Thursday, March 31, 2011

Counseling Required Before Military Intervention

Setting aside the fact that the last time this country had a formal declaration of war before engaging in a military operation was World War II, back in 1942, the actions of the executive branch since have effectively neutralized any legal mandate for such a declaration.

And, little by little, the forces that want to overturn another constitutional amendment, one that allows women to decide their reproductive future, are taking hold in this country.

Last week, South Dakota signed into law a measure that imposes the most egregious restriction on women seeking legal abortion in that state. In South Dakota, women are now required to get "counseling," and wait 72 hours, before the medical procedure may be performed.

And, while South Dakota is only one of 34 states, according to CNN, that mandates counseling before an abortion can be performed, and two-thirds of those states also require a waiting period, there is no such requirement for those who command our armed forces.

Savor the irony. Although the president is constitutionally accountable to Congress before we can go to war, for generations the White House has circumvented that prerequisite; most recently by arguing that the U.S. is acting on a U.N. directive.

Still, there is no law that mandates the chief executive of this country, the Secretary of State, and Secretary of Defense to get counseling as to alternatives to airstrikes, and military intervention, before any kind of combat operation can ensue. The mere suggestion of that would ignite the kind of rage from the president's cabinet we've not seen since our separation from England.

Yet, South Dakota's Republican governor wants to ensure that women are presented with what he calls "other alternatives" before exercising reproductive choice. The measure argues that a woman must be prepared for all the hazards, moral and physical, before exercising her constitutional right to a legal abortion. What "other alternatives" are soldiers who decide to enlist in the armed forces offered? What "other alternatives" have been discussed in Congress? None, and why not? How is it that the corporate imperative has been allowed to prevail over the Constitution.

The governor, and legislators in South Dakota, or any other state that requires women to go to a "pregnancy help center" before terminating her pregnancy, should likewise be required to present all prospective service men and women with reasonable alternatives to their tours of duty before requiring them to fight what amounts to a rich man's war.

And, as Raw Story reports, incredibly, a bill is inching its way through the largely GOP South Dakota legislature that would legally sanction the murder of abortion providers as "justifiable homicide." That anyone could get elected who could rationalize, and make an argument for killing anyone else is nothing less than baffling. Of course, the universal exception is, and has always been, war.

It was, after all, the GOP who responded most favorably to President Obama's speech, earlier this week, justifying what is called a limited military intervention in Libya. And, it's the same members of the GOP who support those airstrikes who are also most exercised about curtailing a woman's right to reproductive self-determination. Essentially, then, the GOP is more concerned about protecting the rights of a fetus than the lives of civilians, and soldiers who are victimized by war.

Some would argue that presidents already have a waiting period before taking us to battle, and that the purpose of the State Department is to counsel the executive branch, but it is not the role of the Secretary of State any more than it would be the role of a gynecologist to do anything more than inform his patient of her pregnancy. And, how can Congress provide counseling, or even be the venue for discourse of the merits or liabilities of a combat operation if the president hasn't made a formal disclosure to Congress until the issue of funding the war comes up?

In fairness to Mr. Obama, he certainly tried to avoid military intervention in Libya, and successfully managed to circumvent the kind of unilateral action seen over the past half century. His efforts to involve NATO, as well as to act under a United Nations directive, are a far cry from those of his predecessors.

Now if only the president could stick to international law, the Geneva Conventions, and the U.S. Constitution in how it treats those detained both at home and abroad. What is happening to Bradley Manning, and Jose Padilla before him, certainly cries out for adherence to the kind of humanitarian principles that are said to be at the core of our intervention in the Libyan crisis.

One would think that Congress, or the Supreme Court, would act to ensure oversight into executive branch overreach, especially when it involves overturning the Constitution. But, the Supreme Court that recently gave corporations First Amendment rights in the Citizens United ruling is not likely to deprive corporations of any royalties they might get as a result of an illegal war.

As Major General Smedley D. Butler suggested back in 1935,in War Is A Racket, it is not the role of Congress to declare war either, but "We must permit the youth of this land who would bear arms to decide whether or not there should be war."

Just as a woman is constitutionally protected to exercise her right of reproductive self-determination, so should America's youth have some say as to whether or not a war is justified, and we are no closer to hearing the whole truth of any combat operation now than we were in Butler's day.

While the ACLU and Planned Parenthood are prepared to challenge South Dakota's new law, South Dakota lawmakers may be on to something. The concept of a "pregnancy help center" might transfer well, and be justly applied to the period before battle.

If presidents and their henchmen, and henchwomen, are also required to adhere to a waiting period during which they must attend a "war help center" in which they must tell the truth and nothing but the truth, as well as listen to testimony from mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends, all those who are slated to be sent into the jaws of battle to preserve the bank accounts of the few for whom war is now, and has always been, profitable, we will surely have fewer wars.

The lives of service members, and civilians, are every bit as valuable as those of unborn fetuses.

If women who want to terminate their unwanted pregnancies, in accordance with their constitutional right, are now required in many states to undergo counseling, presidents and leaders who beat the war drum should also be reminded of all the hazards and liabiities of war not in the abstract, but from testimony of all those whose lives hang in the balance largely to bolster the corporate bottom line that help put them in office in the first place.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

75 years!

For those of you who have been following the musings of Aunt Sylvia, my father's older sister who is quite a character, yesterday was her 75th wedding anniversary. She has now been married to Uncle Ellie (nee Alex) for a lifetime!

The below account is about their wedding anniversary celebration from her granddaughter, and my second cousin, Bonnie:

"Yesterday was a wonderful day. Grandma Sylvia was the star of the show. It's so amazing how much life is left in 2 people. The last 6 months have been a big adjustment for them. Grandma is still 30 in her mind. Grandpa is getting up there but she keeps him going by making him completely Meshugana. Mom still sees them just about every day. Shes great.

The "Palms" is a very nice place though. They have a lovely 2 BR, 2 bath apt and the facilities are well decorated in good taste and immaculate. Staff is amazing as well. Most importantly they have round the clock care if needed. I don't know if grandma told you about the night she accidentally pulled the emergency cord at 3 am and when she turned around there was a 6 ft women standing over her. She jumped out of her socks. LOL

They also have a beautiful library (very Ralph Lauren), entertainment room, dining room, etc. I tell grandma I want to move in. It's better than the Hilton.

It was funny, yesterday when the music started playing, grandpa asked his bride to dance. I heard her say to him: "Why would I dance with you, you're so old." She did anyway. It was priceless.

Sylvia was truly the "Belle of the Ball." When flashbulbs were going off, she posed like a sex symbol loving every minute of it. Fantastic!"

Here is a link to an article about their anniversary from TCPalm, as well as links to some photos: photo of the couple taken on their wedding day, March 29, 1936 photo of the couple at their 75th
wedding anniversary

Saturday, March 26, 2011

More from Major General Smedley D. Butler

Apart from being an outspoken critic of venture militarism, Major General Smedley D. Butler was, at the time of his death in 1940, the most decorated marine in U.S. history.

