Saturday, June 30, 2012

Justice John Roberts: Supreme Catalyst

Last week, closing in on his seventh year as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts was the deciding vote that enabled the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration's key accomplishment, to stand.

For a minute there, it looked like uber-conservative, Federalist Society member Roberts was in bed with his Democratic colleagues, but only for a minute. Instead, he was taking the back door into the court after a romp with some liberals on the bench. So, despite any illusions to the contrary, the judge who voted in favor of Citizens United, and voted with conservatives on other high profile issues like abortion, civil rights, and gun control, was never in any danger of jumping ship.

He may flirt with the Democrats, but John Roberts is not just Chief Justice, but may also be thought of as the Supreme catalyst, and like the president who secured his nomination to the bench, the Supreme Catalyst.

Let's not forget, there are many ways of winning an argument. The easiest way, of course, is to deck your opponent. A more clever way is to relieve your opponent of any ammunition he might wish to use against you. Chief Justice Roberts disarmed not just his opponents, but his observers by taking the second route.

All those who waited with baited breath, or should I say "bait and switch" breath, were baffled upon hearing the highest court in the land rule that the individual mandate to acquire health insurance was constitutional. And, bait and switch it was.

Anyone even remotely interested in fine print has to ask why what will long be regarded as the Roberts' ruling, one that will long distinguish what has quickly become the Roberts' court would, on the one hand, mandate that individuals carry health insurance while simultaneously letting states decide whether or not they want to accept federal funds to expand their Medicaid eligibility criteria.

John Roberts was immensely crafty in how he managed to come across as fair-minded, even liberal with this ruling, causing those who remember that then-Senator Obama voted against his confirmation to scratch their heads. Roberts acted like the smart wife who, when being chewed out by her husband about her spendthrift ways, smiles and slips his credit card into her back pocket.

Don't be deceived. While it may look like the Chief Justice sided with the Democrats on the court to become the swing vote in the ruling the legitimized the Obama administration's health care legislation, it was really Judge Roberts' deft way of following another Supreme Court judge, Rehnquist, in affirming state's rights.

With this ruling, Roberts is playing both sides against the middle, standing with the liberal wing of the court while reinforcing the conservatives on the bench by pushing back against any interpretation of the Commerce Act, a constitutional clause giving Congress authority over interstate commerce.

The constitutional power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, among the states, and among Indian tribes, which dates back more than 200 years, Chief Justice Roberts asserts, does not give the federal government the right to impose an individual mandate. To do so would be to give Congress, as an article in Slate reports, "new and potentially vast" power.

To the contrary, as Chief Justice Roberts sees it, the constitutional clause that was intended to give empower Congress should now be used to give more authority to the states, and rein in Congress's power.

Traditionally, the interpretation of the Commerce Clause has been up to the Supreme Court. In his last days on the court, Chief Justice Rehnquist saw the clause as a vehicle for asserting the supremacy of states over Congress when it comes to regulation, and enforcement of existing legislation.

But, why should we give a fang about an obscure constitutional provision that regulates commerce, and how it is interpreted? Why should that matter now?

At a time when other ultra-conservatives, and not so ultra-conservatives, are looking to overturn the constitutional right to a safe and legal abortion, and hand the Roe v. Wade decision over to the states, this big thumbs-up for state's right cannot be overlooked. Likewise, at a time when it is virtually impossible to pass any meaningful gun control legislation, who better than the National Rifle Association to rejoice in Chief Justice Roberts' view that it would be dangerous to let Congress, i.e. the federal government, regulate interstate commerce?

And, Slate is right when it suggests that "the health care law was, ultimately, a pretext." The real meat and potatoes issues are yet to come, and they include Roe v. Wade, gun control, voter's rights, and affirmative action.

Thanks to Judge Roberts' revisionist reading of commerce such that state's rights trump federal authority, a state won't be mandated to accept the Affordable Care Act Medicaid expansion provision such that 17 million more people might be eligible. The law might apply to individuals, but it doesn't apply to states, according to the Chief Justice.

And, as the New York Times notes, thanks to the Roberts court endowment of consensual rights to the states, millions of Americans will now find themselves adversely affected by this decision as several states have already said they will reject this Medicaid expansion program.

So, if you're poor, uninsured, and happen to live in a state that refuses to participate in the new health care law's expansion of Medicaid eligibility, you will be hurt by the interpretation of the Commerce Clause that allows states to opt out of Medicaid expansion.

As you know, appointments to the Supreme Court are lifetime appointments. Chief Justice Roberts is a young man. He's only 57. Should there be a constitutional challenge to Roe v. Wade on his watch, you may yet live to see the day that a federal ruling granting a woman the right to a legal, and safe abortion is turned over to the states to decide which will mean that the poorest women, those unable to travel from state to state, will no longer have access to a legal abortion.

