Posts from — June 2009
I don’t watch “Meet the Press” on NBC now that Tim Russert is gone. David Gregory is no Tim Russert. But I happened on the program recently as I idly clicked my TV remote, and I saw David Axelrod’s earnest countenance, so I paused to visit. And what I heard troubled me greatly.
“Just this week in the health committee on — in the Senate, where Senator Dodd has done such a great job in moving healthcare reform along, 82 amendments were accepted from Republican members that I think will strengthen the healthcare bill,” Axelrod was saying. “And that is a positive thing.”
Say what? I don’t see that as a positive thing at all. I don’t want those 82 amendments in the health care bill. If I had wanted Republican legislation I would have voted Republican. I voted for the Democratic Party because I wanted the legislation the Democrats promised. How hard is that to understand?
Axelrod was, of course, touting the President’s “bipartisan” approach. President Obama is always preaching bipartisanship – for better or for worse, it seems. “Whether we’re Democrats or Republicans, surely there’s got to be some capacity for us to work together,” he says. “We may not agree on everything but at least we can set aside small differences to get things done. People have to break out of some of the ideological rigidity and gridlock that we’ve been carrying around for too long.”
Wow! Does that ever sound good. Sensible. Mature. Pragamatic. Whatever… But that’s just not how a democracy works. In a democracy opposing sides offer their programs to the voters and the voters choose the program they like best. Then the winning party is supposed to implement that program. In November, American voters chose the Democrats by a wide margin. They have a right to expect Congress to implement a Democratic agenda.
If that agenda proves ineffective, the voters can kick out the Democrats in the next election and give the Republicans a chance to try their ideas. So, why is the President so keen on “bipartisanship”? And why is the Democratic majority in Congress handing the reins over to the Republican minority?
If the Democrats implement a Republican agenda, my vote was wasted. If I had wanted a Republican agenda, I would have voted Republican. The way things are going, I might as well not vote next time.
June 30, 2009 5 Comments
My representative in the United States House of Representatives is a 65-year-old woman named Ginny Brown-Waite. Whenever I sign one of those petitions asking Congress to vote for pro-environmental legislation or some other “good cause,” I get an email from this woman explaining at length why she is against it and why I should be, too. Naturally, when I get a chance to vote, I fill in the blank next to her opponent’s name, whoever he or she might be. But Ginny Brown-Waite is always re-elected. She is a Republican, and in the part of Florida where I live just about everybody votes Republican. After all, they might tell you, they’re decent, church-going citizens – not baby killers!
A Roman Catholic, Brown-Waite (photo at right) is certainly no baby killer. She has a lifetime rating of 90 percent from the American Conservative Union and zero percent from NARAL (formerly the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League). And when it comes to defending religion, she does not flinch. She has a zero percent rating on the separation of church and state in America. She even voted for an amendment that protects religious discrimination in hiring.
Brown-Waite is less enthusiastic about civil rights. The NAACP gives her a score of only 17 percent on affirmative action. She voted yes on a Constitutional Amendment to ban same-sex marriage. And she voted yes on making the infamous Patriot Act permanent. An ardent opponent of gun control, she proudly carries a gun when she is home in Hernando County.
Brown-Waite supports the death penalty on religious grounds. Apparently, the word came directly from God. She says she saw “a message” in a nosebleed suffered by death row inmate Allen Lee Davis during his execution on July 8, 1999. The blood was in the shape of a cross, she said, so she figures God was blessing the execution.
In view of her track record, you can imagine my surprise when I learned from a service called Truthout that this religious woman was involved in some shady stock trading. I knew that police had caught her husband, former New York state trooper Harvey Waite, stealing her opponent’s lawn signs when she ran against state Senator Karen Thurman back in 2002, but that was just politics. This is greed.
Truthout sent me an article from The Cleveland Plain Dealer exposing members of Congress who eagerly traded bank stocks while overseeing the recent multi-billion-dollar bank bailout. The day before the House passed the bailout, “Brown-Waite grabbed up Citigroup stock,” the article charges. (You can read the story at www.truthout.org/062809Y?n )
According to the newspaper:
Anticipating bargains or profits or just trying to unload before the bottom fell out, members of the House Financial Services Committee, or brokers on their behalf, were buying and selling stocks including Bank of America and Citigroup – some of the very corporations their committee would later rap for greed, a Plain Dealer examination of congressional stock market transactions shows….
