Friday, October 29, 2010

Sacrilege, Sex, and the Midterm Elections

In these last few days before the midterm elections, I'm thinking there is something seriously sexy about sacrilege. If only it weren't so ancient.

After all, sacrilege dates back at least two thousand years before the birth of Christ and, surely, in some rabbi's mind what Jesus did was sacrilegious. Even sacred comes with an expiration date.

All this talk about separation of church and state got me to thinking. Christine O'Donnell is right. Any perceptible boundaries between secular and ecclesiastical have all but disappeared. Undergoing religious conversion, or epiphany, is routinely expected now from members of our military. Any questions about that, just ask Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. "Onward, Christian soldiers" has been the battle cry for U.S. troops dating back to the first time George W. Bush blinked in his presidency.

Indeed, what is the global jihad against jihad if not devout, and dedicated confusion between church and state?

But, in this campaign we raise the stakes, so to speak, to a new level. Sacrilege has now become not just de rigeur, but has taken on the affect of the most intense kind of aphrodesiac, one potent enough to lure a married man to commit the unpardonable sin of committing adultery with himself.

Palin, O'Donnell, Angle, Brewer, Bachmann, (am I forgetting anyone), the contemporary equivalents of Shakespeare's weird sisters, mostly share one common denominator. They try to package their Puritanical vision in an appeal to the erotic impulses.

What the tea partiers invest in most is the distorted sense that they are in any way, shape, or form anti-establishment. The packaging may have changed, but the product remains the same.

Make no mistake, these belles dames sans mercis are not committing sacrilege. They're not committing to anything at all except for the same misguided missiles of deregulated, free market copulation.

And, to the contrary, in a "free market" system, socialism is sacrilege. It is fair to suspect that none of these ladies of the right could define socialism any better than Ms. O'Donnell can tell you what you may expect to find in the First Amendment except, of course, that which comes before the Second Amendment.

What's needed now is an intervention by voters across party lines by those who think campaigning candidates should speak to the press, that a woman's right to choose has already been decided by the Supreme Court, and that affirmative action doesn't just mean agreeing with everything they say.

Believe it, people. This is serious stuff. Go to the polls on Tuesday if for no other reason than to prove that the clock moves in one direction only, forward.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Famous Last Words

"Are we there yet?"

From Michael Winship

All They Ask for Is an Unfair Advantage

By Michael Winship

I attended a screening this week of Alex Gibney’s new documentary, Client 9. It’s the story of the rise and fall of New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer, brought down by imperial hubris and a reckless penchant for ladies of the evening.

Gibney, an Oscar-winning filmmaker, creates a fascinating narrative. Both he and Spitzer readily concede that it was the former governor who did himself in; he haplessly provided the guns and ammo that polished him off. But there is a compelling case made suggesting that there were plenty of enemies, both in politics and business, with a motive to see him destroyed, plus the wherewithal and contacts to help grease the skids.

After all, it was Spitzer who, as state attorney general and self-appointed “Sheriff of Wall Street,” went after corruption and greed in the finance industry, exposing investment bank stock inflation, securities fraud, predatory lending practices, exorbitant executive compensation and illegal late trading and market timing perpetrated by hedge funds and mutual fund companies. Some of these practices were, of course, major factors in the calamitous financial follies of 2008

One of Spitzer’s targets was Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, former chair and chief executive officer of the gigantic insurance company AIG. He was forced to resign by the AIG board in March 2005 after Spitzer charged Greenberg and the company with manipulative behaviors in violation of insurance and securities laws. Ultimately, criminal charges were dropped but when AIG collapsed during the ’08 meltdown, ultimately receiving the largest of the Federal bailouts -- 182 billion taxpayer dollars – Greenberg said he was “bewildered” that things could have gone so wrong.

In Client 9, I was struck by a statement attributed to Greenberg, who in his AIG heyday supposedly was fond of joking, “All I ask for is an unfair advantage.”

Just three days before the screening, The New York Times had reported that one of the largest donors to a foundation run by the US Chamber of Commerce is a charity run by Greenberg.

According to the Times, “The charity has made loans and grants [to the chamber’s foundation] totaling $18 million since 2003. U.S. Chamber Watch, a union-backed group, filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service last month asserting that the chamber foundation violated tax laws by funneling the money into a chamber ‘tort reform’ campaign favored by AIG and Mr. Greenberg. The chamber denied any wrongdoing.

“The complaint, which the chamber calls entirely unfounded, raises the question of how the chamber picks its campaigns, and whether it accepts donations that are intended to be spent on specific issues or political races.”

Other major contributors of at least $17 million to the foundation between 2004 and 2008 include Goldman Sachs, the investment company Edward Jones, Alpha Technologies, Chevron Texaco and Aegon, a Netherlands-based, multinational insurance company “which has American subsidiaries and whose former chief executive, Donald J. Shepard, served for a time as chairman of the US Chamber of Commerce’s board.”

Almost all of these donations would have remained anonymous, as allowed by law, if not for some intensive digging by the Times into corporate foundation tax filings and other public records as part of a larger investigation into how the US Chamber of Commerce “has increasingly relied on a relatively small collection of big corporate donors to finance much of its legislative and political agenda. The chamber makes no apologies for its policy of not identifying its donors.

It has vigorously opposed legislation in Congress that would require groups like it to identify their biggest contributors when they spend money on campaign ads.”

Times investigative reporters Eric Lipton, Mike McIntire and Don Van Natta Jr. write that “the chamber has had little trouble finding American companies eager to enlist it, anonymously, to fight their political battles and pay handsomely for its help...While the chamber boasts of representing more than three million businesses, and having approximately 300,000 members, nearly half of its $140 million in contributions in 2008 came from just 45 donors. Many of those large donations coincided with lobbying or political campaigns that potentially affected the donors.”

All they ask for is an unfair advantage. Open any newspaper, magazine or political website and the coverage of corporate campaign largesse, much of it anonymous, bedazzles the mind. There’s $75 million from the chamber, plus another $50 million or more in undisclosed donations to major conservative organizations -- as reported by the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation -- that include the American Action Network, Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, the American Future Fund and the 60 Plus Association.

The progressive Campaign for America’s Future reports that “Americans for Prosperity brags that they’ll spend at least $45 million on the 2010 elections, while FreedomWorks plans to throw in another $10 million.” Both organizations, backed by right-wing billionaire David Koch, are major funders of “all things Tea Party.”

And get this – 23 companies that received a billion dollars or more in taxpayer bailout money donated $1.4 million to candidates in September – most of it to Republicans, although, as The Washington Post reports, “the TARP program was approved primarily with Democratic support. President Obama expanded it to cover GM and other automakers.”

Yes, organized labor is throwing millions at the elections, too, but we know where that money is coming from – union dues (and in the interest of full disclosure, I’m president of a small AFL-CIO affiliated union, but one that neither contributes to nor endorses candidates).