Similarly, this court 's interpretation of this constitutional clause renders it all but impossible to enact future gun control legislation on the federal level, laws that won't allow states to opt out, which plays directly into the hands of the gun lobby. The Roberts' federalist position also opens the door to neutralizing governmental regulation of tobacco, as well as opening the door to revisiting affirmative action laws, thereby overturning federal precedent..

Make no mistake, with the way he positioned himself on the court with this ruling, John Roberts isn't engaging in rhetorical flourish, but covert judicial activism, the kind that poses a clear and present danger to federal regulation of alcohol, tobacco, and firearms.

And, while many choose to see this as a victory for the Obama administration, it is an even greater victory for the NRA as the Chief Justice's interpretation of a provision in the Constitution that pertains to commerce reinforces the regulation of gun sales by the states, and essentially factors Congress out of the equation when it comes to gun control. The ultimate objective is to diminish Congress's authority in the name of smaller government, a goal that can only lead to greater disenfranchisement and political chaos.

By what amounts to a clever sleight of hand, Chief Justice Roberts baffled Democrats and Republicans alike last week by coming across as an independent-minded, free thinking judge who will align himself with what he perceives as law in a non-partisan way. But, in reality, he has exposed himself for what he truly is, a born again federalist, and one whose opinions may, in future, mitigate against federal enforcement not only of health care, gun sales, and abortion rights, but yes, voting rights, and civil rights, too

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Question of the Day

Does Justice Scalia wear boxers, or briefs?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Romney on Immigration: "Softer Touch," or Snow Job?

On Thursday, Mitt Romney spoke before a group of Latino lawmakers in Florida, and displayed what the New York Times calls a "softer touch" on immigration.

The inevitable-from-the-start Republican presidential nominee now calls for "bipartisan and long-term immigration reform." The former Massachusetts governor refuses to say whether, if elected, he'd eradicate President Obama's executive order which precludes Immigration and Custom Enforcement from deporting many thousands of undocumented workers and students who are under age 30, and came to this country as children.

Romney, a candidate who coined the phrase "self-deport," is clearly trying to one up the president, especially now that a prominent Republican Latino, Marco Rubio, has withdrawn his own Dream Act plan from consideration. By repeating the phrase "long-term," and emphasizing what he suggests is a "temporary" measure to address immigration reform, Romney is deflecting attention to one simple fact. His solution is too little, and too late.

Immigration plan Romney would give green cards to undocumented immigrants who have earned advanced degrees in the U.S., as well as those who have served, and are now serving in the U.S. military, but plan Romney would leave undocumented college students, migrant workers, and other youngsters out in the cold, and without a clear path to citizenship.

To be fair, neither presidential candidate in 2012 is addressing ICE-capades,
the insidious practice of using devious methods to round up, detain, and deport many thousands of "illegals" who are routinely being separated from their mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, as well as forced to live and work in substandard conditions in sweatshops and on farms throughout the country while working below minimum wage. Neither candidate is discussing closing down federal detention centers that have been built, at great profit to private contractors, for the specific purpose of housing the undocumented until they can be deported back to their native countries.

But, while President Obama's executive order which opens the door to citizenship for many who might otherwise find themselves in a detention center is only a baby step, it is a seismic improvement over what his nemesis has to offer.

Gov. Romney has consistently stressed the importance of having President Obama run on his record. In this, he is right. While his current, and ever shifting, positions on immigration are of interest, Romney's position on immigration when he served as governor of Massachusetts, his only elected office, is crucial now that he's running for public office again.

From 2003 through 2007, Mitt Romney was Massachusett's governor. He was a vocal supporter of what he called "legal" immigration then. But, according to The Boston Globe, in 2004, Romney vetoed a bill that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to avail themselves of in-state tuition rates at state college, even after they graduated from a state high school, and pledged that they would seek citizenship. Then-Governor Romney argued it would cost too much. The legislation was defeated two years later.

Then, of course, there was the scandal in 2006 which resurfaced in Romney's failed bid for his party's nomination two years later, the one about the landscaping company he employed, and their use of "illegal" immigrants. Romney resolved that issue expeditiously enough. He simply fired the undocumented workers. Mission accomplished. We've learned from his business experience at Bain Capital that firing people is something at which Romney excels.

More pernicious still was an agreement signed by Gov. Romney, in December, 2006, and reported by the Associated Press, as his term was nearing its close The agreement was with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, and it would have essentially deputized 30 Massachusetts State Police troopers, and allowed them to arbitrarily arrest and deport anyone they suspected of being in the country illegally. Yes, Arizona's Jan Brewer has a forefather in Mitt Romney. This was an executive order that Mitt Romney would have signed as governor of Massachusetts in 2006, six short years ago. Compare and contrast that with the executive order President Barack Obama signed this week.

