Tuesday, November 30, 2010


"The saddest thing I can imagine is to get used to luxury," Charlie Chaplin

Friday, November 26, 2010


Okay, I confess, I'm old enough to remember Jimi Hendrix, yes, even old enough to
have gone to Woodstock to hear him perform.

Better still, while a teenage high school student, I often ran away to Woodstock where I would spend weeks liberating crab meat and cartons of cigarettes from the local supermarket, and having magical encounters with beautiful men.

During one jaunt, I lived briefly with a fellow, Tim, who took me in when I was under the weather, fed me like a little bird, and nursed me back to health. He was a sweet guy, but it bothered me at that young age to be loved like that. I was too busy reading Rimbaud, the infernal bridegroom, and practicing to be a poete maudit. So, in the wee hours of the night, when Tim went off to work, I went to a club, the Elephant, off Tinker Street, where one often saw musicians hang out, and jam, groups like Cat Mother and the All Night Newsboys." I got to wear my high heels and flirt, mostly.

One night, it was maybe two or three o'clock in the morning, I was sitting at a table with a group of people I barely knew at the Elephant when Jimi Hendrix walked in. He was radiant, and wearing pink satin. What can I say, he was high voltage, electric, and among the most strikingly handsome people I'd ever seen. He had high cheekbones, a prominent jaw, long, bony fingers, the kind of fingers one might expect to find on a classical pianist.

Jimi filled the room with his aura.

He was flanked by two middle-aged white guys in suits. He appeared completely bored by whatever it was they were talking about. The people at my table suddenly screamed out: "Look, that's Jimi Hendrix, look!" and started pointing.

Feeling totally humiliated and embarrassed, I turned my chair squarely around, so I would face away from them. I folded my arms in utter disgust. As I glanced over to my right, Jimi was sitting with his back to the wall, and next to the two suits. At the same moment I was turning away from the table, Jimi looked me in the eye, and moved quickly away from the suits, folded his arms across his chest mimicing mine, looked me dead in the eye, and we both started laughing. He knew how I felt, and I him. It was a moment unlike any before, or since.

In the years following his death, I came to know more about Jimi. He was a poet. He was a solitary man. He was a perpetual outsider. This we shared.

If you were around back then, you, too, may remember that Jimi wasn't accepted by either blacks or whites. He was ostracized by both. I'm reminded of someone else who also has that kind of charisma, magnetism, sensitivity, and intelligence, Barack Obama, a man who isn't black enough for most African-Americans, and isn't white enough for most of "white" America. Oh, what we do to the people who aren't "just like us" in this country.

It was only when he became a legend that Jimi managed to evade the men in suits, but he became the epitome of "other" to everyone else.

There is nothing new here. Christ had to die before there could be Christianity. I guess we must strip a man bare, or his celebrity won't taste as good.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Oscar Wilde once said, "Society often forgives the criminal. It never forgives the dreamer." Jimi was a dreamer alright.

"If I'm free, it's because I'm always running," he wrote.

You don't have to run anymore, Jimi. You now have a permanent place in the hearts of
outsiders, and poets; dreamers, and presidents.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


I’m thankful for
the roof over my head
turkey and
sweet potatoes
heat thankful for
memories of those who
are near, and those
who have passed.
I’m thankful
I can even remember
the last time I got laid
and that
downstairs neighbor
no longer hammers nails into
six a.m. wall
thankful alarm clock from
Target still works
still firm thankful for
streetcars and
neighborhood birds who
like Italian bread crumbs
I feed them.
thankful to
fly coast to coast
and not be charged for
a fierce
wind at my back
and wiry teenagers
skateboarding through
dangerous parks.
I’m thankful my eyes still
open wide for
full moons
and the magic of
this damn

(c) jayne lyn stahl

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What Price Security: Group of UCSF Challenge Airport Body Scanners

According to a recent CNN poll, 80% of Americans approve the use of airport full body X-ray scanners. Yet, back in April, a group of prominent scientists, physicians, and professors at the University of California San Francisco challenged their safety in a letter to Dr. John P. Holdren, the president's science assistant for science and technology.

Among the co-signers of the Holdren letter are a 2009 Nobel Laureate in Physiology, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, her husband, John Sedat, Professor Emeritus at UCSF, and Dr, Marc Shuman, an internationally renowned cancer expert. Also signing the letter are UCSF professors whose expertise is in imaging, and crystallography.

In their letter, these scientists express "serious concern" about potential dangers posed by full body X-ray scanners. They contend that any possible perils caused by exposure to radiation can only be determined by a panel of medical physicists and radiation specialists who will take a look at all existing data independently, and without government oversight.

While some doctors have said that the danger from radiation exposure from a full body scan is less than that of a chest X-ray, or a mammogram, the doctors from UCSF disagree. They suggest that "a large fraction" of those exposed to this technology may be endangered.

The "large fraction" who may be at risk from these scanners include children and adolescents, anyone over 65, anyone with a compromised immune system, cancer patients, pregnant women, and even sperm may be compromised because of the proximity of testicles to the skin. Importantly, too, "mutagenesisprovoking" radiation may result in breast cancer in women.

They assert, too, that, while these new scanners operate at low frequencies of radiation, the concentration of low beam energies to the skin and tissue beneath are what comprise the gravest threat to health, "thus, while the dose would be safe if it were distributed throughout the entire body, the dose to the skin may be dangerously high."

The doctors lament that there is no "independent safety data" to prove this technology is safe. Instead, there has been a rush to manufacture, and install this equipment in airports around the country.

These eminent scientists describe major errors made before in a rush to find a solution; mistakes that imperiled the health of "thousands of people." As examples, they mention how, in the early days of HIV/AIDS, the CDC failed to recognize the risk factors in blood transfusions.

