Monday, November 28, 2011

The Rapture

(after Frank O'Hara)

Dreamt I was in a crowded movie theatre

waiting for the coming


Everyone was sitting quietly

munchng on

their popcorn

when I looked down,

I discovered I was

sitting on

a cloud---

only sky below me. I thought

"Oh, God,

I hope I don't

have to go to

the bathroom."

(wrote this poem back in October, 2007)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

From Molly Ivins:' "The Uncompassionate Conservative"

The buffet currently being served by the bevy of Republican wannabes hasn't changed all that much over the past decade.

Since Molly Ivins is no longer here to serve up the truth herself, she passed five years ago in January, here's a timely excerpt from a 2003 piece, "The Uncompassionate Conservative," by inimitable, and legendary Texas columnist which first appeared in Mother Jones:

"What is the disconnect? One can see it from the other side -- people's lives are being horribly affected by the Bush administration's policies, but they make no connection between what happens to them and the decisions made in Washington. I think I understand why so many people who are getting screwed do not know who is screwing them. What I don't get is the disconnect at the top. Is it that Bush doesn't want to see? No one brought it to his attention? He doesn't care?

Okay, we cut taxes for the rich and so we have to cut services for the poor. Presumably there is some right-wing justification along the lines that helping poor people just makes them more dependent or something. If there were a rationale Bush could express, it would be one thing, but to watch him not see, not make the connection, is another thing entirely. Welfare, Medicare, Social Security, food stamps -- horrors, they breed dependency. Whereas inheriting millions of dollars and having your whole life handed to you on a platter is good for the grit in your immortal soul? What we're dealing with here is a man in such serious denial it would be pathetic if it weren't damaging so many lives."

Friday, November 25, 2011

Mitt Romney: The Ziploc Candidacy

The Republican Party has been looking to clone Ronald Reagan for a long time now. Reagan, as you recall, was often depicted as the Teflon president because no scandal could tarnish him.

Ronald Reagan wasn't the only president to earn that moniker, Bill Clinton did, too, except Clinton was quickly shown to be made not of teflon, but flesh and blood.

Those who are looking for teflon can celebrate. They may have found their man, only this time in a ziploc bag. Mitt Romney manages to keep his lips sealed on important subjects, and in such an imperial way, delivering a smile as if it were a swagger, and all the time escaping scrutiny.

Pundits on both the left and the right have long inveighed against his flip flopping on choice, and other issues, but the media focus has consistently been on what Romney has said, and not what he hasn't which is where the spotlight rightly belongs.

For one thing, the former Massachusetts governor hasn't said what role religion plays in his life. He hasn't divulged how much he earned in 2010, or any year in which he ran for elected office, and has been equally taciturn about his campaign contributors.

Another politician from Massachusetts, then-Senator Jack Kennedy, when he ran for president in 1960, emphasized the constitutional proscription against a religious test for elected office. A candidate's belief system, whether it's Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, Jewish, Muslim assuredly has no place when considering how qualified he or she may be to be in the White House. But, it's not religion that's at issue here, it's transparency, and the degree to which religion is a force, and/or a factor, in a prospective president's life.

Importantly, too, when he ran for president as senator from Massachusetts, JFK also said that if, at any point as president, his religious beliefs impacted his actions as commander-in-chief, he would immediately step down. A laudable comment, and one conspicuously missing from the mouth of candidate Romney.

When it comes to both his religion and his finances, Mr. Romney has kept his counsel in a ziploc bag, and sealed it tight.

Romney has also, quite remarkably, managed to keep his tax returns quiet, too.

While the press has given the ziploc candidate a pass when it comes to his tax returns, and campaign contributions, one wonders whether, if pressed, Romney would be able to say as Jack Kennedy did that his religious worldview would not influence how he governs and if it did, he'd be prepared to step down.

Keep in mind that the former governor of Massachusetts is not just an elder in his church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, he is a Temple Mormon, and he is also a high priest. Thus, any oath of office Romney takes is secondary to his oath of obedience to his church.

In order to become a member of the temple in the first place, he had to swear his allegiance to the Prophet, or church leader, who is currently Thomas S. Monson. Were he to become the commander-in-chief, Mr. Romney would essentially be consulting the same God George W. Bush did, but instead a real live human being, so the U.S. would effectively become the kind of theocracy that we condemn in Iran.

Of course, there is an important difference. We have a Constitution. Notably, though the Mormon church has vigorously disputed the notion of the White Horse Prophecy as church doctrine, as has Mr. Romney, many believe the prophecy is still very much in play.

It might be instructive then to take a quick look at Latter Day Saints founder, Joseph Smith, Jr.'s teaching that when the time comes that the U.S. Constitution is "hanging by a thread," latter day saints will come along to save the Constitution, thereby converting this country not just into a theocracy, but a theocracy under the thumb of LDS. This view of the Constitution as a damsel in distress has also been espoused by Brigham Young, as well as Sen. Orrin Hatch, and right wing talk show host, Glenn Beck. The savior, of course, is a bunch of saints on white chargers.

While it's no longer permissible for Mormons to practice polygamy, the concept is still alive and well in the "celestial kingdoms" where men become gods of their own planets. The Mormon god is named Elohim, and he is said to reside on a planet near a star called Kolob. There are many gods in Mormonism, but Elohim is the only one worthy of worship; Jesus and Lucifer are seen as brothers. The Mormon church also teaches that "black-skinned people are of inferior origins."

Then, of course, there's the Oath of Vengeance in which blood that is spilled is avenged by the shedding of one's own blood, a form of ecclesiastical asymmetric warfare.

One of the key advantages of keeping his lips sealed is that, as Raw Story reports, Romney's faith is proving not to be a costly matter for his candidacy. While many polled, especially evangelical Christians, claim to be concerned about Romney's Mormonism, ironically those who have expressed the greatest agitation are Romney's staunchest supporters.

Importantly, too, Mitt Romney isn't the only Mormon running for president. Utah's former governor, Jon Huntsman, is a practicing Mormon, too. Aside from being Mormon, both Romney and Huntsman are blue bloods, and would be about as concerned with workers' rights as J.R. Ewing.

