Archive for May, 2012

Gigli’s Photo of the Week

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Photography by Rich Gigli

TIPPIE - April 4, 2001 - May 29, 2012


If it should be that I grow weak
And pain should keep me from my sleep,
Then you must do what must be done,
For this last battle cannot be won.

You will be sad, I understand.
Don’t let your grief then stay your hand.
For this day, more than all the rest,
Your love for me must stand the test.

We’ve had so many happy years.
What is to come can hold no fears.
You’d not want me to suffer so;
The time has come — please let me go.

Take me where my need they’ll tend,
And please stay with me till the end.
Hold me firm and speak to me,
Until my eyes no longer see.

I know in time that you will see
The kindness that you did for me.
Although my tail its last has waved,
From pain and suffering I’ve been saved.

Please do not grieve — it must be you
Who had this painful thing to do.
We’ve been so close, we two, these years;
Don’t let your heart hold back its tears.
              Author Unknown


The GOP Campaign, in Black and White

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Why does this man scare so many Republicans? Hint: It may not be his economic policies.

By Bob Gaydos

Stay with me here. I’m going to try to connect the dots between the Supreme Court’s absurd decision on Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission and the on-the-face-of-it foolish view of many poor to middle-class white Americans that the Republican Party represents the best hope for their future and the future of America, which is why they intend to vote for Mitt Romney.

The journey will visit the wild frontier of the birthers, the loony world of Jeremiah Wright, the penthouses of the billionaire super PACS, the righteous kingdom of Rick Santorum, the go-back-where-you-came-from land of Mitt Romney, W’s fantasy factory, the Civil War, Montana, the Occupy Movement and “welfare queens.”

Yes, racism is bound to come up.

Citizens United, of course, is the 5-4 ruling that gave corporations the same rights as individuals in donating to political action committees. They can give as much as they want and the super PACs created by this free-flowing stream of wealth can mount massive media campaigns, not so much to promote their candidate as to steamroller the opponents. This was evident in the street fight that recently passed for a Republican presidential primary. It amounted to dueling super PAC campaigns in various states. Romney won because he had the most money, not because more Republican voters liked him. They still can’t stand him. They just fear Barack Obama more.

Which is Dot Number One. This was made clear when the first thing conservative Republicans in Congress said upon Obama’s election was that they would dedicate the next four years to making sure he served only one term. Instead of, you know, we’ll try to work with him in governing the country so that maybe he’ll understand where we differ, etc.

So we have had a string of “no” votes on anything Obama proposed, public officials (and the ridiculous Donald Trump) questioning whether the president was really born in the United States even after being shown a copy of his birth certificate, innuendo that he was a Muslim (because of his name) and, just recently again, efforts to link him with his freaky former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

The Wright red herring was eliminated, or so we thought, four years ago, but one of those super-rich PACs recently tried to launch a TV campaign making the false link again. This time the behind-the-scenes directors were going to hire a well-spoken conservative black conservative to attack Obama, a well-spoken black non-conservative. You know, to prove that it was not a racially motivated effort. Romney got shamed into sort of denouncing this plan.

The Trump birther campaign was dug up in Arizona, naturally, when the secretary of state of that forlorn place said he might keep the president off the ballot this year if he did not get proof he was born in this country. The fact that he’s been running it for three-and-a-half years apparently didn’t matter, not when you can stir up resentments among some white voters.

Make no mistake, fear and resentment are at the crux of much of the Republican campaign against Obama. As much as they may argue that the campaign is about the economy and even though working class whites reportedly favor Romney over Obama by nearly two to one when asked who would be best for their financial interests, common sense says that many of those people understand that lowering taxes on the rich, making college loans more expensive and making affordable health care harder to get is not a plan that helps their interests.

So something else is influencing their vote.

It was not a fluke that Rick Santorum’s campaign gathered momentum when he started speaking out against gay marriage, against women’s contraceptive rights, against welfare for blacks. That’s right. Of course, this was only done in safely white enclaves, like Sioux City, Iowa. As reported in The Guardian, Santorum told a mostly white campaign rally there: “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.” He got cheers.

Now, the population of Sioux City is 2.9 percent black. Food stamp use in the area is up more than 25 percent in the last five years, with white recipients outnumbering blacks nine to one. So, what was his message, hope or resentment?