The following, Common Sense Neutrality, is an excerpt from a speech Butler gave in 1939, four years after he wrote his legendary essay, War Is A Racket. which every president should be required to read before inauguration:

"The Government declares war.* To say helplessly: As individuals we have nothing to do with it, can't prevent it. But WHO ARE WE? Well, 'WE' right now are the mothers and fathers of every able-bodied boy of militry age in the United States. 'W' are also you young men of voting age and over, that they'll use for cannon fodder. And 'WE' can prevent it.

Now -- you MOTHERS, particularly:

The only way you can resist all this war hysteria and beating tomtoms is by hanging onto the love you bear your boys.

When you listen to some well-worded, well-delivered war speech, just remember that it's nothing but Sound. It's your

boy that matters. And no amount of sound can make up for the loss of your boy. After you've heard one of these speeches and your blood is all hot and you want to go and hit someone like Hitler--go upstairs where your boy is asleep. Go into his bedroom. You'll find him lying there, pillows all messed up, covers all tangled, sleeping away so hard. Look at him. Put your hand on that spot on the back of his neck, the place youused to love to kiss when he was a baby. Just stroke it a little. You won't wake him up, he knows it's you.

Just look at the strong, fine, young body--because only the BEST boys are chosen for war. Look at this splendid young creature who's part of yourself. You brought him into the world. You cared for him. That boy relies on you. You taught him to do that, didn't you? Now I ask you: Are you going to run out on him? Are you going to let someone beat a drum or blow a bugle and make him chase after it and be killed or crippled in a foreign land? Are the Mothers of America ashamed to make this fight to stay out of this European War on the ground of their love for their sons--for what better ground could there be?"

* - Were he to write this today, General Butler might amend the opening sentence to read: "Sometimes the Government declares war" in light of the fact that, for the past 40 years, presidents have by-passed Congress, and formal declarations of war.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Retaliation at San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant

A group of West Coast politicians this week have insisted the Nuclear Regulatory Commission better inspect nuclear reactors in the U.S. in light of the ongoing disaster in Fukushima.

As Reuters reports, a Democratic congresswoman, Lois Capps, has even asked the NRC to decline the license renewal request from the Diablo Canyon Power Plant. Reportedly, the NRC has already acquiesced, and approved safety investigations into U.S. nuclear reactors. Two California senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, have also urged that the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station also be inspected.

But, what good are inspections of plants if the truth is suppressed?

Not more than three weeks before the tsunami hit Japan and touched off the worst nuclear reactor catastrophe since Chernobyl, an environmental group in Orange County released an internal memo to the Los Angeles Times which says that workers at the San Onofre are afraid of retaliation if they report problems at their Southern California Edison-operated nuclear facility.

As the Times article states, an engineer at the plant said more than 24 workers who came forward to report safety problems said "they feared retaliation from management after they made complaints." 90% of those who feared management fallout from their complaints did, in fact, reportedly experience some retaliation..

One would think that complaints about plant safety would be welcomed by those who manage a nuclear generating facility that has acknowledged 10 times as many complaints as the industry average.

Likewise, one would think that operators of a plant that ranks lower than 75% in overall performance when measured against others in the U.S., according to a 2008 report by the Times, would not only welcome reports of problems by those who have firsthand experience with the reactor, but demand them.

Given that, according to Salon, a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission with more than a decade of experience regulating nuclear power plants is now an executive at the Shaw Group, the construction contractor responsible for building nearly all of U.S. reactors, one wonders just how many at the NRC will listen more to the "nuclear lobby" than to complaints from plant workers. Safety has had a long history of taking a back seat to profit in this country. And, what is happening in Japan now shows that the corporate bottom line has resulted in not only less talk, but less action, too, in that country.

Those lawmakers on the West Coast who are rightly concerned about plant safety are invited to look into the suppression of information about San Onofre's safety issues, and demand transparency from the operators and owners of all nuclear power facilities.


Just a Couple of More Things about NPR
By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Like Jake LaMotta and his brother Joey in the bloody boxing classic Raging Bull, we are gluttons for punishment. So here we are again, third week in a row, defending NPR against the bare-knuckled assault of its critics.

Our earlier pieces on the funding threat to NPR have generated plenty of punches, both pro and con. And although most of the comments were welcome, and encouraged further thinking about the value of public media in a democratic society, a few reminded us of the words of the poet and scholar James Merrick: "So high at last the contest rose/From words they almost came to blows!"

Nonetheless, reading those comments and criticisms made us realize there are a couple of points that these two wizened veterans of public broadcasting -- with the multiple tote bags and coffee mugs to prove it -- would like to clarify.

For one, when we described the right wing media machine as NPR’s "long-time nemesis," it was not to suggest that somehow public radio is its left wing opposite. When it comes to covering and analyzing the news, the reverse of right isn’t left; it’s independent reporting that toes neither party nor ideological line. We’ve heard no NPR reporter -- not a one -- advocating on the air for more government spending (or less), for the right of abortion (or against it), for or against gay marriage, or for or against either political party, especially compared to what we hear from Fox News and talk radio on all of these issues and more.

Take, for example, talk jocks John and Ken on KFI-AM Radio in Los Angeles. They beat on California’s state legislature like a cheap pinata. According to the Los Angeles Times, "Within a matter of moments, they refer to various lawmakers as 'traitorous pigs,' 'con artist' and 'Republican dirt bag.' They use gruesome sound effects to suggest the mounting of one legislator's head on a stake -- his entry into the duo's hall of shame."

The personalities, "whose frequent targets are taxes, labor unions and illegal immigrants, not only reach more listeners than any other non-syndicated talk show in California but also have the ear -- and fear -- of Sacramento's minority party.
"'There is nary a conversation about the budget that does not involve the names John and Ken,' said Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), the state Senate leader." And that's true whether what they say is grounded in fact or simply made up wholesale out of flimsy, opinionated cloth.

So what do conservatives really mean when they accuse NPR of being "liberal?" They mean it’s not accountable to their worldview as conservatives and partisans. They mean it reflects too great a regard for evidence and is too open to reporting different points of views of the same event or idea or issue. Reporting that by its very fact-driven nature often fails to confirm their ideological underpinnings, their way of seeing things (which is why some liberals and Democrats also become irate with NPR).

That’s why our favorite new word is "agnotology." According to the websiteWordSpy, it means "the study of culturally-induced ignorance or doubt," a concept developed in recent years by two historians of science at Stanford University, Robert Proctor and his wife, Londa Schiebinger.

Believing that global climate change is a myth is one example of the kind of ignorance agnotologists investigate. Or the insistence by the tobacco industry that the harm caused by smoking is still in dispute. Or the conviction that Barack Obama is a closet Muslim, and a radical one at that, who may not even be from America.

Those first two illusions have been induced by big business in a cynical attempt to keep pumping profits from deadly pollutants, whether fossil fuels or nicotine. The third, dreamed up by fantasists of the right wing fringe, is in its own way just as toxic and has been tacitly, sometimes audibly, encouraged by certain opponents of President Obama who would perpetuate any prevarication to further blockade his agenda and deny him and fellow Democrats reelection.

None of them is true; rather, they fly in the face of those of us who belong to what an aide to George W. Bush famously called "the reality-based community [who] believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'" He told journalist Ron Suskind, ''That's not the way the world really works anymore. We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality."