To clarify, these scientists, professors, and doctors are not saying that full body X-ray scanners are unsafe, but rather that the decision to subject the public to this technology without adequate review of possible immediate and longterm damage from exposure could prove to be a grave mistake.

But, it is not a mistake without a message. Unlike some earlier decisions to perform a medical procedure that has yet to be fully vetted, there is also a powerful lobby to market, and showcase dubious technology in the interest of bolstering the profit margin. Indeed, had he been the current head of Homeland Security, now lobbyist, Michael Chertoff would be called upon to account for his lobbying efforts, and own personal gain as a result of the proliferation of inadequately tested equipment in the name of national security. But, who better to figure out a way to make a buck off national security than the former tzar of homeland security?

As USA Today and Michael Winship have reported, in the past nine months alone, two companies have done very well in the airport body scan business. L-3 Communications has sold nearly $40 million in scanners, and dedicated more than $4 million to lobbying for them. Rapiscan Systems sold $41.2 million worth of scanners to the federal government after spending nearly $300,000 on lobbying. Clearly, the profits aren't in scientific research as to any potential hazard this technology may pose to our health.

Notably, too, those who want to capitalize on and exploit this technology have scored another victory as full body X-ray scanners, like the kind now used at some airports, are now popping up at courthouses. According to the Associated Press, two state courthouses in Colorado currently employ full body X-ray scanners, and U.S. Marshalls are exploring the prospect of using them widely. What next, X-ray full body scanners to replace metal detectors in inner city schools?

The risks to our health both now and in future, as these UCSF scientists assert, may far outweigh those posed by any terror attack. It's time not only to review the possible benefits of this technology, but to have experts more closely evaluate any adverse effects, or "opt-out" of X-ray body scans until they are able to do so.

From Michael Winship

Cranks Resist Security at Airports -- and in the Senate

By Michael Winship

To paraphrase that cult movie classic, "Eating Raoul," frisk me, pat me down, make me write bad checks. If it keeps my flight from falling out of the sky, do what you must. Just don't expect breakfast in the morning and a thank you note.

Because let's face it, as onerous as you might think these new airport body scans are, not to mention the pat downs with benefits if you refuse the scan, they may be a necessary part of life in these United States circa 2010. Facebook already has wiped out most vestiges of your privacy; the Transportation Security Administration simply takes care of the rest.

Not that there aren't problems, bugs that have to be worked out as these systems go through their shakedown phase. Overly aggressive and handsy TSA inspectors, for one. And according to The Washington Post, a scientist claims there's a "cheap and simple fix" to the scanners that would "distort the images captured on full-body scanners so they look like reflections in a fun-house mirror, but any potentially dangerous objects would be clearly revealed," thus quelling the protests of those who object to real-time, nude outlines of the human body.

The former nuclear weapons designer, who helped develop the scanners at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, says he offered the solution to Department of Homeland Security officials four years ago during the Bush administration but was "rebuffed."

There's also some concern about radiation, although the Associated Press reports the TSA claim that "radiation from one scan is about the same as a person would get from flying for about three minutes in an airplane at 30,000 feet, where atmospheric radiation levels are higher than on the ground. That amount is vastly lower than a single dental X-ray.

"You would have to go through scanners more than 1,000 times in one year to even meet the maximum recommended level -- and even pilots don't do that." (So why are pilots and flight attendants being allowed to duck the scanners? Just asking.)

And here's an interesting tidbit from Amy Goodman's Democracy Now website on November 23: "As the national debate over airport screening practices intensifies, little attention has been paid to the increasing lobbying power the manufacturers of full body scanning machines have in Washington. USA Today reports L3 Communications has spent $4.3 million on lobbying, up from $2.1 million in 2005. L3 has sold nearly $40 million worth of machines to the federal government.

Lobbyists for L3 have included Linda Daschle, the wife of former US Senate majority leader Tom Daschle. Meanwhile, Rapiscan Systems has spent more than $270,000 on lobbying so far this year, compared with $80,000 five years earlier. The company made headlines last year when it hired former US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff who has become a prominent proponent of body scanners. The CEO of Rapiscan's parent company, Deepak Chopra, recently traveled with President Obama on his three-day trip to India."

(And no, not that Deepak Chopra. The New Age guru would determine your terrorist potential by evaluating your aura, no machines or strip searches necessary.)

In any case, if you're contemplating staging a protest while in line at an airport this holiday weekend, in the name of all that's holy, please don't. I'm not flying anywhere this week, but think of the 1.6 million Americans who are and show a little common sense and thoughtfulness. Also ask yourself, would I be doing this if George Bush were still in the White House urging me to be patriotic and patient? And to shop my terrors away at the mall?

Besides, when it comes to security, frankly, there are more important things to worry about than some anonymous, federal rent-a-cop scanning your privates for grenades.

Like North Korea. On Tuesday, it shelled the island of Yeonpyeong, killing two South Korean soldiers and wounding 18 military personnel and civilians. The attack occurred just days after Stanford University nuclear scientist Siegfried S. Hecker, former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory was shown a secret North Korean uranium enrichment facility. The New York Times noted, "The development confronted the Obama administration with the prospect that North Korea country is preparing to expand its nuclear arsenal or build a far more powerful type of atomic bomb." Nuclear technology they've already demonstrated they're willing to sell to the right bidder.

Just one of the many good reasons that in its lame duck session the United States Senate should ratify the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction) Treaty with Russia: to maintain stability and strengthen the alliance with that former Cold War enemy that helps keep North Korea -- and Iran -- in line. And to restore on-site inspections of Russian missile sites and storage facilities to prevent nuclear weapons from disappearing into the hands of terrorists, state-sponsored or otherwise. And to limit the number of strategic warheads held by the two nations.