Romney, of course, has tried to portray Obama as responsible for encouraging a free flow of undocumented people across the border with Mexico. But Obama has supported strong enforcement along the border and deportation of undesirable illegals. He does support a plan to allow millions already in this country and contributing to the community to follow a path to citizenship, but so did George W. Bush. He just never had the guts to stick with his instincts in this matter.

This kind of color-coded campaigning began for Republicans in the South under President Richard Nixon and has steadily drawn older, white, poor and middle class voters away from Democrats, who have tended to disparage and dismiss the defectors rather than acknowledging their religious and cultural differences and trying to come to some agreement on economic issues. In the end, that might well be a losing effort. More to the point, it may be an unnecessary one.

Republicans, who came to power in this country leading the fight to end slavery, appear to have come down on the wrong side of history in several areas in their simple-minded effort to regain control of the government and the rewards that entails. Gay marriage is an obvious one example. In the near future, the whole white vs. black scare strategy will also be outdated. Latest census figures revealed that, for the first time in U.S. history, nonwhite babies outnumbered white babies. If the minorities abide by the conservatives’ pro-life, no-contraceptives philosophy so ardently espoused by Romney, Santorum et al, minorities will soon be a majority in America. Mixed race marriages will join same-gender marriages as routine. Immigrants of every stripe will continue to become part of the fabric of America and gain more positions of influence. Younger voters — like those leading the Occupy movement — will recognize what the super PACs and super banks have tried to do by throwing tons of money at politicians who will spread whatever message they want, whether it makes sense or not, as long as it keeps government out of their affairs.

And, oh yes, the Montana Supreme Court recently rejected the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United, saying that longstanding Montana law supersedes it. Other states are joining the legal fight. Even some conservative Republicans are beginning to doubt the wisdom of giving all that power to unregulated rich people. Which sort of describes Mitt Romney.


The Real Facts and the GOP ‘Facts’

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Karl Rove, mastermind of the GOP disinformation campaign

By Emily Theroux

The GOP’s refusal in recent years to deal in the currency of facts has flown in the face of an edict widely credited to the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” The perspective of the entire Republican Party has been subsumed by a kind of mass denial of reality that relegates “facts” to the last millennium, the enlightened era before America’s own King George W. assumed the throne.

“Bush’s Brain,” diabolical conservative mastermind Karl Rove, first defined the new world order in 2004. During an interview with writer Ron Suskind, Rove stated cryptically and with appalling arrogance that people who lived in what Rove termed “the reality-based community” believed that “solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality. … That’s not the way the world really works any more,” Rove opined. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study, too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

Ever since Rove and his fellow neocons’ immense hubris inspired them to forsake empiricism in favor of empire, they gave loyal followers permission to reinvent themselves as players of “history’s bit parts,” existing in a bubble of misinformation, revisionism, creationism, nativism, and science denial. If the reactionaries aren’t satisfied with the “tangibles” that reality throws their way, they can always swaddle themselves in Karl Rove’s Orwellian cocoon, where black is white, lies are truth, conservatism is compassionate, corporations are people, and the world is 6,000 years old despite the extensive fossil record. When the conservative faithful feel cornered by reason or statistics or scientific evidence, they can opt out of “the reality-based community” any time they choose by flipping on Sean Hannity or streaming Glenn Beck, then retreating into a “fact-free zone” of philistinism and folly.

Sometimes, Republicans are confronted with the embarrassing truth about their stubborn ignorance or outright lies when an issue or policy suddenly proves politically inconvenient for them. Take, for example, the embarrassing necessity for Virginia’s “Governor Ultrasound,” Bob McDonnell (hoping to be drafted as Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential candidate) to backtrack on his “principled” insistence that rape victims, too, must undergo mandatory ultrasounds and be forced to view the resulting fetal images, just like everyone else waiting in line to clear GOP hurdles to obtaining an abortion. When that kind of cosmic retribution occurs, Republican candidates can follow Rove’s dubious lead and choose one or more of the following five options:

1. Change the subject to some bogus controversy you can blame on the Democrats. “Reality-averse” pols like Mitt Romney, who is truly cynical – and fully aware that this ploy is a zero-sum game designed to obliterate his opponent – have deliberately set up these false constructs (the phony “mommy wars,” for example, designed to distract voters from the very real Republican “war on women”). Indeed, everything, to Romney, is a precisely calibrated political calculation. Like a twisted wingnut version of a Bob Dylan song scored by “Turdblossom” Rove, Mitt doesn’t even fart without first testing which way the wind is blowing.