To the accusers of NPR, the created reality of however they define "liberal" is not the same as what they mean when they call themselves "conservative." If it were, the two would be exact reverse images of each other. Where media are concerned, all you have to do to know this is not the case is to hold them up, side-by-side.

If "liberal" were the counterpoint to "conservative," NPR would be the mirror of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and James O’Keefe, including the use of their techniques as well as content. Clearly it isn’t.

To charge otherwise is a phony gambit aimed at nothing less than quashing the public’s access to non-ideological journalism, narrowing viewpoints to all but one. We know from first-hand experience that any journalist whose reporting threatens the conservative belief system gets sliced and diced by its apologists and polemicists at Fox and on talk radio.

Remember, for one, when Limbaugh, took journalists to task for their reporting on torture at Abu Ghraib? He attempted to dismiss the cruelty inflicted by American soldiers on their captives as a little necessary "sport" for soldiers under stress, saying: "This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation... you [ever] heard of the need to blow some steam off?"

The Limbaugh line became a drumbeat in the nether reaches of the right-wing echo chamber. So it was not surprising that in a nationwide survey conducted by the Chicago Tribune on First Amendment issues, half of the respondents said there should be some kind of press restraint on reporting prison abuse. Half or more said they "would embrace government controls of some kind on free speech, particularly when it has sexual content or is heard as unpatriotic." Many of those people came after NPR for reporting what actually happened at Abu Ghraib.

But to clear up one other thing: what NPR also isn’t, is what it could be.In our support for its much-needed survival, admittedly we may have been a bit fulsome in our praise. Like many commentators who posted after our previous two pieces, as regular listeners we know there is room for improvement, the need for more diverse voices and for more courageous journalism that reports not merely what the powerful say but what they actually do for their paymasters.

Americans need more and sustained reporting on what the journalist William Greider calls "the hard questions of governance" -- those questions of how and why some interests are allowed to dominate the government’s decision making while others are excluded. Who gets the money and who has to pay? Who must be heard on this question and who can be safely ignored? None execute this kind of reporting better than Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez’s on Democracy Now, which, while carried by some public radio and television stations, is not distributed nationally by either NPR or PBS. Public media – radio and television – too rarely challenge the dictum: "News is what people want to keep hidden; everything else is publicity."

Yet in the words of Confucius, better a diamond with a flaw -- a big flaw -- than a pebble without. For all that it provides -- but mainly because it is a true journalistic, rather than ideological, alternative to commercial and partisan broadcasting -- we continue to support government funding of public media until such time as a sizable trust or some other solid, independent source of funding, unfettered by political interference, can be established that will free us to tell the stories America most needs to hear. Short of that we’ll need the courage, as one of our journalistic heroes, the late George Seldes, wrote, "to tell the truth and run."


Bill Moyers is a veteran broadcast journalist and managing editor of Public Affairs Television. Michael Winship, former senior writer of Public Affairs Television, is president of the Writers Guild of America, East.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Racket

"Why don't those damned oil companies fly their own flags on their own personal property--maybe a flag with a gas pump on it."

General Smedley D. Butler

(From War Is A Racket, 1937)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Encounter culture

My Encounter with Owsley

By Paul Krassner

In 1967, there was a concert in Pittsburgh with the Grateful Dead, the Velvet Underground, the Fugs and me, playing the part of a stand-up satirist.

There were two shows, both completely sold out, and this was the first time anybody had realized how many hippies actually lived in Pittsburgh.

Backstage between shows, a man sidled up to me. “Call me ‘Bear,’” he said.

“Okay, you're ‘Bear.’”

“Don't you recognize me?”

“You look familiar, but–”

“I'm Owsley.”

“Of course – Owsley acid!”

Fun fact: His nickname, “Bear,” was originally inspired by his prematurely hairy chest.

Now he presented me with a tab of Monterey Purple LSD. Not wishing to carry around an illegal drug in my pocket, I swallowed it instead.

Soon I found myself in the front lobby, talking with Jerry Garcia. As people from the audience wandered past us, he whimsically stuck out his hand, palm up.

“Got any spare change?”

Somebody passing by gave him a dime, and Garcia said thanks.

“He didn't recognize you,” I said.

“See, we all look alike.”

In the course of our conversation, I used the word “evil” to describe someone.

“There are no evil people,” Garcia said, just as the LSD was settling into my psyche. “There are only victims.”

“What does that mean? If a rapist is a victim, you should have compassion when you kick 'im in the balls?”

I did the second show while the Dead were setting up behind me. Then they began to play, softly, and as they built up their riff, I faded out and left the stage.

Later, some local folks brought me to a restaurant which, they told me, catered to a Mafia clientele. They pointed out a woman sitting at a table. The legend was that her fingers had once been chopped off, and she’d go to a theater, walk straight up to the ticket-taker, hold up her hand and say, “I have my stubs.”

With my long brown curly hair underneath my Mexican cowboy hat, I didn't quite fit in. The manager came over and asked me to kindly remove my hat. I was still tripping. I hardly ate any of my spaghetti after I noticed how it was wiggling on my plate.

I glanced around at the various Mafia figures sitting at their tables, wondering if they had killed anybody. Then I remembered what Jerry Garcia had said about evil. So these guys might be executioners, but they were also victims.

The spaghetti was still wiggling on my plate, but then I realized it wasn't really spaghetti, it was actually worms in tomato sauce. The other people at my table were all pretending not to notice.

It was, after all, the Summer of Love.

“Thanks for enhancing it, ‘Bear.’”

* * *

Excerpted from the expanded edition of Krassner's autobiography, Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counterculture – not sold in any bookstore. You'll find it only at, and as a Kindle e-book.

Friday, March 18, 2011

From Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

NPR: The Saga Continues

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

There’s no more scrupulous or versatile broadcast journalist than NPR’s Daniel Zwerdling. He is one of those reporters who keeps his eye on the sparrow – that is, on small details from individual lives that add up to significant issues of public policy.

As he described in a special report this week how the United States Army is clarifying guidelines "that should make it easier for soldiers with traumatic brain injuries from explosions to receive the Purple Heart," it was mind-boggling to think that right wingers in Congress were at that very moment voting to eliminate the modest federal funds that make such essential and authoritative reporting available to anyone in America who cares to tune in.

Zwerdling’s collaborator on this report was ProPublica (the non-profit and equally independent newsroom that won the Pulitzer Prize last year for a harrowing account of deadly choices made by a New Orleans hospital during Hurricane Katrina). As a result of their reporting, the Army now intends to give special priority to reexamining the cases of soldiers who suffered battlefield concussions, but who mistakenly may have been turned down for the Purple Heart, which historically has been awarded to soldiers injured by enemy action.

You may not think this such a big deal, but the symbolism of the announcement is potent. And it’s part of a larger, ongoing investigation conducted by Zwerdling and ProPublica’s T. Christian Miller into the military’s widespread failure to diagnose and treat traumatic brain injuries, the "signature injury" among troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan as they fall to roadside bombs and other explosives.