For example, Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, a Florida Republican, bought Citigroup stock valued between $1,001 and $15,000 on Oct. 2, the day before the House passed the financial rescue bill and President George W. Bush signed it into law, records show. She opposed the bill.
Eleven days later, she bought $1,001 to $15,000 worth of Bank of America stock. It was on the same day that then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson told leading banks that he expected them to accept billions in bailout money to prevent a financial meltdown.
Brown-Waite, who has since left the committee to join the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, and her spokeswoman would not comment for this article. The precise value of her investments is not publicly known because financial disclosure reports provide only broad ranges, although some members include detailed brokerage reports.
I sent the Plain Dealer article to the editor of the local newspaper, but have not received a reply. My guess is that he isn’t planning to follow up. But even if he does, you can bet your last dollar that Brown-Waite will be re-elected if she runs again. In these parts, greed is OK. “Baby killing” is not.
June 29, 2009 1 Comment
If we lived in a just world, those frowsy-looking Iranian mullahs would be strung up by their thumbs and horsewhipped (or worse), a democratic government would be installed in Iran, and an international group would be appointed to ensure no nuclear weapon is ever developed there.
Furthermore, that tinpot despot in North Korea would be given a swift kick in the behind and exiled to the sacred slope where his special rice is grown. He would spend the rest of his life growing food for the people he has been starving in order to maintain his lavish lifestyle and build up his massive army.
I’m sure you can think of many other evil dictators who should be punished, many other oppressed populations that should be freed and fed. The question is how?
The United Nations can’t do it. The way it’s set up, the international body is almost useless. For one thing, the Security Council is immobilized by the conflicting agendas of its members. On one side are America, France and the United Kingdom; on the other are Russia and China. And to ensure gridlock, each of the members has veto power.
Some people in the United States, inexplicably including several respected politicians, think they should take on the job. After all, that’s what America is all about, isn’t it? From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli, and all that, right?
Sorry, folks. America can’t police the world. It’s too big a job. You could spend the next century trying to help oppressed people without even covering the continent of Africa. It would be like trying to save a crowd of drowning people single-handed. You would surely end up drowning, yourself.
And there’s also the question of America’s “national interests.” Some of the despots who rule their people with an iron fist are its allies and trading partners. The United States would be foolhardy to try and introduce democracy and civil rights in China, for example. And you won’t hear much about oppression of the people, especially minorities, in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. The president there is supposed to be “pro-West,” and it wouldn’t be politically useful to offend him. And while Russia is no friend of Western democracy, Europe and Israel need Russia’s oil, and America needs Russia’s support – or at least its restraint – in dealing with diplomatic issues.
That’s one reason you haven’t heard of any American or Israeli bombers taking off for Iran. Russia has a decades-old alliance with Iran, and I understand it’s Russia that has supplied Iran with the materials and technology for its nuclear program. (Photo at left shows Russia’s Vladimir Putin palling around with Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.)
As for North Korea, I would think the U.S. needs China’s permission to take out Kim Jong-il (pictured above in a relaxed moment). China was the force behind North Korea’s aggression back in the Fifties, and it’s China that has been propping up Kim’s isolated and impoverished regime.
It’s frustrating, I know, folks. It would feel so good to “bomb, bomb, bomb” Iran – or at least the Iranian government (surely, you wouldn’t want to bomb those poor protesters, who have endured so much pain already). But there’s not much you can do, except gnash your teeth and shake your fists. Any progress in Iran – or in other oppressed areas of the world – will have to come from within, with the help of more enlightened international cooperation from without. As long as great powers like Russia and China remain oppressive and despotic themselves, worldwide democracy and freedom will be a long time coming.