2. Take credit for your opponents’ accomplishments. When President Obama mounts a successful operation to kill Osama bin Laden, tell voters that if it hadn’t been for Bush and Cheney’s meticulous planning (during all of those years after Dubya said he “wasn’t all that interested” in finding bin Laden), the coup of the century never would have happened. When 1.2 million jobs are created since June 2009 under Obama’s watch, count jobs lost before Obama’s stimulus bill took effect so you can say “he” lost 1.86 million jobs; then use phony-baloney numbers of jobs created by Staples long after Romney left Bain Capital so you can claim “he” created 100,000 jobs. When the American auto industry makes a startling comeback after you wrote an editorial titled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” claim as much credit for it as your lying mouth can possibly fabricate.

3. Turn your own failures around and blame them on your political foes. Characterize the historic downgrading of America’s credit rating, which resulted from the refusal of congressional Republicans to raise the debt ceiling for months on end in 2011, as the result of “high unemployment, big government, and ‘unsustainable debt’” caused by President Obama’s fiscal policies.

4. Turn to any of the fraudulent “authoritative” foils you rely on to issue “expert” guidance, official policy positions, or “model” legislation – such dynamic, partisan think tanks and lobbying conglomerates as the Heritage Foundation (funded by those clever Koch boys, who are as rich as God) or the furtive American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), whose member corporations prefer to slink around in the shadows so they don’t jinx their cushy tax dodge. Another option: For your next campaign event, call the bogus “activist” operation, FreedomWorks, whose own Dick Armey can rustle up a cast of boisterous “rent-a-redneck” subcontractors before you can shake a stick.

5. Get your “talking points” from focus-group guru Frank Luntz – called the “mack daddy” (translation: biggest, pimpingest bad-ass) of GOP strategists by Current TV’s Cenk Uygur. Then annihilate those dirty Dems by bellowing the bull that every other Republican talking head is bellowing, on every media venue you can get yourselves booked onto for the next four days. You’ll find that you get particularly good mileage out of Faux News, where sympathetic hosts will toss you softball questions, and “low-information” target audiences (who never watch anything other than Fox’s regurgitated extremist pablum) will generally swallow every last disingenuous word you say.



Don’t Attack Your Lawn with Pesticides

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

By Shawn Dell Joyce

Who uses more pesticide, farmers or homeowners? According to a recent Virginia Tech study, homeowners commonly use up to ten times as much chemicals as farmers. According to the study, the pesticide application rates for farmers is 2.7 pounds per acre, while homeowners (and lawn care companies) slather on 3.2 to 9.8 pounds per acre.

Each year, homeowners apply an astonishing 90 million pounds of pesticides — at least — to their lawns and gardens, according to the Boston-based Toxics Action Center. In fact, homeowners represent the only growth sector of the U.S. pesticide market, as agricultural uses of these chemicals are declining. This market trend was started by the pesticide industry in an attempt to establish new markets for old products. That’s because most lawn pesticides were registered before 1972, and were never tested for many human health hazards like carcinogenicity, neurotoxicity, and environmental dangers.

Lawn chemical companies are still not required to list all the ingredients on their containers, which means risks still exist for home gardeners. Many toxins are hidden on the product label by being classified as “inert.” Inert does not mean “inactive” and in the case of benzene and xylene, can be even more toxic than the listed chemicals. Some of the listed chemicals include components of defoliants such as Agent Orange, nerve-gas type insecticides, and artificial hormones.

The blue meanies of lawn chemicals are 2,4-D, Captan, Diazinon, Dursban, Dacthal, Dicamba, and Mecocrop. These chemicals were registered without a full safety screening. A combination of several of these toxins is usually found on store shelves. 2,4-D is a hormone disruptor, Dursban concentrates in the environment, and Diazinon is an organophosphate which damages the nervous system.

Some of these chemicals have been banned for use on golf courses and sod farms due to massive water bird deaths, but are still widely used on lawns and gardens.