As a candidate, Romney has been poker-faced, hiding whatever corporate, or corporal transgressions he may have behind that million dollar smile, and deep inside a ziploc bag. But, a ziploc bag is transparent, Romney isn't, and religion isn't the only thing he isn't transparent about.

Romney is just as secretive about his business practices. He touts his experience in the private sector, but doesn't say that, as head of Bain Capital, his policy of leveraged buyouts resulted in thousands of pink slips. Another senator from Massachusetts, Teddy Kennedy, successfully exposed Romney's dubious business practices back in 1994 during the Massachusetts Senate race. At that time, too, Romney used his personal wealth as a way to buy his way into office. Only it didn't work because of Sen. Kennedy's diligence in exposing what was really behind the Romney campaign. The capital gains of big business at the expense of unions and labor.

If he were here now, Sen. Ted Kennedy might want to remind us again of the Latter Day Saints former policy of not admitting blacks into the priesthood, as well as the fact, as reports, that Bain Capital got a $10 million bailout from the FDIC back in 1993; so much for Mr. Romney's business acumen.

Here's hoping Romney's prodigious loss to Ted Kennedy in the Massachusetts Senate race may be a harbinger for Romney's defeat to Obama in the 2012 presidential race.

For, as Sen. Kennedy said, elected officials are public servants, and Mitt Romney is no public servant. He serves big business. The only time Romney is transparent is when he argues that "corporations are people,too." He thinks that when corporations are happy, you and I are happy. Sound familiar? The Republican Party has found their Reagan clone who can only be defeated by the truth, the truth that big business, and big money don't trickle down.

Mitt Romney will, in the end, prevail and be his party's nominee. And, if the press does its job, he will be defeated in 2012, just like he was in 1994, not because he's a high priest of the Mormon church, but because he's the high priest of profit and profiteering. If we learn nothing else from the 99 movement it's that that kind of thinking doesn't work anymore.

Don't be deceived. Danger lurks beneath that ziplock smile.

From Michael Winship

DC as ATM: Newt, the Ultimate Beltway Swindler
By Michael Winship

You maybe should think twice when even Jack Abramoff thinks you’re beneath contempt. Not that Newt Gingrich cares.

Abramoff, America’s favorite convicted influence peddler, told NBC’s David Gregory that presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Gingrich is one of those "people who came to Washington, who had public service, and they cash in on it. They use their public service and access to make money."

Newt, he continued, is "engaged in the exact kind of corruption that America disdains. The very things that anger the Tea Party movement and the Occupy Wall Street movement and everybody who is not in a movement and watches Washington and says why are these guys getting all this money, why do they go become so rich, why do they have these advantages?"

Why indeed? Granted, Abramoff’s in the middle of his promotion tour of confession and attempted redemption, a pot obscenely eager to call his kettle and former mentor black -- especially if it sells books. But Casino Jack does have a point.

Gingrich personifies everything rotten about the ATM machine we call Washington: the merchandising of favors and votes; the conversion of past incumbency into insider information, making your contacts and the ability to play the system available to the highest bidder; the archetypal revolving door between government service and shilling for corporate America.

Yet there he is, suddenly riding at the top of the polls, his debate skills lauded, his churlish dismissal of the media praised, and infused with sufficient cheek to portray himself to gullible elements of the electorate as an outsider. It’s as if Kim Kardashian proclaimed herself American Housewife of the Year.

(Gingrich now is trying to play the inside-outside game both ways, proclaiming last week, "We just tried four years of amateur ignorance and it didn’t work very well. So having someone who actually knows Washington might be a really good thing.")

In fact, a quick look at just a few of Newt’s activities since his GOP colleagues tossed him out of the speakership in 1998 is sufficient to expose him as the ultimate poster boy for inside-the-Beltway game playing --adherence to ideology often shoved aside in favor of expedience and the chance to make a buck.

You’ll remember hearing just this past spring about Mr. and Mrs. Gingrich’s revolving, no-interest credit line at Tiffany’s, a luxury store they treated like a diamond encrusted version of the Home Shopping Network, and Tim Carney’s report in The Washington Examiner that, "Christy Evans, formerly a top staffer to... Gingrich, is a registered lobbyist for Tiffany's."

Now Carney writes, "We know that Gingrich has been paid by drug companies and by the drug lobby, notably during the Medicare drug debate. A former employee of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (the main industry lobby), told me Gingrich was being paid by someone in the industry at the time. A spokeswoman for Gingrich's health care consulting firm, Center for Health Transformation, told me that drug companies have been CHT clients. PhRMA confirmed in a statement that they had paid Gingrich. Bloomberg News cited sources from leading drug companies AstraZeneca and Pfizer saying that those companies had also hired Gingrich...

"Three former Republican congressional staffers told me that Gingrich was calling around Capitol Hill and visiting Republican congressmen in 2003 in an effort to convince conservatives to support a bill expanding Medicare to include prescription-drug subsidies. Conservatives were understandably wary about expanding a Lyndon Johnson-created entitlement that had historically blown way past official budget estimates. Drug makers, on the other hand, were positively giddy about securing a new pipeline of government cash to pad their already breathtaking profit margins."

On Monday, the chair of Gingrich’s Center for Health Transformation estimated its revenues over the past decade at $55 million. Fees are flexible, she said, with "charter memberships" going for an annual fee of $200,000. According to the November 21 Wall Street Journal, "The health think tank also charges for consulting sessions with the former speaker and Mr. Gingrich’s speeches, according to two health care trade groups."

More dynamically, the center’s PR materials promised "direct Newt interaction"(!) and as per The Washington Post, "The biggest funders, including such firms as AstraZeneca, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Novo Nordisk, were also eligible to receive discounts on ‘products and workshops’ from other Gingrich groups." Sounds like the Potomac edition of "The Price Is Right."

Another Center for Health Transformation charter member was Gundersen Lutheran Health System of La Crosse, Wisconsin. The November 17 New York Times reported that in July 2009, without reporting his connection, Gingrich praised the company in The Washington Post "for its successful efforts to persuade most patients to have 'advance directives,' saying that if Medicare had followed Gundersen’s lead on end-of-life care and other practices, it would 'save more than $33 billion a year.'"