It is dangerous to be seduced by a candidate who appears to be softer now in light of his record the last time he had the ability to effect legislation. Whoever he takes on as his vice president, whether it's Marco Rubio or Tim Pawlenty, the bottom line is, Governor Romney used his power as chief executive of his state to try to empower local law enforcement to serve as ICE agents, and the only thing that stopped Romney's agreement between ICE and Massachusetts's state police, the very police whose jobs he would cut as president, was the adamant opposition by Democratic governor-elect Deval Patrick who revoked the executive order a month after assuming office.

Make no mistake, this is the kind of executive order Mr. Romney would like to inaugurate to replace the one that President Obama has put into effect. This is the kind of legislation Mr. Romney supported as governor, legislation that denies state tuition rates to youngsters who, while lacking documentation, have resided in the United States since childhood, legislation that would effective turn law enforcement into agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

At a time when, according to a recent study, non-Hispanic whites account for more than 75% of the nation's total wages and other income even though they make up just 64% of the population as of 2010, and at a time when the largest minority group, Hispanics, earn 9% of the income, can this country really afford a leader who shot down legislation giving undocumented youngsters an opportunity to go to college by refusing to allow them to pay in-state tuition? Is this the time to return to the era of institutionalized privilege, and economic apartheid?

Never mind what he says on the campaign trail, look instead at what Mr. Romney did during the one and only time he held public office. His Florida speech to a group of Latin lawmakers in Florida doesn't isn't indicative of a softening on immigration reform at all, but just another in a long series of Mitt Romney smokescreens.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

"The President's Never-Ending Campaign for Cash

By Michael Winship

My neighborhood has become a cash machine for the Obama re-election campaign.

Don’t look at me; I had nothing to do with it. What’s happened is that over the decades I’ve lived in the West Village in lower Manhattan, it slowly has evolved around its longtime residents into a theme park for the affluent; the low-keyed, tree-lined blocks of brownstones and townhouses that always gave it much of its appeal now competing with designer clothing boutiques, bars and high-end restaurants.

I still love where I live, but rents, commercial and residential, have skyrocketed; many of the mom-and-pop stores that gave the area character have moved or been forced out of business. How long we happy few, we remnants of the middle class can hang on is the subject of much debate. In the meantime, we have become prime real-estate for Democratic and progressive fundraising.

The other night the streets around my building were closed off as President Obama paid a visit to the home of Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, just around the corner. There, a $40,000 a person dinner — guests included Meryl Streep, Aretha Franklin and retail designer Michael Kors — garnered a reported $2.5 million for the president’s re-election. The Associated Press dubbed the event “Checks and the City.”

A similar traffic blockade took place in the neighborhood last summer when Mr. Obama came calling on movie producer Harvey Weinstein and guests. That time, he walked away with $2 million. And the summer before, Anna Wintour, haute couture queen of American Vogue magazine, held an Obama party at her West Village house, at which the purported price of admission was at least $30,400 a person. (Ms. Wintour also co-hosted the Weinstein and Parker soirees).

Such events are a crucial part of the president’s fundraising strategy. At Bloomberg News, Kate Andersen Brower wrote, President Obama “is using the entertainment industry on both coasts to help fill the fundraising hole left by defections of some Wall Street donors.”

AP reported,“Obama’s team is getting outraised by motivated Republicans in a new, freewheeling environment, one in which wealthy donors can give unlimited amounts of money to outside political groups, known as super PACs, that can have huge sway over the presidential race. As one counter-response, Obama is borrowing on the power of entertainers to give big bucks themselves and to encourage others to give what they can…

“From Tinseltown to Broadway, Obama has surrounded himself with blockbuster names lately: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Reese Witherspoon, Spike Lee, Will Smith, Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, Cher and many others who make more in one year that most people do in a lifetime… Let’s face it: They help raise the money that you need to wage a serious campaign,’ said Robert Schmuhl, a professor of American Studies at the University of Notre Dame who has written about the intersection of politics and celebrity. ‘Most Americans today are involved in what we call the ‘celebrity culture’ anyway. They understand how it works.’”

Nonetheless, the president is taking heat for the amount of time he spends on the road, not attending town meetings or making campaign speeches before large crowds, but raising cash. The June 10 edition of the Los Angeles Times noted,“In three days of campaign travel this last week, President Obama spent just two hours on the soil of a battleground state — a small fraction of his time given that voters in those places are expected to decide the election.

“Instead, Obama rubbed elbows with wealthy donors in New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles. They hadn’t shelled out $20,000 apiece just to cheer and watch him from a distance at a big rally… For years, the complaint in donor-rich states, including New York, Illinois and California, has been that presidential candidates take them for granted and seldom show up to campaign. But the race for money is vastly more competitive this year — and the list of actual battleground states is even smaller than before. The net effect is that both Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney have spent a great deal of quality time in a few wealthy enclaves cloistered with the country’s prosperous elite.”