When all is said and done, the Post reported Tuesday, using data from the Federal Election Commission and the watchdog Public Campaign Action Fund, outside interest groups could spend $400 million or more by Election Day. What’s more, “House and Senate candidates have already shattered fundraising record for a midterm election and are on their way to surpassing $2 billion in spending for the first time... To put it another way: That's the equivalent of about $4 million for every congressional seat up for grabs this year.”

All the big donors ask for is an unfair advantage. You may recall the story, usually attributed to George Bernard Shaw, of how he propositioned a fellow dinner guest, asking if she would sleep with him for a million pounds.

She agreed, and then Shaw asked if she would do the same for ten shillings. “What do you take me for?” she angrily replied. “A prostitute?”

“We’ve established the principle,” Shaw rejoined. “Now we’re just haggling over the price.”

With this election, Congress may establish once and for all that Shaw’s is the only principle left that it still embraces, as long as the price is right.

By the way, Alex Gibney’s Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer opens in New York November 5th and across the country on November 12th. Keep an eye out for it at a theater near you, as they say, or even on a TV near you – many cable systems are offering it on demand.


Michael Winship is senior writer at Public Affairs Television in New York City.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Everybody wants a revolution, but nobody wants to pay for it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Two Poems by James Joyce


Frail the white rose and frail are
Her hands that gave
Whose soul is sere and paler
Than time's wan wave.

Rosefrail and fair--yet frailest
A wonder wild
In gentle eyes thou vielest,
My blueveined child.

Trieste, 1913


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

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

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

Trieste, 1914

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Quote of the Day

"Our government and our country have really gotten off track ... but nothing we can't fix with a good old fashioned (stolen) election."

Sarah Palin

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Trading In The Politics of Hope

Unbelievably, it's been two years since we elected a president who ran on a platform of hope. After a decade of rule by cowboys and neighborhood bullies, and listening to the same old song about good guys and bad guys, it felt good to change the tape to play "yes we can;" a refrain heard even in Spanish, "Si se puede," "si se puede."

Nobody wants to argue with the concept of hope, that's like profaning against apple pie, but few want to read the warning label either. Hope, when not applied properly, is a drug, an anesthetic, something that deadens and numbs, a shot of novocaine before a sensitive procedure. And, when the novocaine wears off, we're left only with pain.

Somehow, though, I don't think that's the kind of hope Mr. Obama had in mind. I don't think Obama's hope was intended to be used as a sedative, but instead as a portal to action. The problem is, it had an unintended side effect. Instead of inducing folks to act, it got them to react, and not the people the president had in mind either. It brought all of the usual souped up, and snazzy bigots out from under the rug---the Sarah Palins, Rand Pauls, the folks who would like to take us back to the days of Jim Crow laws.

Nobody wanted to listen to what Mr. Obama said during the 2008 presidential campaign. Instead, they heard only what they wanted to hear. For those who opposed the war in Iraq, candidate Obama promised troop withdrawal. He never said he supported universal troop withdrawl, but only withdrawal from Iraq. Obama came through loud and clear pounding the drums about tracking down al Qaeda in the border between Afghanistan, and Pakistan. And, while he flinched while using the phrase "war on terror," he didn't mince words when it came to his plans for Osama bin Laden.

Somewhere along the line, sadly, once he became president, Mr. Obama's plan for chasing al Qaeda on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan got hijacked, and instead became a full-scale war.

Clearly, 50,000 troops is a prodigious number to leave behind in a "non-combat" capacity, and that doesn't factor in the shadow army of private military contractors. While the president will insist that combat forces have been removed from Iraq, there is no doubt that combat involving US forces is far from over in that country.

The release of the latest WikiLeaks documents proves, among other things, that the wars in Iraq, and Afghanistan are every inch Mr. Obama's wars despite being largely indistinguishable from the military adventurism of his predecessor.

Reportedly, the president told his generals he wants an "exit strategy' in Afghanstan. After nine years of war, you don't need an exit strategy, you need to exit.

Okay, so he never ran as George McGovern. Moreover, it was also clear from the presidential campaign that Mr. Obama deliberately chose Joe Biden to be his vice president because of Mr. Biden's foreign policy experience. The reason he did that was not just to overcome objections about his lack of background in foreign policy, but because Obama wanted the focus of his administration to be on solving the number one threat to national security during the campaign season which wasn't from al Qaeda, but from the collapse of the financial sector. Problem solved. The financial sector has not collapsed.

But, instead of giving high marks to this president for solving the problem, and acting swiftly and decisively to save GM, people on both sides keep bitching about the bailouts.

It was also evident that among the many reasons Mr. Obama selected Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State was her own foreign policy experience.

A president with as much on his plate as this one had better learn how to delegate, or be overwhelmed, and delegate he did. He would be well-served, too, to listen to those to whom he delegates. Mr. Biden's views of Afghanistan differed from his own.

While the president ultimately takes responsibilty for the direction of the country, often it is those to whom he delegates who deserve condemnation for any foreign policy, or domestic blunders. There was no question in the Kennedy administration who gave commands the president or the Defense Secretary. JFK told McNamara to begin phased withdrawal from Vietnam. McNamara didn't command JFK to commit more troups. JFK had no more foreign policy experience than Mr. Obama has.

The wisdom of keeping a Defense Secretary whose ties to the former administration's military policy run deep is, at best, questionable. It's hard to change direction when the reins are in the hands of the same drivers.

By the time Obama took the reins as commander in chief, and asserted what the Constitution guarantees as civilian control of the military, it was already too late which was amply demonstrated by General McChrystal's interview with Rolling Stone . In the war between the Pentagon and the White House, the Pentagon won. One has only to look at the amount of taxpayer money allocated to the Defense Department in the 2011 federal budget to realize that.

For all their talk about "Obamacare," rank and file Republicans, donning tea party hats, like Sharron Angle, Michele Bachmann, Christine O'Donnell, and Rand Paul neglect to mention that in his 2011 budget, President Obama appropriates about twice as much for national defense as for health care. Far be it for Ms. O'Donnell, Ms. Angle, Ms. Bachmann, or Mr. Paul to want to tap into the defense budget to pay down the deficit. Instead, they want to slash social security, and Medicaid.

If it was this president's plan to make his legacy about his domestic agenda, he's doing so ably. But, you ask, where are the jobs? There have been more private sector jobs created in 2010 alone than under eight years of President Bush. The stimulus Palin et. al condemn has actually served to bolster employment, according to a report, last month, from the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

As to the Republican claim that taxes have gone up since Mr. Obama took office, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and USA Today, Americans are paying the lowest taxes in more than 50 years. Somewhere around a third of the Recovery Act involved tax cuts which provide relief for 98% of Americans.

Still, that's not good enough for some who have turned the word "bailout" into a mantra. They proposed sitting back while Rome burned, and not allowing for government intervention to stop the hemorrhaging of banks, mortgage companies, and automobile manufacturers which would have led to the certain demise of the same free market system Republicans like Sarah Palin and Meg Whitman endorse.