Advance directives means helping families determine future care for the terminally ill, but when Tea Partiers and others started yelling about "death panels" during the healthcare reform fight, Gingrich made a quick flip-flop to the right and changed sides.

Listening to Newt attack child labor laws this week, I thought one of his clients might be Miss Hannigan’s Orphanage. In reality, others who have anted up for his advice include GE, IBM, Microsoft, Growth Energy (a pro-ethanol lobby group that between 2009 and 2011 paid him $575,000) and the US Chamber of Commerce. The Wall Street Journal notes that, "The Chamber, the largest lobbying organization in Washington, paid Mr. Gingrich about $840,000, according to people familiar with the arrangement, or about $120,000 a year for seven years, beginning in 2001, to serve on an informal board of advisers to its president and senior staff."

And then, of course, there’s Freddie Mac, which triggered this recent tsunami of scrutiny when Gingrich claimed at the November 9 candidates’ debate that it was for his expertise as an historian that the home mortgage giant had paid him $300,000.

Bloomberg News then reported that the number was actually as much as $1.8 million, paid as consulting fees right up until 2008, when the failing agency was taken over by the government and such outside contracts were suspended. Gingrich claims he warned Freddie about "insane" loans and then told USA Today, "I was advising them over a period when they weren’t in crisis. I’m pretty happy to say, I gave these guys advice... on how do you build opportunity for the poor to learn to be non-poor?" Until caught, he hadn’t bothered to mention his own involvement, even as he attacked Barney Frank and others for taking Freddie Mac’s campaign contributions.

Through it all, Gingrich has denied being a lobbyist, apparently adhering to a very narrow definition – he’s not officially registered with Congress under the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, as amended by the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007.

But you do the math: according to Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Kristin Jensen at Bloomberg News, "The former Georgia congressman reported assets in 1997 of between $197,000 and $606,000, according to his last House personal financial disclosure report, which permits lawmakers to record their wealth in broad ranges. According to his 2011 presidential disclosure report, the Republican primary candidate today is worth between $7.3 million and $31 million."

Not bad for government work.


Michael Winship, senior writing fellow at Demos, is senior writer of the new public television series Moyers & Company, premiering in January 2012. Go to

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

48 years ago today: what JFK might say

How appropriate that on this day the Republicans plan to hold another debate, and move one step closer to deciding upon who will run against President Obama in November, 2012.

The subject of tonight's debate is national security. What irony in that today marks 48 years since the assassination, in Dallas, of President John F. Kennedy.

When juxtaposing the image of a candidate from the Republican Party leaving it up to a general in Pakistan to decide whether or not to bolster our military presence in Pakistan, or Iran, one can't help but recall the image of Jack Kennedy with then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. As you recall, Kennedy was an avid reader, often reading as many as three newspapers a day, so his response to Mr. Cain might be only that he was a reader and a leader.

Godfather's Pizza mogul Herman Cain has been deposed in the polls by Newt Gingrich, remember him, from the 1990's, who now compares himself to the Mel Gibson character in the movie, "Braveheart." For those, like myself, who missed the Gibson movie, don't worry, if you've seen "Breakfast at Tiffany's" that's all you need to know about Mr. Gingrich, former Speaker of the House, family values, Contract with America fellow who recently eclipsed the absurdity of Cain's statement by calling child labor laws "stupid."

If you want to know what poses the gravest threat to national security, just try and wrap your head around why so many people, young and old, are showing up for the Occupy movement. Just ask yourself why so many youngsters are pitching tents on college campuses, and subjecting themselves to the kind of brutality we haven't seen since the shootings at Kent State.

To borrow a phrase from Paddy Chayefsky, people are "mad as hell, and we're not going to take it anymore." We don't believe that national security can be separated from economic justice. We don't believe that amassing behemoth fortunes will lead to job creation. We didn't believe it when Ronald Reagan said it, and we don't believe it now.

Or, as JFK, a visionary president, said half a century ago, "If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich." His vision lives on in the hearts and minds of all who support those who speak up for the economic justice for which Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King strove, and without which there can be no national security.

For there can be no graver threat to national, or international, security than a weak economy, and there can be no recovery when the few feast off the sacrifices of the many.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


It'll be seven years next month since legendary clarinetist, bandleader, and writer Artie Shaw passed on.

Artie was my second cousin, and he often said he got his musical talent from my mother's father, Moishe Strauss, who was a cantor, as well as a house painter during the lean years of the Great Depression.

From early childhood, Artie was mythologized, and became almost a cult figure to my family. He was the enfant terrible, the rebel, the one who lived life on his own terms, who gave up an immensely well-paying gig to pursue his one and only love, writing.

When I was about fourteen, I wrote a letter to be forwarded to Artie through his publisher, or his agent, (I can't remember which), that I ended simply, "We writers must stick together." I never heard back.

A few decades later, over a drink, I persuaded a music critic to give me Artie's phone number, which he did reluctantly while warning me that Artie could be surly, and he might not be doing me a favor by enabling me to contact him.

Months later, when poet Allen Ginsberg died, there was a memorial for Allen in Westwood. I heard that Artie was going to attend, so I called him up out of the blue, and on impulse, fully prepared to have him hang up on me. "I'm your second cousin," I said, "but that doesn't mean any more to me than it does to you, so let me say instead that I knew Allen, and am going to the memorial." "So, you're a poet?" he said, and we spent 45 warm and lively minutes on the phone.

I met Artie for the first time, a few weeks later, at the Allen Ginsberg memorial right before the event started. When I introduced myself, his eyes suddenly welled up with tears as if he had been slicing an onion. When he saw me, he had to see himself in me.

Even in his mid-80's, Artie Shaw was built like a brick shithous. There was not an ounce of fat on him.

He mumbled something about having to go onstage, and invited me then to visit him in Newbury Park which I was lucky enough to do a few times before he passed on December 30, 2004. The last time I saw him, Artie said he wanted to live to be 100. He didn't quite make it, but I suspect my childhood dream wasn't the only one that came true; his did, too.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

From Michael Winship

The Long Shadows of Nixon and Hoover

By Michael Winship

J.Edgar Hoover passed away on May 2, 1972. The legendary FBI director lay in state at the Capitol rotunda, the doors kept open all day and night for the convenience of mourners.

