Archive for April, 2012

Did He Get Osama or Not? Case Closed

Monday, April 30th, 2012

President Barack Obama addresses troops at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, Wednesday, May 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

By Bob Gaydos

Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.

Those are two incontrovertible facts.

Barack Obama made the crucial decisions to kill one and save the other.


Also, if one happens to be a Republican, inconvenient and uncomfortably on target for the two things Americans care about these days when voting for a president — national security and jobs.

Protect us from terrorists and protect our jobs.

In a presidency hamstrung by two wars he did not start, a recession he did not cause and a Republican Party that struck the words “bipartisanship” from its playbook on Day One, President Obama has had only a few clear successes. He killed Osama and he saved the American auto industry.

God forbid, though — now that the election campaign has switched focus from the GOP field of nightmares to a man-to-man between Obama and presumptive GOP candidate Mitt Romney — that the president’s supporters should be allowed to brag about his accomplishments.

Take Osama, please, as Henny Youngman might have said. In a surprisingly direct (for Democrats) attack on Romney, Obama’s campaign ran web ads on the first anniversary of the event, trumpeting the daring Navy Seals raid in Pakistan that killed the al-Qaeda leader and asked, “Would Mitt Romney have made that decision?”

Good question. In fact, it’s one Newt Gingrich might well have asked of the man he described as an indecisive liar. But the Republican whiners came out in force immediately. How dare the president exploit the killing of bin Laden for political purposes? How could he take a unifying event like that and make it a divisive one? Whaa! Whaa! Whaa!

Do you hear yourselves? Who precisely is he dividing? I still don’t know a single American who is angry that bin Laden is dead and most of them are grateful that Obama gave the order to go get him.

Which, of course, is more than George W. Bush ever did. I know, we’re not supposed to talk about any of that stuff, either, right? About forgetting about capturing the 9/11 mastermind in the mountains of Afghanistan and deciding to level Iraq instead.

And, of course, we’re supposed to forget about that W. landing, in a Navy jet and wearing full flight gear, on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf to declare “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq when the war there had barely begun. And let’s not bring up the Bush team’s attacks in the 2004 campaign on Sen. John Kerry’s courage and patriotism while serving in Vietnam while W. was avoiding National Guard training in Texas. Wouldn’t be fair to recall that, right?

Aw heck, if W. had nabbed bin Laden, he would have just moved on to getting the next tyrant and we would never have heard of it again, right? He wouldn’t have it any other way.

Utter fantasy. And yet, this reaction is pretty much par for the course for the GOP these days. It has no grounding in reality most of the time and the facts are whatever its members say they are, even when they contradict one another. The more troubling reaction to the Obama ads came from some liberal/Democratic supporters who felt Obama should not be politicizing the killing of bin Laden. That it was somehow unseemly for the president to do so.

Yeah? So?

We are talking politics here aren’t we? Since when has it been a genteel sport? Did anyone pay attention to the GOP primaries? Talk about political blood sport. Republicans, conservatives, tea partiers (once upon a time that was genteel) have shown they will say and do anything to tear down the president, including belittling his accomplishments. Don’t ask, don’t tell? Don’t remind them.

The point is, Obama made a carefully calculated decision to take out the head of the most notorious terrorist group on the planet by using feet-on-the-ground troops rather than remote-controlled drones or “smart” bombs. He did it over the objections of some of his top advisers, including the vice president, secretary of state and secretary of defense. And he did it knowing full well that, if the mission failed — as did President Carter’s effort to rescue the hostages in Iran — as commander-in-chief, Obama would get full blame for it. And we would be seeing ads today reminding us of that, paid for by Romney supporters.

So yes, it seems a fair question to wonder whether the ever-changing Romney as commander-in-chief might have made the same decision. (We already know he would have let GM fail.)

Of course, the raid succeeded and al-Qaeda is a badly crippled shell of itself. To mark the anniversary, the president flew in secret to Afghanistan to thank the troops and to sign an agreement with the new government there — the one that replaced the al-Qaeda-friendly Taliban — pledging the support of the United States even when U.S. forces leave Afghanistan.

Yes, the war there will come to an end soon, just as the one in Iraq did. On Obama’s watch.

The man has a right to brag.




That Old Racism Remains

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

By Emily Theroux
It’s not my imagination, and it’s neither stereotyping nor paranoia. I even have a fistful of academic studies by credible sociologists to back up my theory about race relations in the 21st century: The election of our first African-American president has reawakened the ugly specter of a kind of flagrant racial prejudice that, once it was subdued by “political correctness,” lay dormant for decades in the body politic. That’s why it feels like we’re suddenly being assaulted by bigotry in the age of Obama; the racket it makes is so deafening, after years of relative multicultural harmony.