It’s also typical of the comprehensive and essential journalism that has been a hallmark of NPR since its creation in 1970. Once upon a time, in the early glory days of radio, corporate media took on the challenge of providing Americans with the kind of information critical to citizenship. No longer. Conglomerates long ago bought up the country’s commercial radio stations, closed down the news departments, and auctioned off the airtime to partisan polemicists or pre-packaged content devoid of journalism. Serious news on radio -- "the news we need to keep our freedoms," as the historian and journalist Richard Reeves once put it – has become the province of NPR (Full disclosure: We two have spent most of the last forty years toiling in the vineyards of public broadcasting, although never for NPR.)

Take Zwerdling’s investigations as just one example: Over the years, he has sorted out the complexities and secrets of the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster and the warnings that preceded it, dangers posed to humans by the plant pesticide Chlordane (it eventually was banned by the Environmental Protection Agency) and the failures of the Corps of Engineers to maintain safely the dikes and dams around New Orleans -- among many other stories. Multiply his efforts by those of all the modestly-paid but dedicated journalists at NPR and you have a forty year history that has given listeners a deeper and richer portrait of America and the world than any other broadcast news organization in the country -- with or without offense, as Byron said, to friend or foe.

In just the last few weeks, NPR has provided unique coverage of the job crisis in the United States, upheavals in the Middle East, and anxiety over the safety of nuclear power in the wake of the Japanese earthquake – as a matter of fact, many of the issues the House of Representatives should have been debating instead of posturing and pandering to its rightward political base.

Hear Steve Benen of Washington Monthly on the House Judiciary Committee’s vote the other day reaffirming “In God We Trust” as our national motto: "For months the new House Republican majority has wasted time on health care bills they know they can't pass, abortion bills they know they can't pass, climate bills they know they can't pass, and budget bills they know they can't pass. They've invested considerable time and energy on defending the Defense of Marriage Act, recklessly accusing Muslim Americans of disloyalty, going after NPR, and pushing culture-war bills related to vouchers, English as the 'official' language, and now 'In God We Trust.'"

And yes, on Thursday, following a number of missteps by NPR executives, including what has now been indisputably exposed as a disingenuous and dishonestly-edited video by a disreputable right-wing smear artist of the network’s chief fundraiser expressing some personal opinions, the House passed a bill cutting off government funding for NPR – all of this part of the "vanity project," as Benen calls it, that House Republicans have been running in order to feed red meat to Fox News and the partisan talk radio hosts who have turned the public airwaves -- remember, the airwaves above our fair and bountiful land belong to you, Mr. and Mrs. and Ms. America – into a right-wing romper room.

Opposing the bill to strip public radio of funding, Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett of Texas said, "My constituents turn to [public radio] because they want fact-based, not Fox-based coverage." The attacks, he continued, are "an ideological crusade against balanced news and educational programs."

And even Georgia Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss told an interviewer, "You know, an awful lot of conservatives listen to NPR. It provides a very valuable service. Should we maybe think about a reduction in that? Again, I think the sacrifice is going to have to be shared by NPR as well as others. But I think total elimination of funding is probably not the wisest thing to do."

Good for you, Senator. Because without public radio, the reactionaries among us will hold a monopoly on the airwaves.

And while we’re on the subject of wise things, let’s not forget public radio’s other programming: the arts and entertainment coverage that plays its own distinctive role trying to keep our democracy spirited, diverse, and imaginative. Think Garrison Keillor. Krista Tippett. Ira Glass. Think “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” “Car Talk” (yes, many of us are would-be grease monkeys). “On the Media” (the single best analysis and critique of media anywhere). And -- well, consult your local listings.
We’re talking here about something essential to American life. President Kennedy touched on it in a speech at Amherst College less than a month before his assassination in 1963.

Speaking in honor of the poet Robert Frost, who had recently died, the President’s words were directed to the role of artists but can also embrace the importance of a public media whose obligation is not to a political or corporate paymaster but to the integrity of the work, and the trust of the listener: "The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state," Kennedy said. "... In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves his nation. And the nation which disdains the mission of art invites the fate of Robert Frost's hired man, the fate of having 'nothing to look backward to with pride, and nothing to look forward to with hope.'"


Bill Moyers is a veteran broadcast journalist and managing editor of Public Affairs Television. Michael Winship, former senior writer of Public Affairs Television, is president of the Writers Guild of America, East.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Nuke Club

Nine years ago next month, I organized an event in a little country town about eighty miles north of Los Angeles.

The plan was to celebrate National Poetry Month and Nuclear Non-Proliferation, and the goal was to change the name to National Poetry/Non-Proliferation Month. Inspiration came from another poet who often visited Ojai, Allen Ginsberg, whose concern about nuclear annihilation along with that of Gregory Corso's "Bomb" inspired a whole generation to do more than hide under their desks, but turn instead to activism.

Not long after those poets warned about nuclear annihilation, another young president, John F. Kennedy, joined them, and pledged to work for "complete, and total disarmament."

The Local Hero isn't there anymore, and neither is John F. Kennedy, but the need for public awareness of the perils of nuclear power has never been greater.

There is, of course, a difference between what happened at Hiroshima, and what is happening in Japan now. Radiation leaking from a reactor pales by comparison to radiation from the explosion of a nuclear bomb. When a reactor in a nuclear power plant explodes and emits radioactivity, it does a fraction of the damage of the explosion of a nuclear bomb, but surely that distinction is lost on those, in Japan, who must now relive the nightmare that was Hiroshima. What is even more agonizing is that the nightmare of nuclear war, and uncontained radiation from a nuclear reactor are both preventable.

Those who argue that there is an egregious difference between the use of wartime nuclear power, and the need for peacetime uranium enrichment as an alternative to electricity seem to have forgotten the look on the face of a child whose parent has perished as a result of a nuclear disaster.

While Japan's nuclear plants account for roughly 30% of its energy, the cost of the devastation doesn't make up for the pain thousands are suffering, and will suffer for years to come, as a result of this disaster.

Are we to believe that any substance that can be an agent of mass devastation not just in the immediate future, but for generations to come, can be justified? And, by extension, are we to accept that the uranium enrichment programs of the Japanese are somehow more tolerable than those of Iran and North Korea?

More to the point, when confronted by the real prospect of nuclear holocaust, does the phrase "uranium enrichment" itself not emit a heinous irony?

In light of what just happened in Northern Japan, and what is now the second largest nuclear disaster in world history, it's time to consider how this planet can rationalize the development, and storage of any chemical compound that has the capacity to destroy the earth many times over for any reason, as well as whether it's okay for India, for instance, to pursue nuclear entitlement with impunity while Pakistan must be held in check.

Similarly, the international community must come to terms with the fact that it allows countries like the U.S., Russia, and Israel to proliferate while condemning others like Iran.

Disaster in Japan or not, the Obama administration is planning to spend another $56 billion in loans for nuclear reactors all over the U.S. As Greg Palast reports, Tokyo Electric, yes, Tokyo Electric will be to U.S. reactors what G.E. was to Japanese reactors.

There are already 104 nuclear plants in 31 states in this country, but they reportedly only provide about a fifth of the nation's electricity.

Is 20% of our electricity worth risking the kind of radiation poisoning that our friends in Japan currently face? And, in the final analysis, are we really looking for alternative energy, or way to grow corporate profit?