I remember because I was still at college in Washington then, and around 3 o’clock in the morning a bunch of us drove up there, not to pay our respects, but to make sure he was really dead.

In those pre-9/11 days, you could still do that sort of thing.

The memory of our pre dawn visit came rushing back last week as I introduced ascreening of J. Edgar, the new film directed by Clint Eastwood, and interviewed its screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who won the Oscar a couple of years ago for the movie "Milk."

There’s a sequence toward the end of J. Edgar right after Hoover dies: President Richard Nixon appears before the cameras to solemnly announce the news. Cut to Nixon in the Oval Office ordering chief of staff Bob Haldeman and other members of his Praetorian Guard to seal off Hoover’s offices and seize his fabled stash of secret files on every prominent politician, past and present. Meanwhile, Hoover’s faithful secretary, Helen Gandy, has locked herself away with a shredder and dutifully eliminates the evidence.

The movie loops chronologically back and forth across Hoover’s law enforcement career of more than half a century. Eastwood and Lance Black maneuver an intriguing tightrope walk between the Hoover who sees himself as a crime-busting patriot protecting his country and pioneering forensic
investigative techniques, and the paranoid, power mad, status obsessed Washington insider who would go to any lengths to pursue anyone he thought subversive or simply critical of him and his methods.

All of this is crammed into a repressed,mother-ridden, anguished individual whose decades-long relationship with his second-in-command, Clyde Tolson, was the closest he ever got to reallove -- at a time in America when you could walk into the Capitol building unchallenged by security but homosexuality truly was, as the old cliché goes,the love that dared not speak its name.

As Lance Black told the San Francisco Gate in a recent interview, "If you are robbed of the ability to love who you love,you will fill that hole with something else. For him, it was power and anation’s admiration... he started to do things that were heinous to hold onto it."

David Denby adds in his review of the movie in The New Yorker, "Again and again, he goes too far,treating Communist rhetorical bluster as the first stages of revolution, assembling lists of people whose opinions he considers suspect, fabricating documents, planting stories in the newspapers, bludgeoning potential enemies with his file drawers of sexual gossip" -- files that notoriously included John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., not to mention Louis Brandeis, Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe and Mary Pickford.

According to attorney Kenneth D.Ackerman, author of Young J. Edgar: Hoover and the Red Scare, by 1960, "the FBI hadopen ‘subversive’ files on some 432,000 Americans."

Last week, as if cued by the release of J. Edgar, there were new developments in the life stories of both Hoover and Nixon. By way of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, The Los Angeles Times received old FBIfiles on Jack Nelson, the journalist who eventually became that paper’s Washington bureau chief.

"Hoover was convinced -- mistakenly -- that Nelson planned to write that the FBI director was homosexual," the Times reported. "As he had done with other perceived enemies, Hoover began compiling a dossier on the reporter... John Fox, the FBI'sin-house historian, said Nelson arrived on the scene at a time when Hoover wasfeeling vulnerable. A published report that the director was gay could wellhave ended his career, and that possibility -- unfounded or not -- had Hooveron edge."

In memos, Hoover, who had a penchant for smearing his real and imagined nemeses with names from the animal kingdom, variously called Nelson a jackal, rat and -- most charmingly -- a "lice-covered ferret." He tried to have the reporter fired andmet with the paper’s head man in Washington, Dave Kraslow. "The spittle was running out of his lips and the corners of his mouth," the now85-year-old Kraslow recalled. "He was out of control."

Kraslow refused to fire Nelson but did ask him to send Hoover a response which read, in part" "I emphatically deny that I have at any time under any circumstances ever said or remotely suggested that Mr.Hoover was a homosexual."

Meanwhile, the National Archives released the latest batch of tape recordings and transcripts from the Nixon Presidential Library, also known as the House of Mirth.

Among the treasures untroved was the 278-page transcript of Nixon’s grand jury testimony in June 1975, part of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force’s investigation into what litigator and author Glenn Greenwald calls in his new book, With Liberty and Justice for Some, "one of the clearest cases of widespread, deliberate criminality at the highest level of the U.S. government."

There are no smoking guns in the new materials but at a time when -- in comparison to the current crop of GOP candidates -- Nixon’s reputation is undergoing a bit of a positive facelift, it’s always good to be reminded of the whiny, self-pitying, defensive, dissembling reprobate we knew and loathed back in the bad old days.

He brushes off the whole sordid scandal as "this silly, incredible Watergate break-in" and says, "I want the jury and the special prosecutors to kick the hell out of us for wire-tapping and for the plumbers and the rest because obviously you may have concluded it was wrong." So sayeth the man made safe from prosecution by a presidential pardon.

He tells the grand jurors and investigators that he was upset about the White House tape with the infamous 18 and a half-minute gap (it was of a conversation between Haldeman and Nixon three days after the burglary attempt) -- not because of the erasure but because he mistakenly thought it wasn’t going to be turned over to the authorities. "I practically blew my stack," he blusters, claims the gap was an accident and that he had no idea what was discussed in those missing minutes, then blames the whole thing on his own faithful secretary Rose Mary Woods. What a guy!

Certainly, nothing in the freshly released Dictabelt tapes and transcripts changes what we always figured -- Nixon was not contrite over any of it but simply angry that he’d been caught. "It’s time for us to recognize that politics in America... some pretty rough tactics are used," he says. "Not that our campaign was pure... but what I am saying is that having been in politics for the last 25 years, that politics is a rough game."

He speaks about using the IRS to investigate Democratic campaign donors and the ease with which he could raise massive cash contributions from big business. He denies swapping ambassadorships for political donations but notes, "Some of the finest ambassadors... have been non-career ambassadors who have made substantial contributions." In that simultaneously priggish but smarmy way of his, Nixon recalls that President Truman made Washington social maven Perle Mesta ambassador to Luxembourg not "because she had big bosoms. Perle Mesta went to Luxembourg because she made agood contribution." (Her appointment was immortalized in the Irving Berlin musical Call Me Madam.)

Perhaps the strangest artifact in the latest document dump isn’t the grand jury testimony but Nixon’s recollections of the famous incident at the Lincoln Memorial in 1970 early on the morning of a massiveantiwar demonstration just days after the killings at Kent State. He paid an un announced visit to the monument and talked with a group of the student protesterscamped out nearby.

