Thursday, December 30, 2010


I’ve heard several commentators describe the conclusion of the 111th Congress as “kumbaya,” a word I chose only as an excuse to say I dislike it. “Hunky dory” is more up my alley. I agree in part with their conclusion, but only in light of what had preceded it. On balance I consider the result of two Congressional years a mitigated disaster.

Yes, unemployment coverage was extended. But it doesn’t require deep thinking to see that withholding approval indefinitely by Republicans would have been suicidal, and for such a relatively piddling taxpayer expense. “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and “Start” are not core GOP issues. That’s Tea Party stuff and these people aren’t going anywhere. Most of them were born Republican, living testimonials to the benefits of Geritol, and possibly Benzedrine. The folks who call the shots got what they wanted most, an extension of those Bush tax cuts, specifically the part closest to certain hearts and portfolios.

To routinely use the words “rich” or “wealthy” in a pejorative sense is simplistic. Not everybody who happens to be up in the chips resents being taxed an additional small fraction of their already comfortable income as a consequence. But those who sign the checks for Tea Party rallies, just a figure of speech from another era, surely do and they are the Republican Party.

Al Capp, explaining his marrying Lil’ Abner’ to Daisy May, cited comic page competition from “an orphan who talked like the Republican platform of 1928.” That’s where the Republican Party is today. They are trying to make the rich richer, as they were then, and doing their best to make sure that the poor have plenty of children.

Figures may vary with the source, but thirty years ago the top one percent of wealthiest Americans owned something less than ten percent of the nation’s wealth. Today they own twenty five percent. During this time our federal income tax code has become less progressive or more regressive, take your pick.  Correlation is not always causation. But the specifics particular to this case make a strong argument for it being both.     

On a recent TV show Darrell Issa, a prominent Congressional Republican, said that what’s needed is a “simpler and flatter tax code.” The first part was just to set up the second. Who, other than an accountant, might object to simplicity, which explains why it was mentioned first. For Republicans flat is where it’s at, or better yet regressive if they can pull it off.

In 1928 the Hoover campaign slogan was “a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.” The bubble had yet to burst and it worked for him and his Congressional kin in their impressive electoral victory. Republican success in the recent Congressional elections was a direct result of the Obama administration’s inability to do in two years what took Hoover’s successor seven. Circumstances have changed. But the Republican arsenal, now as in 1928, is still in the firm grip of Daddy Warbucks.





Monday, December 27, 2010


This letter is titled as it is because much of it is paraphrasing what Paul Krugmen wrote in his Dec. 24 Times op-ed piece. To those who read it I apologize for the repetition and suggest starting in the middle. The article dealt with the Republican disinformation machine that has been working its wonders the past two years. In it he cited a claim by Minnesota Governor Pawlenty that “since January 2008” the private sector has lost jobs while the government has added half a million. This is an obvious attempt to show that an Obama presidency means bloated government. This preaching works with the choir and people with bad memories for dates. He wasn’t inaugurated until 2009.  The increased government hiring at issue was the direct result of personnel needed for the 2010 census.

Krugman goes on to mention an alleged “explosion in the number of federal regulators,” mentioned by right wing “think tanks” as evidence of Obama’s affinity for excessive regulation. This “explosion” was for additional Homeland Security regulators, a strange accusatory tone coming from the party reputed to be “good on security.” Krugman summarizes this deceptive arithmetic charitably by saying “…we should never assume malice when ignorance remains a possibility.” I wished I’d a said that.

His final point is that Republicans are much better staffed than the Democrats with “researchers” who come up with this sort of “information.” One of them is the wife of a Supreme Court Justice. This observation is symptomatic of our entire two party system, which involves weapons more lethal than semantic chicanery. 
A recipient and sometime responder to these letters chided me for saying that I hoped the spokesman for our side would be more like Rush Limbaugh than Pete Seeger. He specified Lenin, no doubt to show that dictatorships can come from either side, a valid point. But it seems to me, just offhand, that a big majority of dictatorships that developed in my lifetime came from the right. Maybe someone can enlighten me on this subject.

Beyond what’s written in law, there are no Marquis of Queensbury rules to govern partisan domestic politics. But there’s no question in my mind that violations of what most objective people regard as ethical practice, have been committed more frequently and taken to greater length by Republicans. Playing by a reasonable set of rules may be the proper thing to do theoretically. As a practical matter it doesn’t seem to be working very well. 

At the moment we don’t want a facsimile of the Fat Man to lead the charge, although that may eventually be the fire it takes to fight fire. But the advance of the Philistines and their concomitant pillaging of the nation must be stopped, and stopped soon. If it isn’t we might end up with our own Nikolai Lenin.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Constitution

The two most quoted and misquoted scriptures in our part of the world are the New Testament and the U.S. Constitution. Aside from purchasing spiritus fermenti on certain “holy” days, biblical lore hasn’t had much effect on me. But Constitutional interpretations are another matter. Some of them, which I’d describe euphemistically as unique, are worth more than a passing glance.

Those who invoke this document do it as they would the bible, as a decision made by a single entity, and in a voice not unlike the one that spoke to Charlton Heston in the Ten Commandments. But the Constitution is only a parchment cobbled together by humans, representatives of the thirteen colonies, who disagreed on a lot of what they were signing. To think of it as an agreement by a group of wise men, speaking in one voice is wrong. 

I’m amused by arguments based on alleged statements by individual signers, years after the event, offered as evidence of “original intent.” This is silly! James Madison could have been quoted after a bad day at the office or a spat with Dolly. In any case it’s not what he said later in retrospect, but what he had already signed that matters. In this signing he was joined by a bunch of other guys, only guys in those days, who agreed on enough to get a Constitution written and approved. If I have it right, the filibuster wasn’t in fashion or hadn’t been invented.