Now Robert Draper, the author of a new book about House Republican machinations after Barack Obama took office, has supplied anecdotal evidence that supports the sociologists’ conclusions. What Draper said also bolsters my sickening suspicion that the virulent opposition to Obama among a certain swath of the electorate — a vibe that’s so palpable, you practically trip over it every time you go online — is rooted in something far more pernicious than the customary Republican aversion to Democratic policies. (Even though World Net Daily did call Bill Clinton “much more than a ‘stealth’ communist president, but a secret ‘master of the Illuminati’,” this Obama-focused slime is far more abhorrent).

During an interview with Al Sharpton, Draper was asked what he thought motivated “the intense, unparalleled resentment” of Obama from the right. “I think there is a dimension, an extra depth of contempt for this president that is really off the charts,” Draper replied. “I interviewed a lot of Tea Party freshmen, spent a lot of time with them, and I didn’t detect any kind of racial animus in any of them. However, they were ushered in by a Tea Party movement that does have a certain racial component to the depth of contempt that they feel for this president.”

Draper’s book, “Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives,” has exposed a secret cabal of 15 Republican “strategic thinkers” who met on the very night of Obama’s 2009 inauguration and plotted how they were going to bring him down. Neither John Boehner, who would become Speaker of the House two years later, nor Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, was invited to attend. Boehner, however, apparently failed to notice that the cheers on the day he became speaker were for the 87 Tea Party freshmen whose midterm victories had won him his oversized gavel. McConnell crowed triumphantly that his top political priority for the next two years would be “to deny Barack Obama a second term.”

‘A village in Kenya is missing its idiot! Deport Obama!’
Why, I’ve often wondered, was the gloating so extreme after the 2010 midterm elections? Obviously, the Tea Party hysteria that erupted during the summer of 2009, after Obama introduced his historic health care bill, had gotten the ball rolling. Republican politicians were riling up the fractious crowds with irresponsible drivel about “death panels” and imaginary government bureaucrats “coming between you and your doctor.” But amid the cacophony of town hall jeers and phony “Astro Turf” protests organized by corporate lobbyists, something more sinister was afoot than simply opposing what the vociferous base called “the government takeover” of health care. There was a wild, insolent edge to the proceedings, the kind of raucous mob mentality that you might have observed at a public hanging during the Middle Ages.
Demonstrators at Tea Party rallies carried a wide variety of signs and banners. Many displayed patriotic or anti-tax slogans, but others bore overtly racist messages — some of them crude (and often misspelled) racial epithets and taunts (“A village in Kenya is missing its idiot! Deport Obama!”; “We don’t want socialism, you arrogant Kenyan!”; “This sign is the brownest thing on this entire block”), or vile caricatures of the president in whiteface with a Hitler moustache, or decked out like an African witch doctor with a bone through his nose.

The Tea Party movement has never been a single entity and, since its inception, its demographics have remained elusive. A 2010 USA Today/Gallup poll showed that “Tea Partiers” were fairly close to the overall national average in terms of age, education, employment status, and race (6 percent of “non-Hispanic blacks” said they were supporters of the Tea Party, as opposed to 11 percent in the general population). Conservatives interpreted it as incontrovertible proof that they were not, as they claimed the mainstream media portrayed them, overwhelmingly old, Caucasian, male, right-wing, and seething with “white resentment” of minorities.

The poll proved misleading, however, since it surveyed people by asking them whether they considered themselves “supporters” or “opponents” of the movement, not whether they were active members who attended rallies and protests — often described by observers as resembling “a sea of white faces.”

Did overt racism go underground after the civil rights era?
An intriguing study by Michael Tesler of Brown University postulates that “old-fashioned racism” — the overt kind that characterized the Jim Crow era — largely went underground in the decades following the civil rights era. As segregation became a fading memory, racist epithets were no longer acceptable in public. In the 1970s, cultural pressure to be “politically correct” drove race-baiters even further into the shadows. Politicians began resorting to “code words” — “states’ rights,” “entitlement society,” “big government,” “welfare reform” — to communicate their subliminal racial messages to voters.

When Obama was elected, according to Tesler, openly racist speech and behavior — which had not been correlated in sociological studies to white Americans’ partisan preferences in decades, began to return with a vengeance. Tesler demonstrated that such behavior was a much stronger predictor of opposition to Obama than to ideologically similar white Democrats. Republicans may have hated President Bill Clinton in 1993, but nowhere near as much as they hated President Obama — and openly expressed it — in 2009.

