Archive for January, 2012

The Mitt Show

Monday, January 16th, 2012

By Jeffrey Page

There are just three rules concerning eligibility to be president. The Constitution, in Article II, Section 1, states you must be 35, must have been born in the United States, must have resided in the U.S. for at least 14 years.

I’m hereby proposing an amendment: You can’t serve as president if you walk around with not even a touch of understanding of the people you wish to govern.

This eliminates Mitt Romney from consideration.

By now you may have heard about Romney’s interview with Matt Lauer on the Today show last week. That was the Q&A in which Mitt unintentionally revealed to Matt that he is George H.W. Bush’s long-lost clone. Both Mitt and George are hugely rich players of presidential politics who don’t know squat about ordinary people. Surely you remember when Bush was running in 1988 and asked a waitress at a truck stop for “a splash more coffee?” A splash. Like it wasn’t Chock Full O’ Nuts, but Johnny Walker Blue Label.

Four years later Bush marveled at the ingeniousness of a supermarket scanner. What a wonder, he said. I imagine the last time Bush drank coffee from a container or went into a supermarket was in 1940. By accident.

Nowadays the Bush role is played by the incomparable Mitt who this week said his tax rate was “probably closer to the 15 percent rate than anything.” I guess he couldn’t be sure. I’ll bet you can be sure of your tax rate.

Mitt went on to say that in 2011 he received $375,000 in speaking fees. This he described as “not very much.”

Mitt told Matt that when his opponents raise the issue of how his millions were derived, it’s nothing more than the politics of envy. “I think it’s about class warfare,” he said, and blamed it on President Obama. Actually there are countless Obama admirers who fervently wish he’d open mouth a little wider and speak much more forcefully in discussions about the political and economic classes that exist in the allegedly classless American society.

When Matt asked Mitt to elaborate, Mitt told Matt that when Obama tries to separate the 99 percent from the 1 percent, he is doing something that is “entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God.”

He said that. Mitt really thinks that God is a rich Republican with a good golf swing. He really thinks the Lord is offended when people point out the differences between rich and poor. And Mitt really seems to think that St. Matthew was some misguided liberal when he uttered those unfortunate words about rich people getting to heaven only after a camel slips through the eye of a needle. Good old St. Matthew: nice kid, a bit naïve.

Matt asked if questions about wealth can be posed without being seen as class envy. “You know, I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms,” Mitt allowed.

Quiet rooms? That means stay off the streets and shut up. It means don’t bother making those goofy signs.

Consider where we’d be had Romney’s rules of political conduct been the law of the land. School desegregation, Vietnam, reproductive rights, gay marriage, Occupy Wall Street, Tea Party, independence from Britain? All would have been relegated to quiet rooms, most likely with no recording devices, no pesky reporters, no critics.

There’s no there there, the perceptive Gertrude Stein said of the city of Oakland, Calif. in 1937.

There’s no there there, my perceptive cousin Amy said of Mitt Romney this week.

jeffrey@zestoforange.com

Job Creation

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

By Shawn Dell Joyce
Our buildings account for more than half of our carbon emissions and three-quarters of existing buildings will need to be renovated or remodeled in the next twenty years. We also have a small army of unemployed and underemployed contractors with tools just itching for something to do.

What if these ingenious folks were put to work retrofitting existing buildings with energy-efficient upgrades?

In Massachusetts, the city of Cambridge is doing just that, and setting an example for municipalities across the nation. Cambridge set the goal of reducing carbon emissions by 20 percent, and drawing 20 percent of municipal power from renewable sources. To meet these ambitious goals, a nonprofit, city-sponsored group was formed to create green collar jobs and increase building efficiency.

The Cambridge Energy Alliance connects local business owners with energy efficiency experts and bankers willing to loan them the money for these upgrades. The Alliance generally reduces a business’ energy use 15 to 30 percent. The loans it helps to secure are low-interest and can be repaid by the savings from the business’s utility bill.

Retrofitting thousands of old buildings has helped to stimulate a “green collar” job market in Cambridge.