As an article in the Washington Post recently said, "The government interventions worked. The companies were saved. Most of the money that taxpayers invested is likely to be repaid" and, more importantly, the so-called "bailouts" were begun under George W. Bush, a minor detail that the Republican buddhas of deregulation like to ignore.

Even less credible are claims that spending is out of control under a Democratic Congress, and that the president's policies are compounding the deficit. The truth is, the national debt nearly doubled under George W. Bush whose administration had the dubious distinction of being the biggest borrower of foreign money of all the other administrations combined.

Not to mention that not one tea party candidate has even broached the subject of a middle class that went missing. When Palin, and partners, take the stump, all they talk about are "the people." What they fail to mention is that the people they represent are the upper 1% income bracket of the population. Sarah Palin is about as "populist" as Marie Antoinette.

Unless you have ice water running in your veins, it should make your blood boil when you hear the usual Republican banter about privatizing social security, too. In the end, what that really means is turning over your social security check to Wall Street.

Yes, the anesthesia has worn off. The operation was a success, but the body politic is still hurting, and the pain will be felt for years to come. It's not possible to survive the economic train wreck of the past 30 plus years of Reagan/Bush deregulation without injury, and without scars. There may be no such thing as a jobless recovery, but there is also no such thing as a painless recovery.

The Messiah didn't enter the White House in January, 2009. Mr. Obama is a politician, not a magician. The hope he put out there on the campaign trail was meant to suggest light at the end of the tunnel, not to create it.

There are many who are saddened, and disappointed to wake up, nearly two years after his inauguration, to find we're still immersed in a labyrinth of global battle, and financial hazard, but turning the keys of the House over to the same wrecking crew that brought us to the brink of disaster is no way to solve the problem.

Trading in the politics of hope for the politics of dopes is no solution either.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Michael Winship on "Bullies"

The Pulpit of Bullies

By Michael Winship

One of the most memorable moments in television coverage of American politics came during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968.

Out on the streets, anti-Vietnam war demonstrations were attacked viciously by law enforcement officials in what later was described in an official report as “a police riot.”

Inside the convention hall, tightly controlled by the political machine of the city’s notorious Mayor Richard J. Daley, CBS correspondent Dan Rather was attempting to interview a delegate from Georgia who was being removed from the floor by men in suits without ID badges. One of them slugged Rather in the stomach, knocking him to the ground.

As the reporter struggled to get his breath back, from the anchor booth, Walter Cronkite exclaimed, “I think we’ve got a bunch of thugs here, Dan!”It was an uncharacteristic outburst from America’s Most Respected Newsman, indicative of just how terrible the violence was both inside and out and how shocking it was for a journalist to be so blatantly attacked while on the air by operatives acting on behalf of politicians. As appalling as that 1968 assault was, thuggery is nothing new in politics; it transcends time, ideology and party.

But what’s even more disturbing in 2010 is how much of the public, especially many of those who count themselves among the conservative adherents of the Tea Party, is willing to ignore bullying behavior – and even applaud it – as long as the candidate in question hews to their point of view.Here in New York State, of course, we have Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, who combines the boyish charm of J. Edgar Hoover with the sunny quirkiness of Pol Pot. So extreme are Paladino’s views, so volatile his temper, that even Rupert Murdoch’s right wing New York Post has endorsed Democrat Andrew Cuomo, which is a bit like the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano dissing the Pope and singing the praises of Lutherans.

Doubtless this is in part because Crazy Carl, as he is affectionately known to many, almost came to blows with the Post’s state political editor, the redoubtable Fred Dicker, shouting “I’ll take you out, buddy!” at Dicker after the journalist asked Paladino for evidence to back up allegations the candidate was making against Cuomo and Paladino claimed the paper was harassing his out-of-wedlock daughter.

The Post had to admit that Paladino is “long on anger and short on answers... undisciplined, unfocused and untrustworthy -- that is, fundamentally unqualified for the office he seeks.” Okay, Paladino will lose, but in other parts of the country, Tea Party-supported candidates with a similar bullying, threatening attitude, or who seem to surround themselves with such people, are more likely to win.

Republican Allen West, endorsed by Sarah Palin and John Boehner, is leading in his race against incumbent Democratic Representative Ron Klein in South Florida’s 22nd Congressional District. A retired Army lieutenant colonel, West resigned from the military, according to the progressive website, “while facing a court martial over the brutal interrogation of an Iraqi man: according to his own testimony during a military hearing, West watched four of his men beat the suspect, and West said he personally threatened to kill the man. According to military prosecutors, West followed up on his threat by taking the man outside and firing a 9mm pistol near his head, in order to make the man believe he would be shot.”You can’t make this stuff up: Last week, NBC News reported that West has been communing with a notorious Florida motorcycle gang, the Outlaws, which the Justice Department alleges has criminal ties to arson, prostitution, drug running, murder and robbery.

And on Monday, West could be heard at a rally urging some bikers – also with Outlaw connections -- to “escort” out a Klein staffer who was video recording the event. “Threats can be heard on the videotape,” said a reporter from NBC’s Miami affiliate. “West supporters forced him to get back into his car.” The West campaign responded that “the latest attacks aimed at associating… Allen West with a criminal and racist gang are completely baseless and nothing short of a hatchet job.” So what’s with the photograph of him glad-handing bikers who according to NBC brag about their association with the Outlaws? And why did West tell a supporter to back off when concern was expressed about “criminal organization members in leather” appearing at West’s campaign rallies?

Which brings us to Joe Miller, the Republican and Tea Party candidate for the United States Senate from Alaska. On Sunday, at a Miller town hall, private security guards hired by the campaign – two of whom were moonlighting, active duty military --took it upon themselves to detain a reporter pursuing Miller with questions, placed him under citizen’s arrest and handcuffed him – then threatened to detain two other reporters who were taking pictures and asking what was going on.

The plainclothes rent-a-cops, complete with Secret Service-type earpieces and Men in Black-style neckties and business suits, come from an Anchorage-based outfit called DropZone Security, which also runs a bail bond service and an Army-Navy surplus store – with one of those anti-Obama “Joker” posters pasted to its window. One-stop shopping for the vigilante militiaman in your life – kind of like that joke about the combination veterinarian-taxidermist: either way you get your dog back.

All of this would be funnier if not for the fact that this kind of hooliganism and casual trampling of First Amendment rights from people who claim to embrace the Constitution as holy writ is symptomatic of a deeper problem. The anger of the electorate is understandable: politicians and politics as usual have given voters much about which to be mad; furious, in fact.

But bullying is different. It comes from insecurity and fear, and lashes out with tactics of intimidation. To dismiss it as merely a secondary concern and say “I’ll take my chances” as long as the candidates in question agree with you is dangerous. Scuffling with the press and others may seem minor, but it’s just the beginning. In states where there is early balloting, already there are allegations of voter harassment, primarily in minority neighborhoods. The only way to fight back against bullies and thugs is to stand up and tell them to go to hell. To do otherwise is to give an inch and prepare to be taken for the proverbial mile. That way lies madness. And worse.