Molly Ball of The Atlantic observed, “During the latter half of his first term in office, President Reagan did not hold a single fundraiser for his reelection campaign, and just three for the Republican National Committee. President Obama’s total over the equivalent period, through Wednesday, was 164.

“This is not a partisan observation — it’s a measure of the staggering increase in recent decades in the amount of time sitting presidents devote to raising money for reelection.”

Part of Obama’s problem is that in a post-Citizens United world, the greater ratio of cash being thrown into this year’s elections comes in large measure from mega-wealthy conservatives with very deep pockets — casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, for example, who last week reportedly wrote a check to the pro-Romney Restore Our Future super PAC for at least $10 million, more than twice what the president raised at the Sarah Jessica Parker dinner and a party afterwards at the Plaza Hotel. (In fact, The Huffington Post reports Adelson may be spreading around at least $71 million to a variety of Republican super PACs).

This isn’t to say President Obama doesn’t have high rollers: Dreamworks Animation’s CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg has given two million to the Priorities USA Action super PAC supporting re-election. Real estate heiress Amy Goldman has donated a million to the Super PAC, as have comedian Bill Maher and Landmark Medical Management CEO Kareem Ahmed. Fred Eychaner, chair of the media company Newsweb, has donated half a million to Priorities USA Action. The problem, as reported by Talking Points Memo, is that “of the 31 individuals or married couples listed by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) as having given $1 million or more, only seven are considered to ‘generally’ support liberal candidates.”

Further, aversion to the whole of idea of super PACs from many Democrats and the left diminished a willingness to give large sums to the Obama re-election effort. But that has started to change. Evan McMorris-Santoro of Talking Points Memo reported, “Democratic donors, wary of giving money to the outside spending groups their candidates have railed against since the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision, are starting to put their principles aside as the power of super PAC spending becomes more pronounced.” The loss of the Wisconsin recall was “an eye-opener.”

“Democratic Party groups are now openly appealing to their donor base to give money to super PACs and other outside spending groups, saying they need the air cover even this early in the year. Republican-leaning outside spending groups, most notably the Karl Rove-founded American Crossroads, have already begun pouring millions into television ad campaigns months before the generally accepted start of all-out general election campaigning.”

Still, “A lot of these donors are disappointed in the president,” Democratic strategist Carter Eskew said in this report from NPR:

“It could be hedge fund managers mad about the president’s criticism of Wall Street or liberals who wanted him to close Guantanamo or big Democratic donors who want to be treated like something more than an ATM.”

According to, Barack Obama’s decision not to accept public campaign funds in 2008 and his embrace of super PACs for this election year — after attacking them as a “threat to democracy” — are other reasons for disillusionment:

“… as the 2012 election is saturated by billions of dollars, campaign-finance reformers have largely lost faith in a president they say is willfully neglecting his reformist agenda while cynically embracing key elements of a new, laissez-faire election system he’s long demonized.”

During an event last week at Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y, Obama political strategist David Axelrod pledged:

“When we win, we will use whatever tools out there, including a constitutional amendment, to turn this back. I understand the free speech argument, but when the Koch brothers can spend $400 million, more than the McCain campaign and the Republican Party spent last time, that’s very concerning.”

But the bottom line, as Molly Ball at The Atlantic concluded: “If it seems like all the fundraising must be getting in the way of the president’s day job, it probably is.”


Michael Winship, senior writing fellow at the think tank Demos, is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program, Moyers & Company, airing on public television. Check local airtimes or comment at

Friday, June 15, 2012

A cork and bottle

"Bloom: (Bitterly.) Man and woman, love, what is it? A cork and bottle."

James Joyce
(from "Ulysses")

Happy Bloomsday, all!
June 16, 2012

"Campaign Cash Is the Gift that Keeps on Giving"

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

If you’re visiting a candidate this summer and looking for a thoughtful house gift, might we suggest a nice Super PAC? Thanks to the Supreme Court and Citizens United, they’re all the rage among the mega-wealthy. All it takes is a little paperwork and a wad of cash and presto, you can have, as The Washington Post describes it, a “highly customized, highly personalized” political action committee.

It’s easy -- Super PACs come in all amounts and party affiliations. You don’t have to spend millions, although a gift that size certainly won’t be turned aside. Cable TV tycoon Marc Nathanson got a Super PAC for his friend, longtime Democratic Congressman Howard Berman from California, and all it cost was $100,000. Down in North Carolina, Republican congressional candidate George Holding received a handsome Super PAC that includes $100,000 each from an aunt and uncle and a quarter of a million from a bunch of his cousins. Yes, nothing says family like a great big, homemade batch of campaign contributions.

