg for
change in
a foreign
this Allen
boarded the bus
before the rest of
us Allen who gifts even
merchant marines with
last minute fellatio
and is with us still through
Gaza inferno
parades and
the drone of war
this is Allen
who now dares
eternity to
give it a rest.

© Jayne Lyn Stahl

"Sueno" for Garcia Lorca

June 5 is the birthday of Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca for whom I wrote the below poem....


For Garcia Lorca

Sleep is for women
and children
sleep is for butchers too in
blind alleys
those who strip you
on your balcony
their eyes
like knives
you cannot see.
Sleep is for those
who ship you
off to foreign
while you wait in
the moonlight for
their return.
sleep is for thunder
and poets who
dream of
storms and
return again.

(en espagnol)


para García Lorca

Sueño es para las mujeres
y los niños
sueño es para carniceros también
en callejones de ciego
aquellos que le tira
en su balcón
sus ojos
como cuchillos
no se puede ver.
Sueño es para aquellos
que le envío
descuento para extranjeros
mientras espera en
la luz de la Luna para
su regreso.
sueño es para trueno
y poetas que
sueño de
tormentas y
volver de nuevo.

(c) Jayne Lyn Stahl

Friday, June 04, 2010

In Defense of Helen Thomas

Earlier today, I came across a You Tube video that was posted here on Facebook. The fellow who posted it is a blogger, and he made the point that Thomas should not be allowed to practice journalism because of a two minute clip that was evidently taken from a much longer interview that seemed to indicate Thomas's belief that the Palestinians are the rightful inhabitants of Israel, and that Israel should "go back to Germany."

Both the subject line, and the general tone of the post was inflammatory, and hysterical. The blogger cried out against Helen Thomas's "bias" at the same time he posted a video from a site claiming to be "" Is there not bias there?

Further, there was the suggestion Helen Thomas favors deporting Jews back io Germany with the attendant innuendo of extermination as if that's all the Germans should be remembered for is gas chambers. Apart from the obvious anachronism, it struck me as egregiously unfair, so I posted a comment suggesting that the blogger consider:

1) Helen Thomas will turn 90 years old in exactly two months from today
2) Ms. Thomas is of Lebanese descent.
3) She was among John F. Kennedy's most beloved reporters, and is a widely respected journalist who has been in the newspaper business for 60 years.

I got a nasty comment in response, so I responded by saying only that the blogger who posted this inflammatory video clip ought to consider going after prominent columnists like Robert Fisk, and others who have consistently sided with Palestinians and suggested Israel was an occupying force with no right to the land. It never occurred to this blogger that maybe, just maybe, Ms. Thomas is still not over the Israeli bombing of Beirut, a town which may have a family history to her.

This was a short video, and not a written article in a newspaper. I merely suggested the blogger go after those who call themselves journalists and make their opinions known in print, and who are widely publsihed and widely regarded instead of an older woman who can't, or won't fight back.

So, let me be perfectly clear. There are some who will seize upon this crisis to create hostility among people who they should count their friends. There are some who will intentionally clip others' words, as if they were clipping coupons, thereby devaluing both the context and the substance. There are some who aren't happy unless they impose their own miserable mindset on the rest of the world.

Things are not black and white. I have no investment in Israel, Palestine, or Hamas. My only investment is in truth and justice, and it is flat out unfair, false, and unjust to call out a 90 year old female writer for saying things that many others have been saying for months with impunity both in the American alternative press, and the European one.

I'm old enough to remember when Vanessa Redgrave was blacklisted for her statement the night of the Academy Awards. I thought it was wrong for her to be met with such universal condemnation then, and I think it's wrong now. People should, and must be allowed to express their opinions---off the time clock---whether they're housewives, Hollywood actors, and mainstream reporters.

Guess I'm naive enough to think we have a First Amendment, and sometimes it might even work.

Those who insist on seeing the world only in black and white will soon be color blind.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Miranda Who?

Thanks to this week's Supreme Court ruling, you now have the right to ask for the right to remain silent when placed under arrest.

In another of the Court's notorious narrowly-split decisions, law enforcement can interrogate a suspect aggressively without informing him of his Miranda right to remain silent.

Think of this as a kind of fast food justice. If you want cutlery when buying a cheeseburger at MacDonald's, you'd better ask the clerk behind the counter to give it to you. This ruling uses the same logic. If you want to take advantage of your right to remain silent, the Supreme Court has now ruled that it is incumbent on you, the citizen, to say "I want to remain silent," thereby defusing any further police questioning.

This means less restraint for the arresting officer, and suspects who are more mindful of what Miranda entails. It also means that the writers of shows like "Law and Order" are going to have to change one of their most familiar tag lines: "You have the right to remain silent. Anything that you say can, and will be used against you in a court of law."

But, lest one think this is the only change to Miranda the Supremes launched this week, here's another one. The Miranda right to speak with counsel now comes with an expiration date. A suspect now has the right to counsel within 14 days of his arrest.

Justice Sotomayor, President Obama's recent appointment to the Court, is right when she suggests that these rulings, according to The Washington Post, designed to protect against police overreach, have turned our rights "upside down."

What delicious irony to think that a suspect must break their silence to inform police that he wants to remain silent.

When Justice Kennedy defends what can only be called a sophomoric argument by saying, in effect, that a defendant who doesn't say he wants to remain silent, or that he doesn't want to talk should not be entitled to a right that has been in effect for half a century, he is making a mockery not merely of legal precedent, but of the analytical powers of the Supreme Court, too. That argument is tantamount to saying -- if you want a napkin at Burger King, you damn well better ask for one.

This is the judicial equivalent of Creationism, a survival of the fittest approach to criminal justice.

Wouldn't it be even more delicious if those members of the highest court in the land who have allowed a ruling to stand that will roll back a defendant's right to access to counsel should themselves face term limits.