To be clear: Pesticides applied on lawns can be harmful to humans who inhale them, ingest them, or absorb them through skin contact. These chemicals also get tracked into our houses on our shoes and pets. An Environmental Protection Agency study found outdoor pesticide loads build up in carpets and can remain there for years, where they do not degrade from exposure to sunlight or rain.

This leaves our pets and children most vulnerable, as they most frequently play on lawns and carpets, and breathe in toxins. The Toxic Action Center report notes that “children’s internal organs are still developing and maturing and their enzymatic, metabolic, and immune systems provide less natural protection than those of an adult.” Researchers caution that children are most vulnerable in the fetal and adolescent stages when “chemical exposures can permanently alter future development.”

The EPA’s risk assessments indicate that home lawn care products account for 96 percent of the risk associated with using this chemical for women of childbearing age, and that anticipated doses are “very close to the level of concern.” EPA studies found that rats exposed to the most common lawn chemical (2,4-D) in utero showed an increased incidence of skeletal abnormalities, such as extra ribs and malformed ribcages. In rabbits, 2,4-D and its diethanolamine salt caused abortion, skeletal abnormalities, as well as developmental neurotoxicity and endocrine disruption.

Even though many lawn chemicals are legal, and widely available, that doesn’t equal “safe,” even though some lawn chemicals may advertise “safe” on the label. The EPA fined Dow Elanco for “failing to report to the agency information on adverse health effects (to humans) over the past decade involving a number of pesticides,” including Dursban.

The concern that certain widely used lawn chemicals can cause birth defects has prompted California to require that consumers are informed about these risks. California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment announced its intention to list the herbicide 2,4-D and related compounds as developmental toxicants under California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act. Ontario and other Canadian governments have moved to similarly ban toxic lawn chemicals.

How can you help avoid the risks?

  • Participate in the National Wildlife Federation Backyard Wildlife Habitat program.
  • Learn to love tall grasses, wildflowers, butterflies, and birds, creating habitats that are the aesthetic match of any manicured lawn.
  • Visit for a copy of their report and to sign the Refuse to Use ChemLawn pledge.
  • Try Integrated Pest Management strategies offer alternatives that work better and have less harmful effects.

Shawn Dell Joyce is the director of the Wallkill River School in Montgomery.

Carrie’s Painting of the Week – 5/30/2012

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Northampton Dawn

By Carrie Jacobson

Spring rolled into deep summer this week without any thought of June. The lawn – bright with May’s brilliant green just a week ago – is turning brown in places. Branches are drooping here and there, and by afternoon, my flowers are drooping.

At a show this weekend, I sweated like it was August. I drank water and sweated, drank water and sweated, until I felt somewhat like a sieve.

On the TV weather station, I watched a line of thunderstorms creep northeast on a diagonal stretching from Tennessee to Maine, and I thought, this is what global warming looks like. Not the planet frying in an ozone-depleted atmosphere of fire, but a planet subject to gigantic weather patterns that establish themselves and refuse to leave.

But it is summer, and there are thunderstorms, and maybe all of this is just a wrinkle in the fabric of the world. Or maybe not.

Gigli’s Photo of the Week

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

Photography by Rich Gigli

Gulf of St. Lawrence

A bell’s not a bell ’til you ring it, A song’s not a song ’til you sing it, Love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay, Love isn’t love ’til you give it away!   Oscar Hammerstein II

$2 billion here, $2 billion there …

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg married girlfriend, Priscilla Chan. AP photo

… pretty soon you’re talking about real money                                                                                                By Bob Gaydos

Mark Zuckerberg lost $2 billion Monday, the second day after his company, Facebook, raised $16 billion in an initial public offering. Maybe you didn’t notice because Mark is still a long way from visiting the soup kitchen.

Facebook sold 421.2 million shares at $38 a share on May 17, a Friday, the biggest technology IPO in history. By Monday, the share price had dropped below $34, delivering that “blow” to Zuckerberg’s wallet. By the close of business Tuesday, Facebook shares had dropped to $31, but the founder, whose financial interest in the company stock was estimated at $17 billion, was reportedly enjoying his honeymoon and not fretting about the public’s judgment that his wildly popular social media enterprise was also wildly overvalued. He actually got married after the IPO, which to me implies true love.