June 28, 2009 1 Comment
The U.S. House of Representatives passed comprehensive climate change legislation yesterday, which did not surprise me. What leaves me stunned and furious is that 44 Democrats voted against the bill. What in tarnation is going on? Sandra and I did not send our few dollars to help elect so-called Democrats who, once in Congress, cynically defend the interests of oil barons at the expense of the planet’s survival.
Some Democrats justified their opposition to the bill by citing provisions adversely affecting corn ethanol production, which has been shown to be of little help in reducing fossil fuel consumption but which has enriched farmers in the politicians’ constituencies. Once again, personal political gain trumped the public good.
So many Democrats in the House and Senate have lined up against reform, against progress, that the change we paid for with our nickels and dimes grows more elusive every day. Eight Republicans voted for the American Clean Energy and Security Act, and helped the bill squeak through the House by 219 votes to 212. Maybe we should have contributed to those Republicans’ election campaigns instead.
An even tougher battle is expected in the Senate, where several Democrats are niggling over details in a thinly veiled effort to sabotage climate change legislation.
Not a day passes without a request for a donation to the Democrats. They must think that we are unaware of what’s going on. They will not get another penny from this household until we figure out what our money is buying. And I don’t think we are alone. I bet millions of Americans who made small contributions to President Obama’s campaign – and to the Democratic Party because of Obama’s agenda – will think twice before writing a check in 2010.
The Democratic Party is in for a rude awakening unless its leaders find a way to deliver the platform its supporters have a right to expect. And that means keeping such promises as affordable health care for all Americans; environmental responsibility and massive development of alternative energy; a level financial playing field; protection of our civil rights and privacy; and preservation of our wildlife and wilderness.
Politicians who oppose such policies should not be allowed to call themselves Democrats, and should have to run for election under their true colors. No party can expect continuing support from its members unless it delivers on the promises of its platform. Is it possible that the money from special interests is so overwhelming that the individual contributor no longer matters? Has America become a plutocracy instead of a democracy? We will have to wait and see what happens in next year’s elections.
June 27, 2009 3 Comments
I was not a Michael Jackson fan. I don’t think I have ever listened to “Thriller.” But I couldn’t escape reading and hearing about the “King of Pop” over the years. And I remember with fondness the littlest member of the Jackson Five, who was so full of zest, so nimble and so appealing. Someone said the boy is father to the man or something like that, but I am often bewildered by the transmogrification some cute children undergo as they grow into adults.
That little Jackson Five kid (pictured performing at right) was a world apart from the skin-bleached, one-gloved showman (photo below) who apparently lived for the limelight and was eventually burned by the limelight. Like a moth that cannot resist the flame, Michael Jackson played with fire, risking his reputation and his life by circling ever closer to disaster. From what I’ve heard, he had an unnatural childhood – and I can easily understand that. He was so young when his family hit the showbiz jackpot. He certainly had an unnatural adulthood. And it was not all his own doing.
I think he succumbed to the influences of a sick society, rebuilding his nose and bleaching his skin (I know, I know, he said it was a natural disorder but if you believe that…), looking for love in all the wrong places, indulging in self destructive habits, excessive displays and conspicuous consumption, apparently accepting the Hollywood hype about himself. But for all that, he was more sinned against than sinning.
Celebrities attract parasites who can be incredibly unscrupulous and shameless. And they fed off his fame like a swarm of flies. I think that was the reality behind the child molestation accusations. I think grifters saw a chance to make a score and took a shot at it. From the little I know, I am prepared to give Michael the benefit of the doubt, to believe he was the big-hearted philanthropist he seemed to be, and to attribute his excessive predilection for the company of children to innocent eccentricity. For in many ways, the King of Pop remained a kid.
And I hope it is that little boy who survives in our memory, and not the Tinsel Town creation that is being mourned by millions around the world today.
For an objective summary of Michael Jackson’s life, click:
June 26, 2009 2 Comments
I cannot bear to watch that wretched South Carolina governor being ridiculed and shamed on television. And I will not yield to temptation and use him as an example of the general depravity of Republican politicians. Not that I fail to grasp the irony of the Republican Party’s self-righteous preaching about “family values.” Not that I condone Republican politicians’ hypocrisy: They take the name of the Lord in vain when they exploit morality and religion for political advantage, and they expose themselves to justifiable contempt when they throw stones at others and are later shown – as they so often are – to live in glass houses.