When, as Salon reports, a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission with more than a decade of experience regulating nuclear power plants, who is now an executive at the Shaw Group, the construction contractor responsible for building nearly all of U.S. reactors, has now signed on to do public relations for the "pro-nuclear lobby," something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

It doesn't take an expert at connecting the dots to figure out that when there's a buck to be made, whether it be in the manufacture of full-body X-ray scanners or in the building of nuclear power plants, somebody in Washington is going to be standing there with their hand out, and no shortage of apologies later.

Just as Congress has taken it upon itself to investigate the Transportation Security Administration while it re-tests full-body X-ray scanners after miscalculations were found, somebody better keep their eye on the NRC. That a regulator with the NRC is now in bed with the number one construction contractor of nuclear power plants in the country is not only incestuous, but downright frightening.

Maybe someday there will be a club for all the former regulators and elected representatives who sold their services to one lobby or another. At least 60% of it will be comprised of former defense department officials.

The only thing more frightening is the thought of an administration that just approved nearly $60 billion in loans, to Tokyo Electric?, to keep the fat cats happy for years while cutting school lunches, Planned Parenthood, and National Public Radio.

The profit margin now poses a far risk to national security, and the survival of the planet than any terrorist group, or military conflict.

So, as I sit here today looking out at a dark gray sky, like many in California, and wondering if any of that radiation is heading my way, I don't want to see any more footage of children whose parent will have died not to pursue an alternative source of energy, but to bolster the bottom line of some nuclear plant construction company.

Non-proliferation of nuclear power in any capacity seems like the only sane solution for an already challenged planet.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

TSA, Radiation, and "Record-keeping" Errors

Right around the time a 9.0 tsunami struck Japan and left in its wake the worst nuclear reactor disaster since Chernobyl, the Transportation Security Administration made public the results of its internal review that shows what they call "record-keeping errors" and miscalculations by TSA contractors.

These contractor errors, as CNN reports, relate to assessing the risk from radiation of full-body scanners, and have prompted the Agency to call for the re-testing of radiation levels.

On Wednesday, the House will hold a hearing to investigate the oversight of full-body scanners by the TSA.

Given the non-stop media coverage of radiation threat from fires, and meltdowns at four Japanese nuclear reactors, and the unprecedented sale of potassium iodide here in the U.S., it seems only sensible that our government should demand oversight from the TSA of full-body X-ray scanners of which 80% of Americans approve, but which are deemed to be a cancer risk by medical experts. There isn't a whole lot Congress can do about a wind-driven nuclear cloud that spreads over the northwest, but there is something Congress can do about the proliferation of inconclusively tested, but lucrative X-ray body scanners.

While Mom and Pop Jones, in Seattle, are running to their local pharmacy to get their hands on as much potassium iodide as possible, they don't think twice about radiation risk from going through full-body scanners on their way to visit the grandkids for Thanksgiving.

What's more, a leading supplier of potassium iodide, as the Wall Street Journal reports, "quickly sold out of its supply of more than 10,000 14-tablet packages on Saturday," and the company was getting about three orders a minute at one point.

Not a peep about popping a potassium pill before flying, or before entering a federal building from anyone either, only more concern about inhaling radiation from thousands of miles away. We know the shares of one pharmaceutical company went through the roof over the past week.

Why should anyone be scared of body X-ray that's designed to keep us safe? Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano smugly dismisses any radiation threat from full-body scanners saying that the amount of exposure is equal to a few minutes of flying time. It doesn't seem to bother Homeland Security that several medical experts might take issue with that statement, either.

Hopefully, Congress won't be as dismissive when, at Wednesday's hearing on TSA oversight, they consider that the Agency's own inquiry found problems with "more than a quarter of the reports it reviewed," according to CNN.

While the TSA insists that these calculation errors have nothing to do with full-body X-ray scanning safety, there are more than a few highly respected scientists who would beg to differ. As I reported in November, in The Huffington Post,, those who are experts in the field are not as dismissive as Ms. Napolitano when it comes to consumer safety.

There are easily something like two million people who fly every day. Many business travellers fly often, and are at repeated risk of contamination from full-body radiation scanners.

Importantly, it isn't only the dose of radiation to which one is exposed that counts. Scientists have said that regular exposure to even low doses of radiation can very well lead to cancer.

And, full-body scanners aren't limited to airports, but they are now also being used in some public schools, and federal buildings.

The TSA's plan to re-test as many of the full body X-ray scanners as possible at the end of this month is a good one, as is posting the results of radiation tests on the TSA's Web site, but anything less than the scrupulous supervision Japanese government, and Japanese scientists are giving to radiation from their reactor meltdowns is short-changing the public.

Congress will be derelict in its duties if it fails to demand accountability from any government agency that holds not only the public's trust, but the public's health in its hands.

Friday, March 11, 2011

From Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

In Defense of NPR
By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Come on now: Let’s take a breath and put this NPR fracas into perspective.

Just as public radio struggles against yet another assault from the its long-time nemesis -- the right-wing machine that would thrill if our sole sources of information were Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and ads paid for by the Koch Brothers -- it walks into a trap perpetrated by one of the sleaziest operatives ever to climb out of a sewer.

First, in the interest of full disclosure: while not presently committing journalism on public television, the two of us have been colleagues on PBS for almost 40 years (although never for NPR). We’ve lived through every one of the fierce and often unscrupulous efforts by the right to shut down both public television and radio. Our work has sometimes been the explicit bull’s eye on the dartboard, as conservative ideologues sought to extinguish the independent reporting and analysis they find so threatening to their phobic worldview.

We have come to believe, as so many others have, that only the creation of a substantial trust fund for public media will free it from the whims and biases of the politicians, including Democratic politicians (yes, after one of our documentaries tracking President Clinton’s scandalous fund-raising in the mid-90s, the knives were sharpened on the other side of the aisle.)

Richard Nixon was the first who tried to shut down public broadcasting, strangling and diverting funding, attacking alleged bias and even placing public broadcasters Sander Vanocur and Robert MacNeil on his legendary enemies list. Nixon didn't succeed, and ironically his downfall was brought about, in part, by public television's nighttime rebroadcasts of the Senate Watergate hearings, exposing his crimes and misdemeanors to a wider, primetime audience.

Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich tried to gut public broadcasting, too, and the George W. Bush White House planted partisan operatives at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in an attempt to challenge journalists who didn’t hew to the party line.

But what's happening now is the worst yet. Just as Republicans again clamor for the elimination of government funding and public broadcasting once more fights for life, it steps on its own oxygen line. The details are well-known: how NPR’s development chief Ron Schiller stupidly fell into a sting perpetrated by an organization run by the young conservative hit man James O’Keefe, a product of that grimy underworld of ideologically-based harassment which feeds the right’s slime machine. Posing as members of a phony Muslim group, O’Keefe’s agents provocateurs offered NPR a check for $5 million -- an offer that was rejected.

But Ron Schiller couldn’t leave it there. Unaware that he was speaking into a hidden camera and microphone, and violating everything we’re told from childhood about not talking to strangers, he allowed the two co-conspirators to goad him into a loquacious display of personal opinions, including his belief that Tea Partiers are racist and cult-like. As the record shows, more than once he said he had taken off his "NPR hat" and was representing himself as no one other than who he is. His convictions, their expression so grossly ill advised in this instance, are his own.