Optimists actually believed, in the early days after Obama’s election, that America had finally emerged from its long, dark history of racial strife and blossomed into a new era of “post-racial” politics. Too many echoes of the remote past have surfaced since 2009 to substantiate that hope. Republican politicians openly disrespect President Obama in public and abuse the filibuster with an unprecedented frequency to stall Democratic bills in the Senate. Republican lawmakers churn out a relentless stream of socially conservative bills, in a wave of nostalgia for the halcyon days when women and minorities “knew their place” and didn’t dare question white male authority.

The renewed obsession of many aggrieved conservatives with racial resentment — and their increasingly vocal expression of it, from town halls to Twitter to the House floor — are poisoning our national discourse. If you don’t believe that, just ask a few conservatives what they think about affirmative action, “voter fraud,” or “reverse racism.” If they say we don’t need the Voting Rights Act any longer (when right wing Republicans all over the country are passing voter suppression laws), if they say affirmative action is racial discrimination against white people and that Obama is a “socialist” (an ad hominem attack made for decades about black leaders), then you’ve got your answer. Code is a useful “tell” about people’s gut antipathies.

‘I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake; I can’t have illegals.’
I doubt that Mitt Romney, who doesn’t really appear to believe in anything, could muster the necessary vitriol to be more than a careless, knee-jerk bigot himself — especially after watching the debate that caught him out in this thoughtless remark about firing the undocumented immigrants he “discovered” were working on his property: “I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake; I can’t have illegals.” I have no way of knowing what’s in Mitt’s heart, although he probably couldn’t tell you, either, unless he could manage to locate it. But I’m not the first person to observe that his campaign advisers seem to have caught on to the tactics of the kind of good-ole-boy, “dog-whistle” politics that would do Lee Atwater proud. I don’t think Mitt would be above resorting to whatever strategy his advisers suggest will win him the White House — including the snarky campaign slogan, “Obama Isn’t Working,” which calls to mind the offensive racial stereotype of the “lazy black man.” I can only judge his words, using my trusty “embedded” racist-code detector, to interpret for the masses the language of oligarchs.

Consider the following coded excerpt from Romney’s victory speech in Manchester, N.H.: “There was a time, not long ago” (translation: three short years), “when each of us could walk a little taller and stand a little straighter” (when a white man was in the Oval Office, God was in His Heaven, and all was right with the world), “because we had a gift that no one else in the world shared” (‘we’ descendants of Europeans, who have held the reins of empire and colonized the world): “We were Americans” (not Kenyans, Indonesians, or other unwelcome foreigners). “Those days are coming back,” Mitt concludes. (I haven’t noticed anybody intervening to revoke our citizenship since Dubya was president.) “That’s our destiny.” (“We” are going to take our country back from “THEM” — the black people Lincoln said we had to set free; the red people we wrote out of ‘American history’ after centuries of denial that they were here first; the brown people straining at the border who will one day outnumber us unless we drive them all into the Gulf of Mexico.)

Then behold! The ruling class will live happily ever after in a white-bread, corporate-owned, feudal America, complete with Anglo peasants, that’s never going to lose its permanent Republican majority, just like Karl Rove always promised.

McCain’s Sanctimony

Saturday, April 28th, 2012

Sen. John McCain

By Jeffrey Page

For the first anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden, President Obama reminded the nation of the 10-year hunt for him. In doing so Obama noted – not very subtly at all – that he was the commander-in-chief who approved the operation.

Senator John McCain quickly went on the attack, using extremely strong language even for American politicians of the 21st Century, when the rules of decency and civility have been tossed. This is a time when the elected and their electors find it easier to slander their opponents than to discuss ideas with them.

Obama, McCain said, converted “the one decision he got right into a pathetic political act of self-congratulation.” And he added: “Shame on President Obama for diminishing the memory of Sept. 11 and the killing of Osama bin Laden by turning it into a cheap political attack ad.” Do you suspect that McCain will never get over the fact that he lost the ’08 election.

The incomparable Mitt Romney chimed in, essentially saying that the decision to deploy the Navy Seals to get bin Laden was no big deal. After all, Romney said, “even Jimmy Carter” would have done the same. Was he implying that Carter wasn’t much of a military leader or that he didn’t have the guts? How easy it is for a candidate who’s waffled on every issue to to criticize Carter who – remember? – ordered the failed hostage rescue operation in Iran.

I don’t have much patience for politicians who condemn their opponents for being, uh, politicians. But McCain’s sanctimony tests the limits of my tolerance. (I’m holding off on Romney for now; he might change his mind any minute.)

Is McCain’s real message that had he been elected, he would have let the bin Laden anniversary pass without comment? And does he expect anyone to believe that?

Some questions and observations:

— Can you imagine McCain’s venomous outcry if Obama had said nothing at all about the anniversary? Insult to the Seals, he would have blustered.