The treaty needs 67 votes for ratification, which means eight Republicans must support it along with all 59 members of the Democratic voting bloc. But some are trying to hold off the vote until the new Congress in January, when 14 Republican votes will be required for the necessary two-thirds majority. That doubtless would put a stop to START, and seriously undercut our worldwide credibility.

This is foolish, dangerous partisanship, plain and simple; Republicans denying President Obama even the most sensible initiative just to further undermine his chances for reelection without regard to the international consequences, which include a possible strengthening of Russian hardliners, an end to that nation's cooperation on Afghanistan and Iran, and a general destabilization of the balance of power.

This is a treaty endorsed, as Steven Benen of Washington Monthly has pointed out, not only by the leaders of NATO but by six former secretaries of state and five former secretaries of defense from both parties, seven former Strategic Command chiefs, national security advisers from both parties and nearly all former commanders of US nuclear forces. Not to mention Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, who described START as "essential to our future security."

But to many hard line Republicans, like the cranky travelers who balk and rage at scans and searches, security may no longer be the priority it once was. Not when there's a presidency to destroy.


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

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

in the spirit of the season

by W. S. Merwin

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

(c) W.S. Merwin

Identity Crisis

One day, I was having an identity crisis, so I decided to Google myself. There, split like a bunch of atoms into letters, was my name, and entries that seemed to
pertain to a person by my name.

But, factored into the mix were items that had nothing to do with me. There were other "Jayne Stahls." One could fill an entire ship with nothing other than the others who share my name.

It was then I wondered about this mysterious pronoun I've spent the better part of my life trying to avoid: "I." In this age of social networking, I wondered what will happen when there no longer are personal pronouns, when the whole world moves from "I" and "you," "us," and "them" to a simple "we."

Ultimately, isn't nationalism about a country's identity crisis? Would North Korea attack South Korea if there weren't a north and a south, a mine and yours? Would Sunnis and Shi'ites be at each other's throats if not for "mine" and "yours?"

And, when there is no other, how is it possible for a country, in the name of international nationalism, not to come up with one. Cannot every Afghani say, "I am the Taliban?"

Any quest for identity that begins and ends with how others define us is one that is destined to fail. Identity isn't about "I," it is about all of us.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Would Would JFK Say?

Incredibly, it was fifty years ago that another young senator was elected as president, and nearly fifty years ago that his life was cut short that fateful day in Dallas. His life, yes, but not his legacy.

For the past week or so, I haven't been able to stop thinking about John F. Kennedy, and what he might say were he to be here now.

So, in memory, and with deference, if he could reach across time to another young president, Barack Obama, here is some of what I think he might say:

. Exit is an action, not a strategy, Mr. President. Begin phased withdrawal from Afghanistan now.

. Lead by example, not by drone.

. Restore the rule of law. Waterboarding is torture, and it is illegal. It is no less illegal when the president's counsel says it is. Prosecute those who defy the rule of law whether they be Army privates, or presidents.

. Close Gitmo, Bagram, and end extraordinary rendition.

. Let tax cuts for the rich expire, and reinstate the ban on assault weapons.

. Now that the radical right has again taken hold of Congress, don't let them roll back affirmative action. Part of their agenda will be to continue to chip away at Roe v. Wade until a woman's right to choose is turned over to the states. Choice is affirmative action. Choice is not about abortion, or reproductive rights, but a woman's right to equal opportunity by virtue of control over her body.

Democrats, in Congress, must quickly identify those tea party (John Birch Society) members who are among their ranks, the usual suspects who were around in the 1960's, too, and make sure that the electorate knows that when they vote for Dick Armey, Rand Paul, and others, they might as well be voting for Koch Industries, a company that was founded by a Texan, Fred Koch, who was also a founding member of the John Birch Society. His message, back in 1958, is virtually indistinguishable from that of the tea party today.

. Protect social security. Those who call for eliminating social security, and Medicare, are the same congressional members who are working to eradicate unemployment. They are also the same members of Congress who want to approve more funding for drones, and instruments of war. Do not stand by and allow Franklin Roosevelt's social programs infrastructure to be systematically dismantled. Cut Defense, not social security

. National security means a free press. Encourage Congress to stop stalling, and pass a federal shield law.

. START is just that, a start, and not the end. The goal is not reduction of nuclear weapons, but annihilation of nuclear weapons, "complete and total disarmament." Make Israel come clean about its nuclear programs the same as Iran. Nuclear non-proliferation must include all nations including India. A serious, and non-compromising approach is needed, not lip service and photo ops.

. It is not acceptable for this country's biggest export to be arms. The U.S. must not lead in the arms race, but in the brains race.

. The U.S. needs to join the global economy, not fight it.

. End the trade embargo against Cuba, and allow for open and free trade with that country.

. Initiate a new public works program that encourages energy independence by designing and implementing solar and wind power in lieu of electricity in federal office buildings for starters, and work for electric-powered trucks, buses, and airplanes.

. Censure China for its continuing human rights abuses, but look closer to home, and stop Immigration and Customs Enforcement from depriving undocumented immigrants, and legal residents of due process, arresting them, placing them in federal detention centers, and deporting them.

(JFK was a Massachusetts senator when, in 1954, the Supreme Court ruled on Brown v. the Board of Education. The court held that state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students were unconstitutional.)

Any attempt to deprive children of undocumented immigrants of public school education is likewise unconstitutional as would be any effort to deny citizen status to anyone born in the United States. This is an egregious violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

. Do not cut social programs to the indigent while incentivizing big business, Wall Street, and the banks. As JFK said, back in 1962, "If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich."

. There needs to be separation between elected officials and special interests. How is it that we allowed elected officials to become special interests?