Ron Schiller’s a fundraiser, not a news director. NPR keeps a high, thick firewall between its successful development office and its superb news division.

The "separation of church and state" -- the classic division of editorial and finance -- has been one of the glories of public radio as it has won a large and respectful audience as the place on the radio spectrum that is free of commercials and commercial values.

If you would see how this integrity is upheld, go to the NPR website and pull up any of its reporting since 2009 on the Tea Party movement. Read the transcripts or listen to its coverage -- you will find it impartial and professional, a full representation of various points of view, pro and con, Further, examine how over the past few days NPR has covered the O’Keefe/Schiller contretemps, and made no attempt to cover up or ignore its own failings and responsibilities.

Then reverse the situation and contemplate how, say, Fox News would handle a similar incident if they were the target of a sting. Would their coverage be as "fair and balanced" as NPR’s? Would they apologize or punish their outspoken employee if he or she demeaned liberals? Don’t kid yourself. A raise and promotion would be more likely. Think of the fortune Glenn Beck has made on Fox, spewing bile and lies about progressives and their "conspiracies."

And oh, yes, something else: remember what Fox News chief Roger Ailes said about NPR executives after they fired Fox contributor Juan Williams? "They are, of course, Nazis," Ailes told an interviewer. "They have a kind of Nazi attitude. They are the left wing of Nazism. These guys don’t want any other point of view." When the Anti-Defamation League objected to the characterization, Ailes apologized but then described NPR as "nasty, inflexible" bigots.

Double standard? You bet. A fundraiser for NPR is axed for his own personal bias and unprofessionalism but Ailes gets away scot free, still running a news division that is constantly pumping arsenic into democracy’s drinking water while he slanders public radio as equal to the monsters and murderers of the Third Reich.

Sure, public broadcasting has made its share of mistakes, and there have been times when we who practice our craft under its aegis have been less than stalwart in taking a stand and speaking truth to power. We haven't always served well our original mandate to be "a forum for debate and controversy," or to provide "a voice for groups in the community that may be otherwise unheard," or helped our viewers and listeners "see America whole, in all its diversity." But for all its flaws, consider an America without public media. Consider a society where the distortions and dissembling would go unchallenged, where fact-based reporting is eliminated, and where the field is abandoned to the likes of James O'Keefe, whose "journalism" relies on lying and deceit.

We agree with Joel Meares who, writing for the Columbia Journalism Review, expressed the wish that NPR had stood up for themselves and released a statement close to the following: "Ron Schiller was a fundraiser who no longer works for us. He had nothing to do with our editorial decision-making process. And frankly, our editorial integrity speaks for itself. We’ve got reporters stationed all over the world; we’ve won all sorts of prizes; we’ve got an ombudsman who is committed to examining our editorial operations. If you think our reporting is tainted, or unreliable, that’s your opinion, and you’re free to express it. And look for the evidence. But we will not be intimidated by the elaborate undercover hackwork of vindictive political point-scorers who are determined to see NPR fail."

That's our cue. Come on, people: Speak up!

Bill Moyers is a veteran broadcast journalist and managing editor of Public Affairs Television. Michael Winship, former senior writer of Public Affairs Television, is president of the Writers Guild of America, East.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The Roofers

The leaves come
back slowly
after the roofers
shave the tree for
better access.
The leaves are
back in red and
we could live for
days beneath
those branches bent,
but not broken by
were it not for
the roofers who
come, yet again, to
shake the leaves

(c) Jayne Lyn Stahl

all rights reserved

Tuesday, March 08, 2011


Openness Can Help Lift the Curse of Resources

By George Soros

The natural resources sector has the potential to generate billions of dollars in revenues that can be used for poverty reduction and sound investment. For decades, however, management secrecy has allowed corruption to thrive in countries such as Angola, Cambodia and Guinea. According to Nigeria’s own corruption agency, up to $400bn of oil money has been stolen or wasted over the past 50 years. And in Libya, in particular, we now see a population rising against rulers whose control has been financed by the immense revenues they manage, and mismanage, in secret.

Ending this problem and letting new democracies flourish will, of course, not be easy. The resource curse undermines the investment climate, raises costs for companies, threatens energy and mineral security, and consigns millions of citizens in resource-rich countries to poverty. But evidence suggests that transparency in extractive industries can play an important role.

In 2002, I helped to launch the Publish What You Pay coalition, a global network of civil society organizations that has advocated for better management of oil, gas, and mining revenues, and worked to ensure monies received are invested in schools, hospitals, and poverty reduction. The coalition recruits oil companies, which then pledge to reveal what they pay to the governments and leaders of the states in which they operate, allowing them to be held accountable. In Liberia, this approach has seen moves towards new transparency standards, including openness on payments and contract terms—amazing progress in a country better known for former president Charles Taylor’s macabre violence and blood diamonds.

There are further positive signs from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, an alliance to improve standards of transparency on a voluntary basis. Azerbaijan’s credit rating improved in part because it played a constructive role in the initiative. This week, after the first democratically held elections in its history, Guinea rejoined the initiative too, because its leaders know that with EITI membership comes a better investment climate.

Now, governments that regulate stock markets are going one necessary and long-awaited step further in establishing mandatory listing rules. In July 2010, the U.S. passed the Dodd-Frank Act, which requires all oil, mining, and gas companies registered in the U.S. to report payments to foreign governments, both by country and by project. Companies as diverse as PetroChina, BHP Billiton, and BP will have to comply. Similarly, Hong Kong recently improved the disclosure of its companies’ payments as a condition of listing on its exchange.

The French and UK governments have also indicated support for new European oil and mining rules. EU revenue transparency legislation could build on U.S. plans to move towards a new global transparency standard. The London Stock Exchange is one of the world’s most important financial markets, hosting more than £1,000bn worth of oil, gas, and mining capital. It should follow others’ lead and change its rules too.

All of these measures hold great promise. Africa is the new frontier for investors in the natural resources sector, holding a 10th of the world’s oil reserves, 40 percent of its gold, and significant reserves of other minerals vital for modern industrial economies. The Middle East, meanwhile, could soon develop a string of prosperous democracies. Those promoting greater transparency in the natural resources industries are helping to reinforce powerful historical forces, which will unlock transformational sums of money to improve the lives of millions of people in some of the most fragile countries in the world.

(This article first appeared in the Financial Times)

Monday, March 07, 2011

Bay Area Rude Transit?

For as long as I can remember, there are two Bay Area institutions one dare not denigrate. One is Craigslist, and the other is Bay Area Rapid Transit. Both have now been discredited.

BART police came under intense media scrutiny when a passenger was shot and killed by an officer who claims to have mistaken his stun gun for his pistol. Now, a mind-boggling report has been released that links the cushioned seats on Bay Area Rapid Transit trains with a deadly strain of bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics.

But, one thing this study neglects to mention is that it isn't just the cushioned seats that are compromised, but there is systemic arrogance, and indifference to consumer needs.

This Saturday evening, I took the legendary BART train from the San Francisco Airport heading to the East Bay. It wasn't the first time I've taken BART, but it was easily the worst time.