At roughly the same time, JP Morgan Chase, the bank that is too big and too smart to make an investment mistake, much less fail, announced it had blown $2 billion — there’s that number again — on something called synthetic derivatives. This is what we make in America today instead of shoes and cameras and tires and auto parts. Jamie Dimon, the Zuckerberg of JP Morgan, was uncharacteristically embarrassed and apologetic about the loss, which, as with Zuckerberg, barely put a dent in the JP Morgan bank account, although it did get some people fired.

The problem with the JP Morgan fiasco, though, is that it is a bank as well as an investment company and $2 billion is still a lot of money to lose. It tends to weaken people’s trust in your judgment and maybe even make them put their money elsewhere.

Even worse, nobody, not even supposed experts on complicated investment schemes, can seem to explain what the heck a synthetic derivative is in the first place. I asked a college business professor to explain it and all I got was a blank stare. As far as I can tell, a synthetic derivative seems to be something akin to a fantasy baseball league for bored stock traders looking to hedge their bets on other investments. Whatever that means. I think they make it up as they go along. The main requirement seems to be that not even the people who create it know exactly what they’ve created. Maybe Mary Shelley would understand.

Once upon a time, banks weren’t allowed to take such risks with clients’ money, but that was before all the smart Wall Street guys and gals convinced their bought-and-paid-for members of Congress that really, really, really, really, really big banks didn’t need to be regulated and could be trusted to deal responsibly with complex investments as well as mortgages and savings accounts. Why? Because they were really big and really smart and could make a heap more money for the people who were bankrolling congressional campaigns — and for themselves. And because most politicians were too embarrassed to admit they didn’t have a clue what the big banks were up to.

I don’t venture into the world of high finance often because, like most Americans, never mind politicians, I don’t understand it very well. But at least I admit it. Plus, I get depressed hearing about $25 million golden parachutes for CEOs who mess up, lose other people’s money, but still somehow deserve to be handsomely rewarded for their service. It seems to me if you can’t hit a curveball anymore, you get released. Period.

I also find it had to understand why anyone these days would trust the same bankers who mortgaged this country’s future with phony baloney home loans to people who didn’t have a prayer of repaying them, then gobbled up federal bailout money to make profits, and then foreclosed on all those people to whom they gave bad mortgages — often without bothering to do any real follow up on the loans and their clients to see if they could maybe work out a way to pay.

These are not honorable people. These are people who see only the need to make more money, in any way possible, including conjuring synthetic derivatives. I’d rather invest in a crystal ball factory. The people who work at these super banks are this way because no one has paid the price for their greed. They say they are merely applying the principles of a free market to their trade — a market that returns less than 1 percent on savings accounts and charges fees every time someone answers a customer’s question.

This change in the approach to banking began at the end of the Clinton administration with repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which prohibited banks from co-mingling commercial and investment accounts. Risking clients’ savings by creating exotic investment packages and selling them to other clueless investors was forbidden.

In the wake of the 2008 banking crisis, the Dodd-Frank Bill was enacted, to return some modicum of regulation over the super banks that were created when Glass-Steagall was repealed. Part of that bill is the so-called Volcker Rule, which prohibits proprietary trading by commercial banks in which bank deposits are used to trade on the bank’s investments. The rule is named after former United States Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, who was named chairman of the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board by President Obama when he inherited the banks’ financial mess in 2008. Things being what they are in Washington these days, the Volcker Rule is not scheduled to go into effect until July 21 of this year. And no one expects that deadline to be met.

What’s more, some economists feel the rule is still too weak because it is full of exceptions and would not have prevented the JP Morgan Chase fiasco. (Volcker himself warned about the risks of derivatives.) All of this has, predictably, led to a lot of calls for stricter regulations on these super banks.

But Morgan’s Dimon, chagrined and embarrassed as he may be, isn’t ready for a return to the old days, when banks were banks and investment companies were investment companies and people knew their money was safe. In fact, he wants Volcker weakened so his minions can try to create even more exotic investment thingamajigs. Apparently, he just plans to watch his help a lot closer from now on and wants us to trust that he will do it. Shame on him.