"I know you, probably most of you think I’m an SOB but, ah, I want you to know that I understand just how you feel," he says he told the demonstrators. "What we all must think about is why we are here... What are those elements of spirit which really matters

"... I just wanted to be sure that all of them realized that ending the war and cleaning up the city streets and the air and the water was not going tosolve the spiritual hunger which all of us have, and which of course has been the great mystery of life from the beginning of time."

As he leaves, he tells one of the students, "I just hope your opposition doesn't turn into blind hatred of the country. Remember, this is agreat country for all of its faults."

Of course, as Nixon got down with the kids, J. Edgar Hoover’s counterintelligence program, COINTELPRO, was getting down and dirty, not only spying on and infiltrating the antiwar movement but also deliberately trying to subvert and disrupt it -- with Nixon’s approval.

Such violations of civil liberties echo through to the present day: obstructions of justice, abuses of power, the tapping of e-mails and phone calls, black site detentions and "enhanced interrogations," to name just a few. In his new book Glenn Greenwald recalls the words Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John: "Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could."

J. Edgar Hoover and Richard Nixon remind us of that essential truth. They’re not so dead after all.


Michael Winship is senior writing fellow at Demos, president of the Writers Guild of America East and senior writer of the upcoming public television series Moyers & Company, premiering in January.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Republican Game of Musical Chairs

The Republicans who are running to replace President Obama in January, 2013 are now playing musical chairs.

Over the past few days, and since the latest debate in South Carolina, Newt Gingrich is now in first place, and neck to neck with longtime frontrunner Mitt Romney. According to the latest CNN/ORC International Poll, Gingrich has now replaced Herman Cain as being statistically tied with the former Massachusetts governor.

Frankly, I never thought the day would come when I'd have to do this, but given the youngest crop of voters, those who accounted for the large turnout in 2008, know little or nothing about Mr. Gingrich, why not bring them up to date.

For openers, Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House, replaced Dick Cheney as House Minority Whip. Gingrich was among the co-authors of the Contract with America a conservative document published in 1994 which, among other things, became the bible of House Republicans at the time who also endorsed welfare and social security reform.

Notably, others who signed the Contract with America, often associated with Gingrich, are Tom DeLay and Dick Armey, both of whom are no longer in office. Dick Armey, by the way, joins the Koch brothers in backing the current Tea Party. And, apart from being a contestant on Dancing with the Stars, you may recall, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was convicted in 2010 of illegally funneling corporate money into coffers of Texas campaigns back in 2002.

Interestingly, another co-signer of the Contract with America is Speaker of the House John Boehner.

Some of the major tenets of what was a conservative's handbook were shrinking the size of government, welfare reform, social security reform, advocacy for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, and tort reform, but their underlying federalist.

Gingrich will be remembered as one of the key players in what has come to be known as the Republican Revolution in the House back in 1994 that was also responsible for cutting the capital gains tax, and pushing through welfare reform despite the fact that then-President Bill Clinton twice vetoed that legislation.

Just as he was Bill Clinton's nemesis in the mid-1990's, Gingrich is primed and ready to be Barack Obama's nemesis now.

Thanks to Gingrich's muscle, Clinton is now erroneously credited with a measure that turns welfare appropriations over to the states, a disasterous notion in these dire times when many states are in deep water. It is also the Contract for America mindset that now calls for repeal of so-called Obamacare, and turning Medicare over to the states to administer.

President Clinton, you'll recall, and First Lady Hillary Clinton, weren't focusing on welfare reform at all, but instead on universal health care. It was House Republicans then, just as it is House Republicans now, who obstructed health care reform in the mid-1990's.

Once the balance of power between Republicans and Democrats again shifted, Gingrich stepped down as Speaker of the House back in 1998.

Now, fast forward. Are many of the ideas Gingrich, Armey, DeLay, and Boehner (yes, John Boehner)thirteen years ago all that different from what we hear from Romney, Perry, Cain, Bachmann and friends now?

If you like what Contract with America represents, ensuring the primacy of 1% of the population at the expense of the other 99% even if one has to do so by laundering campaign money, then vote Republican in 2012. If not, then pass this information on to anyone under 30, or who has conveniently allowed themselves to forget the transgressions of men like DeLay and Jack Abramoff, both outgrowths of the Republican Revolution, too.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Team Toon

Okay, so maybe it wasn't such a good idea for CBS to broadcast Saturday's South Carolina Republican presidential debate after "Horseland," an animated TV show for children, especially a debate that purported to focus on the president as commander-in-chief.

Watching the last few minutes of "Team Toon" made it exceedingly difficult for me to see this bevy of wanna be presidential nominees as anything more than cartoon characters meant to appeal to developing minds. For me, Team Toon quickly became Team Looney Tunes.

But, where on the evolutionary scale are we when one candidate, Herman Cain, deliberately engages in euphemistic jargon to hide the obvious, his egregious lack of knowledge about what's going on in Afghanistan. When asked how he would approach the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Cain said only, "There is a lot of clarity missing."

Is it a mistake for a future president to confuse clarity with information? I think so. Oh, and by the way, how much clarity is there in the way Cain is handling allegations of sexual misconduct made against him?

Cain is right. There is a lot of clarity missing. Voters, no doubt, would also like to know what he means when, according to the Associated Press, he says that God was behind his decision to enter the presidential race. We also need more clarity about why he would say, "You've got the wrong man, Lord?"

Oh, and don't think God is the only one. The day before this latest debate, when told by one of his supporters that Anita Hill would be coming to see him, as The Ticket reports, Cain quipped "Is she coming to endorse me?" Yes, this is funny, but is it appropriate?

Cain quickly morphs into a cartoon character when he uses awkward humor as a shield against serious allegations. Only those under 20 would miss his allusion to Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas, and for him to make light of Anita Hill's claims shows just how out of touch Herman Cain is not only with reality, but with the realities everyday Americans face.

Of course, he was joking, just as he was joking about talking to God, right? Surely, a sense of humor is an asset, but would we find a joke like that funny coming from the president? Why should we find it funny coming from someone running for president?

Cain isn't joking when he says he will "trust the judgment of our commanders on what is, or is not, torture." Has he heard of a little thing called the Army Manual, international and domestic law that call waterboarding torture, and prohibit its use?