— McCain may condemn Obama for statements regarding the bin Laden operation, but this works both ways. So let’s consider some of McCain’s remarkable silences.

— Shame on John McCain for saying not a word in 1985 when President Reagan decided to place flowers at a German cemetery whose graves include those of 49 Waffen SS soldiers.

— Shame on John McCain for remaining silent when President George W. Bush performed a pathetic political act of self-congratulation by hot-dogging a Navy fighter onto the flight deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln. There he announced that major combat operations in Iraq were over; he was off by several years and many casualties.

— Shame on John McCain for being mute about Bush’s diminishing the memory of American troops killed and wounded in Iraq with the syntactically challenged observation: “There are some who feel like – that the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is, bring them on. We’ve got the force necessary to deal with the security situation.” That may have been the only time in our history when a commander invited an attack on his own troops.

— Shame on John McCain for inflicting Sarah Palin on the nation and for his silence when she tried to hoodwink us into believing she had significant foreign policy experience because Alaska is just 50 miles across the Bering Strait from Russia.

— And shame on John McCain for saying he would support the repeal of don’t ask-don’t tell only when the military informed him that such a change would not harm morale, unit cohesion or performance. That assurance soon came from no less than Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But McCain, facing a conservative primary challenge, went silent.

Mother’s Day Alternatives

Friday, April 27th, 2012

By Shawn Dell Joyce

All the flowers in corporate chains and box stores are imported. The cheap abundance of imported flowers not only has an impact on mom and pop florists as well as supermarkets, but also makes it very hard for American growers to compete. One California grower complained: “We can’t allow other countries to come in and impact our bottom line in the name of free trade. How can you compare foreign labor costs of $3 an hour with California’s labor costs of $12 an hour?”

There’s a slim chance the flowers bought for Mom were grown domestically. California was the leading provider of cut flowers in 2005, accounting for 73 percent of domestic flower production.

“We can’t compete with imports,” another California nursery owner said. “Those flowers are loaded with pesticides that California growers can’t even think about using.” A survey on Colombian flower plantations found that workers were exposed to 127 different pesticides. One-fifth of the chemicals used in flower production in South America are restricted or banned in the United States and Europe, such as DDT. Since there are very few environmental laws in South America, these chemicals wind up in drinking water, causing species to decline as well as damaging human health.

Workers are often denied proper protection and become sick after applying herbicides, fungicides and pesticides. Two-thirds of Colombian flower laborers (mostly women) suffer from impaired vision, respiratory and neurological problems, disproportionately high still-birth rates, and babies born with congenital malformations. When workers try to organize unions to defend their interests, they are often fired, ridiculed or harassed.

In response to the horrendous social and environmental costs of cut flowers, green entrepreneurs like Gerald Prolman have stepped up to the plate. His company, Organic Bouquet, in Marin County, Calif., is one of the concerns trying to establish a niche market for organic flowers in the U.S. Another green entrepreneur, Josh Dautoff, in Watsonville, Calif., converted his parents’ chemically reliant fields and greenhouses to organic.

“It’s ironic that people will pay more money for organic food for their dinner plate because they are afraid of chemicals,” he said. “But then they will buy conventionally grown flowers that are covered in chemicals for the centerpiece of their dinner table. Those chemicals will catch up with people; maybe not through their mouths, but through the water and air.”

Organic florist Lynn Mehl or Good Old Days Florist in New Windsor had an epiphany recently when she discovered the thorny underside of the floral industry. “I did a little research on my (previous) products,” Mehl said, “and found that roses alone, according to recent studies, can contain up to 50 times the amount of pesticides that are legally allowed on our food. I shop organic, I support fair wages, I cannot consciously continue with a business practice that is against all that I have supported for years.”

“And would you believe,” adds Mehl, “I am the only professional florist buying these flowers on the East Coast for resale?”

Want to celebrate both Mom and Mother Earth this year?

–Ask your local florist for organic flowers.

–Buy flowers from a local farm or grower directly.

–Give Mom a live plant from a local store or grower.

–Or give her an edible bouquet of salad greens and flowers from a local farm.

–Buy her a flat of flowers and plant them in flower beds for her.

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

The Kid Aces His Geography Test

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

By Bob Gaydos

Addendum to “10 states my sons should not live in”

After I posted my latest piece on the Zest site (the next one down), I asked Son the Younger (Zack) if he had read it and naturally he said no. So I told him the headline on the column and asked him what states he thought might be on the list of places I urged him and his brother to avoid.

“Well … Texas probably and maybe Arizona and South Carolina,” he started off without hesitation.

“That’s great!” I said. “You got three of the worst right off the bat. Which one do you think is the worst?”