. The path of multiple wars on multiple battlefields is not the path to peace. Freedom must not be paid for on the installment plan. War is not only unconscionable, it is also unconscionably costly in terms of loss of life. One life lost in battle is one too many.

. A government that chooses to stand alone by not joining the majority of the international community in signing treaties that call for the banning of cluster bombs, as well as abolishing capital punishment, but instead tries to legitimize war crimes is one that will forever live in infamy.

. There's a lot of money to be made in the business of terror, and until we take the profit out of terror, we will continue to be at war. As long as we put profit before people, the human race will join the endangered species list.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Somebody needs to tell Republicans that it's one thing to fake an orgasm, but faking a coup is something else entirely.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Michael Winship" "Don't Ask, Don't Care"

Don’t Ask, Don’t Care

By Michael Winship

Although I grew up in a small town, I live in the West Village of Manhattan, New York City, just three blocks from Christopher Street and the Stonewall Inn, where in 1969 a police raid led to angry demonstrations that marked the start of the gay rights movement. Yet in most ways my neighborhood is just like yours. We all co-exist. Kids go to school, business owners complain about the economy, everyone – straight or gay -- is worried about jobs.

I also work in an industry – journalism, media and entertainment -- in which men and women of diverse sexual orientation make extraordinary contributions every day, informing, delighting and annoying audiences of every age, gender, shape and hue. No problem.

Granted, a few members of that audience are bigots and pinheads, probably unaware that their favorite show or song was created by a team of imaginative people with social and personal lives unlike their own. So let’s keep them out of this.

Because it’s about this gays in the military thing. Listen, Congress. The majority of the people have spoken – as many as 78% of them in a May CNN poll, 50% in a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey. And it’s not so much “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” as simply, “Don’t Care.”

Don’t care if homosexual men and women openly serve in the armed forces as long as they do their job and defend their country. Don’t care what military men and women and men and men and women and women do in their spare time as long as it doesn’t involve minors, criminal activity or abuse. Don’t care because it’s none of our business.

I knew for sure that public and military opinion were changing on this issue exactly eight years ago, when I was guest lecturing at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. The school is just down the road from Fort Campbell, home of the 101st Airborne Division, and many of Austin Peay’s students are active duty military personnel, veterans and family members.

Keep in mind that not so long ago, at Fort Campbell in 1999, Private First Class Barry Winchell, who had been dating a male-to-female transgender performer he met at a club, was verbally and physically harassed and eventually murdered by another soldier.

But just a short time later, the young men and women with whom I spoke seemed fully comfortable with their gay and lesbian friends and comrades-in-arms, far more concerned with the safety of colleagues and loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan than how they behaved when the lights were out. In fact, these students frequently hung out together in gay or straight or transgender bars in nearby Nashville, at ease with their own and each others’ sexuality.

But now, despite wide public acceptance, the Senate may strip the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” from the defense appropriations bill to prevent a filibuster, just part of the continuing spirit of legislative negativity and resistance that denies the reality of everything from nuclear arms proliferation (the START Treaty) to climate change.

It’s all so reminiscent of that old Groucho Marx song, “Whatever It Is, I’m Against It.” Because the man threatening to filibuster is the Groucho – er, Grouchy – of the United States Senate, the newly reelected John McCain.

As vividly and hilariously illustrated this week by both Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow, the Senior Senator from the State of Cantankerous has shown that he can play a childish game of “Step over that Line” until well past bedtime, even after the bugler blows “Taps.” First, he said he’d consider backing repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell if the military’s top brass recommended it. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen did just that (as did their commander-in-chief, Barack Obama).

Not good enough, said McCain back in February. Before he’d go along he needed to see a study thoroughly surveying the military point of view.

Questionnaires were sent this summer to 400,000 active and reserve troops and 150,000military spouses. The results are officially due December 1 but word is out. The November 11 Washington Post reported, “More than 70 percent of respondents to a survey sent to active-duty and reserve troops over the summer said the effect of repealing the ‘don't ask, don't tell’ policy would be positive, mixed or nonexistent, said two sources familiar with the document. The survey results led the report's authors to conclude that objections to openly gay colleagues would drop once troops were able to live and serve alongside them.”

Still not good enough, McCain said on Sunday’s Meet the Press. He wants hearings and another report – this one “to determine the effects of the repeal on battle effectiveness and morale” (despite the fact that the December 1 report apparently does just that).

“McCain has said he wanted to hear from rank-and-file troops,” Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said. “He just heard loud and clear from them through the study. But he doesn’t like the answer – and is stonewalling, trying to run out the clock on repeal by calling for congressional hearings.”

An old Navy man like you should know when the boat has sailed, Senator McCain. Just this once, forget John Paul Jones and give up the ship. Remember the words of your conservative mentor, the man whose seat you inherited in the Senate, Barry Goldwater. In 1994, he wrote, "The conservative movement is founded on the simple tenet that people have the right to live life as they please as long as they don't hurt anyone else in the process.”

Or, even more succinctly and famously, in a 1993 letter Goldwater wrote to The Washington Post: "You don't need to be 'straight' to fight and die for your country. You just need to shoot straight."


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

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sanity, Madness, and the White House

I don't know about you, but I sure feel a whole lot better now that a groundbreaking investigative journalist, Bob Woodward, can confirm rumors that Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai, suffers from manic-depression. But, how does one explain the erratic behavior of the stock market over the past nine years? Peri-menopausal?

A "Physician's Desk Reference" sure would have come in handy to explain the blatant sociopathology that tried to pass itself off as government under George W. Bush. Some might even argue that the Bush years weren't really a presidency, but rather a robocall that went awry.

According to an article in The Telegraph, Mr. Karzai's often unpredictable behavior is caused by his propensity for going on and off his meds. Curious, isn't it, how adept we are at recognizing emotional turbulence in the leadership of other countries, and how we don't have a clue when it comes to our own?