Green collar jobs that are generated by encouraging energy efficiency would include tasks by such people as home energy auditors, insulation installers, weatherization workers, retrofitters for buildings, and solar installers for electricity and solar hot water systems, among others. According to Van Jones, from the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and Oakland, California’s Apollo Alliance, green collar jobs are manual-labor jobs that can’t be outsourced.

“You can’t take a building you want to weatherize, put it on a ship to China and then have them do it and send it back,” said Jones in a recent New York Times interview. “So we are going to have to put people to work in this country — weatherizing millions of buildings, putting up solar panels, constructing wind farms. Those green-collar jobs can provide a pathway out of poverty for someone who has not gone to college.”

Picture this, your child graduates from high school and has the option of going away to college, or enrolling in a local trade school, which now includes green alternatives. Let’s say that young Sally might have opted for “beautician” as the only viable local career last year, but now can choose a $12 an hour job weatherizing senior housing with potential to grow to $40 an hour as a certified home energy auditor.

Or perhaps your fledgling will start at $18 an hour as a solar technician, and work his way up to $50 per hour as a certified solar installer.

“If we can get these youth in on the ground floor of the solar industry now, where they can be installers today, they’ll become managers in five years and owners in 10. And then they become inventors,” Jones told The Times. “The green economy has the power to deliver new sources of work, wealth and health to low-income people — while honoring the Earth. If you can do that, you just wiped out a whole bunch of problems.”

Shawn Dell Joyce is the director of the Wallkill River School of Art in Montgomery. www.WallkillRiverSchool.com

Enough Already With the Gizmos!

Saturday, January 14th, 2012

By Michael Kaufman
As one who does much of the cooking and baking in our house, I looked forward to using our new, state-of-the-art, slide-in gas range. The new range was carefully chosen by my wife Eva-Lynne after a painstaking search and review of the literature, not to mention countless discussions with the patient staff at Michael’s Appliances in Middletown. The folks at Michael’s have become accustomed to her repeat visits and Lieutenant Colombo-like style of questioning. (This is a woman who took almost a full year to decide on a new toaster oven after the venerable old Black and Decker I bought used on eBay finally went kaput.)

The new range replaces a recent vintage GE model that worked perfectly. Its only crime was that it was not a slide-in and had a panel that would protrude above the new countertop, thereby marring the esthetic appearance of our renovated kitchen.(My suggestion that we just lop off the offending protrusion was not well received.) We sold the GE on Craig’s list (a whole nother story there) and are now the proud owners of a beautiful new….Electrolux! Not only can you cook and bake with it: Slide it all the way out and you can vacuum the floor too. (That isn’t true, of course, but who knew Electrolux made anything besides vacuum cleaners?)

We’ve had the new range since before Thanksgiving and it seems to work okay once you figure out the basics. But it has so many gizmos that it comes with a daunting 52 pages of instructions. We didn’t find the instructions, buried in a tray in the warming drawer, for several days, during which I mainly stared at the new range and continued to cook with the electric fry pan we’d been using during the renovation. Once, I accidentally tapped the “touch-activated glass control panel,” which suddenly lit up and made a ding sound. A few icons popped up: a light bulb signifying the oven light; a box with the numeral 3 inside and the words “control lock” underneath, and the words “upper oven” and “lower oven,” each accompanied by a timer clock icon.

Just for the heck of it I tapped the light bulb icon. Sure enough, the oven light came on. I tapped it again to turn it off. It stayed on. I tapped it again….and again, to no effect. Just as I was beginning to panic (“Uh oh, did I break it already?”) my frenzied tapping achieved the desired result. (Turns out you have to tap twice to turn the light off.)

Emboldened by my success at turning off the oven light, I tapped “upper oven” and was greeted by a dazzling display of 35 icons, many of which I still don’t understand even though I’ve leafed through the instruction book a few times. Why is there a heart with a wrench sticking out of it? What is the difference between “conv bake,” “conv roast,” and “conv convert?” Why are there three numbered hearts, each with the words “my favorite” underneath? I just want to cook and bake like I always did! This is worse than trying to figure out how to turn on the heat in Eva-Lynne’s car, another recent gizmo-laden purchase that mystifies me when I drive it.