What the Founding Fathers put on paper, along with amendments by their successors, at times needs a judicial opinion, often made in a context compatible with the judge’s prejudice. The Second Amendment is a case in point. The prevailing 5 to 4 judicial opinion is based on the closing words, “the right of the people to bear and keep arms shall not be infringed.” Fair enough so far, but only if one ignores the opening words! “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state….” Fellahs, you’re supposed to read the whole thing, preferably from the beginning. It’s only one 27 word sentence and you’re skipping 13. The Founding Fathers weren’t throwing words around for fun. Original intent was based on knowledge of 18th Century musketry which didn't have anything like assault weapons in ts manual

My, how I digress! All this ancient wisdom was penned by “folks” like us in many ways. The more things change the more they stay the same. I wonder if locker room talk at the Constitutional Convention concerned plans to make George Washington a one term president.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


While there’s little disagreement that the nation is in severe financial trouble, there is a clear difference of opinion over the proper remedy. In broad generalizations the political left, generally Democratic, believes that the answer lies in more government money to create jobs and stimulate the economy. On the political right Republicans feel that the solution lies in more fiscal responsibility. The relative success of these approaches during the Great Depression may be only a coincidence. So for the sake of argument, or more accurately the lack of it, let’s go with the guys on the right for now.

OK. Balancing our books is our number one priority. That requires a combination of increasing income and reducing expenses. The Holy Grail of maintaining the Bush tax cuts, most conspicuously those for the richest two percent, would limit increased income, at least for the time being, requiring corresponding budget cuts.  If that’s where they want us to go, let’s not argue.

That means we must cut entitlements, a rubric that directly covers the obvious like national defense, the environment, safe food and water and agriculture.  In theory it covers every tax dollar spent. Whatever decisions government makes in a discretionary capacity are supposedly made for the benefit of the governed. There just aren’t federal bureaus to cover every situation.  

At the top of the budget balancers' hit list are Social Security and Medicare. Here I draw a line! There are entitlements and then there are entitlements. Federal money is allocated to most of them in amounts decided by our legislators in Congress. While Social Security and Medicare are entitlements, half of each is financed by the beneficiaries through money deducted from their payrolls for a specific purpose under specified terms. I include compensation for military service in this list.

Someone who has paid into the system for forty years and whose benefits are due now might be a bit put off to wake up and learn that the pension he or she was expecting next year had been postponed for four years or that paid for medical insurance no longer covers “this sort of thing.”

To allow these federally guaranteed systems to default on their promises would be a step in the direction of government defaulting on its bonds. Apart from that it would affect the most vulnerable among us.  A proper solution involves more than simply soaking the rich. But for a starter the very rich, some of whom are beneficiaries of our current dilemma, might quietly surrender a few more tax dollars off the top without threatening to shut down the nation’s business.

Will Rogers, in talking about the source of tax dollars said “just offhand I’d say that it’s coming from those that have got it.” For further information on the subject, see “Willie Sutton.”   

Sunday, December 12, 2010

To Cut or Not To Cut

The question of the day is which of the two remaining options for the Bush tax cuts should be chosen by Congressional Democrats.  I’ll start by saying that I haven’t reached a conclusion. Not that there isn’t enough available information. There’s too much and more accumulating daily.

The op-ed page in this week’s N.Y. Times included intelligent articles by Paul Krugman and David Brooks taking diametrically opposed positions on this subject. . Saturday’s Letters to the Editor followed the same pattern. Simple enough! Take one leave one. Then Friday two MSNBC commentators, Keith Olbermann and Eugene Robinson, who almost always agree, went at each other politely, but with strong conviction, on this matter. At this point I realized that this is an issue to which there may really be two sides.

I do have one firm opinion. This is a choice that shouldn’t have had to be made. Any proposed legislative action, at this point reduced to choosing the lesser of two evils, should have been started in the Senate before the elections when there was more time to explore for more options to consider. The House had already passed the bill. As to the approaching ballot box, if there was one issue that can educate voters on the difference between the two parties, to the Democrats’ advantage, this is it.

As I understand it Senate scheduling of its legislative calendar is traditionally left to majority incumbents seeking reelection. While I have yet to fathom their logic I’ll venture a couple of guesses. These Senators may have felt that time spent shaking hands at home was more valuable than time spent on the job at that evil city on the Potomac.  Seats on Colorado Washington and Nevada were retained by narrow margins. But given public opinion, a logical consequence of the disparity between the numbers 98 and 2, I believe they were wrong. Worst of all is the suspicion that the decision may have to do with campaign money from people to whom the entire Bush tax cut is just ducky.

I don’t consider the president exempt from accountability in this matter. If he didn’t exert behind the scenes pressure he was guilty of faulty judgment or inertia. If he did then he doesn’t have the influence one would expect.

To repeat there’s too much information coming out with a proliferation of opinions as well. This leaves me more confused so my only comment is that I don’t know…….On second thought I have just come to a conclusion, two as it turns out. The problem is they’re  incompatible.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


In the film “Lil Abner,” General Bullmoose excoriates Lil Abner for having botched one of his financial schemes in words something like this: “There was once a little boy with a simple little boy’s dream and that little boy’s dream was to own all the money in the world before he went to that great stock market in the sky. And you, you blithering idiot, you destroyed that little boy’s dream.“ There is no dearth of rich Americans whose thinking is akin to that of the general. “Disdain” is the closest word I can think to describe my regard for them.  