Michael Winship is senior writer at Public Affairs Television in New York City.

A User's Guide to the Midterm Elections

Here we go again, another midterm election registering 7.0 on the Richter scale. This is the second one of this magnitude in my lifetime. The first was sixteen years ago, the midterms of 1994, the "Republican revolution." Anybody able to hold their breath under water for a minute or less can remember that one. The aftershocks are still with us.

The usual gang of suspects back then were different, of course, as they didn't have the chutzpah to profess to be a new movement or, for that matter, anything new at all, but boldly and proudly traced their origins back to Barry Goldwater conservatism. The Tea Party, on the other hand, a fabrication of the mainstream media, consists of some card-carrying incompetents who would never have hijacked the spotlight were it not for complicity by the press, broadcast news, and TV talking heads.

Relish the irony of a group of "populists" who evolved in response to outrage at the government for bailing out the banks and Wall Street. Of course, it is the wrong government they should be outraged against. It was George W. Bush's administration who started the stimulus program, but while they're in the neighborhood, tea partiers might as well speak out in favor of privatization of social security, and so-called free market economics. Ronald Reagan would be proud. It was, of course, Reaganomics that got us into this mess in the first place.

Then, there's Rand Paul who now says he wouldn't have voted for the Civil Rights Act, and would leave it up to private establishments to decide whom they allow, and disallow to frequent their clubs. We got a little taste of that kind of thinking when an Alaska journalist went to a rally for Republican Senate candidate, Joe Miller, to interview the candidate and was handcuffed, detained for a half hour, and ejected. This is the kind of empowerment Dr. Paul would like to extend to your local watering hole along with the right to carry a loaded gun on to the premises.

But, no matter. While the spirit moves me, I thought it might be expedient to put together a user's guide for this uber-important midterm election which would have been most helpful had there been one back in 1994:

First and foremost, show up. Nobody ever got elected by shadow voters. Well, that is, almost nobody. George W. Bush is a prominent exception. Absentee votes are okay, but absentee ballots are often counted last. Your vote must count. Put down that remote, walk away from your computer, and go to the polls.

#2: Vote for the outcome, not the candidate. Think about a country under the thumb of a bunch of Palin clones. Forget about how the media has sexed up the Republican Party by making what has been the same old, same old into a "movement." If it talks about your right to bear arms, wants to rescind any attempt to equalize health care in this country, proposes turning over your social security check to Wall Street, backs military surges and the "war on terror," plans to overturn Roe v. Wade, calls anyone a "socialist" who wants to reform a bankrupt and failing economic system, if you vote for that person, you are voting against yourself.

#3: For the gentlemen out there, stop looking at Michele Bachmann's legs. When Christine O'Donnell talks about masturbation as adultery, she is referring to you. That's right, if you're married and you pleasure yourself, you've just cheated on your spouse. Talk about boundary issues! Sarah Palin has a few of her own, too. She still thinks she can see Russia from her front porch.

#4: Now that you've read the newspaper avidly for the past month or more, forget everything you read, and instead remember the past. As the saying goes, those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. Remember where you when Richard Nixon was in office? Too young? Okay, how about Ronald Reagan. Did Mr. Reagan's trickle down thingy do anything for you? Well, stay tuned for trickle down take two if these tea party candidates gain momentum. One seat in Congress is one seat too many.

#5: Don't watch the election results on Election Day until after you've voted. Yes, that's right, the power of suggestion is a righteous thing.

#6: Friends in California, okay, I concede, Jerry Brown isn't sexy. Meg Whitman has better legs, but she's got better teeth, too, like her Republican counterpart, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and her bite is worse than her bark. If elected governor, she will work for more furloughs for state workers, cops, firemen, and teachers, strip even more than $250 million from a program dedicated to child care, beef up ICE raids, build a better fence to keep "illegals" out while secretly hiring undocumented workers, and make it clear that the upper 1% is going to remain just where it has been for the past 30 years in the upper 1% of wealth. A vote for Meg Whitman is a vote for corporations, big business, big banks, and a vote against working people.

#7: Don't be fooled. If you're concerned about the "national security" issue, it was Ronald Reagan who extolled the virtues of bin Laden's freedom fighters when they were pups in Afghanistan, and it was U.S. taxpayer dollars, under Reagan, that financed the training of the Taliban in Pakistan. Ultimately, there would no bin Laden without Ronald Reagan.

So, a vote for those who want to dissolve the difference between church and state only when that church is a Christian church, a vote for those who inveigh against building Muslim community centers in lower Manhattan is a vote against national security.

Last, but not least, it is not enough to show up. It is more important to grow up which is something we have yet to do in this country. Nobody wants to accept that a setback isn't a defeat. Everybody wants instant results. If things don't move fast enough, go to the other register.

Well, guess what, we're running out of registers, and the only register that matters now is the one that enables you to vote.

We're running out of allies, too. If you think this radical right lunatic fringe of a movement is scary, think about how it looks to others around the world, and picture your grandchild, twenty years hence, being all alone on a battlefield with a bunch of guys with shaved heads. This is the future you are voting for on November 2nd, election day. Let's get it right.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

95 ain't what it's cracked up to be...

Sylvia, age 6, with her brother, and my dad, David, age 3

Word from Aunt Sylvia who, a few weeks ago, went with her husband Ellie to what she calls "an old age home." Sylvia turned 95 in September, and Ellie was 99 in July.

Sylvia does know how to turn a phrase, so here goes...

"I am now in the land of walkers and wheelchairs, and people of another planet. I am having trouble watching all these lovely people waiting for God.

Ellie hates it, unfortunately, but he really belongs.

They are very kind and helpful here... Well. So be it. We have outlived all our friends and most of the family."

And they fight on, Sylvia and Ellie, married for more than sixty years. They fight on in a world that is dedicated to appeasing youth as if it were feeding years, like raw meat, to a lion.

Those who live to be closer to 100 than 50 deserve not just our respect, but to finish out their days in a tropical retreat with fresh fruit, white wine, and overflowing fountains.

No one really belongs in an old age home. Time doesn't make us, we make time. If a civilization may be judged on how it treats its poor, its infirm, and those who are advanced in age, then we must cower in shame.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Peter and Paul

Why are we robbing Peter to pay Paul? Aren't those guys apostles?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Leaving Las Vegas

After two nights of watching debates featuring candidates like Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell, I know why I haven't been able to write about the midterm elections. It's hard to believe this is not a dream. At any moment, I think, I'll wake up, and realize that the past few weeks have been one Alaska-sized nightmare.

But, as Harry Reid would agree, what's happened tonight in Las Vegas is real alright as real as the mud on Michele Bachmann's pumps.