It seems perfectly rational to me for the president of a sovereign state to say that "the time has come to reduce military operations" and, as Mr. Karzai also told the Washington Post, "The time has come to reduce the presence of, you know, boots in Afghanistan...the raiding homes at night...Bursting into homes at night, arresting Afghans, this isn't the business of any foreign troops." While a statement like that might irritate the commanding general, Petraeus, it certainly shouldn't set off any alarms about whether or not le medication du jour was taken.

And, while we're in the habit of questioning how rational decisions are, what about the one this president made last month to continue funding four countries, including the Sudan, that allow child soldiers.

As Truthout reports, a presidential memo not only allowed for child soldiers, but instructed Secretary of State Clinton that it is in our national interest to waive the "Child Soldiers Prevention Act," signed by President Bush in 2008, thus enabling teenagers to lose more blood on the battlefield.

One has to question, too, how rational a White House is that can figure out a way to bypass international law, and permit a practice which, for generations, has been illegal. When he was interviewed upon release of his memoir, Mr. Bush didn't even blink when acknowledging that he personally authorized waterboarding and that the practice is legal because his lawyers told him it was. Well, those lawyers were, not coincidentally, on the White House payroll when, in the August, 2002 memo, they wrote that anything that doesn't result in mortality is permissible under their law.

Is it acceptable, too, for the U.S. to now top the list of global arms dealers? As a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute indicates, we're now the number one exporter of fighter jets. Our biggest market is in Israel, United Arab Emirates, and India, so remember when watching footage of the Middle East at war that, odds are, we supplied both sides with their fighter jets. We're now an equal opportunity destroyer and, at the same time, the country at the cutting edge of world destabilization.

Where is the sanity in a foreign policy that involves open-ended empire building in the name of gargantuan profits, profits which directly correlate with maximizing, and spreading destruction.

But, one might argue, President Obama wants endgame in Afghanistan. In his new book, Bob Woodward reveals President Obama talking about Afghanistan with Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The president says about the Afghan effort, "I'm not doing 10 years. I'm not doing long-term nation building. I'm not spending a trillion dollars," then why, for heaven's sake, doesn't he authorize the phased withdrawal of troops beginning immediately instead of announcing, through NATO, that he's allowing the 2011 deadline to slip through his fingers?

Half a century ago, in a similar conversation with his defense secretary, Robert McNamara, President John F. Kennedy, gave the command to begin the phased withdrawal from Vietnam. The word "command" is part of being a commander-in-chief.

Okay, so the argument that this president inherited an insane, delusional foreign policy from that other guy is fair, but only a fatalist would accept that as defeat. Some might say, too, that foreign policy is not this president's strong suit. That may also be true.

Doubtless future generations will give Obama far more credit for having cut taxes for 95% of Americans, and engineered the largest middle class tax cut of any before him than we have, but it's not too late. Encouraging Obama to pander to independents in order to regain momentum means a sure, and certain death for any so-called economic recovery.

In a climate in which both Democrats and Republicans are at each other's throats, the majority of Americans still favor seeing the Bush tax cuts to the rich expire, as scheduled, at the end of the year, so why is Obama even considering extending them? Has he gone from the audacity of hope to the audacity of cope? Despite their recent astronomical gains in Congress, no one really wants to see tax cuts for the other 95% of us expire, too. Yet, editorials in major newspapers are urging this president to talk truth to the American people, and tell them that taxes will need to be raised.

Truth is, our priorities need to be evaluated. If even 10% of the projected 2011 federal budget that has been allocated for defense were to be cut, we could make inroads toward reducing the deficit, satisfying the deficit hawks, and avoid raising taxes. If even 25% of the corporations that have successfully avoided paying income tax were forced to pay up, there would be no need to even talk about cutting social security, Medicare, and entitlement programs for the indigent. We're too busy extending entitlement programs to the rich to think about their effect on the poor.

Ultimately, the question isn't whether or not Hamid Karzai is taking his meds, but how is it that taxpayers can allow a Pentagon on steroids to commandeer, and topple everything that gets in its path including Congress and the White House?

Any government that lets itself be hijacked by warmongers, and commits to a tax plan that is socialism for the rich is one that can only be saved from peril by leadership that refuses to be coopted, and that stands up to say this White House is not for sale.

Friday, November 12, 2010


"I'd say you broke my heart, but I'm having trouble remembering you."

(from "Waiting to Download")

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

From Michael Winship

Riding the Rails, Looking for Work

By Michael Winship

Now that an entire week or so has passed, it’s possible to make a cool, complete and objective assessment of the meaning of the 2010 vote. Thus, ladies and gentlemen, it becomes clear what this election was all about: jobs.

I mean, just look at Monday’s Washington Post: “The record-breaking campaign showered billions of dollars on a broad array of companies, including broadcast conglomerates, polling firms and small-town restaurants, according to a Washington Post analysis of expenditure reports. Candidates spent at least $50 million on catering and liquor, $3.2 million at country clubs and golf courses, and $500,000 on pizza, coffee and doughnuts, the records show…

“The spending came at a fortunate time for many businesses struggling with tepid growth and a national unemployment rate stuck near 10 percent. Experts predict that total spending for the congressional midterms will approach $4 billion, putting it on par with the $3 billion ‘Cash for Clunkers’ program in 2009 aimed at boosting auto sales.”

Who says stimulus programs don’t work? Or that all that insane corporate spending on the elections didn’t do some good? Gosh darn it, if you’re an aspiring barista, you’ll be thrilled to learn that Democratic campaigns spent $24,000 at Starbucks, Republicans $17,000. And gym rats and personal trainers, be of good cheer.