They have been the main source of financial support that has been routinely directed against everything of substance emanating from Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats. Warren Buffet and George Soros are notable exceptions. Barney Frank said that many of his well heeled constituents are supportive of his positions. But the bulk of the monetary lifeblood of the opposition, overwhelmingly but not exclusively Republican, comes from people whose greatest passion is money.
Some unrelated stands, on issues like gays in the military and immigration reform, are just sops to the Tea Party, which helps the old image by adding a common touch. But Republicans would abandon them in a second if it helped the moneyed crowd. (Illegal immigrants have been a boon, but not enough of one, to the rich who actually hire people.) If push comes to shove the Tea Partiers would be expendable. I believe an overwhelming majority were McCain voters who at most would stay at home. Giving in on peripheral issues like these may be presented and accepted as “compromise” on matters particularly vital to the “country club” constituency keeping and making more money.

This leads to the point that there seems to be little left to compromise. We’ve seen health care, stimulus, and financial reform watered down nearly beyond recognition. But the biggest plum of all, the tax code, is being virtually given away; $700 billion, over a guaranteed two and probable ten or more years, for a one year extension of unemployment payments costing something less than $20 billion. If you question the assumption of probability consider that secret political advertising money can now be spent in unlimited amounts. The political right, think corporate, has the real money. (Labor unions, hah!) Disputes, if any, will be settled by the umpires in Supreme Court robes, where the majority is strongly ideological, but only to the extent that ideology and partisanship coincide.

If the nation is as bad or worse two years from now don’t blame it on Sarah Palin and the Tea Party. Blame it on the likes of Mitch McConnell and John Boehner carrying water for the likes of the Koch Brothers.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


In the pantheon of oxymorons “Democratic controlled Congress” has to rank near the top. This isn’t a recent development. In 1992 I used approximately these words (probably not pantheon) in arguing with Republicans who used this theoretical entity to defend George H.W. Bush’s handling of the economy. I say “theoretical” rather than hypothetical because these legislators do caucus as one at the beginning of each Congressional session.

Both FDR and Truman suffered this problem. “Dixiecrats” were Democrats only because the other party was the one that freed the slaves. But in those days there were also Republicans who weren’t addicted to their party’s bible. Leverett Saltonstall and Arthur Vandenberg, unfamiliar names to most people today, were Republicans who swam against the party tide when they felt circumstances warranted it.  Warren Rudman, who retired in 1993, is the most recent counterpart who comes to mind. This courtesy worked in both directions. Lyndon Johnson’s performance as Senate Minority Leader in Ike’s first term is an example.

Mitch McConnell, you’re no LBJ! The lack of discipline, prevalent among Congressional Democrats, is now unheard of among Republicans. The merits of Citizens United may be (barely) arguable. Voting against disclosing the sources of now legally unlimited corporate contributions, while in the GOP”S interests, is by itself a blatant case of partisanship trumping those of the nation. The decision itself allows people other than Americans a voice in our electoral process. For all forty two Republicans to use the filibuster to prevent even discussing the need for some kind of transparency in this sort of activity is obscene.

But back to the alleged Democratic controlled Congress and a personal example, involving my once Congressman, Robert Giaimo.  He had voted several times, with mostly Democrats, for the creation of a Consumer Advocacy Agency, a group with only advisory rather than regulatory power, costing five cents per taxpayer. This was during the presidencies of Republicans Nixon and Ford who vetoed the bill every year which, even with Giaimo’s vote, failed override. When Carter became president and all that was needed was a simple majority, Giaimo voted against it. His response to my letter was that people had become fed up with too much government, evidently only in the past year.

Congress includes people who generally vote with their constituencies, but whose votes are available to conflicting interests when needed. This arrangement is not restricted to one political party. But it seems to me that, in this capacity, Democrats come C.O.D, while Republicans arrive  prepaid.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Ain't We Got Fun

“We now know that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mobs.” So said FDR’s at his 1936 inaugural. Maybe it was even more dangerous because we did maintain at least a semblance of order. Incivility, of which Barack Obama is receiving a generous dose, is something short of disorder. Germany and Italy didn’t handle adversity in this department as well as we did, possibly because they had more of it.

It was “organized money” that gave FDR’s government the most trouble during its long tenure as it is now giving Obama’s. The difference is that the three year “Hoover” Depression was a heavy weight for the Tea Party’s predecessors to carry.

Those who place credence in FDR’s opinion should be concerned that the forces he labeled dangerous are now working as one, although solely to the financial benefit of organized money part. The beneficiaries of this plutocratic arrangement have camouflaged the inequity with classic legerdemain by presenting extraneous items to detract from their sleight of hand. These have included communists, terrorists, welfare cheats, gays and now an economic disaster of their own making.

This tactic has worked after a fashion for half a century. But for the past thirty years, particularly the last ten, income disparity between organized money and the talent pool for organized mobs has been growing at a rate that makes it only a matter of time before the latter realize they’ve been had.

I see nothing to prevent the worm from eventually turning, particularly after the Citizens United decision. “The rich get rich and the poor get children” was a popular song lyric from the 1920’s. That worm turned at the end of the decade.

Current agitation is coming from the political right, more vocal than the left, the latter of which I consider myself a part. I may be partial in thinking that it takes more to get us off our butts. Self interest may have been a common motivation for both the anti war protesters of the sixties and seventies and today’s billionaires who are financing the action. But I’d venture that there’s more incentive in not wanting to die in a war of choice (a bad choice in retrospect considering the dominoes that never fell) than in someone with a cool million taxable income wanting to save $30 thousand in income tax. (My rough estimate)

This change will come, although not in many of our lifetimes. I’m reluctant to say it. But when it does I hope the person leading the charge for our side will be more Rush Limbaugh than Pete Seeger.                                                                    

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Strictly Personal

As I’ve already mentioned, I have a web site, “The Best of Home Cooking,” music for which I take complete credit or blame. It was arranged, performed, recorded and mixed by me.

To hear it, and download it if you like…… just click the address below, click “enter” and click “forward to free CD” and it’s all there for better or worse.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Odds Bodkins

Has anyone noticed that many of the people most vocal about lax security last Christmas when the “Underwear Bomber” made his debut are now the loudest voices complaining of invasion of privacy in recent airport security innovations?