“Probably Texas because it’s dumb and there’s nothing there. But … Arizona has that new law on immigrants which is pretty bad.”

“Terrific … A-plus,” I said. “I put Arizona first only because A comes before T. Who else?”

“Alabama? Maybe West Virginia and Kentucky. Louisiana?”

“Yes, yes, yes and on the watch list.”

“Well, they have New Orleans.”


“Maybe Mississippi, too’” he continued. “Pretty much all the southern states.”

“Pretty much,” I agreed. “Fantastic job. I also included Alaska.”

“Well, yeah, it’s kinda like Texas and they pay people to live there.”

“Plus they elected Sarah Palin.”

“Oh, yeah. Pretty bad.”

The moral to this story? I dunno, maybe to pay attention to what you tell your kids because they may actually be paying attention.

I do know that after that brief chat I upgraded my own score as a father and a couple of days later treated Zack to a steak dinner — Aussie style, not Texas.


Ten States My Sons Should Not Live In

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

A citizens militia group at the border in Vekol Valley, Arizona. Photo from:


By Bob Gaydos

I ran into an old newspaper colleague at the Times Herald-Record offices the other day and in the process of catching up and complaining that I didn’t know what to write about for my blog this week, he asked if I was the one who had written an editorial for the Record (they’re anonymous) about some congressman claiming there are about 80 Democrats in Congress who were members of the Communist Party. “The nut job from Florida,” he said.

I was, I admitted, proudly. He shook his head and said something to the effect of, “Where do they find these guys?”

Where indeed, I agreed. “But more to the point,” I heard myself say, “who are the people who keep voting for them? I mean, really, would you want to live in a place where people put a guy like that in office? It’s one of the things I try to get across to my sons — you get to choose your own career paths, but please, you don’t want to live in places where they keep electing morons.”

“Sounds like you’ve got a column,” the newspaper guy says.

And so I do.

Brief intro: Max is 20 and currently studying art at SUNY Purchase. Zack is 17 and will attend (no declared major) Western New England University in Springfield, Mass., in the fall. They are both bright and, due to environmental influences, liberally inclined politically and accepting of people of all types — except, bless their hearts, morons in politics.

So yes, if nothing else I tell them sinks in, I figured at least I can warn them off living in some states later on, unless they never want to see me or their mother ever again.

This is not, by any means a scientific effort. Rather, it’s an off-the-top-of-my-head-with-a-dollop-of-research compiled list of states where you (Max and Zack, that is) don’t ever want to live. The primary criteria for making the list are: Rampant racism, anti-intellectualism, bigotry, intolerance, religious fanaticism, and electing morons to office over and over again. (If anyone who reads this is from any of these states and doesn’t see it, well, that’s your right. Just add denial to the list.)

These are going to have to be in no particular order mainly because I couldn’t decide which was worst among Texas, Arizona and Mississippi.

Let’s start with Arizona since it starts with an A. Arizona has devolved to such an extent that Sen. Barry Goldwater, darling of the John Birch Society, who was famously demonized by Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 presidential election (“Goldwater in ‘64, Cold Water in ‘65, Bread and Water in ‘66”), would have trouble getting support from the angry white conservatives who run the state today. Gov. Jan Brewer, who recently went toe-to-toe with President Obama on the airport tarmac, signed into law the most repressive, intolerant immigration law in the country.

The state’s current senators are Jon Kyl, whose only job as minority whip is to whip up votes to oppose anything whatsoever proposed by Obama, and John McCain, who used to have a spine and principles until he decided to run for president and needed the support of the Republican right wing. And he gave us Sarah Palin.

Also, Arizona is brutally hot, there’s no water and there’s a bunch of men with guns driving around patrolling the border with Mexico and they’re not cops.

OK, Texas. I could stop with George W. Bush and Rick Perry as back-to-back governors. OMG, Texas. But there’s more. Texans are loudly proud of a board of education that never heard of scientific research and a penal system that likes to keep the line moving on Death Row. Toss in religious fanatics, Tom Delay and a hostility to anything not Texan and no amount of Tex-Mex cuisine is enough to want to live there. Plus, outside a few big cities, it’s miles and miles of miles and miles. It’s no country for young men either.

As for Mississippi, what can you say about a state that perennially ranks at the bottom of lists of states whose residents have a high school diploma, whose children are read to daily, who visit the dentist regularly, and who have a livable family income. Then there’s the racism, the anti-gay atmosphere and lack of concern with proper nutrition. Haley Barbour stepped down as governor in January, but not before granting full pardons to 193 inmates, including five convicted murders. His successor, Phil Bryant, on Wednesday said of Democrats in his state: “Their one mission in life is to abort children, is to kill children in the womb.” He said it after signing a bill to close down the state’s last remaining clinic that performs abortions.