With company coming the next week I had to get some experience cooking with the Electrolux before they arrived. I enlisted my daughter Sadie for tech support and together we opted to use the “perfect turkey” icon. According to the instruction book all we had to do was plug in the probe attachment inside the oven and insert the probe into the turkey as shown in the illustration. The Electrolux would take it from there. It would signal the precise moment when the turkey was perfectly roasted and turn itself off.

We had some flexibility regarding the temperature so we decided to set it lower than the default setting. (Hint from Heloise: Roasting meat at a lower temperature over a longer period results in a moister, more tender roast.) For some reason, however, the touchpad refused to cooperate and kept reverting to the 350-degree default setting anyway. Maybe it was an omen.

After Sadie tapped “Start” the oven made a strange whirring noise and a symbol on the touch screen spun around. After one hour there was a ding to announce that our perfect turkey had reached the desired internal temperature. Perfect it was….to make soup with, although a few slices of breast meat could be salvaged for dinner. The stuffing I made was excellent, along with the giblet gravy I’d prepared in a pot on a burner, which mercifully turned on the old-fashioned way via a simple twist of a knob.

A recent email from my cousin Jon in Virginia suggests that I am not alone in my frustration with the recent onslaught of gizmos. Jon is about a decade younger than I and a lot more tech savvy. He works in the wireless industry, which he says “changes like the weather patterns in South Florida, i.e. if you don’t like the climate, wait a few minutes. The new rage in the world of wireless is the creation, sale, and implementation of applications for one’s cellular handset or tablet.

“Whether you carry an Android, iPhone or BlackBerry® in your pocket, there are geniuses around the world giving birth to an app you cannot live without,” he writes. “These magical gizmos span from the ridiculous to the sublime. For around ninety-nine cents you can download a gadget that charts your business vehicle mileage, reads books aloud or even blows out the candles on your birthday cake….

“Despite the tsunami of instruments available, the industry has struggled mightily with one cherished component for years: voice recognition. Whether you are battling a robot voice when trying to reach a customer service representative for human assistance or you are attempting to have your cell phone provide information or complete a task, voice recognition software has gotten the better of all of us. Remaining calm when this software is unable to decipher a simple command, is a mind numbing horror….

“In the 1968 science fiction classic, 2001 A Space Odyssey, an astronaut asks HAL (the villainous monotone voiced computer) to “open the bay doors.” How different would the movie have been if HAL responded ‘Did you say oven the clay boars?’ or ‘Pope on the gray floor?’ I imagine the astronaut might have eventually hurled himself into space rather than continue this futile banter with a machine.”

Jon is currently testing two voice recognition programs he says are equally confounding. “I am not certain what prompted me to take on this assignment. Perhaps I hoped such a challenge might earn me a few months of rest in a sunny facility with soft walls.” If I don’t learn how to master our new state-of-the-art slide-in Electrolux gas range soon, I’ll be right there with him.

Michael can be reached at michael@zestoforange.com.

Gigli’s Photo of the Week

Friday, January 13th, 2012

Photography by Rich Gigli

Prince Edward Island, Canada

Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874-1942)

Only the wandering mists of the sea
Shall companion me;
Only the wind in its quest
Shall come where I lie,
Or the rain from the brooding sky
With furtive footstep shall pass me by,
And never a dream of the earth
Shall break on my slumber with lure of an out-lived mirth.

Gigli’s Photo of the Week

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Photography by Rich Gigli

Great Falls, Paterson, NJ

William Carlos Williams

“Rigor of beauty is the quest. But how will you find beauty when it is locked in the mind past all remonstrance?”

A Death in the Family

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

By Jeffrey Page
Where do I start this? Probably with the fact that the man I knew as my brother, 16 years older than I, was really my half-brother. I only learned this when I was about 18. Some families keep their secrets well, even from their own members.