                                   *                                      *                                      *

For years Jack Benny fans have been misquoting his famous radio reaction to a thief’s demand, “your money or your life.”  After a pregnant pause they have him responding “I’m thinking. I’m thinking.” That’s one “I’m thinking” too many.

The same sort of thing has happened with FDR’s “I welcome the hatred of the money changers.” Like Benny he has been over quoted. On the internet audio transcription from his 1936 inauguration there is no mention of money changers although he did welcome the hatred of folks who, by his description, fit the part.

But the audio of this speech offers something that I’d never heard, that in my opinion is worth shouting from the rooftops. “We know now how government by organized money is as dangerous as government by organized mobs.”  

With some help from the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, both the people recently elected to the House of Representatives and many of those who helped elect them now pass muster on both counts. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Many of us are now passing judgment on Barack Obama’s presidency. I admit to being one of them. But maybe we should back off a little before rendering what may be a premature verdict. It’s worth considering that the biggest problem facing him at inauguration was “the Great Recession.” (This happens to be the title of a letter I wrote months before the phrase became part of our vernacular. It was written in reaction to a silly TV debate over whether we were then even in a common garden variety recession.)

The Great Recession is to a lesser degree, at this point at least, similar to what FDR faced on March 4, 1933. As our first president of color Obama has the handicap of being constrained from the sort of invective used by a president of patrician Dutch heritage who said of “money changers” that “I welcome their hatred”  

But well beyond that, Obama has been the victim of less fortuitous timing. FDR was elected in 1932, three years after “Black Thursday” which heralded what became publicly accepted as Hoover’s depression. It took him seven years and a World War to bring about recovery.  

Obama was elected and inaugurated two and four months respectively after the first public knowledge of a financial disaster that was every bit as much George Bush’s as the Great Depression was Hoover’s. But because it has now consumed nearly two years of his presidency, his opponents have been able to spin it to their advantage to a gullible and sizable segment of the electorate.

We are being told by pundits that our problem now is jobs, more specifically the absence of them, AKA unemployment. No kidding! What do they think was the issue in the 1930s? Health care wasn’t of much concern then and there was clearly no need to mention Wall Street reform. The fear that FDR told us not to fear, reduced to essentials, was fear of unemployment.  

At this point Barack Obama is considered by many a failure for his inability to accomplish in two years something that took FDR, generally considered one of our greatest presidents, seven. Go figure.  

Thursday, November 11, 2010


At the moment, the Keith Olbermann saga seems to have come to a happy ending. On his first show back he was anything but contrite and said the conditions to which MSNBC had been holding him were illegal and not in his contract. Please note the italics. Legal matters of this importance are often unpredictable and prolonged, requiring more than just a second opinion. On the other hand I assume his contract was properly signed on paper. I hope the story ends here. If this were to be the start of an “nuclear war” between the entire MSNBC staff and General Electric we know how it would end, with Keith Olbermann on a GE toaster.

There’s more to this matter than the specifics. Something is wrong with the way we are being informed these days and that “something” has just taken place before our very eyes. One citizen makes small legal contributions to three Congressional candidates and at least gets publicly slapped on the wrist by his bosses. A rival network has been featuring commentators taking collections for candidates on the air.
A recent exchange between Bill O’Reilly and his host, Bill Maher, says a lot.* Maher referred to wildly exaggerated stories about the expense of the presidential trip to India to which both men agreed, in O’Reilly’s words, was “bull.” The ensuing dialogue went like this.  O’Reilly: (as to how this became news on Fox) “It came from a guy in India, picked up by the Drudge Report and then disseminated by several other people. Our hard news didn’t do it. Who?... {did it}” Maher; “Sean Hannity’” O’Reilly; “Look, Seanny’s a talk radio guy he’s not…” Maher: “then he’s presenting it as a fact. It’s his opinion (emphasis mine) that it’s $200 million {a day}…” O’Reilly: “There’s a difference between opinion people and hard news people.”

OK. So “opinion guys,” as O’Reilly later referred to himself, you have license to present what you choose as news, even fiction if it sells, because you’re not doing “hard news.” Pardon my cynicism, but doesn’t that license by itself detract from the integrity of your conclusions just a little bit?

O’Reilly and Maher are not spokesmen for the Fox network and MSNBC. But if one accepts them as stand ins for these two purveyors of what passes as news, it’s easy to pick the winner.

*This interview from Nov. 12 can be viewed on the internet for those so inclined. I see it as great comedy from two perspectives. One has O’Reilly as the straight man for Maher’s one liners. In the other Maher is the straight man to O’Reilly’s version of Stephen Colbert.

Monday, November 8, 2010


The following was written last night to b sent today. This morning I learned that Olbermann’s suspension has been limited to two nights on air, which is fine by me. In the belief that the original letter makes a bit of sense I’ve decided to send it anyway

One of the major political news items in the few days since the election is the indefinite suspension of Keith Olbermann by MSNBC. The propriety of the policy of the parent company aside, my understanding is that this is a clear case of his violating a rule of which he had to have been aware. His verboten contributions of $2,400 to three candidates for Congress may be legally permissible and small change at that. But a rule is a rule. 

Potential ramifications go well beyond these basics. One, which I consider positive, is the contrast that anyone paying attention can see, between corporate ethical standards at Fox and MSNBC. I’m sure right wingers are rallying around their familiar war whoop “they all do it.” At least Glen Beck and Sean Hannity do it, and then some, by soliciting funds on air for favored candidates giving postal and email addresses just in case. Something not even close to this has gotten a prominent employee in trouble at MSNBC.