Most likely, given the political climate, nothing is going to change. Democrats will argue for more regulation as they have for years. Republicans, who lately seem to believe only the rich should get richer, will demand no regulation at all. Meanwhile, these 20 or so super banks that now control the U.S. economy will continue to try to create billions out of nothing because sometimes it works. No one knows quite what they do, but everyone involved at the bank winds up with tons of money when it works and a chunk of that money finds its way to congressional campaigns. So it apparently doesn’t matter that none of it seems to create jobs or promote economic development or entrepreneurship. The derivatives just keep feeding the same overstuffed mouths over and over again.

Too big to fail? Too big to regulate? These banks are really too big to exist, but no one except the Occupy movement is making this argument publicly and persistently these days.

Which brings me back to young Mr. Zuckerberg. I don’t feel sad for him that his IPO didn’t cash in as big as some had predicted. (Some of that, by the way, was due to bad calculations by the NASDAQ and the big banks that handled the initial offering.) He and his partners made their millions or billions and one of them (not a native American) even renounced his U.S. citizenship to protect his profits from the IRS.

But hey, the way I see it, they’re entitled. Heck, they created Facebook with their own brains and there is nothing synthetic about it. They made it into the closest electronic version of a living, breathing organism. It has a pulse. It is a vehicle for people around the world to communicate instantly with each other at any time. Their product is useful, portable, entertaining, ubiquitous, optional — and free. In our economic system, that should equate to profitable. It may just not be as profitable as its creators thought it was.

But that’s what happens when people have even the slightest understanding about what they’re being asked to buy.

Memorial Day

Monday, May 21st, 2012

Small Town Memorial Day, East Boothbay, Maine, 2005

By Jean Webster

People gather this chilly morning on a bend in the road
Just below the hill where a white church sits.
Some face the memorial erected years ago
Some look out over the river where two shipyards still
Send ships and boats off into the world.
Others face the Mill Pond, but few here recall
Its working days.

Several generations are represented, from sweet toddlers to elders
Who remember too many wars, too many young people dead
Or permanently impaired in body or mind. Men in uniforms
From several wars march together, lift their feet in unison
Turn to face the memorial as an army would
United in their actions – perhaps in their thoughts as well.
A lone trumpeter plays Taps, the notes soaring over the pond
Followed by a reverent silence. The player rejoins the band
For the Star-Spangled Banner and the drums beat the cadence
For the marching men.

Young people on bikes stream in, park and join the crowd.
Children holding American flags watch with solemn faces
Listen for echoes of the guns over the water. Even their dogs are quiet.
The minister speaks of past wars, reminding us about the “War to End
All Wars,” an optimistic expression now part of our language.
But we know better.
The minister reminds us that each year
Fewer towns and cities gather their people to pay tribute.
As this small town has today.

Waving flags and marching feet end the Memorial Day observance.
The flag-waving children march in a group, their faces bright
Looking forward to the next event, the next moment in their lives.
May they carry with them the memory of this day
The minister’s prayerful words, the sweet toddlers,
The elders and the men in uniform, all united in a single cause.
For now.

The Cory Booker Contretemps

Sunday, May 20th, 2012

By Emily Theroux

So I go out of town for one blissful three-day weekend with my baby granddaughter and return home to discover that all hell has broken loose on the Sunday morning bobblehead front.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker apparently sold out President Obama on Meet the Press while I was out of cable TV and RSS-feed range, and I had little occasion (between shape-sorting brightly colored blocks, spooning mashed zucchini into Dulcinea’s Kewpie-doll mouth, and taking roughly a gazillion photos) to surf my cell phone. By the time I returned to electronic “civilization,” Booker had already backtracked twice – once after the Obama campaign had very likely chewed him out for his shocking transgression (in a YouTube clarification that MSNBC’s Morning Joe dubbed “the hostage video”), and then more vehemently the following day, after the RNC put up an online petition asking voters to step up to the plate and pledge, in raging capitals, “I STAND WITH CORY.”

“Don’t Let The Obama Campaign Silence Support For Job Creation,” the petition lead-in began.

“Yesterday New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker, a surrogate spokesman for the Obama campaign called the president’s attacks on the free market ‘ridiculous’. That’s right Mr. President, we aren’t going to let you destroy free enterprise. Stand up for America. Stand up for job creators.” (That’s verbatim; no courtesy corrections, not even for making Booker mayor of a state. I don’t think they deserve any.)