I remember a sweet Sunday morning in Queens. My father was playing the piano and my mother was reading The Times. I think they knew it was the day he was coming home from the war. All at once there was a thud in the corridor outside our apartment and a knock on the door. My mother flew across the room. My father stopped playing. The door swung open and there he was, the man I didn’t know, because I was about 2 years old when he was drafted. My mother screamed and cried and clung to him. My father smiled. I did not smile because all this attention usually was heaped on me.

The age difference explains some things. When I was 5, and he 21 and the war over, he wasn’t much interested in the babysitting chores imposed by my parents. Thus did he toss me into a bedroom closet and inform me that he wouldn’t let me out unless I promised to be good. I promised, and I carry a fear of dark confined places to this day.

And it probably explains why, when I was about 7 and had the measles, I touched a wooden tongue depressor on an electric hot-plate to see what would happen. It ignited. I panicked. What to do with the burning wood? I tossed under his bed, not my bed, and they had to take it outside as smoke billowed from it.

As I made my desultory way through grammar school, I grew impatient with him though it was not his fault. Always with lousy report cards would I get the word meant to soothe from my mother: “Gerry always did better in school because he wasn’t distracted by television and because he liked to read.” She identified us as “the smart one” and “the nice one.”

I grew up knowing beyond question that he was her favorite. Not that my mother didn’t love me. But if she loved me a million, she loved him 1,000,001.

But with all that and despite the adult-child age difference, he was my terrific big brother. When an older kid bloodied my nose, my brother spoke to the boy’s father, suggesting he would “wipe the streets” with his son – who never bothered me again. He took me to the beach, just the two of us. Me and my big brother. He informed me at an early age that we were a family of Brooklyn Dodger fans. He made me best man at his wedding when I was 14. Once, he bought me a boxcar for my electric trains; push a button and the door opened, and a little man came out to wave a lantern. He taught me how to play chess and gin rummy and never threw a game to me with an obviously stupid move. He taught me some magic tricks. He taught me some of the songs of the Spanish Civil War. He taught me to love classical music, Mozart and Handel specifically. When our cousin rode in the opening procession of the Madison Square Garden rodeo and gave us free passes, my brother took me – except in the years he got home too late the night before.

He kept his secrets. Of course I knew he had been in the Army during the war but it was only a few years ago I learned that he was in the Battle of the Bulge, that he was the medic who drove George S. Patton to the hospital after the general suffered fatal head injuries in an accident, that he liked the army and had thought about making a career of it, that he wanted to marry an English girl – a romance my mother managed to dismantle without leaving New York.

He moved to California about 25 years ago and I saw little of him, maybe once a year when I would go west to visit him and my mother, who was living close by. We managed to maintain a relationship on the phone and in the mail. He wrote short, witty letters and preferred typing on paper over email. He sent old family photographs. Not long ago, I opened a package and found a cigarette case he had bought for my father near the end of the war.

His second wife’s daughter called two years ago to say he had been rushed to the hospital with severe respiratory problems. He survived. She called again last week to say he was gone.

He was not in good health. Yet he kept smoking right to the end, and didn’t carry the bottle of oxygen he was supposed to have with him at all times. He did things his way. When my daughter asked me this week how I was doing, I was about to say I was OK but realized that would have been a lie.

I wish that we had time to talk some more, that we had another cup of espresso together, that he could have enjoyed one more cigarette, that we could have listened to the G Minor Symphonies together one more time.

jeffrey@zestoforange.com

Alchemy of Words: 80 Years Worth

Monday, January 9th, 2012

By Jean Webster
One day sometime in the 1970’s, I sat on the doorstep of Inez Gridley’s house on a hillside in Grahamsville, and shared with her a story I’d been writing, looking for advice.

The next time we met she invited me to a meeting of the Alchemy Club, a poetry group which by then had existed for about 40 years and is still going strong after 80. Inez was one of its founders.

“You’ll get feedback there,” she said.