You can start a Super PAC on your own or contribute to one that already exists. Super PACs are available for every kind of race – presidential, congressional or statewide. But there are other ways you can help buy an election. Look at the Wisconsin recall campaign of Republican Governor Scott Walker. At least fourteen billionaires rushed to the support of the corporate right’s favorite union basher. He outraised his Democratic opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, by nearly eight to one. Most of his money came from out of state. More than sixty million dollars were spent, $45 million of it for Walker alone.

Here are just a few of the satisfied buyers:

Wisconsin billionaire Diane Hendricks contributed more than half a million dollars on Scott Walker’s behalf. Her late husband built ABC Supply, America’s largest wholesale distributor of roofing, windows and siding. Fearful the United States might become “a socialistic ideological nation,” she’s an ardent foe of unions and, in her words, “taxing job creators.” True to her aversion to taxes, she paid none in 2010, despite being worth, according to Forbes magazine, about $2.8 billion dollars.

Before he launched his crusade against the collective bargaining rights of working people, Governor Walker had a conversation with Diane Hendricks, in which she asked, “Any chance we’ll ever get to be a completely red state and work on these unions… and become a right to work [state]? What can we do to help you?”

Walker replied, “We`re going to start in a couple weeks with our budget adjustment bill. The first step is, we`re going to deal with collective bargaining for all public employee unions, because you use divide and conquer.”

And so he did.

Walker also hauled in checks for nearly half a million from the Texas oligarch Bob Perry. He made his fortune in the home building business and is best known nationally for contributing four and a half million to the Swift Boat campaign that smeared the Vietnam War record of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry back in 2004.

In Texas, Bob Perry is known for his cozy relationship with the state’s Supreme Court. He once gave money to every one of its nine elected judges. And guess what? Those same nine judges later overturned an $800,000 judgment against his building company for faulty construction. Bob the Builder, who’s naturally eager for help in the cause of tort reform -- that is, making it hard for everyday people to sue corporations like his for malfeasance -- has so far given four million to the pro-Romney Super PAC, Restore Our Future, and millions to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads Super PAC.

Then there’s casino king Sheldon Adelson, who gave Scott Walker’s cause $250,000. That’s a drop in the old champagne bucket compared to the $21 million Adelson’s family gave to the Super PAC that kept Newt Gingrich in the race long after the formaldehyde had been ordered. According to The Wall Street Journal, Adelson did not long mourn Gingrich’s passing, and has now given at least $10 million to the Restore Our Future Super PAC supporting Romney. By all accounts, what he expects in return is that his candidate hold unions at bay and swear that Israel can do no wrong.

Next up on Scott Walker’s list of beneficent plutocrats: Rich DeVos, owner of the Orlando Magic basketball team and co-founder of the home products giant Amway, which, thanks to Republican leaders in Congress, once shared in a $19 million tax break after a million-dollar DeVos contribution to the Republican Party. He’s a long-time member of the secretive Council for National Policy, a who’s who of right-wing luminaries.

Let’s not forget cowboy billionaire and born again Christian, Foster Friess, Rick Santorum’s moneyman, who told us about the good ol’ days when women would “use Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn't that costly.” And Louis Moore Bacon, the billionaire founder of the hedge fund Moore Capital – which in 2010 was fined $25 million for attempted commodities manipulation. A big backer of Romney, he, too came to Walker’s aid in Wisconsin.

So did Dallas oil and gas wildcatter Trevor Rees-Jones, who’s given millions to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, in anticipation of another administration as friendly to taxpayer subsidies for big oil as the Rove-Bush White House. Last year, Rees-Jones’ company, Chief Oil, and a partner sold to Chevron nearly a quarter million acres in northeast America’s Marcellus Shale – the epicenter of the raging controversy over fracking. Estimated price: one billion dollars.

We could go on and name more, but you get the picture. These are the people who are helping to fund what the journalist Joe Hagan describes as a “tsunami of slime.” Even as they and their chosen candidates are afforded respectability in the value-free world of plutocracy, they can hide the fingerprints they leave on the bleeding corpse of democracy in part because each Super PAC comes with that extra special something every politician craves: plausible deniability. When one of their ads says something nasty and deceitful about an opponent – when it slanders and lies – the pol can shrug and say: “Not my doing. It’s the Super Pac that’s slinging the mud, not me.”

And that’s how the wealthy one percent does its dirty business. They are, by the way, as we were reminded by CNN’s Charles Riley in his report, “Can 46 Rich Dudes Buy an Election?” almost all men, mostly white, “and so far, the vast majority of their contributions have been made to conservative groups.” They want to own this election. So if there are any of you left out there with millions to burn, better buy your candidate now, while supplies last.


Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program, Moyers & Company, airing on public television. Check local airtimes or comment at

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Tuesday, June 19

I will be reading from my book of poetry, "Riding with Destiny," on Tuesday, June 19th from 1 - 1:30 p.m., as part of Kim McMillon's "Writer's Sanctuary" show on Blog Talk Radio: Tune in.