One comes away with two things from listening to Reid debate Angle:

1) The word "Obamacare" has caught on like wildfire in a mostly dry campsite, and is now a shibboleth, mantra, and one of Palin's nonsensical neologisms that are as weightless as a slipper in outer space.

After all, what is "Obamacare" but a new arrangement of the same health reform song sung by former Republican Massachusetts governor Mitt, the CEO cheerleader, Romney. Yes, it was a fellow Republican who first introduced the "socialism" that Palin likes to associate with the Democratic legislation passed nearly two years ago.

In almost every important respect, what Palin, and now Sharron Angle, like to dub "Obamacare" is virtually identical to its predecessor, the New England Commonwealth's health reform bill which is now jokingly referred to as "Romneycare" everywhere but in, you guessed it, Vegas and Alaska.

Notably, as you remember, Mitt Romney's health reform bill called for a government mandate for citizens to carry health insurance, like car insurance, or face a penalty just like "Obamacare" does. Its detractors have also blamed Romneycare for statewide job losses, and hurting small business. In fact, according to an article in Politico, Romney, everyone's favorite Republican 2012 presidential contender is already being urged to distance himself from the Obama administration's health care reform so as not to damage any possible bid.

From now on, when you hear a Republican talk about "Obamacare," think "Romneycare," as that is what it essentially is.

None of this seems to phase candidates like Christine O'Donnell, Michele Bachmann, Rand Paul, or Sharron Angle.

Secondly, and importantly, thanks to the mainstream media's fascination with nouveau populist causes, as well as anything that boosts anemic readership, many voters now think of Palin, Bachmann, O'Donnell, Rand Paul, and Sharron Angle as tea partiers, not Republicans. To think of these politicians as anything other than the logical, if nightmarish, extension of the Republican revolutionaries of 1994 is to deny the obvious. What is called the tea party is merely recycled conservatism.

So, we interrupt this article to bring you the following breaking news:

Sarah Palin, Sharron Angle, Christine O'Donnell, Michele Bachmann, and Rand Paul are as true to the Republican Party platform as Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush before them. They are card carrying right wing nuts. Don't let their two-bit populism fool you. They're populists all the way to the bank. They care as much about the working man and woman in this country as the folks at AIG, Citibank, Enron, and Goldman Sachs do. When they speak about the free market and deregulation, they're not practicing witchcraft, they're bringing you Reaganomics in drag.

The same Reagonomics that broke the air traffic controllers union now wants to break social security, Medicare, under the pretext of reducing the budget. Palin et. al are fighting hard to keep the upper 1% of the population precisely where it is, and has been for the past thirty years. Preserving the tax cuts of George W. Bush means preserving the status quo. Angle, O'Donnell et. al mean change you can believe in because you've already been there, half a century ago.

The scare tactics they use about increasing the deficit, and the risk of another terrorist attack are real, but the target isn't. They are every thinking man and woman's cause for fear. The prospect of a Palin, Angle, Bachmann, or O'Donnell in Congress, or lord forbid, the White House should scare the wits out of any reasonable person.

From Sharron Angle's proclamation, during her debate with Harry Reid tonight, that if we allow the Bush tax cuts to expire we do so at our peril to Christine O'Donnell telling her Democratic opponent Coon that she supports reversing Roe v. Wade and letting the states decide whether or not abortion should be legal to Michele Bachmann defending the rights of what used to be called fetuses, but what Bachmann now insists are the "pre-born," what we hear is the battle cry of the underprepared and overcoached.

Who are the coaches? The same guys who sold arms to the Contras in exchange for release of hostages. The lawbreakers. The saboteurs. The ones who like you to think they're keeping you safe while robbing your safe.

Michele Bachmann takes the choice debate one step further by saying she would work to grant the "pre-born" equal protection under the 14th Amendment. One can only scratch one's head when hearing that a candidate who aims to protect the "pre-born" simultaneously voted "no" on enforcing anti-gay hate crimes.

Bachmann's stance on gun control is equally emphatic. She wants to ban gun registration and trigger lock law.

And, while Angle wants to repeal the Department of Education, Rand Paul wants to abolish the U.S. Department of Energy. In his latest debate, Rand Paul also wants to repeal health care legislation.

During her debate with Harry Reid tonight, Sharron Angle made it clear that she still wants to privatize social security, though she now calls it "personalizing," using the proverbial party line that social security is verging on bankruptcy. Doubtless you recall that same privatization pablum coming from the mouth of another rank and file Republican, George W. Bush.

That Christine O'Donnell was unable to name one Supreme Court justice she admires during her live debate with her Democratic opponent is especially scary given that she can see the White House from her front porch.

When Rand Paul said he wouldn't have voted for the Civil Rights Act, all he needed was a confederate flag in the background and a couple of guys in white hoods to make the moment more authentic. And, what do Paul and Palin have in common? They both want to take their country back, back to where it was a hundred years ago.

As for Sharron Angle, it's hard to take anyone seriously who dismisses their mistake of $25 billion, and $2.5 billion, but guess what...

this is serious, this is mega serious, and no, Martha, this is not a bad dream.

This is the radical right wing fringe of the Republican Party, the same virulent wing nuts who brought you Oliver North, Newt Gingrich, and Dan Quayle, on steroids. But, you knew all that didn't you? The question is, what are you going to do about it?

Some might say we need to vet our candidates more, but the same vet who gave Sarah Palin her pedigree is working on the campaigns of Michele Bachmann, and Sharron Angle.

These four candidates, and their less conspicuous colleagues like Scott Brown who recently won Ted Kennedy's Senate seat, and the Republican now running to be New York's next governor, Carl Paladino, have one common denominator: they're scary as hell.

Perhaps the maxim should be changed to read: "Those who are not old enough to remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

If you, too, have never been one to rush to the polls during a midterm election, then you'd better be prepared to live with the consequences for a long time to come.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

From Michael Winship

Washington and Change: Cash You Can Believe

By Michael Winship

"Somebody once said that Washington was a city of Northern charm and Southern efficiency." So John F. Kennedy famously remarked in 1961 and so the town seemed to remain when I first moved there in 1969 to go to school.

Clerks in dusty stores moved with the majestic inertia of tall ships becalmed. You could count the number of good restaurants on the fingers of one hand -- okay, maybe two hands. There was a rendering plant on the south side of K Street that turned animal carcasses into glue; when the wind blew the wrong way, the awful smell brought tears to the eyes of those who lived and shopped along the fashionable lanes of Georgetown.

There were still "temporary" buildings on the National Mall that had been there since the end of World War I, filled with government workers. But any citizen could freely walk the corridors of Congress, enter a member’s office to leave an opinion or pick up a pass for the visitors’ galleries of the House or Senate, ride that little subway that runs underneath the Capitol. No campaign contributions required.

Or so it seemed to a white, middle class college kid. Washington also was a city in decline. Not quite a year and a half had passed since the three days of riots that followed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. Thirteen people had died, more than a thousand were hurt, and you could still see piles of rubble and burned out storefronts. Hundreds of businesses had been damaged or destroyed.