The idea for the club was hatched by Inez George Gridley in her farmhouse around 1930. A writer since childhood, she wanted someone else to hear and respond to her poems. For that, she sought out two good friends, Mabel Hill and her daughter, Evelyn Hill Huntsberger, both poets.

The three were the first members of what was to become known as the Alchemy Club. Homemakers, and teachers in one-room schoolhouses, they managed to write and meet regularly, reading their poems to each other, evaluating and revising their work.

In the early 1940’s they took a correspondence course from Clement Wood, a versatile and prolific poet and writer in New York City. He critiqued their work, and challenged them to try new forms. I remember them quoting Wood’s lessons. They even attributed their personal success to his courses. His “Complete Rhyming Dictionary and Poet’s Craft Book,” published in 1936, is still available.

Inez told us that when she was short on funds, Wood assured her, “Don’t worry if you can’t pay this month. Send it when you publish your first poem.”

Those words were prophetic. In addition to her poetry in The Alchemist (the club’s quadrennial anthology), she published collections, including Journey from Red Hill, Potatoes and Puddingstones, and, when she was 92, Pitfalls & Promises. Several are available through the Ramapo-Catskill Library System. Her work also appeared in popular magazines and The New York Times. Here’s an example, titled “Growing Old”:

I want to milk this old cow dry.
When the last sweet stream pings in the pail
and she grows tired of my pulling and fumbling
she will kick me over
and send me flying head over heels.
I’d like to go out the way I came in
Kicking and squalling.

Inez also wrote about local history, contributing to Time and the Valley, a book about the villages submerged by the Rondout Reservoir.

As the group grew, members adopted the name “The Alchemy Club,” because as poets they took everyday events and turned them into gold.

After resisting for a time, I took Inez’s advice, joined the club, worked and learned to write poetry. Writing and reading poems has taught me to see the world differently: to home in on the small things, whether in prose or poetry; to be more direct; to listen and look. I believe composing poetry has helped me to be a better writer.

The Alchemy Club meets monthly at the Daniel Pierce Library in Grahamsville. There are no dues. “Just bring a poem,” they say, “with copies for everyone.”

Each person reads her/his poem, and listens to comments. Then, the poems are mailed around to the group for people to re-read and make written comments. I found these remarks to be more direct and helpful, perhaps because we had more time to consider what we’d read.

Publication of The Alchemist began in the 1960’s. It appears about every four years, and everyone in the group can contribute poems and the funds to produce the chapbook, now about 80 pages.

I was one of two editors of the 1995 anthology, which was dedicated to Inez and Evelyn. Both were still active members more than 60 years after they and Mabel Hill had dedicated themselves to making golden the ordinary and extraordinary events of life. Evelyn passed away in 2004 at the age of 94, Inez one year later at 97.

Today, the newly named Alchemy Writers’ Workshop isn’t only about poetry though it is still the focus. The Workshop is always open to new members – the next generation of writers turning everyday events into gold.

Jean Webster, a poet and freelance writer formerly of Grahamsville, lives in coastal Maine.

Carrie’s Painting of the Week

Sunday, January 8th, 2012

Boat Launch Ramp

By Carrie Jacobson
The represented artists’ show at the Wallkill River School Gallery on Saturday was hot, chaotic, crowded – and fun! It is always a pleasure to meet new people, and especially new people interested in art. And it was just so great to see my old friends, artists and nonartists alike.

I met three Zest of Orange readers at the show, and that was such a treat!

Before the show even began, a woman came up to me and told me that she remembered “The Christmas Surprise,” one of the fictional serials I wrote for the Times Herald-Record. That conversation made my day!

And then the artists began coming in, and setting up, and it was like greeting my adopted family after a long absence.

There was Shawn Dell Joyce, with whom I’m showing at the Wallkill River School Gallery in April, and who I called before I made my first painting, when I realized I had no idea how to do a background.

There was Bruce Thorne, the first person I ever saw painting with a palette knife, and there was his wife, Lita Thorne, who showed me how to push limits and be unafraid to make my own paintings.