Those of you who read this blog on occasion have noticed that I usually have a lot to say about politics, and current events.

You also see that I've been conspicuously absent from political commentary, sometimes for a week or more at a time, punctuating the silence with news of this poet's birthday, or some other commemoration. Happily, too, there are posts from Bill Moyers and Michael Winship. I'm honored that they've decided to grace this page with their essays.

I'm not big on personal admissions, and I've always felt strongly about the boundaries between what is public and what is private, but I feel I owe it to you, my readers, to let you know that in February I was diagnosed with Cancer of Unknown Primary Origin which has metastasized, and I've been undergoing intensive, 5.5 hour chemotherapy infusions ever since.

Cancer of Unknown Primary is very rare, and afflicts 2-3% of those diagnosed with cancer. The prognosis is generally poor, but being the fighter that I am, I'm fighting both the cancer and the poor prognosis. The only thing I'm not fighting right now is the chemotherapy as it seems to be helping allay that demon mortality.

This is not my first brush with death. At eleven, my appendix ruptured and I had peritonitis. I was taken to the emergency room in the middle of the night, and my doctors told my parents to make the funeral arrangement as I would not survive. I spent an entire month in the hospital, and literally had to learn how to walk all over again. When the nurse would change my bandage which was filled with pus, I remember saying "I love that smell. That's the smell of life." That smell, to me, was the smell of the poison leaving my body. I still have the scar, all these years later, which stretches from my navel all the way down to my pelvis. Doctors didn't have time to make it pretty. So, I remember thinking, I'll never be able to wear a bikini, but at least I'm alive.

A year later I had an incisional hernia which, while not life threatening, was a major operation.

A year or so after that, when going for a swim with an older cousin at Jones Beach, I got caught in a whirlpool. At first, I fought the current, so I can be spotted and rescued, but then I realized that if I just went with the flow, the ocean would naturally lift me up, and that I would bob up and down until I'd be spotted. Indeed, my mother saw me from the shore, and a lifeguard went out and brought me back to the shore. I had lost consciousness.

I remember well two things from that experience of almost drowning, the minute right before losing consciousness. First, I remember fighting with every ounce of strength I had to stay afloat until I realized that fighting was using up all my energy, and that if I trusted the ocean, the whirlpool current itself would get me where I wanted to go, as well as thinking I've done all I can do, and it's out of my hands.

As Samuel Beckett writes, "How all becomes clear and simple when one opens an eye on the within, having of course previously exposed it to the without, in order to benefit by the contrast."

Second, and right before everything faded from view, I recall this immense feeling of peace as if I'd been infused with the kind of calm I've not experienced since. Yes, I understood that I landed within the jaws of death, but I was not afraid.

There was another rather absurd tango with the Grim Reaper at age 26, but I'll spare you the details of that one and instead say, I hope to not only be on the planet until my work is done, which is a ways off, but to be kicking butt, too. I plan to be here to see President Obama get re-elected.

I'm a poet, not a fundraiser, so asking doesn't come easily to me. Frankly, I find it easier to try and raise the dead than to try and raise money, but the time has come to figure out a way to do all those things one has always wanted to do, and which one can't afford like going on vacation, or taking a long overdue trip to Italy, so I've set up a secure donation page where, if you're so inclined, you can help get me there:
(if the link doesn't display, cut and paste it into the web bar)

As Beckett says, too, "The essential is to go on squirming for ever at the end of the line, s long as there are waters and banks and ravening in heaven a sporting God to plague his creature," so you'll see me here again inveighing against corporate gluttony, introducing folks like the Koch brothers, and just generally kicking up dust.
I'm not one for promises, but I promise you one thing. I will hang on as long as you do.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


"All empty souls tend toward extreme opinions."

William Butler Yeats

born: June 13, 1865

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Happy Birthday, Judy Garland who would have turned 90 today.

Born: June 10, 1922

Friday, June 08, 2012

Town Hall

I had a dream last night that I was at a town hall for President Obama in which guests were invited to come onstage, and ask the president a question.

As you might imagine, the auditorium was packed, and the questions dealt predictably with the economy, war, and drones.

When my turn came up, I found myself sitting across from the president who said, "Is there anything you
want to ask me?" Yes, I said, "what's for lunch?"

Monday, June 04, 2012

Expiration Date for the News

It was a quiet weekend, so I indulged in a practice I seldom have time to address, checking to see how many times a story has been covered, and by how many television stations. When reaching for a glass of orange juice, I noticed that on the container was an expiration date: July 19, 2012. Why is there an expiration date for orange juice, and not for news stories? Can it be called "news," after all, if a story is dated?