First of all, what a crock of crap! Can somber scenes of laid-off steelworkers recounting what Romney’s private-equity firm did to them really be viewed as “nauseating”? The ad shone a floodlight on how aptly Bain Capital’s notorious 1980s “money shot” (a spoof photo of Mitt and his colleagues brandishing $10 and $20 bills) depicted what the firm was doing when it shifted its focus from venture-capital investments in promising start-ups to leveraged private-equity buyouts of mature companies, which were designed to maximize Bain’s profits, not to either create or save jobs.

Secondly, what gives with Cory Booker and Harold Ford, Jr. (who said he wouldn’t have backed away from Booker’s original position)? Has Booker secretly signed on as a right-wing tool? Did RNC chair Reince Priebus co-opt Ford? Are both of them in the back pockets of Wall Street campaign donors with a big ax to grind against Obama for “scapegoating” Wall Street bankers over the recession and “demonizing” capitalism?

As it turns out, the award-winning blog ThinkProgress reported in 2002 that Booker and his slate of candidates received a total of $565,000 in donations from venture capitalists, investors, and Wall Street bankers during his first mayoral race – including $36,000 from Bain Capital. Ford, a former Tennessee congressman, worked for Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, and Morgan Stanley after leaving public office. Other Democrats who rushed to Bain’s defense after Booker spoke out on Meet the Press included former Obama economic adviser and “car czar” Steve Rattner, who spent his career working at Lehman Brothers and other Wall Street firms, and Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, a wealthy and successful venture capitalist before serving in public office. The Romney campaign has since turned the criticisms of Obama’s ad by Booker, Ford, and Rattner into a campaign ad.)

From all the cable TV chatter, you would think that this enormous gift to Mitt Romney from Cory Booker, et. al., was bought and paid for by the Koch Brothers, Karl Rove, or any number of GOP Super PACs. It appears, however, that Booker – described in The Washington Post as “more crazy like a fox” than merely crazy – may have done something that made progressives “livid” in order to please financial-sector donors and put some political distance between himself and Obama, to whom he is constantly compared.

But the truth about this huge brouhaha over campaign tactics may end up being that nothing really substantive has changed in the presidential race since last week, when Mitt responded to a reporter’s question about a nasty remark he had made weeks earlier to Sean Hannity on the topic of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright: “I’m not familiar precisely with exactly what I said, but I stand by what I said, whatever it was.” Them’s not fightin’ words; them’s weasel words – classic Romney equivocation, deliberate ambiguity. Dancing on the head of a pin so no one can pin him down.

Pretending to “stand by” positions or “stand with” fellow politicians definitely has its downside for the Romney campaign, whose staffers have their hands full trying to stifle any off-the-cuff remarks and make sure he’s routinely “teleprompted.” The ludicrous “I STAND WITH CORY” contretemps is merely a smokescreen for the likelihood that Romney himself lacks an effective means of disputing what the Obama ad campaign reveals about him and the “business expertise” he touts as evidence that he’s a “job creator” – at least no means other than crying “character assassination” or taking advantage of Democratic gaffes.

Nevertheless, the bobbleheads persist in believing that this lapse in party unity spells doom for the president; it helps ward off any possible insinuation that they harbor the dreaded “liberal media bias” of which they are so often accused by the right wing. “The last time I saw the mainstream media this unified in their certainty that Obama had made a political blunder was the beginning of the ‘war on women’,” read a comment posted on a progressive blog. While the Democrats worry about damage to the president’s campaign, Mitt is floundering about trying to defend himself against both the ongoing Obama campaign to hold him accountable for his business practices and a new Priorities USA ad that consists of a running critique of Romney’s “vulture capitalism” by his former Republican rivals, who pulled no punches while each of them, in turn, tried like hell to overtake Mitt’s fairly steady 25 percent share of the primary vote.

“If Mitt Romney wants to talk about what a few Democrats have said about Bain, fine. We are going to talk about what prominent Republicans and ultraconservative superstars have said about Mitt Romney and Bain Capital,” proclaimed the progressive blog The People’s View. “Did the Republicans really think that exactly this wouldn’t be the response to their singing and dancing around Booker’s comments?” wrote the anonymous blogger. “This is the big leagues, Mr. Romney. This ain’t your Republican primary.”