More important and potentially ominous is the question is the intent of management. MSNBC is at the bottom of a totem pole that goes up to NBC and finally to General Electric. While MSNBC may be showing good returns with its left of center format, points are made that may not be compatible with the financial interests of GE. To what extent, if any, does this play a part in NBC’s rule and its selection of where to apply it?

The company’s prohibition is not restricted to left leaning people and could theoretically be used against the right. I may be paranoid. But it’s noteworthy to me that retribution for political incorrectness seems to work in one direction. The dismissals of Bill Maher by ABC, Dan Rather by CBS and now Olbermann, come to mind.

At this stage I prefer to think positively until and unless the situation changes. I’m anxious to learn what “indefinite” means. My scenario for a happy ending is a respectable but limited suspension with Keith keeping his cool in the meantime. Should the situation be resolved this way it could then be said that they all lived happily ever after …….or till Congress reconvenes, whichever comes first

Friday, November 5, 2010

Woe Is Us

While our side took a “shellacking” in Tuesday’s election, it had been fairly accurately predicted. The results were worse than expected in the House and better in the Senate. We can take some consolation in the defeat of some of the marquee Republican aspirants who didn’t make the cut, Sharon Angle, Carly Fiorina, Christine O’Donnell, Meg Whitman and Linda McMahon. The fact that these are all women does not disparage their gender. It just happens that they are overrepresented among losers selected by Republican voters to represent their party in these elections. Maybe it’s something in the drinking water?

Michelle Bachman won quite handily and kept right on making news after her election night interview with Chris Mathews on MSNBC. She was asked twice, quite explicitly, if she thought her party would investigate her claim, made shortly before the 2008 election, that Congressional Democrats were “un-American.” Neither time did she answer the question, but responded in talking point generalities. Getting the same non answer twice to the same question, Mathews asked if she’d been hypnotized, appropriate in my opinion, but food for the hungry over at Fox News.

Chris Mathews owes Michelle Bachman nothing. Quite the antithesis! Her off the wall comments two years ago probably won Obama some votes by exposing the underside of the opposition. But were it not for that interview she would be just another right wing kook. They’re a dime a dozen in Congress which is chocked full of Joe “You Lie” Wilsons praying for the kind of notoriety that she got from that show. In a just world she’d be giving Mathews a healthy percentage of her speaking fees.  

Lest I be thought sexist I’ll mention the names of equally preposterous men, some of whom unfortunately will soon be in office: Rand Paul, Jim DeMint, Joe Miller, Marco Rubio, and my personal favorite, entertainer and class loser Carl Palladino.

But like it or not women play a featured role in this cast of precious few Republican losers, proving that in  their party’s politics there’s no such thing as a glass floor.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Loyal Opposition

“The single most important thing we want to achieve is to make Barak Obama a one term president.” These words were spoken for the record by Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell in an interview with the National Journal. This has evoked anger and derision from people of my political stripe. But I’m beginning to have second thoughts.

There’s something I have to respect, call it chutzpah or manning up, when the head of his party in the U.S. Senate comes right out and says such a thing unequivocally. His press secretary tried to gussy it up by substituting “ending his liberal agenda as soon as possible,” to suggest that there was nothing personal. But the original words are pretty well etched in stone and both versions say the same thing. Reduced to its essentials Obama must be made to fail in his capacity as chief executive. If he fails it’s impossible for the country to succeed during his tenure. Well, who wants it to succeed when the other party is in control of both elective branches of government? I think it’s more honorable to stop beating around the bush and get right to the point.

Larry Sabato, apparently a McConnell supporter, said “of course Republicans want to make Obama a one term president….just like the Democrats had hoped to make President (George W.) Bush a one term president.” The man is right. The senator came right out and said precisely what he felt where mealy mouthed Democrats would only think dark thoughts. When they talk about this among themselves it’s probably in the minced words we’ve come to expect from liberal elites.

On the matter of words, specifically surnames, I’m tired of having a president with one that brings out the squiggly red spell check advisory. McConnell, DeMint, Boehner; All these names pass muster, although I do run into trouble with Palin.  But the name of the President of the United States! If the great minds that devised the computer can’t work his name into its dictionary after nearly two years I say too hell with this “just one term” business! It’s time for impeachment!

Or maybe he could get by with just changing his last name. There’s no precedent for a president (I kind of like that) doing this sort of thing although a few have taken liberties with the order of their given names. Grant’s first name is Hiram and Ike’s is David. In the case of our present president (again?) he could save money on stationary by simply whiting out his last name, leaving Hussein as his nom de plume. My computer approves.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

My Old Kentucky Home

I’ve been told by a few people to whom I write that that they enjoy the more humorous messages.  So do I. They’re fun and easier to write under appropriate circumstances. But the stomping of a Move On activist by Rand Paul’s County Coordinator in Lexington Kentucky is not one of them.

By itself this act doesn’t denigrate Dr. Paul’s candidacy or his positions and those of his followers. Please note the italics. But his response in this context speaks volumes, not by what he said, but by what he didn’t say. He properly “disassociated” his campaign from the action of his representative. After all he doesn’t want voters to think that he knowingly hired a man to beat up on a young woman. But he declined to condemn the act! If you missed that in the news, this is not a typo. In other words he wouldn’t actively encourage what happened. But if people decide to do this sort of thing on their own, well, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

Dr. Paul is one of numerous candidates, eight for the Senate according to pundits, advocating policies that can be described euphemistically as unconventional. Many are expected to win. Will the winners wink at this kind of physically abusive incivility as Dr. Paul has? How will Sharon Angle supporters respond to her “Second Amendment remedies” suggestion if she loses?  

The sense of order, at least superficial, prevalent in recent years has been broken on occasion by individuals, but not by broadly organized domestic groups; at least not yet. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Timothy McVeigh was influenced, if not inspired, by the rhetoric of the 1994 “Republican Revolution” articulated by Newt Gingrich. What makes the situation today more alarming is that unlike Gingrich then, the Tea Party has the voice of a major information network to amplify its message.