Alright, this is getting depressing and that was not my goal. Let’s add South Carolina, which gave us the Civil War and, to prove things move slowly in the south, segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond, anti-Obama at all costs Sen. Jim DeMint, immigrant-bashing Sen. Lindsay Graham and former Gov. Mark Sanford, who told his wife and the world he was hiking the Appalachian Trail when he was getting his exercise with his mistress in Brazil. You might get away with that in New York, but considering South Carolina’s arch-conservative approach to religion, family, etc. that qualifies as rank hypocrisy. Plus they still like to fly that Confederate Flag.

I’m going to wrap it up because this now looks like it could go on forever and I‘m beginning to feel intolerant. Other states to avoid, boys:

Alabama: See Mississippi.

Oklahoma, West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky: Lots of intolerant religious folk who carry guns, and don’t like blacks or gays. Or even women sometimes.

Alaska: Texas with snow. Plus they elected Sarah Palin.

OK, that’s ten, a nice number for headline writers. But I gotta warn you, Georgia, Florida, Arkansas and Louisiana, I’ve got my eye on you, too.

(And thanks, Paul Brooks, for inspiring this column.)


Carrie’s Painting of the Week

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Springtime on the Salt Marsh

By Carrie Jacobson

For weeks now, I’ve been pushing at something – or, more accurately, something’s been pushing at me – and yesterday, with this painting, I think it pushed through.

It’s hard to explain this feeling. I wrote here, first, that I was a little dissatisfied with my paintings recently – but that’s not really right, as I have loved my recent paintings.

I think it’s more that I have had this idea, an idea of a feeling that I’ve wanted the paintings to have, and they just haven’t had that feeling, not completely. But since it’s something I haven’t really felt myself, and something I haven’t seen, all I’ve known is that the stuff I’ve been doing has not created that feeling. Not catalyzed it, at least not for me.

With this little painting, I feel that I’ve broken through. There’s something in this piece, in the colors, in the daubs and smooshes of paint, in the luscious quality of the marsh against the thinner quality of the sky, something that gives me the feeling I’ve been seeking.

Freedom? Joy? Awakening? I still don’t know what it is, exactly, but I know that this piece begins to have it.

The Twirling Mitt

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

By Emily Theroux

One blogger called Mitt Romney’s miraculous conversion from Severely Conservative Xenophobe to Patron Saint of the Student Loan “a severely pandering flip.” Mitt’s Miraculous Pivot into Etch-a-Sketch Mode, after winning five northeastern primaries, may be a little pricklier than he expects when he floats back down to earth.

The pundit buzz so far suggests it might not be as easy as Romney previously anticipated to wriggle out of all those far-right primary stances he took in order to prove his conservative bona fides and clinch the Republican nomination. Mitt essentially promised conservative ideologues the moon. He bent over backwards and walked on his hands, vowing to perform impossible fiscal miracles: balancing the federal budget, cutting taxes to 17 percent of GDP, and capping federal spending at 20 percent of GDP. He even sweetened the pot by throwing in all of that contentious social-policy mumbo-jumbo that really gets the wingnuts worked up. Romney championed mandatory ultrasounds for women seeking abortions, federal funding cuts to Planned Parenthood, the Blunt Amendment allowing employers to deny insurance coverage for contraception on moral grounds, and “personhood amendments” that would ban federal funding for most forms of contraception and in vitro fertilization.

Romney proclaimed so insistently that he was now and had always been a conservative, it’s difficult to envision how the far right would ever allow him to back down from his extremist positions. However, Mitt and the GOP appear to have cooked up a master plan, which is clever, unprincipled, and absolutely brazen. You might call it “implausible deniability.” Despite the immutable evidence provided by videotape, All-of-the-Above Mitt has begun to disavow ever saying any of those extremist things that everyone heard him say. Just in time for the Big Pivot, Romney went into full vacillation posture. Out of the right side of his lying teeth, he assured House Republicans he was on board with heartlessly slashing $33 billion from the food stamp program over the next decade. Out of the left side, he began pandering to poor people, who always want you to do something they aren’t conservative enough to do for themselves. (Isn’t that the GOP Golden Rule?)

By primary night, Romney abruptly stopped spinning all of that slash-and-burn rhetoric and began tracing his gradual arc toward the cheap seats. He didn’t say the word “conservative” a single time, and he actually pronounced the following words: “As I look around at the millions of Americans without work, the graduates who can’t get a job, the soldiers who return home to an unemployment line, it breaks my heart.” (Imagine that: few of us knew he had one.)