Apart from the fact that there wasn't one single employee to be found in a busy airport station, not even in an information booth, there was only a single track and a digital signpost overhead with confusing times listed. Aha, I see "4, 21" must mean that a train will come in another 4 minutes, followed by one in another 21 minutes, but where do those trains go?

Naturally, when one sees fellow passengers waiting for a train, one's first impulse is to ask them, but their staunch, and dedicated response is: "I don't know." Yes, that's right, even when asked which trains stop there, folks seated on the platform uniformly reply, "I don't know." Of course, I think, they must be resentful. It's not their job to answer train queries. They're not on BART's payroll. And, apart from no information booth, there are no transit police, nor any kind of security.

After deciding that I'd be damned before I'd get on the wrong train, scout out a conducter, to find that I was on the wrong train, only to get off and wait another 20 minutes for another one, I approach an attractive, well-groomed fellow who appears to know where he is going as he stares intently at the tunnel. "Excuse me, but do you know which direction this train goes in?" His response is surprisingly polite, "Sorry, I don't. I'm from the U.K."

Oh, that explains it. He's not from around here, that's why he's so polite. We strike up a conversation, and he tells me he's from London. In the space of three minutes, the word "safe" comes up about five times. "Is it safe here?" he asks anxiously. I tell him, "safe is a relative concept."

No sooner does he ask than a train arrives. I must have had a long day, I think, as the train can only head in one direction, and that's toward San Francisco and the outlying suburbs of the East Bay. My bad.

Poor fellow from London has just gotten off an international flight. He must be wiped out. I signal to him to come with me to look at a transit map, and show him that his stop, Civic Center, is about six stops from where we are. "How long will that take?" he asks. About 30 minutes, if there are no delays. He looks at me quizzically, and asks again "Is Civic Center safe?" I advise him to splurge, and spend the ten bucks on a taxi from the BART station the short distance to his hotel.

As I look around the train, I see passengers slurping coffee, putting their feet up on the seats, even a young woman who has stretched clear across a seat with her feet on the seat cushion itself. Over in the far right corner is a dissheveled older man hugging a big backpack he has brought on the train with him. He looks like he hasn't showered in weeks. Odds are, he is one of the many homeless who shell out ten bucks for a place to sleep at night.

As has been my habit for more years than I care to count, I look down at a seat before sitting in it. The cloth seat on this train looks like someone spilled coca cola all over it, and I wouldn't dare get close enough to smell it. I would stand, of course, but I would have to stand for about 90 minutes on a train that bolts unpredictably. One wonders where the ten buck fare goes.

People are coughing, and sneezing all around, and can't open a window. This is a hypochrondiac's worst nightmare, and this is the best part.

I remember four years ago when I rode BART for the first time in several years from the Pleasant Hill station. When I was unsure as to which train to take, I approached a woman in uniform who was walking from a coffee stand with a cup of coffee in her hand. It was maybe 8 or 9 a.m. I asked this woman, who was obviously a BART station employee, if she knew which platform I needed to be on. She responded in a surly tone, "Can't you see the coffee? I'm on break."

By a stroke of luck not unlike the one I experienced this weekend, I heard an announcement and noticed a flock of people racing up a staircase to San Francisco, so I followed them.

About six months after that, I had another question of a BART employee who was the only one working in the station booth. As I approached the glass station, I saw she was openly reading a dimestore novel. She looked up gruffly as if I was disturbing her reading, and answered me. Again, she was the only one working at the station at the time.

Then, maybe a few months after that, I had trouble with the automated machine which ate my money, so I went over to the one and only person working at the BART station, inside the glass booth, and she was clearly yakking away on the telephone. She looked at me like I had some nerve interrupting her phone call. She, by the way, ignored me.

Last week, a gentleman was sitting inside the BART station and right across from the automated machines where one buys a ticket. He was chain smoking, and making it impossible for anyone to buy a BART ticket without breathing his smoke. He was in violation of both BART rules, and a county ordinance making it illegal to smoke within 15 feet of a building.

When I approached the BART station worker in the glass booth, she was irascible, and said "This is a BART police matter. I will call BART police." I calmly explained that BART police would be there in 20-30 minutes at which point this gentleman would have been done with his cigarette. All she needed to do was what all her colleagues did before her, and make an announcement that "Smoking is prohibited in the BART station," but clearly she didn't think that was in her job description. I'd like to know what is?

According to, the average union worker for BART makes about $115,000 a year, so if this station worker in the little glass booth works part-time, she probably earns something like $70,000 a year, and has incredible benefits. And, from what I see, they try to do as little as possible for their money, and they get away with it.

BART restrooms in San Francisco are closed, and have been, for nearly a decade. This is supposedly a "national security" matter, but it represents a huge savings to BART as they no longer have to service those restrooms nor supply them with product.

Frankly, it was an article in today's New York Times that prompted me to come forward with these observations. As the Times reports, "fecal and skin-borne bacteria" that are drug-resistant have now been found in BART's cloth seats. What's worse, while tests are not conclusive, it looks like MRSA, a bacteria that has been linked to lethal infections is likely present in those cloth seats.

The Bay Area's primary mass transit system from San Francisco to the east, and one that transports over 300,000 commuters from the suburbs to the city every day, had better take a long hard look not only at changing from cloth to plastic seats, but in changing their attitude toward its customers for whom they have shown only dedicated disdain.

San Francisco has long been among the world's favorite cities, but in order to preserve its reputation the city must replace a heartless provincial resistance to criticism of its transportation infrastructure with a steadfast desire to recognize any flaws, and work to remedy them.

Friday, March 04, 2011

From Michael Winship

Wackos of the World, Unite!

"Sell crazy someplace else, we're all stocked up here."

Given the level of wackiness that seems to have afflicted this third planet from the sun, Jack Nicholson’s immortal line in the movie "As Good as It Gets”" (written by Mark Andrus and James L. Brooks), should become our worldwide slogan. Sure, it’s always a cuckoo fest here on Earth, but this week it seems the out-of-control dial has been cranked up way beyond 11.

There’s Muammar "Gunshots? What Gunshots?" Qadaffi, who blames rebellion in Libya on a bunch of crazy, mixed up, drug-addled kids, al Qaeda and for all we know, fluoridated water. Then there’s Charlie Sheen who, in the vocabulary of recovery, epitomizes the so-called "arrogant doormat," bragging of his Adonis DNA (oh, brother) while whining about the ill treatment that has given him an estimated net worth of $85 million -- a hubris reminiscent of the Emperor Caligula, if Caligula had a Golden Globe and unlimited access to cocaine.

Presidential candidate and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee earned a place on the round the bend roster this week with his claim that President Obama had grown up in Kenya and his subsequent "what I meant to say" contortions, although he may have been outdone by cockamamie radio host Bryan Fischer, who told Huckabee, "What got lost in all the shuffle was the legitimate point that you were making is that we may have a president who has some fundamentally anti-American ideas, that may be rooted in a childhood where he had a father who was virulently anti-colonial, hated the British."

Wait -- anti-colonial, hated the British -- does that mean Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Franklin were un-American? I'm so confused.