Robert Reich -- the new chairman of the non-partisan, citizens’ lobby Common Cause -- remembers DC in those days, too. He interned for Bobby Kennedy and later at the Federal Trade Commission. Then the capital changed. By the time Reich became President Clinton’s Secretary of Labor in 1993, poverty was still rampant in the city but much of it had been shoved beyond the sightlines of the rich and powerful. "Washington was much fancier," he recalled. "It almost glittered --the hotels and the bistros and the restaurants -- and the money."

Speaking at Common Cause’s 40th anniversary dinner on October 6, Reich noted, "It’s even wealthier today. You walk around Washington and you see what it is and that money is here for one reason. It may go into the hands of people who are lawyers and public relations people and lobbyists but it is here for one reason and that is to influence our democracy. We have never seen in American history as much money flowing to our nation’s capitol. This election that is coming up is an election in which for the first time that I can remember there are hundreds of millions of dollars flowing to candidates and we have no way of knowing who is providing this money at all. Complete, absolute secrecy."

Kenneth Vogel at the website echoes Reich: "Never in modern political history has there been so much secret money gushing into an American election. By Election Day, independent groups will have aired more than $200 million worth of campaign ads using cash that can’t be traced back to its original source, predicts Fred Wertheimer, president of the non-profit group Democracy 21. 'And this is just the beginning,' Wertheimer said. 'Unless we get some changes here to mitigate this problem, I would expect we will see $500 million or more in 2012.'"

This year "has raised two basic questions that strike at the very core of the ethos of the campaign-finance reform effort: Can the flow of money into elections be limited if the courts have deemed political giving and spending a First Amendment right? Can any system of rules to make money more transparent ever keep up with the legal devices that powerful interests use to keep their influence hidden?"

This is not just the fault of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, although it has unleashed vast new sums of cash into the system – compare this year’s elections with the midterms of four years ago. Nor is it yet because of foreign money attempting to influence elections although, Karl Rove and the US Chamber of Commerce’s denials to the contrary, this is a clear and present danger. And true, it’s not solely because of deep corporate pockets that Democrats seem to be headed toward a significant setback in three weeks; a still faltering economy and lack of jobs are giving them a brutal slapping around.

But the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act has been eviscerated by the courts and what’s left of it is barely enforced by the Federal Election Commission. The same goes for various provisions of the Federal tax code, which need not only stricter enforcement but beefing up.

The October 12 Washington Post editorialized, "Nonprofit advocacy groups, known as 501(c)(4)s, are permitted to engage in political advocacy as long as that is not their primary purpose.

Meanwhile, these groups do not have to reveal the identities of their donors. IRS regulations bar such organizations from 'direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office,' but as a practical matter, these limits have not made much difference.

"One such Republican-leaning group, American Crossroads GPS, has touted its ability to keep donor names confidential even as it runs ads in key races. Similarly, trade associations such as the Chamber of Commerce, organized under section 501(c)(6) of the tax code, are not required to disclose donors and are permitted even greater leeway to engage in political activity."

Unfortunately, while the voting public expresses concern over campaign spending, it’s not very high on their agenda; most believe it will take an outrage such as Watergate, or at least another Jack Abramoff influence peddling-type scandal to get reform back on the tracks.Campaign finance reform has been a goal of the organization Common Cause since it was founded in 1970 by the great John Gardner, a Republican.

My friend and colleague Bill Moyers ended their anniversary dinner last week with a call to action, invoking the memory of Gardner and another prominent member of the GOP.

"The founder of Common Cause was a prophet in seeing money as the dagger directed at the heart of democracy," Moyers said. "Like his fellow Republican Teddy Roosevelt, he opposed the 'naked robbery' of the public’s trust. A century ago, in one of the most powerful speeches in American political history, Roosevelt said: 'It is not a partisan issue; it is more than a political issue; it is a great moral issue. If we condone political theft, if we do not resent the kinds of wrong and injustice that injuriously affect the whole nation, not merely our democratic form of government but our civilization itself cannot endure.'"

Moyers concluded, "The only way to defeat organized money is with organized people. Now it's your turn."


Michael Winship is senior writer at Public Affairs Television in New York City.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Look Who's Playing with Guns Now

With the election of Barack Obama in 2008, the gun lobby's biggest fear was the dimunition of the power they have enjoyed since well before the days of Charlton Heston. But, to the contrary, not only has gun ownership surged in the past year, according to the Christian Science Monitor, but the Supreme Court has even sidled up to the gun lobby by conferring constitutional entitlement.

Even President Obama, during his campaign, acknowledged what he posits to be a Second Amendment right to bear arms. Ironically, the amendment that speaks of bearing arms also reinforces the need for a civilian militia, a frightening prospect when one considers that guns are as American as apple pie for the Tea Party.

Their darling, Sarah Palin, has even encouraged her flock to "reload," and take their country back. The former governor of Alaska was, of course, speaking figuratively; the National Rifle Association is not.

And, when newly appointed Attorney General Eric Holder intimated that he'd like to bring back the ban on assault weapons that was instituted, back in 1994, by then President Bill Clinton, he received a protest letter from dozens of House Democrats urging him to kill the idea. Mr. Holder quickly complied.

Those House Democrats who signed that letter to Holder must have been the same bunch who, back in June, agreed to omit the NRA from key portions of legislation designed to mitigate the effects of Citizens United , a Supreme Court ruling that appears to grant First Amendment rights to corporation, but really authorizes complete, and anonymous corporate takeover of elections. With that ruling, groups like the NRA, General Electric, AIG, E-Bay, News Corp., and any other company that wants to influence elections can do so with impunity, and without having to divulge their identities.

Patrick Leahy, the senator from Vermont's "Disclose Act" would have essentially counteracted the damage of Citizens United by requiring organizations to reveal their top contributors if they sponsor political campaign commercials, or mass mailings in the months immediately preceding an election. A sane idea, and a prudent one.

Over the summer, the seeds of discontent appeared. The NRA managed to finagle an exemption from disclosing, claiming their size alone merits exclusion. And as we have seen from Freddie Mae and Fannie Mac, size counts. The lobby managed to pull off this maneuver with a little help from one of their Democratic friends, Rep. Heath Shuler from North Carolina in exchange, no doubt, for future endorsements in the red state.

Senator Leahy's proposed legislation that would have forced campaign contributors to unmask their involvement was handily defeated in the Senate in September. Gun Owners of America is among the groups that openly applauded the bill's demise.

No doubt, Democrats in Congress scored points bigtime with the NRA by defeating the "Disclose Act," so it should come as no surprise that, as the Washington Post reports, the NRA now endorses more than 50 incumbent House Democrats, 10% of whom hold seats that are thought to be crucial to maintaining a Democratic majority.