There was George Hayes, with whom I had my first show, and Nancy Reed Jones, with whom I had one of my best painting days ever. There was kindred spirit and animal lover Lisa O’Gorman, and the ever so talented Mary Muegle Sealfon and Janet Campbell, and scores of others who shared their secrets and their inspiration with me, and helped me begin to learn how to paint.

So yes, it was too hot, and too crowded, and too nuts for words, but it was great fun, and greatly reassuring, too. I am so proud to be included as one of the represented artists in the gallery. I am in such excellent company.

Publisher Takes 10 Percent Challenge

Saturday, January 7th, 2012

By Shawn Dell Joyce
Times Community Newspapers has committed to take the 10 Percent Challenge, and reduce energy usage by 10 percent (or more) in the coming year. This is no small feat considering the company’s home is a 30-year-old brick colonial-style building that was “never designed for year-round use,” according to editor and publisher Carl Aiello.

The building has been home to the publishing company for five years. Formerly, the publisher inhabited a small building in Walden that was a converted seasonal farm market. Aiello describes it as drafty. “And the pipes, which ran through the attic crawl space, froze at least once every winter,” he says.

The new office houses three publications, archives, and a conference room. The bigger building brought much needed space, but also higher utility costs and overhead. Aiello went through NYSERDA to schedule an energy audit, and was connected to Daylight Savings Company, which handles commercial audits.

The audit was quick, and the findings were fairly typical for commercial buildings. The biggest energy wasters in any building are usually heating and cooling systems, lighting, and insulation. Daylight Savings wrote up an extensive report suggesting that Times Community Newspapers upgrade the outdated HVAC and fluorescent tube lighting system, install some lighting controls, as well as temperature controls, and improve the building’s “envelope” by sealing, caulking, and insulating.

The auditor’s report states that the total cost of improvements would be $14,186, which would deliver an annual savings of $1,820 in utility bills, with an estimated payback time of 7.8 years. A follow-up call to Daylight Savings led to the recommendation that Times Community Newspapers find BPI certified contractors through the website BPI.org. There are two locally: New York State Foam & Energy LLC. of Cornwall and TNT Green Energy Solutions of Balmville.

Aiello invited TNT Green Energy to his building. TNT’s suggestion was to install 6 inches of open-cell spray foam on the slopes of the attic at a cost that far exceeds the original estimate for “improving the building envelope.” When Aiello forwarded the estimate to Daylight Savings, he was told that “at this time, NYSERDA does not offer any incentives through the Existing Facilities Program. However, your upgrade should qualify you for tax credits.”

Like most small business owners, Aeillo weighed the cost effectiveness of this upgrade and decided against it for now. He upgraded the lighting instead. Again, the price was higher than anticipated, but this time it came with an incentive program through Central Hudson.

Alliance Energy Solutions, a Connecticut-based business, replaced all the inefficient T-12 fluorescent lights with L-M4 lights. The fixtures were also outfitted with reflectors, making the rooms brighter, but with a wattage that was reduced from 188 to 49 watts per fixture. He similarly replaced 18 U-shaped lights and 10 of the old incandescent bulbs for an anticipated savings of $2,244 per year for electricity.

The upgrade cost Times Community Newspapers $6,077, but it came with a Central Hudson rebate of $3,767. The remainder is spread among 14 monthly payments of $165, while the reduction on the monthly utility bill is estimated at $187, so Aiello is already saving money.

“Other measures are common sense,” comments Aiello, “like getting people to turn off computers at the end of their workday (there are 18 here) and making sure the last person out the door lowers the thermostat and turns off lights.”

One first-floor thermostat has already been replaced by one with an automatic timer. Aiello is planning to replace the others, and possibly add some motion-activated lights in the stairway, rather than keeping them on all the time. These changes may seem small, but they add up to far more than 10 percent of Times Community Newspaper’s yearly electric usage.