I suspect most Republican politicians – most politicians - are depraved. Politics is a dirty business. And politicians often are dirty. But a love affair is no laughing matter. It can be beautiful. It can be sordid. It can – and often is – tragic.
In the case of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford (pictured above with his family at his swearing-in ceremony), it is a tragedy. To understand the horror of it, you have only to read this passage from one of the emails he sent his lover, emails that are now being tittered at by a titillated public:
This is ground I have certainly never covered before – so if you have pearls of wisdom on how we figure all this out please let me know. In the meantime please sleep soundly knowing that despite the best efforts of my head my heart cries out for you, your voice, your body, the touch of your lips, the touch of your finger tips and an even deeper connection to your soul.
If you have ever fallen under the spell of an irresistible attraction, you will understand. If you have not, you cannot know what Mark Sanford is going through. He fell into that ring of fire that Johnny Cash sang about when he lost his heart to June Carter. And he can only watch helplessly as his life and career go up in smoke.
He will have to answer to his wife and four sons. And he will bear those scars forever. He will be diminished in the eyes of family and friends. He will be humbled when he looks in the mirror. Far less important, he will lose the trust of his constituents and irreparably damage his chances of political advancement.
Do not misunderstand me. I could not disagree more with Sanford’s politics. To me he is a sorry excuse for a governor. He seems to be arrogant, ill-informed and self promoting. And it would be tempting to say, “It serves him right!”
But as a fellow human being, I pity him for the pain he must endure, and I pity his wife and family for their anguish. And I pity his lover, herself a hapless victim of Cupid’s arrow. Affairs of the heart are unpredictable. Love is like a train wreck. It comes without warning, and the best anyone can do is try to pick up the pieces.
June 25, 2009 5 Comments
The massive demonstrations in Iran have set off a frenzy among the hawks of the world who seem to believe that violence can be the antidote for violence. These hawks are impatient, unschooled people who have refused to learn the lessons of history. Rarely does violence bring good results. True victory is won in the heart not on the battlefield.
People who are physically subjugated often harbor such resentment that subsequent peace is unattainable. The creation of Israel provides an example of this. The seizure of Irish homes by the English is another. As the old saying puts it, “a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”
Iran’s path to attaining human rights will be long and arduous. The Islamic theocracy has deep and strong roots. Even if one group of mullahs is overthrown, the succeeding ayatollahs are unlikely to allow true reform. Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the leading opposition figure, is no human rights activist. He is a long-time member of the theocracy who is seeking the presidency under the existing political structure. To replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with Mousavi would be – as they say in Jamaica – to “swap black dog fe monkey.” The difference would be skin deep.
President Obama knows this, and while he is “heartbroken” by the suffering of the Iranian protesters, he recognizes how counterproductive it would be for him to incite more demonstrations. He knows the appearance of U.S. intervention in the dispute would be the kiss of death for the protesters’ cause.
If a genuine urge for freedom is emerging among Iranians, they will have to win it for themselves. And I think they will have to take the long road. They might be wise to study the life of Mahatma Gandhi (pictured at right) for starters. Gandhi’s crusade of nonviolent resistance to Britain eventually led to India’s independence, but it took more than a quarter of a century. It took even longer for the nonviolent revolution advocated by Martin Luther King to bear fruit in the election of America’s first black president. And in both cases, the leaders of the crusade were prepared to endure personal sacrifice. Gandhi fasted. King died.
Perhaps the face of Neda (photo below) – a beautiful woman murdered by a sniper in the flower of her youth – will provide the symbol that Iranians need to resist and endure. In India, protesters squatted in the middle of the road and refused to budge even when they were clubbed and whipped. When salt was taxed, thousands marched to the shore and dried their own salt.
Instead of gathering in the streets where the Basiji can pick them off from the rooftops, Iran’s protesters will need to adopt smarter tactics. They might choose a general strike as one method. But it will take not one but many strikes to bring down the mullahs, and the strikers must be prepared to endure great personal hardship, as times are hard in Iran and few have any savings.