Domestic violence is not exclusive to the political right. The Weathermen are a case in point. But their actions were disapproved by the left as a group, and more important by its public officials, most notably those with a likelihood of having a voice in making the laws of the nation. Do our political leaders, aspiring or established, have a legal responsibility for the actions of their supporters, probably not? Do they have a moral responsibility? You bet they do! 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ignorance Is Bliss

Is it just my impression, or are we hearing less these days about debutantes and “coming out parties?” I have this dim recollection of a group called “the Four Hundred,” whose extravaganzas for its feminine offspring coming of age must have kept a lot of catering businesses solvent. The families responsible for these rituals were once considered the “elite.”

My how things have changed! Apparently being elite in its traditional style has gone from de rigueur to gauche? (I figure a touch of French might help restore some of the class lost in the process.) The nouveau elite are now post graduates of Ivy League and other prestigious colleges. To my knowledge there’s no record of Michelle Obama having a coming out party.

I think I see a trend. The former elite seem to have decided that there’s more to be gained by poor mouthing than “flaunting it.” However elitism is defined, there is a majority that doesn’t have it that resents those who do. In a democracy a majority theoretically rules and if there’s one thing the formerly elite want to do it’s to rule.

What this has done to the national discourse is another matter. The point in getting a doctorate from a top college seems lost when two of the hottest properties in a form of entertainment known as politics are a woman who went to four community colleges in four years and another who got her B.A. when she recently completed a course by mail twenty years after enrollment.

This phenomenon is not limited to women. Two men born and educated in New England became president while speaking like old cowhands from the Rio Grande. An important  lesson for contemporary politicians is that if you’re better educated than the people whose votes you want, don’t let them know it.

This path to popular political approval was foreshadowed by reaction to a Nixon Supreme Court nominee who was criticized for having a mediocre judicial record. A Senator from Nebraska came to his defense by saying “there are a lot of mediocre judges, people and lawyers” and that “they are entitled to a little representation.” He was ridiculed by the unknowing at the time. But when all’s said and done Senator Roman Hruska may be the Aristotle of his time and possibly the most prescient, if not the noblest, Roman of them all.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Don Juan

Right wing reaction to Juan Williams’ firing by NPR over a comment he made on his TV job at Fox was as predictable as it was inane. John Boehner called NPR “a left wing radio network,” an accurate assessment if one accepts the premise that he speaks from the political center. Mr. Williams, who is understandably upset at losing a second job, called it “an outrageous violation of journalistic standards and ethics.” He referred to “one party rule” at the network and went on to say that this sort of “enforced ideology” leads to “journalists being sent to the gulag.”

Apart from Mr. Williams’ hyperbole, I question his common sense. The comment at issue is that he worried when he saw people in “Muslim Garb” on an airplane. Offhand I’d say that trying to board a plane in full Islamic regalia with the intention of blowing it up has a Keystone Kops touch to it. As I recall the perpetrators of 9/11 were dressed in coats and ties. 

I’d like to know Mr. Williams’ take on ABC’s terminating Bill Maher’s “Politically Correct” show which, in contrast to NPR, made no pretense at impartiality. Maher’s infraction was  agreeing with a guest who opined that “cowardly” is a pejorative word that doesn’t apply to an act involving suicide.   

If NPR was remiss it was in keeping Williams on its payroll after he joined Fox, an organization whose “Fair and Balanced” logo is fast becoming a laugh line. His on air appraisal of Michelle Obama, during the week of her husband’s inauguration a year and a half ago, should have put an end to his double dipping. “…she’s got this Stokely Carmichael in a designer-dress thing going.” 

Williams must be skilled at saying different things to different audiences inconspicuously in order to have juggled these jobs as long as he did. Maybe he was hoping that nobody who listens to NPR would watch Fox? I agree with John Boehner’s implication that NPR, a taxpayer financed organization, must be impartial. But it seems to me that any transgression would favor his people, given their not too thinly veiled threats against the network. Then again I don’t think accurate news reporting would do them a bit of good. One thing on which we all can probably agree is that Fox must pay better for this sort of work than NPR.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Xenophobia ?

Recently I had some telephone business with a company that handles my music web site. I first spoke with an agent who I assume spoke proper English, but with an accent that made most her words barely, if at all, understandable. After much frustration she said that I should call back “in a minute or two” after my file was located. I took this as a tactful way of getting another agent, a man who spoke slightly clearer English. I still had to get information by repeating what I thought he had said and waiting for a “yes” or “no.”  Finally I asked him where he was speaking from and he answered “the Philippines.”

I’m certainly not the only consumer to have been inconvenienced this way by the outsourcing of jobs to workers in nations with cheap labor. But our inconvenience is minuscule compared to the harm caused to unemployed and under employed American workers. Outsourcing is resented by most Americans of all political stripes with the notable exception the small number of people who employ it and profit by it.

Why then are our lawmakers, as a group, doing what they can to accelerate it? An attempt by Senate Democrats to respond to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has been killed by a filibuster threat from the entire Republican delegation. This modest proposal would have at least let Americans know the identity of the “people” behind the flood of corporate money, much of it already on record as multi-national, unleashed by this decision.

This has become a left v right issue in Congress. In spite of the fact that few Americans on the right benefit from votes of legislators allegedly representing their interests, most of them must think they do. A Large number of the Tea Partiers seen on TV are perceptibly eligible for Social Security and Medicare. My feeling is that they are motivated by the fear that some of their benefits and tax dollars may go to the less fortunate. I wonder how many of the demonstrators are actual victims of outsourcing; pre retirement age people who find themselves unemployed or under employed. My guess is a lot fewer than most people think.