Mitt’s kinder, gentler “general-election-speak,” however, already has a razor-sharp spur “Pearcing” its right flank. Immigration spin can be a really sticky wicket, especially if the entire Southern Hemisphere is breathing down your neck for “absolutely” supporting Jan Brewer’s border-busting anti-immigration bill. The time had come for Mitt to saddle up his Missouri Foxtrotter, fetch his designer cowboy boots and Parisian riding crop, and bid “au revoir” as the missus cantered off on her Austrian warmblood to execute a few precise dressage pirouettes. Only then would Mitt be ready to gallop off into the Arizona sunset for a word with Russell Pearce, who thought the slippery candidate was still backing him 1,000 percent, like he had promised the day before.
You remember Pearce – that big, beefy state senator who sponsored Arizona’s “Papers, Please” Law, the one that lets troopers pull over suspicious-looking “perps” for a bald tire or a busted taillight and then demand four different kinds of ID if they look – well, you know, “illegal.” (Rep. Brian Bilbray said you can tell which ones are illicit because their shoes look different from other people’s.)

Mitt Romney said a few choice things about undocumented immigrants, too, when he was sucking up to the Tea Party so hard, he almost tripped and fell into Boston Harbor. Remember his solemn recommendation that all 12 million undocumented Mexicans and Central Americans simply “self-deport”? He also promised during a January debate that he would veto any version of the DREAM Act that offered a path to citizenship for Latino college graduates. Now, Florida fresman Senator Marco Rubio is working to draft a similar bill that would offer the college education without the guaranteed path to citizenship – although diehard Tea Partiers warn they may oppose it. I wonder if the trees are going to be “just the right height” in Arizona or if Mitt can find some “cheesy grits” in Florida (both places he and Rubio are going to have to spend lots of time puckering up in if Mitt’s going to have any hope of wriggling out of this unholy mess he’s blundered into).

The newly minted center-right candidate has several hurdles to climb in “making nice” with the conservative base he seems to be deserting. Before his campaign manager jostled the Etch-a-Sketch and wiped clean the slate of far-right talking points, Romney had been palling around with dubious characters like anti-immigration activist Kris Kobach, whom he now denies was a campaign adviser. After having followed anti-gay, anti-Mormon shock jock Bryan Fischer onto the CPAC stage last fall, Romney later riled the volatile Fischer when he first signaled his course change by hiring a gay foreign policy spokesman.

After the serious swivel began on primary night, Mitt genuflected shamelessly at the altar of general-election bywords: “urban children,” “veterans who need jobs,” and “moms and dads who never thought they’d be on food stamps” – the kinds of heresies that were unheard-of weeks earlier. Conservative leaders are generally holding their tongues about Romney’s new center-right drift, at least on minor policy matters, because they would rather have anyone in the White House than Barack Obama. House Republicans may be largely keeping mum on Mitt’s new centrist position on student loans, for instance, but they are adamant about their support for Paul Ryan’s Dickensian orthodoxy on the 2013 federal budget and its drastic cuts to social programs.
Back in March, “Willard Scrooge” had grumped, in response to a college student’s question at a town hall meeting, “It would be popular for me to stand up and say I’m going to give you government money to pay for your college, but I’m not going to promise that … Don’t expect the government to forgive the debt that you take on.” Never one to covet popularity, Mitt had yet to experience it, and it looked at that point as if he probably never would.

Now, it appeared as if Miserly Mitt had been visited by three ghosts. On primary eve, he raced back to the teleprompters at the apparent urging of his campaign manger and did a full frontal flip-flop with a half-twist, contradicting his own previous position to such a radical extent that he now wholeheartedly agrees with his Democratic rival. “I fully support the effort to extend the low interest rate on student loans,” Mitt stammered, scarcely able to believe such benevolent words were coming out of his mouth. “There was some concern that would expire halfway through the year. I support extending the temporarily relief on interest rates … in part because of the extraordinarily poor conditions in the job market.”

Extraordinarily poor conditions in the job market? Urban children suffering in the snow? Homeless veterans shivering under bridges? Next thing you know, Compassionate Mitt will be stuffing the pockets of poor people, not hedge fund managers, with $100 bills, and proclaiming it’s Christmas morning in America. If it will get him elected, he’ll say any flip-flopping thing. But I don’t think, for some reason, that immigrants in Arizona – or excruciatingly severe conservatives like Bryan Fischer or Jacob Marley’s ghost – are going to climb aboard.

When Election Day finally rolls around, which Mitt Romney will show up to say whatever urban children want to hear?

What IS Tolerated in the Private Sector?