Instead of shaking their fists at the mullahs, hawks like John McCain should be cudgeling their brains for nonviolent ways to help the protesters. Senator McCain is chairman of a covert operation known as the International Republican Institute, and this organization has been accused of fomenting unrest in Iran. Perhaps groups like this can find secret ways of smuggling food and money into Iran to help the strikers survive – instead of egging them on to risk their lives in the street.
But I doubt that McCain would consider this approach. It seems that he would much rather “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran,” which would give the Iranians a common enemy and end any hope of human rights for Iranians in the foreseeable future.
June 24, 2009 1 Comment
If you’ve ever seen a movie or play about Victorian England – or read one of Charles Dickens’ masterpieces – you should know what the ideal Republican state would look like. Remember Oliver Twist asking for a second helping at the orphanage? The response was incredulous. A second helping? Had the child gone mad?
That’s exactly how Republicans see the world. But you don’t usually hear them admitting it as bluntly as State Representative Cynthia Davis of Missouri (photo at right) did recently. She makes no bones about her position on child hunger. She thinks it “can be a positive motivator” and should be encouraged.
The chairwoman of the state legislature’s Special Standing Committee on Children and Families outlined her philosophy in an attack on a government program that provides free meals to low-income childen during the summer. Here’s an excerpt from her newsletter:
Who’s buying dinner? Who is getting paid to serve the meal? Churches and other non-profits can do this at no cost to the taxpayer if it is warranted…. Bigger governmental programs take away our connectedness to the human family, our brotherhood and our need for one another…. Anyone under 18 can be eligible? Can’t they get a job during the summer by the time they are 16? Hunger can be a positive motivator. What is wrong with the idea of getting a job so you can get better meals? Tip: If you work for McDonald’s, they will feed you for free during your break…. It really is all about increasing government spending, which means an increase in taxes for us to buy more free lunches and breakfasts.
Liberal commentators like MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann were aghast at the Missouri legislator’s position. But why? I am sure they’ve heard many Republican politicians embrace the same philosophy, though not in those words. For decades, Republicans have fought against government attempts to make America a more compassionate society. They fought Social Security. They fought Medicare. They fought Unemployment Insurance. They fought the minimum wage. And they are fighting universal health care.
They want more tax dollars for weapons and the military, more “incentives” to business, more tax breaks for the rich. In their eyes the poor are undeserving and contemptible. Let them eat cake.
June 23, 2009 11 Comments
With the blood bath in Iran and the sabotage of health care reform in the U.S. dominating the news, the biggest bank robbery ever perpetrated has faded from the front pages. But a recent item in the Guardian newspaper (in the United Kingdom) provides a reminder of the $700 billion-plus scam. Here’s an excerpt:
Staff at Goldman Sachs can look forward to the biggest bonus payouts in the firm’s 140-year history after a spectacular first half of the year, sparking concern that the big investment banks which survived the credit crunch will derail financial regulation reforms. A lack of competition and a surge in revenues from trading foreign currency, bonds and fixed-income products has sent profits at Goldman Sachs soaring, according to insiders at the firm.
So much for the promised reform of the financial industry. The investment banks that received bailout funds and didn’t fail in the bewildering restructuring of the industry now stand to reap enormous benefits thanks to the resulting lack of competition. The “masters of the universe” continue to rake in millions while everyday Americans lose their jobs, homes and – increasingly – hope of a better future.
An article by Tracy Viselli in Care2 today makes this point:
The current cost of the financial sector bailout is about $12 trillion. The highest projected cost of health care reform is $4 trillion -a third of the money spent over the last year to save Wall Street. And as the Senate continues to shrink away from meaningful reform let alone the public option, it appears that health care reform might turn out to be another disappointment for the middle and working class.
I hesitate to blame President Obama for the massive financial con game; it was initiated by Bush Administration Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson (the ex-boss at Goldman-Sachs pictured at right). But I do not understand his appointment of insiders who helped loot the nation’s treasury and his continuation of the Bush-era financial policies. Surely he must know that he has landed in a den of thieves. Are the bandits so powerful that not even he dares to confront them?