According to the Post, “The Democratic National Committee spent $41,000 for memberships at a Results gym about seven blocks from its Washington headquarters,” keeping its candidates in physical trim if still flabby when it came to policy, decision making and vote getting.

Not unexpectedly, the largest amount of this free-flowing cash and whatever job creation accompanied it went to the broadcasters who sold airtime for that constant din of campaign ads that plagued us over the last weeks and months – an estimated $2.5 billion worth of revenues. Then there were the media buyers and campaign consultants, pollsters, direct mail and printing companies, caterers -- not to mention banks, credit card and check processing concerns, including Bank of America, American Express and ADP. Those financial heavyweights pulled in $140 million from the election cycle, as if they needed it.

Of course, the ones who do need it are the close to 15 million Americans still without employment, despite Friday’s Labor Department report indicating that 151,000 jobs had been gained in October.

As Catherine Rampell explained in the November 5 New York Times, “The jobless rate has not fallen substantially this year, largely because employers have barely added enough workers to absorb the people just entering the labor force. And even if the economy suddenly expands and starts adding 208,000 jobs a month -- as it did in its best year this decade -- it would still take 12 years to close the gap between the growing number of American workers and the total available jobs, according to the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project” (Gentle readers may recall that the Hamilton Project was founded by former Clinton treasury secretary, Citigroup mogul and Obama economic advisor Robert Rubin as a haven for Wall Street Democrats dedicated to the Clintonian principle of growth tied to deficit reduction and free trade.).

“I am open to any idea, any proposal, any way we can get the economy growing faster so that people who need work can find it faster,” President Obama said on Friday, but it’s to be hoped that his openness doesn’t extend to caving into the GOP and continuing permanently all of the Bush tax cuts – at a budget-bursting cost of almost $4 trillion over the next ten years.

Better to focus on infrastructure and more specifically a complete overhaul of the nation’s transportation system, creating jobs and opportunities that can’t be outsourced. But while the President is in full support of this – especially the expansion of high-speed rail service -- sadly, it seems Republicans are determined to undercut any such formula, scuttling programs in the name of a favorite mantra, slashing government spending.

Already we’ve seen New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie pull the rug out from years of planning and anticipated benefits by killing a proposed rail tunnel under the Hudson River that would have doubled commuter traffic in and out of Manhattan and created, according to its proponents, an estimated 6000 construction jobs. There’s no denying that it was the most expensive public works project in the United States nor that the cost to the state would be in the billions, but the long term benefits would far exceed that initial cost.

Newly-elected Republican governors Rick Scott of Florida, John Kasich in Ohio and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker all campaigned on turning down Federal stimulus money for high-speed rail links in their states. But according to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, former Republican congressman from Illinois, “The bottom line is that high-speed rail is a national program that will connect the country, spur economic development and bring manufacturing jobs to the U.S. It will also transform transportation in America, much like the Interstate highway system did under President Eisenhower.”

And as noted in a recently released report from the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs, the result of a September 2009 conference co-chaired by Bush transportation secretaries Norman Mineta and Samuel Skinner, “The United States can’t compete successfully in the 21st century with a 20th century transportation infrastructure -- especially when its chief trading partners, including not only the advanced economies of Western Europe and Southeast Asia but also rapidly developing countries like China, are making significant investments in cutting-edge transportation technologies and systems.” This could lead, the report said, to “a steady erosion of the social and economic foundations for American prosperity in the long run.”

Much of the Republican opposition points to maintenance and upkeep costs but as champion blogger John Cole notes, “Turning down a billion dollar train because you will have to pay 8 million a year in maintenance is like giving away a free car because you might have to one day buy windshield wiper fluid.”

That, friends, is something else this year’s election was all about: the triumph of shortsighted thinking over facing up to the long range difficult problems that threaten our future. Fasten your seatbelts; it’s going to be a bumpy two years.


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

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Hustlers and Politics 101

The infallible naivete of the American electorate never fails to disappoint. And, while I'm a longtime fan of columnist Robert Scheer, I can't help but take issue with an article of his published last month, "Obama Hires a Hustler."

Mr. Scheer writes urgently about President Obama's appointment of Tom Donilon to the position of national security advisor. Donilon, as Scheer reports, who has now become one of the president's closest aides, was chief lobbyist for Fannie Mae from 1999 to 2005. And, we all know what happened to Fannie Mae, as well as how laced with corruption the bank, and mortgage industry failings were.

But, to argue that this appointment is, in itself, a red flag is to deny the obvious: some corruption inheres in the political process itself.

Okay, so it might also be naive to suggest that it is just possible Mr. Donilon, who was one of Fannie Mae's biggest lobbyists at the zenith of its contemptible, fraudulent activities might be the best person to protect against that kind of financial upheaval again.

Some might even go so far as to claim that the best way to fight fire is with more fire. Is it likewise ingenuous to think that the maxim "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer" might apply here? It is easier to disarm them that way.

A play by Jean Anouilh comes to mind, "Antigone," in which the French playwright debunks the Sophoclean illusion of purity, and the notion that punishment somehow brings wisdom
Anouilh rejects the kind of sophistic black and white analysis that one finds in the original tragedy. It might not be a bad idea for us to reject that kind of bifurcation, too.

When Mr. Scheer writes that "Behind the wonderfully engaging smile of this president there is the increasingly disturbing suggestion of a cynical power-grabbing politician whose swift rise in power reflects less the earnestness of his message and far more the skills of a traditional political hack," the presumption is that this president is somehow unique in hiding an A plus poker player behind a captivating facade.

It is only the most naive who think, even for an instant, that anyone can win election in this country without being shrewd enough to smile, and count the cards as they're being dealt.