Not as confused as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and his Republican state legislators, who continue to stomp their feet and threaten to hold their collective breaths until they turn a very un-GOP-like blue if Democratic senators don't return to the capitol and create a quorum. That quorum would allow Republicans to destroy the collective bargaining rights of the state's public employee union members, despite major opposition from Wisconsin voters.

Violating the first rule of what to do when you find yourself in a hole -- stop digging -- Walker and his legislative pals have levied fines against the Democrats, attempted to withhold their wages and on Thursday placed them in contempt and ordered the Senate sergeant-at-arms to "take any and all necessary steps, with or without force" to haul the runaways in. They even tried to make illegal the kind of prank call that fooled Governor Walker into thinking he was discussing strategy with right-wing bankroller David Koch, and attempted to limit public access to the capitol building, despite a court order to the contrary.

In protest, like Peanuts' Lucy van Pelt and her psychiatrist stand, Democratic members of the state's lower chamber moved their desks outside to the capitol grounds. It's cold, but they're used to it -- as the old joke goes, when it's fifty below zero, Hell freezes over and Wisconsin schools start two hours late.

So who's the worst of all these foolish masters of denial? In some respects it's pretty much a dead heat on a merry-go-round, although Qadaffi has the definite lead when it comes to lunacy with hideous consequences. But challenging them all for the slippery grasp of reality prize is that maelstrom of madness, the US House of Representatives.

Two weeks ago, the House voted 244-179 to end American funding for the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), just their latest refusal to accept the legitimacy of manmade global warming. As astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson recently said, the great thing about science is that it’s true whether you believe it or not, but this crowd clings to the mantra that if they keep insisting that climate change isn’t happening the industrial pollution of the planet’s air supply can go on unabated.

They once again invoked the specter of "Climategate," the continuing canard that the contents of stolen e-mails from a British university invalidate a 2007 IPCC report reconfirming that human activity has "very likely" caused "most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century." But there now have been five investigations of this alleged scandal, including a February 18 report from the inspector general of the Department of Commerce, and none of them has found any evidence of "inappropriately manipulated data."

Not that it matters. Providing fact-based reporting and analyses for this House majority is tilting at hot air-driven windmills. Just look at their budget. TheFinancial Times quotes a report from a Goldman Sachs forecaster: "The Republican plan to slash government spending by $61bn in 2011 could reduce US economic growth by 1.5 to 2 percentage points in the second and third quarters of the year." Dana Milbank of The Washington Post interviewed an expert at the progressive Center for American Progress who calculated that the cuts "would lead to the loss of 650,000 government jobs, and the indirect loss of 325,000 more jobs as fewer government workers travel and buy things. That's nearly 1 million jobs -- possibly enough to tip the economy back into recession."

The Post also quoted a similar report from Moody's Analytics that "the GOP package would reduce economic growth by 0.5 percentage points this year, and by 0.2 percentage points in 2012, resulting in 700,000 fewer jobs by the end of next year." According to Moody’s Mark Zandi, "Significant government spending restraint is vital, but given the still halting economic recovery, it would be counterproductive for that restraint to begin until the economy is creating enough jobs to bring down the still very high unemployment rate." And while Fed chair Ben Bernanke said he thought the Moody and Goldman estimates were high, even he admitted the cuts would lead to a "not trivial" loss of jobs.

With the Tea Party irregulars snapping at his rear end, Speaker John Boehner responded to reports with a dry-eyed, "So be it." That’s downright wacky for sure, and ignores the truth. But apparently, to paraphrase good old Jack Nicholson (as written by Aaron Sorkin), Boehner and his gang can’t handle the truth.


By: Michael Winship

Michael Winship, former senior writer of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS, is president of the Writers Guild of America, East.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

What Oil Shortage?

Here's the $60 million question: why are gas prices going up so high? On fears of an attack on oil supplies in the Middle East, and Libya? Repeat, on fears of an oil shortage?

Okay, but the head of the Organizaton of Petroleum Exporting Company, OPEC, said there is no justification for any spike in crude oil prices. UPI reports: "Officials from Saudia Arabia said last month that OPEC won't permit any shortages."

Here's another question: who benefits the most from the spike in gas prices? Which companies have consistently reaped gargantuan profits in the face of global economic misery, and who has allowed this practice of price gauging while flacidly trying to pass legislation that will be too little, and too late?

The answers are so obvious, it's almost a cliche except to those who are torn between filling their refrigerators, or their gas tanks. So far, Congress and the president have done nothing to stop this monstrous gluttony by the oil cartel. Flaccid proposed legislation to raise taxes marginally on oil companies is too little, too late.

So, here's a suggestion: let the federal government take over the big four oil companies just until Libya and the Middle East stabilize to prevent further escalation of gas prices which can only spell economic ruin.

When you hear some, like Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, assert that the rise in gasoline, so far, does not pose a threat to any present, or future recovery, that is flat out untrue. As those of us who are barely scraping out a living know, when the price goes up at the pump, everything else goes up, too.

Mr. Bernanke is right about one thing, though. The rise in the cost of gas won't adversely affect the recovery, especially given that the "recovery" applies only to corporate America.

Oh, and to those who say this is socialism, was it socialism when the government took over the post office, and Amtrak? The president was right in taking over General Motors to prevent its inevitable collapse, and bankruptcy. He would likewise be right to take over Exxon-Mobil to prevent the kind of price gauging that will only lead to bankruptcy for working men and women in this country.

Since Mr. Obama has shown such bold leadership in his handling of the auto industry, now if the time for a temporary federal takeover of those oil companies whose obscene profits need to be redirected into consumers' pockets not only to tackle the federal budget deficit, but to ensure the longevity of social programs like Social Security, and Medicare.

It was under the George W. Bush administration that the delusion of insufficient oil supply first surfaced, and this delusion should be relegated to the archives of history. As we now know, Bush's "war on terror" was really a war on your pocketbook.

The only way to justify the rabid campaign of corporate fearmongering about instability in the region is to look at the banner profits in the last quarter of 2010 alone when Exxon-Mobil, according to the New York Times, the largest domestic oil company, posted a healthy 53% increase in profit.

Occidental Petroleum, the behemoth onshore crude producer, also saw its fourth quarter profit rise nearly 30%, and profits at Royal Dutch Shell are predicted to escalate so much, over the next decade, that several executives have already opted to convert their bonuses into company share.

How about the federal government acting as interim chief executive of Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, Shell, and any other oil company that grows fatter at consumer expense? After doing so, the administration can then officially raise their tax rate to 37%, and collect that 37% not merely on their profit, but on all their corporate income, as well as set in place price controls to prevent this kind of carpetbagging from happening in future.

Clearly, gross lack of federal oversight of the oil industry is working so well that in corporate boardrooms, and on Wall Street, that nobody wants to say a peep about it, but when the number of working Americans lined up at food banks grows to include folks in suits and ties, maybe somebody on K Street will open their mouth.

After all, since the president's strategy of government takeover has worked so well to grow the auto industry that is now having the best year they've had in many, then why not try it on the oil companies, and arrange for a temporary federal stewardship to prevent the further obscene escalation of prices we're now seeing at the pump.

Austerity; it's not just for working Americans, but oil companies, too.