Xenophobia, “hatred or fear of foreigners or strangers or of their politics or culture,” has been a pervasive part of our history, directed at various religious and immigrant groups. Its current objects are Hispanic and Islamic. At the same time we are in the process of sending increasing amounts of our wealth to other countries, some of which is being returned to a relative handful of Americans who need it least. Where are you xenophobes when we really need you!?

Thursday, October 14, 2010


In checking my files I located something I’d written back in the l980s. Although a bit dated, it seemed to hold up reasonably well, so I decided to send it because copying is easier than thinking.    
·                                                        *                                                    *
In perusing the pages of a recent issue of TV Guide I came across a listing for the film “Svengali.” Not the 1931 version with John Barrymore in the title role, but one made in 1983 starring Peter O’Toole. His protégé Trilby, if the names are the same, is played by Jodie Foster. In the recent version the role of Trilby has been changed from that of an opera singer to a rock star. The prospect of Svengali mesmerizing a rock singer to greatness is enough to boggle all but the most boggle resistant minds. Maybe in the next remake Mesmer will be Svengalizing her. I never saw the film, but here is my guess at the how the screen play might have gone.
The action begins in a luxurious hotel suite. Seated in a chair is a middle aged man who resembles Peter O’Toole. He has a full beard and is wearing a jacket with extremely broad shoulders and wide lapels, pants that are wide at the knees and narrow at the cuffs. His shoes are tan suede and he sports a gold watch chain. His attire can be described as neo zoot suit. He extracts what looks like a narrow hand rolled cigarette from his pocket and proceeds to smoke it without the benefit of a match or lighter.
In a bed with the covers over her head is a woman who, it will be seen, is in her twenties and has platinum hair, a platinum gown, platinum skin and platinum eyes. She awakens:
TRILBY: Oooooh, where am I ?
SVENGALI: At the Beverly Hills Hotel Pussykins.
TRILBY: What time is it ?
TRILBY: Oh my God ! (staggering to her feet) I’ve got to get myself together. (She sings a D    natural scale. Her voice is clear and full and her intonation faultless)
SVENGALI: No no no ! (he rises, takes a vial from his pocket and pours some of the contents on a hand mirror which he gives to her along with a short straw) Here liebchen.
TRILBY: (sniffs and then a short pause) Now you’ll see. (She sings. Her voice is now in its rock mode, a combination of a high school cheerleader at a Thanksgiving Day football game and Tarzan’s jungle cry as performed by Buster Crabbe)
                      Oh Daddy, I want stuff
                      Hot hot hot stuff
                      Reeally hot stuff
                      Yeah Yeah Yeah
SVENGALI: That’s more like it songbirdsky. By nine o’clock the world will be yours.
TRILBY: No problem. It already is. Who else is in the show?
SVENGALI: Well there’s Leopold and Loeb and then……
TRILBY: (shouting) Not those two old fogeys! Why they’re thirty five if they’re a day. Why am I personally responsible for their comeback. The last time we worked Loeb puked right in the middle of my primal scream. Oh no no no ! (she breaks into the Spring Song from the Valkyrie)
SVENGALI: (handing her the mirror which he has refilled) Worry not my nightingale. Svengali has worked out a regurgitation clause. You and only you can puke. Besides, it was Leopold.
TRILBY: Don’t get picky (after sniffing) who else is in the way?
SVENGALI: Atilla and her Nuns.
TRILBY: (shouting louder) How can you keep sixty five people still during the climax? You know nobody is supposed to move when I wrap my tongue around the mike. Oh this is impossible ! I don’t know why I …..(she sings the Musetta Waltz from La Boheme)
SVENGALI: Wait, wait Darlinsky. Here. (the mirror vial and straw are presented again)
TRILBY: (partakes an after a long pause sings)
                        Cuff me, stuff me put an apple in my mouth
                        Cuff me, stuff me put an apple in my mouth
                        Cuff me, stuff me put an apple in my mouth
                        Oink oink oink oink oink…………………..oink
SVENGALI: Wonderful! And tomorrow we fly to Majorca.
TRILBY: Majorca? I thought we were going to the Tahiti plantation.
SVENGALI: They couldn’t get the jet strip fixed in time. Some sort of labor problem. Look darlinsky. Have I not made you what you are today? Who got you on the cover of People Magazine three times this year? Who got you on the list of the ten best and worst dressed women? Who arranged an audience with the Queen of England? Who….
TRILBY: So where was the Queen ?
SVENGALI: I told you, you have to go to the palace. The Queen doesn’t go to hotels. Oh Booblinchka, let’s not quibble. (business with mirror)
TRILBY: (sniffing a bit more profusely and shaking her head) I guess you’re right. Before I met you I was only an unhip featured soprano at the Met, Oh thank you, thank you! (kisses him and disappears into dressing room singing.
                      I want to do it to you baby
                      I want to do it to you baby
                      Yeaaaaah  etc.
(while this is happening Svengali pours the entire contents of the vial on the mirror, sniffs and keels over dead.
TRILBY: (enters room) Oh Sven baby, how about one for the other side? (sees him on the floor) Oh Sven! Well we knew you had a weak ticker. There will never ever be another like you, you wonderful wonderful man! Where’s the stash? (sees empty vial) Why you pig ! There’s got to be more. (tears at his clothes while shrieking epithets and is finally dragged from the room singing the Habanera from Carmen)
The film ends in a padded cell. Trilby is singing from the suicide scene in La Giocanda. (she is actually lip synching a Maria Callas) Trilby is obviously a broken woman.   

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Macaca Doodle Doo

Macaca; “A pejorative epithet used by francophone colonialists in Central Africa’s Belgian Congo for the native population.” Few Americans had any idea what the word meant when Virginia Senator George Allen, a major contender for his party’s presidential nomination, used it at a reelection speech to chide an Indian American photographer hired by his opponent. It cost him not only a shot at the presidency, but his Senate seat.