Indeed, those who, during the 2008 presidential campaign, compared Mr. Obama to President Kennedy were off base as are those who mystify him. Remember, it was JFK who said "Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names," and it was Kennedy who surprised everyone by offering the vice presidency to LBJ. Yes, Martha, some might consider that "power grabbing," but others might call it good political sense.

But, Mr. Obama is much closer to Lyndon B. Johnson, and some might also describe LBJ as a "cynical, power-grabbing politician." Does that mean we divest him of credit for getting Kennedy's Civil Rights Act passed? And, to the people of his day, even Abraham Lincoln might be considered both cynical, and opportunistic.
There are few who would deny, as Sheer asserts, that "we are drowning in a bipartisan cesspool of corruption, and the sooner we grasp that fact the better."

After a midterm election that shows record campaign spending, clearly, corruption is not optional with the vehicle. Still, some might prefer to think so.

Just for a moment, let's go along with Mr. Scheer's hypothesis. After all, Tom Donilon isn't the first one whose past connections have been questioned. There is, of course, Tim Geithner whose connections to Wall Street were challenging during his nomination process.

Yet, despite where each of these fellows found themselves five years ago, there is today a a push for greater regulation, bank consolidation, and credit oversight. This is not by way of endorsement of Donilon or Geithner, by any means, but instead to suggest that it was sound judgment that precluded the total collapse of the financial sector, and saved General Motors and the auto industry. Ford even posted a profit this year. As did, of course, the oil companies.

That said, for Mr. Obama to borrow stock market terminology, and call his November catastrophe a "midcourse correction," doesn't bode well for those who'd like to think this president hasn't forgotten where his bread is buttered. Those who went to the polls in droves didn't elect Barack Obama to channel Wall Street, but to reform it.

There's something else to grasp while we're in the business of grasping. This is not the time to look for political purity. The global economy, and our financial sector, are still at grave risk. Our "free market" system is in need of some serious restructuring. The Russians call it "perestroika." We can use some of their glasnost, and some of their perestroika, too.

What the tea partiers like to call "socialism" is nothing more than a worldwide attempt at a hybrid, and interconnected economy. A return to the unregulated, so-called free market system poses an egregious risk not just to our own financial market, but to the entire world.

It also must be recognized that, while the Democrats didn't deliver the kind of universal health care many of us had in mind, those of us who have been denied medical coverage because of a "pre-existing condition" can sleep better knowing that insurers can no longer turn us away at the drop of a hat. Thanks to "Obamacare," which should really be called "Romneycare," being human is no longer a pre-existing condition.

Those who are have preemptively doomed 2012 based on the electoral map of 2010 must go back and take another look at the electoral map of 2008. Remarkable, yes, how things can change in two short years, and yes, they can change back, too.

Those who are committed, both on the left and on the right, to making this a one term presidency, and are already performing post-mortems, had better be prepared to brace for a neo-con renaissance unlike anything we have ever seen before, and a generation of right wing Republicans that make Barry Goldwater look liberal in 2012, and for many years to come.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

This Is Not Rand Paul's America

Those who wanted to see a Paul in the White House will be happy to know that he is one step closer as of last night. Only this time, it's not Ron Paul, but Rand.

Yes, Rand Paul, a man who openly admits he would not have voted for the Civil Rights Act, and that he thinks it's perfectly fine for businesses to pick and choose whom they want to serve is one giant step closer to a Republican Party presidential nomination.

Before that happens, we must stand up proudly, and say, "It's too late, Mr. Paul, to take your country back to where it was before the Civil War. You no longer reflect the majority. We are now a nation of black, brown, and yellow; we are a nation of red, and blue. We speak Spanish, Chinese, Farse. We are Muslims, Jews, and atheists. We are straight, and we are gay. And, we're going to your country clubs, and your golf course. We'll be sitting next to you at your favorite watering hole. We're here, and we are here to stay."

For those who think affirmative action still counts, and who fought for equal rights and equal opportunity, roll up your sleeves. The fight began, and didn't end, last night.

We will deny Mr. Paul his John F. Kennedy senatorial moment with his wife, and children standing behind him, and that unspeakable look that destiny has called him to change the course of this country. We must work to see that a white man intent on taking back his country from people of color doesn't prevail for this is what the tea party is really about. It is the pain and misery of the confederacy repackaged, and recycled . Their pain must not be our pain.

We will fight this battle, and we will win, in memory of another president, John F. Kennedy, who strove to make it possible for children of color to attend the same schools as white children. We didn't allow the confederate flag to fly in this nation's capital more than a hundred years ago, and we will not allow it now either.

Midterm Election

Well, we still have New York and California. Maybe we can pick up the other states next time.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Michael Winship on "Restore Sanity" rally

Restore Sanity: A Report from Waaaay in the Back

By Michael Winship

Mistakes were made.

"Let's face it," a fellow rallygoer admitted. "We committed several tactical errors this morning."

As you may have heard, the worst part of Saturday's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, DC, was getting there.

We probably should have gotten up earlier. A lot earlier. Arriving at the Metro station nearest our hotel, my girlfriend Pat and I stood with dozens of others on the platform as train after train arrived, each so packed with rally attendees, their faces practically pressed to the window glass, it was impossible to get on board.

Finally, Pat suggested we take a train in the other direction, get off in the suburbs, then turn around, trying to get ahead of the mobs -- a good strategy that proved equally futile; there were just too many people. By 3 pm, the city's transit system reported that 350,000 passengers had ridden the system, the normal total for an entire Saturday. As yet another crammed train arrived, a nearby frustrated traveler sighed plaintively, "Is there anyone left in Maryland?"