Cain and Bachmann both strongly support "enhanced interrogation techniques." Every prospective Republican nominee at the debate on Saturday night in South Carolina affirmed the use of waterboarding. The only ones to express disagreement or contempt for torture were Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman, neither of whom has a snowball's shot in hell of being their Party's nominee.

And, what planet is Michele Bachmann on when she says the U.S. should be more like China. Is she not aware that, while healthy, China's economy has also been affected by the global downturn, and that, as the Guardian reports, China's growth was down in the last quarter? Or, will she demonstrate, as she has in the past, that she's not going to let a little thing like fact stand in her way.

Clearly, Rep. Bachmann has never heard about the massacre at Tiananmen Square, and is so out of touch with Occupy Wall Street, as well as the cries of the 99% movement that she belongs on Sesame Street not the ballot. At least Rick Perry couldn't remember the three government programs he'd like to cut. Bachmann can, and they include Medicaid, Department of Education, National Endowment for the Arts, Environmental Protection Agency, various consumer agencies. If given her way, she'd abolish not just Roe v. Wade, but the Civil Rights Act and, like Perry, her motto would be "let's back up."

Bachmann also said that the American Civil Liberties Union is running the Central Intelligence Agency. Guess she hasn't heard that General Petraeus, also known as general surge, is running the CIA.

Scared yet? Consider this, too. Perry, Cain, and Gingrich called for stepping up covert operations in Iran to take down the current leadership. What do they think has been going on there? Don't any of them read Seymour Hersh?

Well, Cain and Bachmann may have missed the mark, Rick Perry did a superb job with his answers this time. Trouble is, they were to the wrong questions. Gov. Perry's repeated requests to "back up" to the previous question work well as a metaphor for the Republican Party which is itself most adept when going in reverse.
Rick Perry's artful dodging may be a smart strategy for the governor of a state that has a budget deficit, and nearly 20% of its population surviving on food stamps, a rise of 3% over previous years. Highlighting this fact certainly does nothing for Perry's claim to be a job creator.

Republicans have their fingers firmly planted on the "fast rewind" button, that's for sure. Just think back to every time Romney went up against a Democrat and lost. Yes, of course, Romney went up against Democrats and won, but why did he fail to secure the presidential nomination back in 2008? Why would it be any different this time? Is his money any greener in D.C. now, a city with nearly 23% of its inhabitants on food stamps? How can Romney use the phrase "Obamacare" with a straight face. I'm sure it took a lot of practice in front of the mirror for that one.

Yes, you read right, at a time when 14% of the population is collecting food stamps, 44 million Americans, Romney says he'd turn over programs like Medicaid and food stamps to the states which means that states like Nevada, California, Florida, and Wisconsin would be hardest hit. Romney isn't that far off from Bachmann only instead of eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts, the former Massachusetts governor would instead reduce federal funding to NEA, National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. What he would eliminate are programs that he claims benefit "abortion groups," thus implicitly seeking to gut Planned Parenthood.

Those who claim Romney's business acumen is just what this country needs right now don't understand the notion of leveraged buyouts. They don't understand that the last thing we need is a mindset that promotes downsizing in the name of boosting profits.

Italy and Greece have just handed over the reins of their governments to bankers. Are we prepared to do the same? And, if we do, who will pay for it? Not business, but workers and bankers. Make no mistake. Italy and Greece have a debt crisis. We have a jobs crisis. There is a big difference. Anyone who thinks that by keeping wealth in the hands of 1%, we will see job creation should be watching animated TV cartoons on Saturdays, and not running for political office.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

A Postscript on the Conrad Murray Verdict

Okay, I have to admit that this case is a bit more nuanced than my previous post would suggest

After having to listened to what the judge who presided over Conrad Murray's trial had to say, I'm going to have to say that I agree. What happened at Michael Jackson's estate wasn't merely about "a mistake in judgment" as the judge suggests,
but a gross, and criminal negligence. It isn't simply that Dr. Murray left Jackson's side to relieve himself, as Murray suggests, but that he brought propofol
for use outside of a hospital setting, then proceeded to text, and distract himself when he was mindful that there was a potentially hazardous drug within reach.

Moreover, Dr. Murray's failure to call 911 for 22 minutes, as well as not tell the paramedics when they arrived on the scene show that he was aware that he screwed up, and was more concerned about saving his own skin than any effort that may have resulted in saving Mr. Jackson's life.

This shows that Dr. Murray wasn't a god, but a man, and a man who made a mistake, a very big mistake, but he is also a physician, a man who has devoted much of his
life to building a career which was devoted to helping others. All of the witnesses for the defense movingly portrayed Dr. Murray as a good man, and a solid citizen.

The question is of whether Dr. Murray himself administered the lethal dose himself, and that it was that dose itself, not in combination with all the other substances Jackson had in his body, was never answered beyond a reasonable doubt, and Murray's defense team has said, the propofol drip was never set up, so any propofol administered to Jackson would have been by injection. The prosecution failed to
produce evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that Dr. Murray administered that injection, and the defense's propofol expert testified that it was quite plausible that Mr. Jackson injected himself.

So, while the verdict of second degree manslaughter with a maximum sentence of four years may seem, in the end, be fair, an appeal is also fair. Having to watch Dr. Murray being handcuffed while still sitting next to his counsel, and only seconds after the verdict was read, made my blood boil. This was reprehensible on the part of the sheriff's department, or whichever law enforcement agents manacled this physician as if he were a common criminal. Even the judge, Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor called out "give him a few minutes to catch his breath."

That Dr. Murray may indeed serve any time at all in a county jail is reprehensible, given the egregious conditions in county jails when compared with federal prisons
like the ones in which both Bernie Madoff and Jack Abramoff have been housed.

Dr. Murray isn't a flight risk, and bail should not have been denied. Denial of bail will weaken Murray's chances on appeal. That he will have to spend time in
jail for as long as it takes for an appeal to be processed, and for him to be vindicated is egregious.