Why is the NRA suddenly smitten with Democrats? They're not really. It's reportedly a tradition for them to be "incumbent-friendly," especially when incumbents are friendly to them, so in closely contested races in states like South Dakota, Virginia, Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, Florida, North Dakota, Maryland, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, the gun lobby has openly endorsed Democratic incumbents who are trying to hold on to their House seats like life rafts. Some might call that "quid pro quo," or one hand washing the other unless, of course, there is blood on one hand.

Speaking of which, remember, too, that it is the same Supreme Court that brought you Citizens United that also recently affirmed the so-called Second Amendment right to bear arms, striking down Chicago's ban on handguns. Back in 2008, the Court struck down a similar handgun ban in Washington, D.C., so like it or not, the lobby effectively owns this president.

Pretty soon, it may be said they own your neighborhood bar, too. It's now perfectly legal to walk into a bar carrying a loaded handgun in Tennessee, Arizona, Georgia, and Virginia, and other states, like California, are chomping at the bit to join the "open carry" crowd. This, despite the omnipresence of handgun violence. If you are black or Hispanic, and living in the inner city, you are more likely now to die from a handgun than from a cigarette.

If this sounds omninous, don't tell the FBI that. They're proud to report that, in the first six months of 2009, violent crime in America dropped by 10%, but consider last year, too, the United States ranked 4th, out of 46 countries, behind Thailand, Colombia, and South Africa in deaths from firearms with just over 9300 fatalities, more than twice as many as American lives lost in the war in Iraq.

In this era of mass gun violence exemplified by the shooting of more than 40 at Virginia Tech, and Columbine before it, guns are to blame for mass casualties in Chicago, Salt Lake City, and Texas. Just last week, in Gainesville, Florida, there was a shooting spree.

One can hardly go a day without reading about a gunman who opened fire at an elementary school in southern California, a disgruntled employee who shot three to death at the Discovery Channel, or the gunman who killed a doctor at Johns Hopkins then turned the gun on himself.

One can hardly go a week without hearing about a desperate family man, helpless in his hour of need, who turns the gun on his wife, and children, then on himself.

Where is the Disclose Act that will address this?

Before we accept mob rule, must we not first ask who is the mob that rules? Is it made up of those who speak of "reloading," and "grizzly mamas?" Is it comprised of those who shoot deer, wolves, and moose from close range, or from 20,000 feet? Is it not murder if you don't get your hands dirty. How to rationalize brute force, or to confuse it with free speech?

The Supreme Court has effectively enabled corporate bullies, and legalized giving steroids to lobbies that pose a clear, and present danger to families in the name of protecting family values.

Notably, members of Congress were careful not to let many key provisions of the USA Patriot Act sunset, to tay up nights worrying about whether to let George W. Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy expire, but no one has lost any sleep about letting the ban on assault weapons go the way of all dust back in 2004 nor is anyone in Congress in a big hurry to bring it back. That is, in itself, a crime.

If it is possible to perform an autopsy on a person, why not on a nation? How about on the American dream? Those who insist on their right to civilian weaponry, those who think of the president as a figure head, and a puppet for the military, are ultimately cut from the same cloth as those who see arming themselves as their constitutional right. When an autopsy of this democracy is performed, it is they who may be listed as the official cause of death.


Seeing this many tens at one time, got me to thinking about how, as a child, I'd get confused between the letter "I" and the number "1, and I had an idea: remove all the zeros, and you've got: 1/1/1.

In an age when #1 has never been more important and verges on being maxed out frankly, I also started thinking about the difference between being 1, and being whole as they're often light years apart.

There is another important distinction to be made: to hope is not the same thing as to aspire. Hope implies passivity whereas to aspire suggests the kind of active, and critical intelligence needed for concrete change.

So, on this day 10/10/10, a date none of us living will ever see again, it occurs to me that we must aspire to greatness even if we hope for less.

In the end, greatness is never about a couple of 1's followed by a couple of 0's, but must include you, 2!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Imagine Peace Tower

Today would have been John Lennon's 70th birthday, and Yoko Ono spent it in Iceland unveiling the Imgaine Peace Tower.

Go to, and send your wishes there. Your wishes will be sent directly to Iceland, and go to the below link to see the documentary on how this great idea came to be...

(if link doesn't come up, cut and paste in your browser.)

Friday, October 08, 2010

Jail Bait

Watching Larry King interview Samantha Geimer, Roman Polanski's victim, reminded me of a story from my teenage years.

When I was a sophomore in high school, and about 15 years old, I was dating a fellow named Bobby. He was 27, and a salesman.

As I knew my parents wouldn't approve of me seeing a fellow his age, I asked Bobby to pick me up at the local candy store instead of coming to my house, so about once a week, he'd meet me there and we'd go out to dinner, or to movies. He loved to take long drives, and so did I.

Whenever we passed a hotel, I'd say "Bobby, can we please go to that hotel? I've never been to a hotel with a guy before." He laughed awkwardly, and give me this urgent look. One day, he just said, "You're jailbait. I'd get sent away for a long time if I took you there."

Expanding my vocabulary was always a matter of great importance to me, so I asked repeatedly, and plaintively "What's jailbait?" Bobby refused to tell me, so when I got home, I couldn't wait to ask my father who was in the kitchen reaching for a bowl of butter pecan ice cream.

"Daddy," I said, "what's jailbait?" I've never seen my father get so upset. He dropped the bowl, turned around, and yelled "Who called you that? Tell me now. Where did you hear that word?" He was never one to raise his voice. I looked at him, and laughed quietly---"Just one of my classmates at school. Relax."

He wouldn't give me the answer, but I had ways of finding things out and, not surprisingly, that was my last encounter with Bobby.

Girls in their teens are naive, or were back then. Truly, I just wanted the experience of going to a hotel with a guy, something I had never experienced before. I'd seen it in the movies, and it looked so glamorous. Luckily, I was with someone who understood that, and who was mature, and emotionally secure enough not to take advantage of my vulnerability.

Girls of that age are seductive as hell. Think about Lolita. Isn't that what the Nabokov novel was all about? Okay, well maybe she wasn't all that innocent, or naive, but to this day, I'm thankful that my friend was able to think clearly and not let his hormones get in the way. (Had he been 18, of course, it might have been another story)

Think about this: a 27 year old salesman from Queens was wise enough to know better than to mess around with an underage girl. Roman Polanski could have learned a thing or two from him.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Headline of the decade

"Obama admnistration declares Iraq open for U.S. business."

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Passing the Peace Pipe Instead

No sooner has the ink dried on the first copy of Bob Woodward's tell all book which, among other things, outs the conflict between Obama and his military advisors over the direction of the Afghan war, than the Washington Post reports that the Karzais are now in "high level" preliminary negotiations with the Taliban, information that was provided anonymously by Afghan, and Arab sources.

What convenient timing, too, less than a month away from a crucial midterm election in which a Democratic Congress may be about to lose its shirt and at a time when public awareness of ever rising drone strikes in neighboring Pakistan has never been greater.