My, how we’ve relaxed our standards in just four years! A man’s political career is ended by using an obscure racial epithet and now we think nothing of a lady, running for the Senate in my state, kicking a man in the groin for the benefit of cameramen apparently in her employ. Maybe we overlook this because of her contribution to the world of competitive sports, or is it dramatic arts? Take your pick.

In a neighboring state we have a gubernatorial candidate who threatened to “take out” a reporter who was asking too many of the wrong questions. When asked how, he replied “you’ll find out.” The last I heard he was polling within the margin of error.

Just a little to the south is a senatorial candidate who is not polling within this margin, understandably so having claimed to have dabbled in witchcraft. It’s also understandable that she opposes taxes in view of difficulties she’s had in paying hers. She claims to have had college education at Oxford and Princeton. But her only formal adult education was at Fairleigh Dickenson, from which she received a B.A degree after completing a course this summer, and where she first matriculated in 1988. This then leads to the subject of………oh forget about it.

Out west in the great state of Nevada the early leader in her party’s primary was doing quite well until she suggested health care costs could be controlled by bartering with doctors. It wasn’t long before some mathematical genius figured that the chicken she used as an example wouldn’t take care of the co-pay for an office visit.

Cooler heads seemed to have prevailed until the lady succeeding her advocated “Second Amendment remedies” for whatever she and like thinkers disapprove. Does this sound like armed insurrection, or is she looking for the lead in a revival of Annie Get Your Gun?

These are just a few of the many highlights of previously unthinkable behavior by candidates for elective office who are beneficiaries of the new public permissiveness. The candidates are all considered conservative, you might say very conservative. But I say that voters who tolerate this sort of demeanor to the point of voting for its architects are very very liberal. You don’t think so? To quote Casey Stengel, “you could look it up.”



Friday, October 8, 2010

Another Nice Mess!

Oliver Hardy’s trademark “another nice mess” pretty well gets it when it comes to our country’s current condition.  It’s painfully obvious that our political system, which happens to be regulated by members of two political parties, is not working.  Not illogically, this has led to calls for a third party. This point of view is based on the assumption that adding a third political entity would result in a more representative government. 

 I disagree with this assumption.

No matter how many groups are in play, we can never reach representative government as long as money speaks as loudly as it does. An additional bidder might even raise the market price of a Congressional vote. By the time a fledgling group, founded by people pure as the driven snow, achieves eminence it will have drawn the company, and the money, of less well intentioned types.

I agree with those who say that exclusive public funding of elections for national office is the only proper system. However I have felt that the chances of this happening were the rough equivalent of passing single payer health insurance. Now, since the “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision, it’s anything goes. How many people knew at the time that the Willie Horton commercial was only an “issue” ad, with no official connection to the Bush ’41, campaign?

For some time we have been moving consistently, if not inexorably, away from a government representative of the people and towards one representative of money. To this end the judicial branch has had a major role in the most important decisions such as Bush v Gore and Citizens United. The head count has been the same five to four margin that has been in place since the obscene selection of Clarence Thomas to replace Thurgood Marshall. The faces may change, but the characters remain, in no small part because the retirement of justices happens to coincide with their affinity to the politics of the president.

Something has to change.  But it won’t until less enfranchised Americans, who comprise a majority of voters, realize that they’ve been getting an incrementally shorter end of the stick. The political left has been repeatedly accused of trying to redistribute wealth. Wealth has indeed been redistributed for the last thirty years, but not by the left. 

I have no other predictions other than if we don’t change direction good old Ollie will continue having the last word.

Friday, October 1, 2010


In a recent statement Newt Gingrich claimed that Barack Obama inherited an anti colonial gene from his father whom he’d only met once when he was ten. If true it should come as a quite a surprise to the scientific community to learn that there is a genetic aspect to anti-colonialism. The merits of this hypothesis aside, Mr. Gingrich obviously considers anti-colonialism bad. By the same reasoning he must consider colonialism good. Well, at least in moderation.  

While I rarely agree with Gingrich, his argument supports my theory, only a theory based on my observations, that colonialism in American hands is viewed more favorably by Republicans than Democrats. Today’s colonialism is a far cry from what Rudyard Kipling alluded to in his lyrics to Road to Mandalay. We don’t expect our version of a colony to accept the Star Spangled Banner as its national anthem. All we ask is a military presence and, of course, control of that nation’s natural resources. Iraq today is a textbook example of a colony

Where there are colonies there must be an empire. Make no mistake. There is an American Empire that has been growing since World War II. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, ours is now the only one remaining. (I assume this makes us the “Good Empire”) We have troops in 135 nations over half of which most informed Americans have never heard.

There are 75,000 American troops in Germany. I assume Hitler is dead. If not, these troops belong in Argentina. They are there under the auspices of NATO, to be used against an as yet unspecified enemy. These bases provide most creature comforts; ski slopes, bowling alleys, golf courses and the like. At this time we have fewer troops in Iraq where people are still being killed. I’m curious how many of these career military people will ever to be called on join the poorer Americans who risk their lives because it’s the only way out for them.

There’s no secret why Germany, like the other countries, puts up with our presence. 75,000 Americans spending money from the U.S. Treasury is nothing to be sneezed at. Denmark had no problem with our giving the residents of Thule, Greenland a week to leave before their homes were bulldozed. We have 35,000 troops in Japan, another country that we are supposed to have defeated. It would be a bit of a geographical stretch to conflate this with North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

In case you haven’t figured where I stand on the matter of colonialism, to quote Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff, a.k.a. Groucho Marx, “I’m against it.” The preceding verbiage was based on the theory that it’s easier to fight a disease if one knows the symptoms. On the assumption that there might be two sides to this issue I turn mine over unequivocally to the unequivocal verdict of the folks who supported the American Revolution.