Clearly, this case isn't black or white. Well, maybe it is. Maybe, just maybe, those handcuffs wouldn't have been applied with quite as much zeal if Dr. Murray looked more like the judge than Herman Cain.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Conrad Murray Verdict

First and foremost, this was not the Michael Jackson case, or the Michael Jackson verdict as it has been variously described by the mainstream media. This was the Conrad Murray case, and a verdict which represents just how far we, as a society, have come from accepting responsibility for our own actions.

Evidence was very clear that Michael Jackson was doctor-shopping, had spoken with several physicians, including his plastic surgeon, and had urgently requested propofol to be administered even after being told, repeatedly, that the use
of this drug might result in his death.

Propofol is considered a short-acting, intravenous hypnotic agent and it's use in hospitals is never questioned. Clearly, there are questions about its use outside of a hospital setting, but the last defense witness, a medical expert on propofol, said it was entirely possible that Jackson could have injected himself with the lethal dose. Does that not constitute "reasonable doubt?"

Moreover, Michael Jackson was relentless in his pursuit of a drug that he knew might jeopardize his life, reportedly seeing many doctors until he managed to prevail upon his personal physician, Dr. Murray, a man who was also a personal friend, to give him a drug that was used only in a hospital setting.

Bottom line: whether Michael Jackson directly injected a lethal dose into his vein or not, Michael Jackson was responsible for his own death. He was aware of the risk factor and, being fully apprised of the risk factor, continued along a path that could only lead to his demise.

It seems to me that Dr. Murray was guilty of blurring the lines between personal physician and personal friend. He crossed a boundary, and compromised a requisite professional distance that was needed in order to do what was best for Jackson the patient, and not Jackson the friend.

Moreover, why this case went directly to criminal charges instead of the usual medical malpractice suit which appears to have more to do with Jackson's fame than with any misconduct on the part of his personal physician.

What happened today in that courtroom is, plain and simple, a tragedy compounded upon a tragedy. Not only was Michael Jackson's life needlessly cut short, but the life of a much-respected and, judging by witness testimony, much-loved physician who will doubtless be spared a four year sentence, but who will lose his license to practice medicine. Today's verdict renders Dr. Murray every bit as much a victim as Mr. Jackson

Saturday, November 05, 2011

From Michael Winship

Some Disturbing Truths about Rick Perry's Texas
Local reports reveal how the governor turned a blind eye to civil rights violations and a crumbling infrastructure

By Michael Winship

I’m at sea this week -- literally, for once -- and learning helpful nautical stuff. For example, the old, three-mile limit for territorial waters was established in 1702 as the maximum distance a cannon ball could reach when fired from shore.

It’s even more useful to gain some distance from political events back on the mainland. Much of the week before this was spent chairing an international meeting of writers from a dozen or so countries. Combined, seeing ourselves as others see us, both experiences are revelatory.

One theme that prevails is a general mystification over many Americans’ propensity for the outright rejection of anything that’s not instantly comprehended. Just yesterday, talking with a couple from Calgary, the Canadians expressed their incredulity that relatives in the States were so vehemently opposed to President Obama’s health care and jobs programs "when they haven’t even bothered to read anything about them."

For another, you realize yet again how bizarre our system of campaigns and elections seems when viewed by those from abroad -- even though these days the rest of the world isn’t exactly the picture of mental health either. Something like our media frenzy over the harassment charges swirling around Herman Cain -- mired as those accusations appear to be in years of hubris and egotism on his part and our consuming national neurosis when it comes to all things involving sex or race -- seems distinctly odd.

Whether or not the Rick Perry campaign is behind any of the leaks surrounding Herman Cain’s alleged improprieties, the distraction certainly made the Texas governor, as the website Talking Points Memo reported, the "luckiest presidential candidate in the universe this week." Up to now, the governor has been experiencing the most dramatic crash from electoral hero to goat since Tennessee’s Fred Thompson ran his presidential campaign’s pick up truck off the road four years ago.

The Cain scrutiny helped draw attention from Perry’s plummeting poll numbers and his wacky address last Friday night at that dinner held by New Hampshire’s Cornerstone Action, a group of social conservatives with a notoriously anti-gay agenda. The speech came off more like Open Mike Night at Chuckles Comedy Club than High Noon on Inauguration Day 2013.

(You can see the highlights here:

In the words of Jon Stewart, "Best-case scenario, that dude's hammered. Worst-case scenario, that is Perry sober, and every time we've seen him previously, he's been hammered." I prefer to think that Perry decided, "What the hell, this campaign’s going nowhere, might as well let it all hang out." Or maybe he suffers from a case of premature election burn-out, like Robert Redford’s character in 1972 movie "The Candidate," reeling from one too many iterations of his stump speech, blathering: "Can't any longer play off black against old, young against poor. This country cannot house its houseless, feed its foodless," and so on.

Of course, these are idle distractions from what we really should be paying attention to: candidates’ positions on the issues and their prior track records as business leaders or officeholders. And blahblahblah, I can hear you tuning out now.

Luckily, though, when it comes to Rick Perry at least, in the tradition of such greats of journalism as Ronnie Dugger and Molly Ivins, we continue to have fine investigative reporting coming out of the state of Texas. Reporters there care -- even when you don’t. They’ve been covering Perry and his stewardship as governor with an intensity as white hot as Tiger Beat’s recording of the day-to-day tribulations of Justin Bieber. Certainly, ounce for ounce, Perry has greater entertainment value.

The non-profit, non-partisan Texas Tribune, for example, features on its webpage an exhaustive "Perrypedia," which offers the latest on all things Rick. The publication recently noted that "Perry’s presidential campaign hinges on one overarching message: that states perform best when left to their own devices and federal regulators should butt out. Yet during his decade-long tenure in the governor’s office, Perry and his staff repeatedly downplayed the severity of abuse and neglect allegations at Texas’ state-run institutions for the disabled -- until conditions became so dire that the U.S. attorney general was forced to intervene."

Two years after that Justice Department investigation found violations of civil rights and avoidable deaths, "a Texas Tribune review of facility monitoring reports and employee disciplinary records shows mistreatment is still relatively commonplace. And though there’s been some evidence of improvement, the state’s federally designated disability watchdog group Disability Rights says that halfway into the five-year settlement agreement, not even a quarter of its requirements have been met."