No one can fault the print media for, as we've seen, by the time a story hits most of the major newspapers, it has already appeared on the Internet, and hence has passed its expiration date. But, for broadcast news, how many times does one have to watch a re-run of a story on how bath salts have become a growing problem for youngsters who want to get high, and instead end up hallucinating as they do on PCP? One network, CNN, ran the identical story all weekend long.

How often, too, does the same story that was broadcast on cable news networks appear on your local eleven o'clock news? Not new at all, but recycled.

How much credibility can one impute to a print newspaper when it declares election results twelve hours after the results have been disseminated widely on the Internet? And, more importantly, instead of sitting back and accepting this phenomenon, what kinds of changes can be implemented by the major newspapers to prevent it?

Some of the repetition of news stories can be blamed, of course, on media consolidation, or the idea that one or two conglommerates pretty much own all the newspapers, and television outlets in this country. News Corp's own Rupert Murdoch has himself been in the headlines lately, ironically as a casualty of the very media consolidation he worked sedulously to implement.

But, some of this has to do with an egregious need for time editors, or staff that is devoted strictly to ensuring that stories like the ad nauseum coverage of all things George Zimmerman are remanded to the archives rather than being repeated ad nauseum, and updating headlines and news items as stories morph. Yes, we havee the technology in place for this kind of editing, and these kinds of changes.

As for repeating news items, how many photos of Zimmerman does the viewing public really need to see? More importantly, why isn't there any coverage of other incidents, like the murder of Trayvon Martin, despite the fact that youngsters are bullied, and sometimes killed, because of their race, or being in some way different, every day?

And, as McClatchy reports, despite reports from a London human rights activist group that, while difficult to trace, civilian deaths in Syria are actually down since the U.N. intervention in April while military deaths are up, all we see from Syria is non-stop coverage of horrible civilian massacres. What role is the media currently playing in the build-up to war with Syria, as it has done in the build-up to war in Iraq and later Libya, and why is no one questioning this?

While major broadcast news outlets have brought into our living rooms the decimated bodies of Syrian citizens, how many are reporting on the actual decrease in civilian fatalities in Syria, and why not? The loss of even one civilian life in a civil war, or any war, or even in an undeclared war, is always horrific, but it is equally horrific when those civilians find themselves victims of targeted drone strikes that seem to include an ever growing target.

Clearly, when it comes to human rights violations, an expiration date is never appropriate, but the underlying premise behind assigning an expiration date is that of investigating in order to ensure freshness. Where is the investigating arm of the source that feeds us our information?

It's getting harder to see who's asking the hard questions.

The coverage by mainstream media, The New York Times, The Washington Post and, of course, McClatchy and Reuters, of drones in Pakistan, and Yemen, and the insistence on asking the hard questions about how many civilian lives have been lost in both countries as a result of drone use has been excellent, but I guess we don't talk about civilian fatalities we inflict as massacres, but only those inflicted by leaders of foreign countries, and why is that?

In order for the flow of information to remain free and unobstructed by governmental pressure, there needs to be the same kind of investigative work that is done to determine whether the contents of a container of milk are fresh. The transmission of tainted, or uninspected data by the news media poses as grave a threat to the health of this democracy as spoiled milk does to American families.

Especially in this election year, the need for news that doesn't aim solely to please, entertain, or distort world events in conformity with some foreign policy objective has never been greater. We can no more afford a fast food of news now than the kind of toxicity that comes from an under-educated, and underprepared electorate.

Friday, June 01, 2012

"Pity the Poor Billionaires"

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

We had the perfect headline all picked out for this piece, but our colleague Paul Waldman at The American Prospect magazine beat us to the punch:

“It’s Hard Out There for a Billionaire.”

You see, according to the website, the so-called “mega-donors,” unleashed by Citizens United and pouring boundless big bucks into this year’s political campaigns, are upset that their massive contributions are being exposed to public view, ignoring the right of every one of us to know who is giving money to candidates -- and the opportunity to try to figure out why.

“Quit picking on us” is part of Politico’s headline. Their article says that the mega-donors’ “six- and seven-figure contributions have… bought them nothing but grief…

“This is definitely not what they had in mind. In their view, cutting a million-dollar check to try to sway the presidential race should be just another way to do their part for democracy, not a fast-track to the front page.”

Uh-huh. The sound you hear is the world’s smallest violin, say, a teeny-tiny Stradivarius insured for millions. “Is there a group of people you can think of who have thinner skin than America's multi-millionaires and billionaires?’ Paul Waldman asks. “Wall Street titans have been whining for a couple of years now about the horror of people in politics criticizing ineffective banking regulations and the favorable tax treatment so many wealthy people receive… America's barons feel assaulted, victimized, wounded in ways that not even a bracing ride to your Hamptons estate in your new Porsche 911 can salve. And now that the presidential campaign is in full swing, their tender feelings are being hurt left and right.”