Has public opinion changed since Cory Booker’s temporary defection gave Republicans a big fat bull’s-eye to pin to Obama’s back? It’s too early to tell, but The Star-Ledger’s website slyly predicts that “Cory Booker’s defense of Wall Street may hurt his status with liberals, but it won’t hurt his bank account.” And why does the paper think Booker may have stepped so far out on a limb in defiance of Obama in the first place? “The Newark mayor has taken at least $491,000 in political contributions from the financial services industry in the last nine months … according to campaign filings with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission and the Federal Election Commission.” For that matter, says a Princeton political history professor, Obama’s campaign coffers are also brimming with financial-sector loot – unless it’s true that, as the pundits claim, the president has recently been coming home from Wall Street fundraising forays with empty pockets.

From the lunatic fringe, Glenn Beck’s website The Blaze posed a fascinating query: “But is the pubic [sic] behind the Obama team taking the campaign in this direction?”

Sorry, answer inscrutable. (You have to subscribe to “GBTV,” Beck’s live video network, if you want to actually watch his worthless video. I would sooner ingest the extruded pink sludge that an online “10-most-disgusting” list said chicken nuggets and hot dogs are made from than give a single dime to that revolting rodeo clown.) Warning: Whatever you do, don’t Google “really disgusting substances” – unless you’d like to experiment with bulimia.

There are worse things, of course, and Glenn Beck is one of them.

Not Soon Enough

Saturday, May 19th, 2012

By Jeffrey Page

Marriage must not be a political football but a fundamental right. Some states understand this and allow women to marry women if they choose and men to marry men if they choose. In fact, we’re at a moment now at which half the half the people interviewed in polling say they have no problem with gay marriage.

Clearly, conditions for gay people will improve. Future generations will look back to our time and be stunned when they read about the people of North Carolina amending their state constitution – in 2012! – to ban gay marriages and civil unions. Twenty-nine other states have similar restrictions.

That time of unfettered equality will come, but not soon enough. For now, some still look at gay men and women with deep contempt. We may be headed in the right direction, but we can’t seem to move fast enough.

This story is about Tyler Clementi, a young gay student at Rutgers University in Central Jersey who entertained another gay man in his dormitory room, unaware that this encounter was being filmed by Dharun Ravi, his roommate. Ravi showed the tape as a piece of amusement – like a gay joke, like a pinky across the tongue and then the eyebrow, like an exaggerated lisp – to his friends. Clementi heard about this and, one day later, jumped off the George Washington Bridge.

Ravi was charged with 15 counts including bias intimidation (a fairly new statute in New Jersey), hindering an investigation, invasion of privacy. Never was he charged with actually participating in Clementi’s death, and a jury convicted him on all counts. He faced 5 to 10 years in prison.

And then, the ancient loathing (or indifference at best) of gay people came through. It was not enough that Tyler Clementi is no longer among us, not enough that Ravi’s camera was the instrument to get him to end his own life, not enough that Clementi’s parents are deprived of him. In fact, Ravi entered the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Glenn Berman for sentencing this week, and was not in a talkative mood at all.

He did not apologize for what he had done. He did not explain why he had done it. He did not offer to address Tyler Clementi’s parents. He even declined to address the judge. He did not ask to be forgiven. He did not say he would never do it again. He did not say if he finally understands the inhuman stupidity of what he had done. He did not explain what he felt for Tyler Clementi. He did not say that he has learned anything as a result of Clementi’s death. He just stood there, not uttering a word.

The judge said: “I’m not condoning what this gentleman did.” Gentleman?

“I’m not minimizing it. I’m not defending it.” And then he went on to minimize it. He handed down a sentence of 30 days in the county jail, and you could not have been blamed if you wondered if a person named Tyler Clementi ever actually existed.

Thirty days works out to about 48 hours for every count on which Ravi was convicted. Thirty days in this case is not a sentence but a minor inconvenience.

We will reach the day when men like Dharun Ravi are called to account for their violations of the rules of decency and the rights of others. It will be a time when men like Tyler Clementi are as valued and respected as any other deserving man, say for example, a Jersey judge.