While Mr. Obama has said from the start that he favors diplomacy over warfare, only the most ingenuous would deny the blatant political expediency of passing the peace pipe in the months before the July, 2011 deadline for endgame in the region.

Reportedly, too, the Saudis have held what are called "inconclusive meetings" to reconcile the Taliban with the Karzai government until about a year ago. You may recall that Osama bin Laden hails from Saudi Arabia. Why, over the past nine years, haven't the Saudis arranged to have a pow-wow with him?

Another gaping question is, given all the controversy surrounding Hamid Karzai's brother, and the pervasiveness of Taliban influence to be found throughout Afghanistan from its police force to its poppy farmers, how can these negotiations be seen as anything but a public relations ploy designed to obscure the obvious: to accept the legitimacy of the Afghan war, one would have to believe that the insurgents are fighting themselves.

But, indeed they are not. This is not a civil war. What is happening in Afghanistan is altogether different from what happened in Iraq. It is not about faction A Taliban fighting faction B, but instead access to Helmand Province's lucrative poppy field, and ongoing control of the region including, as also recently disclosed, access to the area's mineral wealth..

America's short term memory deficit must astound the world. Does anybody remember the Obama administration's stated objective being counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, or merely to divest the Afghan/Pakistan border of al Qaeda? How quickly that goal was forgotten..

General Petraeus, too, appears to endorse "high level" Taliban representatives reaching out to the Karzai government: "This is how you end these kinds of insurgencies," he is reported to have said. Now he tells us! After the surge, troop increase of 30,000, not to mention escalation of the drone campaign, after many thousands of American, and Afghan lives, ending the war is as simple as taking a meeting.

One thing is clear. Any meeting between Taliban representatives and the Karzai government that doesn't include, and affirm Pakistan's sovereignty will be counterfeit as subsequent withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan can then only mean redeployment to Pakistan.

"Making Ends Meet in Coin-Operated Washington"

By Michael Winship
(with apologies to the late, great Damon Runyon)

So I am in Washington, DC, our nation’s capitol, admiring the buildings and the fine monuments and so forth, when I run into my very dear friend Gorilla Bagsley, whom I have not had the pleasure of seeing for many a year.

We shake hands with joy indeed and Gorilla says to me, come and have a drink for old time’s sake. I have not imbibed in a very long time, I tell him, and fear that such a thing will give me gas, but he persuades me to come into an establishment he knows and to bend an elbow with a pint of something pale and weak while he imbibes a beverage of a more muscular variety.

I have not been with Gorilla since he and I were young and flimflamming the tourists around New York Harbor, telling them that the Statue of Liberty is green on account of it was a gift from the generous people of Mars. Now here he is in Washington, which to me is passing strange. For if Boston is the home of the bean and the cod, as the poet once said, then surely Washington is the home of the scheme and the fraud, and so I ask Gorilla, who I thought had gone the route of the straight and narrow, what he is doing in such a place.

“Oh,” he says. “This is a wonderful place.”

“Why?” I ask, and Gorilla replies, “Because, dear pal of mine, it is coin-operated.”

“Crime does not pay,” I point out to Gorilla. “At least as I recall, not the way you do it.”

“That is a point upon which I must concur with you,” he says. “Certainly my attempt to hold up a financial institution with a staple gun was not my finest hour. In fact, I have learned during my brief time in this burg that I should have applied for bailout money instead. But I assure you that I have changed. This is the land of opportunity. And coin-operated, as I have said.”

“Coin-operated indeed,” I reply. “Look at what is in the newspaper here. According to The Washington Post, and I quote: ‘Interest groups are spending five times as much on the 2010 congressional elections as they did on the last midterms, and they are more secretive than ever about where that money is coming from. The $80 million spent so far by groups outside the Democratic and Republican parties dwarfs the $16 million spent at this point for the 2006 midterms.’

“And get this,” I continue, “It says, ‘The trends amount to a spending frenzy conducted largely in the shadows.’ Frankly, Gorilla, it is my belief that this is a far too dangerous place for one who has a curriculum vitae such as yours. I do not want your parole officer should be disappointed in you.”

“I appreciate your concern,” says Gorilla. “Truly I do. But trust me, everything is jake. I am in no danger of reapprehension.”

“How can that be?” I respond. “Leave us face it, there is an awful lot of lettuce rolling loose in this fair city and I fear it is far too great a temptation for one as light-fingered as yourself. The Democratic National Committee raised more than $16million last month even though they are supposed to be losing. The Center for Responsive Politics, an organization filled with honest types who I take to be very much on the level, says big oil and gas have spent more than $17 million on federal elections this year – so far. News Corp, the people who own Fox News, although they call themselves fair and balanced, has given a million bucks to the Republican Governors Association and another million to the US Chamber of Commerce which freely throws around money on pro-business candidates like a guy who is out of his mind about a doll.”

Gorilla gets impatient with me and swats the air with his enormous mitt as if he is sending a fly into the next solar system. “You are not telling me anything I do not know,” says he. “But I have found a legal way to benefit from this corporate largesse without threatening my always tentative freedom.”

“And that is?” I query.

“Catering,” Gorilla says. “All of these high rollers must eat when they are here, and all of these candidates have fundraisers here in the capital at which food is served -- even the ones who say Washington is a place in which they would not be caught dead, unless they are elected. I provide the edibles – pizza, doughnuts, little hot dogs wrapped in dough, fish eggs and sour cream on tiny slivers of toast or half a baby red potato – you name it. Here, taste.”

He reaches into a bag and hands me a buttery croissant. With my mouth full, I ask, “And from this you are making a living commensurate with the income once earned from your past nefarious activities?”

“Better,” Gorilla says, and pulls a piece of paper from his inside pocket. “Feast your eyes upon this. According to the website known as, in just the last two weeks before the House adjourned so its members could go campaigning, more than 400 fundraisers were held in Washington for congressional candidates -- wine and bourbon tastings, beer blasts, barbecues, swanky cocktail parties, dinners and luncheons. Thousands of people, hungry for my finger food and pastries. After all these years, I am making it hand over fist.”

“Well, good for you, Gorilla,” I conclude, “and I certainly do not begrudge you your industriousness and good fortune, but I do not care what the Supreme Court says about limitless contributions. There has to be a new law so that these corporations cannot buy elections.”

“That is a good and noble idea,” he agrees, and brushes a trace of baking flour from his neatly tailored, plaid lapel. “But bad for business.”

“This is important!” I yell, and then look up at the television above the bar. Fox News is reporting that the Statue of Liberty is green on account of it is a gift from the people of Mars. Protesters are at the scene, demanding the statue’s destruction because it was donated by aliens and is much too close to Ground Zero.

I sigh and think maybe I will stay here with Gorilla Bagsley. He makes a very good croissant.


Michael Winship is senior writer at Public Affairs Television in New York City.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

October, 1969

"I'm not going to be the first American president to lose a war."

Richard M. Nixon

(and he won't be the last one, either)