Join the 10 Percent Challenge (visit Sustainable Montgomery’s website and sign on there), and tell how you are planning on saving 10 percent or more on your utility bills and I’ll write about you!

Shawn Dell Joyce is the director of the Wallkill River School of Art in Montgomery, www.WallkillRiverSchool.com

Who Says Corporations are People?

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

By Bob Gaydos
While most of the country was going about the business of welcoming the new year and hoping it would be more rewarding than the departing one, an event was taking place in a sparsely populated state in the middle of the country that could have a profound effect on the future political landscape of America.

What? Oh God, no. Not the Iowa caucuses. What a joke that is. Every four years, about 100,000 mostly older, mostly white, mostly conservative, almost certainly evangelical Christians pay their dues, eat a bunch of free food and vote for a Republican who hasn’t got a chance in hell of ever being elected president of the United States. They call it democracy in action. Except for TV news channels, the rest of the country ignores the process, never mind trying to understand it.

No, the big political news was made farther west and north, in an even less-populated state — Montana. In a decision it released late Friday, when no one was paying attention, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that the state’s century-old law banning direct corporate spending on political candidates or parties was still valid, despite the 2010 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court which said corporations have the same rights as individual citizens when it comes to making contributions to candidates.

For anyone who hasn’t been paying attention, control of the political process –candidates, legislation, regulation, entire agendas — by major corporations is the chief problem with the political system in the United States today. Whoever raises the most cash almost always wins and that cash always comes with strings and muzzles attached. Unlimited corporate contributions also inevitably lead to negative, sometimes downright nasty, political advertising because candidates don’t have to affix their names to the ads. They are paid for by corporations and fueled by anonymous sponsors.

Ask Newt Gingrich, who asked his fellow Republican candidates to play nice in Iowa, what he thinks about the nasty ads attacking him paid for by groups that support Mitt Romney. Newt simply called Mitt a liar directly.

Romney, of course, has famously said that “corporations are people, too.” Funny about that. The Montana court ruled 5-2 against that view and perhaps the most powerful argument against the corporations-are-people argument came from one of the dissenting judges.

Justice James C. Nelson, one of my new heroes, dissented because he does not think the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission allows for states to exempt themselves from it. But he left no doubt where he stood on the matter of equal rights for corporations:

“Corporations are not persons. Human beings are persons, and it is an affront to the inviolable dignity of our species that courts have created a legal fiction which forces people — human beings — to share fundamental, natural rights with soulless creatures of government.

“Worse still, while corporations and human beings have many of the same rights under the law, they clearly are not bound equally to the same codes of good conduct, decency and morality, and they are not held equally accountable for their sins. Indeed, it is truly ironic that the death penalty and hell are reserved only to natural persons.”

Montana’s long opposition to corporate spending in politics stems from a time when copper and coal industries dominated the sparsely populated state, using their vast resources to buy elections. The case involved a corporate alliance that did massive fundraising based on the lure of no one ever knowing who donated to their cause. It’s what the Occupy Wall Street movement is about today — the vast disparity in control of the political system and government with the richest 1 percent of the population dominating the agenda.

Montana gets it. The hope is that other states will follow suit. The immediate hoped-for effect is that the American Traditions Partnership will appeal the ruling, saying that the federal court’s ruling applies to state laws as well. That would set up a test case in the
U.S. Supreme Court.

One senator isn’t waiting for that to happen. With this year’s campaign spending by “non-political” groups sure to approach $1 billion, Vermont’s independent Bernard Sanders has introduced the Saving American Democracy Act. It would set up a process for a constitutional amendment to repeal the Citizens United ruling. The amendment would make clear that corporations are not people with constitutional rights, that they cannot contribute to election campaigns, that they are subject to regulation and that Congress and the state can regulate election campaign spending. The New York City Council voted Wednesday to support the amendment. The Working Families Party is circulating a petition on the issue. Other groups are planning protests for Jan. 21, the second anniversary of the Citizens United ruling.

Overturning the ruling will not be a quick or easy process, but it has to start somewhere. Big Sky country sound like a perfect place.