Forsaking the subway for a bus ride, we finally got within walking distance, dropped off in Foggy Bottom near the State Department. So by the time we trudged over to the Mall to see Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert we were more than an hour and a half late for the big event and the crowd had reached perhaps a quarter million people. Meaning we saw the backs of a lot of heads and only occasionally, dimly could hear what was happening on the podium. Cat Stevens was there, right? (We caught up later, via C-SPAN.)

But it was worth it just to share in the overall exuberance of the crowd, although with Election Day glowering on the horizon sometimes it did feel a wee bit like On the Beach, with all those Australians boisterously singing "Waltzing Matilda" right before nuclear extinction.

And, as reported, the signs and banners were great. Good humored, they ranged from expressions of the silly and benign ("It's Very Nice to Be Here," "I Have a Sign") to the more pointed sentiment ("This Is a Democracy, Not an Auction," "Gay Nazi Mexicans Are Raising Our Taxes") to the intentional non sequitur (my personal favorite: "7-11 Was an Inside Job").

It was certainly the largest gathering I've seen at a DC rally since the anti-Vietnam protests of the late sixties and early seventies. And contrary to the predictions of some, it was not dominated by the young -- seniors were well-represented and stories abounded of planes and trains (including ours from New York) filled with older Americans on their way to Washington, exuberant fans of Stewart and Colbert sharing a message of rationality and wit triumphing over bellicosity and chaos.

But for all the laughs and congeniality on a sunny autumn day, for all the genuine rejection of right-wing cant and hypocrisy, there were a couple of things that seemed slightly askew. For while, as Stewart said of the media, "The 24-hour politico-pundit perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder," unfortunately for us, neither do irony and jokes effect lasting solutions. Nor do they necessarily bridge the gap with those, as journalist James Maguire wrote, covering the rally for The Washington Monthly, "far more displaced by the long recession... Those folks don't want to 'restore sanity,' they want to restore their jobs."

What's more, Maguire asks, "Is this just a comedy skit writ large, a ginormous living diorama of a Daily Show 'live at the scene' report? Or is it, under cover of irony... an effort to influence the course of politics in the direction Stewart's humor so obviously leans?"

Comedians injecting themselves into the American political scene are nothing new. As David Bianculli points out in his book, Dangerously Funny, Will Rogers, Eddie Cantor, Gracie Allen, W.C. Fields, and even Howdy Doody staged mock presidential campaigns. In 1968, Pat Paulson of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour on CBS actually had a professional political consultant for his faux White House run ("I don't want to be any more than I am today," the candidate claimed. "A common, ordinary, simple savior of America's destiny.").

Jon Stewart and his superb writing team have claimed to be nothing more than the kids who make wisecracks from the back of the classroom, never to be taken seriously as newsmakers or opinion leaders. But that hasn't really been true for a long time and now Stewart's standing in front of the class, lecturing at the blackboard.

Is that appropriate? And does it matter? Whether or not you agree, he's still the funniest teacher in school. Maybe, as a sign at Saturday's rally declared, "We Should Do This More Often."


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

Holistic Education

We have holistic medicine in this country, and there is also a strong need for holistic education, educators who view a student as a human being with many different facets, rather than compartmentalizing.

One of the major reasons the educational system is broken, and underperforming so dramatically, such that the U.S. is now ranked as 17th in educational competency in the world, is that we fragment instruction, and the learning experience, such that students do not see the connection between English grammar and math, history and geography.

This explains why it is not uncommon when an instructor introduces current events, during a class in which students read contemporary essays to facilitate basic writing skills, to have students say "this is not a political science class."

No, clearly it is not a political science class, but to develop critical thinking, and critical reading skills, one has to read articles from many genres including op-eds in the newspaper which may come under the heading "politics," something that may be anathema to students who have been encouraged to compartmentalize.

Or, when teaching a class on sentence fragments, when an instructor puts an equation on the board, it's not unusual to have a student exclaim "math was my worst subject," and when you try to explain to the student that one needs to employ logic in order to write effective arguments, and that logic requires skills not unlike those found in algebra, often one is met with a yawn. What is logic, but math with letters instead of numbers?

It is not the failure of the student to find the attempt to connect the dots among different branches of learning incomprehensible. Instead, it is the fragmentation of the learning experience from grade one, and continued through middle and high school that encourages students to see a separation between concepts that are ultimately linked.

By the time the student reaches university, they're habituated to compartmentalizing. The whole notion of a college "major" encourages them to select which fields they want to discover such that students, like myself, who excelled at writing were enabled to pursue "liberal arts," and effectively dismiss calculus, physics, and science, all subjects in which I did poorly in high school.

So, I ended up graduating with a 4.0 index, Summa Cum Laude, and why? Because I was part of an educational system that rewarded me for sticking to what I was good at, and that essentially rewarded my efforts to effectively compartmentalize, and learn selectively. A writer who doesn't get straight A's in subjects that rely upon good writing skills is not a writer. But, being a thinker and problem solver is essential to perform competently in today's global marketplace.

Frankly, had I been required, as an undergraduate, to at least dabble in physics, or calculus, I might have had a lower grade point average, but I would have had a better education, too.

A student who asks how a New York Times editorial that deals with abolition of the death penalty, or the odds of a Republican landslide in tomorrow's midterm election, is entitled to an answer from their instructor. In the end, it is up to the instructor to show the student how an article about the passing of Ted Sorensen is relevant to a class in basic college writing.

As a stated learning objective in all college classes, one must encourage the ability to think independently, critically, and to articulate from as many perspectives as possible how one arrives at a particular conclusion. This objective applies across the board from English composition to physics to basic math to basic science.

In the end, a student is not broken up into different compartments of language, math, physical education, psychology, biology, and higher order thinking. These are all connected.

Until there is an educational system in this country that requires students to at least venture outside their comfort zone, and take subjects in which they have less than excelled, we will find out position in education in relation to other industrialized nations slipping lower and lower.