Last month, an Obama website cited eight mega-donors to Mitt Romney’s campaign as possessing “less-than-reputable records.” Among them was Frank VanderSloot, a Romney national finance co-chairman who has raised millions for the campaign. He’s a rancher – with 110,448 acres, on which he no doubt roams playing "This Land is Your Land" on his little Stradivarius -- and CEO of the billion-dollar company Melaleuca, which Rolling Stone describes as “a ‘multilevel marketing’ firm based in Idaho that sells off-brand cleaning products and nutritional supplements.”

VanderSloot and his wealthy pals went ballistic and cried intimidation. “You go back to the Dark Ages,” VanderSloot said, “when they put these people in the stocks or whatever they did, or publicly humiliated them as a deterrent to everybody else -- watch this -- watch what we do to the guy who did this.”

Conservatives described the Obama ranking of Romney contributors as an “enemies list,” conjuring images of Nixonian wiretaps and punitive tax audits. But despite protestations to the contrary, these deep-pocketed plutocrats aren’t shelling out the shekels for the love of flag, Mom and apple pie (or tarte tatin, as they call it in the swanky joints).

“Most of the megadonors backing [Romney’s] candidacy are elderly billionaires,” Tim Dickinson writes in Rolling Stone. “Their median age is 66, and their median wealth is $1 billion. Each is looking for a payoff that will benefit his business interests, and they will all profit from Romney's pledge to eliminate inheritance taxes, extend the Bush tax cuts for the superwealthy -- and then slash the top tax rate by another 20 percent.” As at least one of them has said, they view these cash infusions as an “investment,” plain and simple.

Dickinson claims that what VanderSloot specifically seeks are, “Fewer consumer protections. The FDA has rebuked Melaleuca for making ‘false and misleading’ claims about its supplements, and the company has signed a consent decree agreeing to ‘not engage in the marketing and promotion of an illegal pyramid.’ VanderSloot is also an anti-gay crusader: He tried to kill a PBS program for promoting ‘the homosexual lifestyle,’ and gave big bucks to pass California's ban on same-sex marriage.” (Maybe that’s why Mitt has called for privatizing PBS, admitting he's eager to see commercials on Sesame Street!)

Not that Democrats are pure of heart and innocent of venal self-interest – many of them are all too ready to leap to the music of the ATM, too. In fact, Adam Bonica, an associate political science professor at Stanford has put together a data base indicating that since 1979, 377 members of the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans have given almost half a billion dollars to candidates of both parties, most of it in the last decade. The median contribution was $355,100 each.

For evidence of the bipartisan nature of avarice, all you need to do is leap into your Wayback Machine and dial back less than twelve hours before Politico’s story of angst among the generous upper classes. This time, the headline reads, “Bill would give bank a $300M benefit.”

Seems the Emigrant Bank, based here in New York City, needs a loophole. “At issue is an arcane provision in the Dodd-Frank law setting out how much capital banks are required to have and in what form,” Politico reported. “Emigrant, the nation’s largest privately owned bank, currently has $10.5 billion in assets, according to its chief regulatory officer, Richard Wald.”

At one point during the financial meltdown, Emigrant borrowed money that by the end of 2009 raised its worth beyond $15 billion. This triggered a Dodd-Frank provision requiring the bank to liquidate some of its assets.

Enter New York Republican Congressman Michael Grimm who, with the bipartisan backing of members of the House Financial Services Committee, including Democratic ranking member Barney Frank (as in Dodd-Frank), introduced a one-sentence bill – that’s right, one sentence --moving the cut off date to March 31, 2010, when the banks assets had slipped back under $15 million. This will create a savings for Emigrant of $300 billion in capital.

Emigrant has come a long way since it was founded in 1850 as a savings bank for newly arrived Irish émigrés. Now Howard Milstein, whose family is worth an estimated $3.8 billion, owns it. He was a bundler for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and a major contributor to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Politico’s John Bresnahan writes, “The Milsteins, along with business associates and other family members, have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to both GOP and Democratic lawmakers over the past decade. Along with Grimm, New York Democratic Reps. Carolyn Maloney, Carolyn McCarthy and Gregory Meeks -- all co-sponsors of the bill -- have received $11,500 in donations from the Milsteins this cycle.”

What’s more, over the last two years, “The Milsteins have retained high-powered lobbying help to bolster their push for congressional action, at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars,” including a firm which counts among its partners former New York Republican Senator Al D’Amato, whose career in Congress was but prelude to his lucrative retirement as a hustler for the mighty.

All of which leads to one last headline, via the Reuters news service on Thursday: “House panel votes to give New York bank a break.” The tally was 35-15.

And the plutocrats cried all the way to the bank.


Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program, Moyers & Company, airing on public television. Check local airtimes or comment at