We may never know who masterminded the most daring daylight bank robbery in history. But this is certain: the people Americans elect to protect their interests are doing a lousy job. If they were not complicit in the con game that funneled billions into unidentified hands, they were at least spineless and incompetent in voting for a bailout with little or no accountability. Yet these shiftless wretches are digging in their heels when it comes to allocating resources for universal health insurance. If they are not held accountable in 2010, the voters must share the blame for America’s failed government.
June 22, 2009 2 Comments
Remember the Washington Post of the Watergate years? Can you imagine an issue of that newspaper showcasing neocons like Charles Krauthammer, that Halloween-mask ugly (inside and out) warmonger? Or David Ignatius, the CIA spokesman and war supporter who is demanding that Obama refuse to negotiate with the Iranian regime? Or Bush CIA and NSA Director Michael Hayden, who is warning that America will be in danger if CIA officials involved in torture are questioned about their atrocities? How about the most notorious neocon of them all, the provocateur who did more than anyone (except Dick Cheney) to instigate invasion of Iraq – the unspeakable Paul Wolfowitz?
On Monday, the Post hosted an online chat with Fox News’ Glenn Beck (Glenn Beck!) to promote his new book. Today, the Post features a column from neocon Bill Kristol, attacking Obama for indifference to Freedom in Iran; a column from right-wing polemicist Kathleen Parker, attacking Obama for indifference to Freedom in Iran; and Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson attacking PBS for banning sectarian programming. On Wednesday, it published an Op-Ed piece from neocon Robert Kagan accusing Obama of being “objectively” pro-Ahmedinejad (headline: “Obama, Siding with the Regime”). The Post hosts a permanent feature with National Review‘s Ramesh Ponnuru, leading discussions about conservatism. And its Editorial Page, for years, was (and still is) the loudest cheerleader for the neoconservative prongs of Bush’s foreign policy, particularly the war in Iraq.
If you are surprised by this turn of events you shouldn’t be. I spent most of my working life as a newspaper reporter and editor, and here’s how it works. You don’t build readership by siding with the powers that be. You build readership by sniping at authority. I guess it’s because most people feel oppressed by the boss or something like that. Now that “liberals” are perceived as being in charge in America, the Post is hoping to attract an audience by “taking on the Nanny state” (their words).
But that’s just one aspect of the news “game.” There’s a more sinister side. In the past few decades U.S. media have fallen into the hands of Big Business. I am sure you know that Time Warner owns CNN, Rupert Murdoch owns Fox News, and Microsoft and General Electric own MSNBC. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There is really no such thing as an independent press in America today. The Washington Post, for example is owned by a publicly traded company (which also owns Newsweek) but most of its shares are in the hands of a few wealthy families.
As John Swinton, the former chief of staff of The New York Times, put it:
The business of the Journalist is to destroy truth; to lie outright; to pervert; to vilify; to fawn at the feet of mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it and I know it and what folly is this toasting an independent press? We are the tools and vassals for rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and or lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.
You won’t find many reporters or editors disputing that claim. Hey, we gotta eat!
You may wonder then why some media types have been allowed to take a “liberal” approach to the news. But, if you think about it, you will realize that until the election of America’s first black President, the conservative establishment was securely in control (yes, even during the Clinton, Carter and Johnson years). The corporate elite could afford to give the public a little liberalism – especially when it built readership by taking shots at authority.
Now, President Obama is not a liberal in my book. His policies so far have been center-right. In Canada, the United kIngdom, France or Germany, he could easily represent a Conservative party. But among the power brokers who run the United States behind the scenes, he is seen as a dangerous Socialist. Not since FDR has meaningful societal reform been possible in America. And in FDR’s time, the media were not owned en masse by the corporate elite, as they are today.
With the Obama revolution, the American power structure feels threatened. The white men who have been running things for so long are not about to let their hands slip from the reins. And if they have to muzzle the media to retain control, that’s what they will do. They have learned from history how important it is to control the propaganda that the public feeds on.
June 21, 2009 1 Comment