A couple of months ago, the Houston Chronicle ran a terrific, four part series, "Perry’s Texas," examining the deteriorating condition of the state’s infrastructure during the governor’s tenure. And the October 22 edition of the Austin American-Statesman took a closer look at Perry’s time as state agriculture commissioner during the 1990s. The paper’s Laylan Copelin reported, "Over his eight years as Texas' farmer-in-chief, Perry oversaw a loan guarantee program with so many defaults that the state had to stop guaranteeing bank loans to startups in agribusiness and eventually bailed out the program with taxpayer money.

"The state auditor panned Perry's claims of creating jobs and criticized Perry and his fellow board members at the Texas Agricultural Finance Authority for not following their own lending guidelines...

"Even as the first alarms were sounded, Perry defended the program, saying no taxpayer money was at risk, blaming others and claiming he had fixed it.

"It only got worse."

Guaranteeing risky business loans with public money is a familiar tune -- all together, let me hear you say Solyndra. But instead of solar energy schemes, during Perry’s watch, "Entrepreneurs lined up for money to spin cotton into yarn, process meats, develop cotton insulation, market canna bulbs to wholesale nurseries and sell pinto beans as a ready-to-eat frozen meal, to name a few."

Forewarned is forearmed. These and other reports from Texas journalists present Rick Perry as the poster boy for conservative humorist and essayist P.J. O’Rourke famous description of Republicans as "the party that says government doesn't work and then they get elected and prove it."

Unsensational as it may be to all but the wonkiest, more attention to all candidates’ public records serves us far better than the latest private gossip and innuendo. Sorry, the salt air must be going to my head. Land ho.

Michael Winship, senior writing fellow at Demos and president of the Writers Guild of America, East, is senior writer of the new public television series, Moyers & Company, premiering in January 2012.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

What Romney and Madoff may have in common

We now know everything we needed to know about Herman Cain, at least we think we do. We not only know about Godfather Pizza, but about alleged peccadillos he had while heading the Restaurant Association.

We even know the name of Cain's campaign manager, Mark Block, who we've seen defiantly blowing smoke into the lens of a camera. That the press has been largely mum on the subject of Cain's finances, and connection to the Koch Brothers is, of course, another matter.

But, why haven't we heard of Mitt Romney's campaign fundraiser, Spencer Zwick, who also coincidentally happens to be a managing partner of Solamere Capital? Does he need to light up a Marlboro, or take a swig of Jack Daniels before he gets into the media spotlight?

Why haven't we seen Mr. Romney's tax returns either? Not now, not ever, not during any of his campaigns for Senate, or previous presidential campaigns nor, according to ThinkProgress, during his tenure as governor of Massachusetts.

What's more, while all the major newspapers have, at one time or another, ventured into Bain Capital, why have we heard barely a peep about Solamere Capital? And, what might Solamere Capital have to do with Romney's reluctance, even under pressure from his nemesis Rick Perry, to release his 2010 tax returns?

As the Texas Tribute reports, within days of releasing his own 2010 tax returns, Perry called upon Romney to do the same, but to no avail.

President Obama, of course, has released his tax returns from last year, and voters now know not only what the president's net worth is, but the source of his income. But, even in the face of questions about whether or not a former executive of Bain Capital illegally contributed to his campaign, Mr. Romney has remained silent. Why?

The answer may be found in an article by ThinkProgress who interviewed Tagg Romney, Mitt Romney's son, and concluded that both father and son, and Spencer Zwick, Mr. Romney's fundraiser "have extensive financial and political ties to three men who allegedly participated in an $8.5 billion Ponzi scheme."

In the interview, Tagg acknowledges that there is, in fact, a business relationship that includes himself, his father, and Mr. Zwick.

Think about this, as reported, Mr. Romney's investment group partnered with Stanford Financial Group, a group alleged by the Securities and Exchange Commission of having defrauded investors out of $8.5 billion, a Ponzi scheme second only to that of Bernie Madoff.

Ponzi schemes get a bit complicated, but what it all boils down to is that Mitt Romney gave his son "seed money" to start his own company, Solamere Capital, along with Spencer Zwick back in 2008. Solamere Capital, not unlike Bain Capital, is an investment fund that invests in investors. For Romney's reported initial investment of $10 million in Solamere Capital, his son's venture, in 2008, he has received as much as a million back so far.

A year later, after Stanford was charged with fraud by the SEC, Tagg Romney then partnered with three former executives from Stanford Financial Group who have been sued by the SEC for having given incentives in the form of large bonuses to brokers to peddle bogus CD's. The victims of Stanford Financial Group's $8.5 billion Ponzi scheme, like those of Bernie Madoff's, are retirees and people on fixed incomes.

Now, here's where it gets tricky. As ThinkProgress also reports, the bonds between Romney's campaign and his family invesment company "are deeply entwined." Many top donors to the former Massachusetts governor's campaign have also invested in Tagg's firm. And, keeping it all in the family, Romney's brother is among the advisors of Solamere Capital.

Tagg Romney, the governor's son, told ThinkProgress that he's proud to have now helped another group, Solamere Advisors, get its start. Notably, Solamere Advisors is now run by the same three executives from the $8.5 billion Stanford Financial Ponzi scheme still under investigation by the SEC.

So, you might ask, why should we care about Tagg's business, or his business associates? He's not running for president. Well, using the same logic, why did the Trustees pursue Bernie Madoff's sons? They're not responsible for Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme? Can one directly link Mr. Romney's campaign to either Solamere Capital, formed with the help of his campaign finance manager, Spencer Zwick, or Solamere Advisors, formed with the help of Tagg Romney and run by three executives indicted by the SEC?

If Romney is pressed further to release his tax returns for 2010, voters may have the answer to this question. Connecting the dots between Romney's financial ventures and his campaign is a necessity for any election in this country to be taken seriously.

Romney is right when he says "Corporations are people, my friend." Clearly, the Supreme Court agrees, and by its Citizens United ruling, corporations now have more rights. But, like people, corporations can run, but they can't hide. They, too, are criminally liable for fraudulent activities, and the executives who run those organizations, as well as their associates, are not immune from prosecution, and/or allegations of impropriety.

In terms of allegations of impropriety, it is the Romney campaign, and not Herman Cain's, that needs the greatest scrutiny.