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

By Michael Kaufman

Go to any local school board or local government meeting nowadays and someone is sure to proclaim, “This would never be tolerated in the business world,” or “We need to operate more like they do in the private sector,” or some variation of those sentiments. You hear it most within the context of cost containment, as if private businesses are the experts in this regard, and school board members and local government officials a bunch of dupes. Why else would they agree to give schoolteachers a raise or fund a nursing home to provide quality care for county residents? Where’s the profit in that?

Such statements are rooted in ignorance of both history and contemporary reality. Exactly which businesses in the private sector are to be emulated?  They can’t mean Enron, of course, or failed airlines such as Eastern, Pan Am, TWA and Braniff, to name a few. How about Goldman Sachs? No, they obviously mean a business successfully operating today. How about Whirlpool? They’re doing well….but, like many other successful companies, they shut down a refrigerator plant in southern Indiana and put 1,100 people out of work to move to Mexico, where they can pay workers less money. (They did this even after taking $19 million in “economic recovery” money from the federal government.)

Frankly, it is amazing what is tolerated in the business world: multimillion dollar exit packages for people who failed as CEOs, for example. Remember the Ford Pinto scandal of the 1970s? Company officials decided it would be cheaper to pay the families of people who died from the exploding gas tanks than to recall the cars and retool manufacturing. Last time I looked, Ford was still making and selling cars.

Pfizer remained one of the world’s major pharmaceutical companies even after pleading guilty to criminal fraud in the promotion of Neurontin, an anticonvulsant drug, and agreeing to pay $430 million in 2004. Apparently that amount wasn’t enough to teach the company a lesson. In 2009 Pfizer pleaded guilty to fraudulent marketing of Bextra, its now-withdrawn pain medication, and agreed to pay $2.3 billion to settle. (Tongue-in-cheek question: Would such behavior be tolerated in the public sector?) Other big pharma companies have been cited for similar practices yet continue to flourish.

Daniel and Katy Moore, the parents of a two-year-old boy who died of liver failure a day after taking tainted Children’s Tylenol a couple of years ago, sued Johnson & Johnson and a long list of others allegedly involved in a “phantom recall” of the product. Company officials who knew of the tainted batch are accused of keeping it a secret. Rather than experience the negative publicity of a recall, they hired people to buy up the entire tainted supply from retail outlets. But they got to the store too late for River Moore.

Would a small local business like a restaurant be a better fit for those statements mentioned earlier?  The answer is no. The vast majority of new restaurants go out of business within two years. Turnover among underpaid wait staff is usually quite high. We wouldn’t want to see that kind of turnover with our public schoolteachers or among those caring for our elderly loved ones. And this is where history comes in.

County nursing homes are among the institutions that came into being, were necessitated as it were, by societal change. The days are long past when most people worked on either a family farm or in a family business. In those days older children helped care for young ones until they were ready to work. And when elders or ill family members required care, everyone helped out. Today, family members are scattered across the country (and the world) to make a living at their jobs.

The point is that our public schools and public nursing homes were never meant to be profit-making businesses. The miserable failure of EdisonLearning, Inc, in Philadelphia, Cleveland and other cities in recent years raises important questions about the broader social, political and cultural implications of this approach, which is always accompanied by an attempt to avoid dealing with a unionized work force. (For more on this subject, see Kenneth J. Saltman’s The Edison Schools: Corporate Schooling and the Assault on Public Education [Routledge, 2005]). The same is true of our public nursing homes. But the Orange County legislature at the behest of County Executive Diana, have put Valley View up for sale. Shame on them.

Michael can be reached at




Bargain Priced Gas

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

By Shawn Dell Joyce
The price for regular unleaded gasoline has leaped over the $4 a gallon mark, but even at $4, we are not paying the real cost. Our federal government subsidizes the oil industry with numerous tax breaks, price protection, and research and development funding that totals billions of dollars every year. These subsidies help keep domestic oil companies competitive with international producers, and keep gas relatively cheap at the pump.

In some other countries, like Bosnia, you would pay $10.86 a gallon because there are fewer government subsidies. Paris is at $6.52, Berlin at $6.42, and Amsterdam at $7.

That $4 we pay at the pump can be divided into four main categories: taxes, refining, marketing/distribution, and the price of crude, according to a special report by CNN Money.
Crude oil is the most expensive part of a gallon of gas, costing over $2. This money goes straight to big producers of crude, or national oil companies controlled by countries like Saudi Arabia, Mexico or Venezuela.

The U.S. government takes about 20 cents from each gallon, on top of state taxes, which vary greatly, but average about 22 cents a gallon. Most of this money is used to build and maintain roads (which is why removing the gas tax is a bad idea). Refineries, such as Valero, Sunoco, ExxonMobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips, eat about 25 cents a gallon.

Transporting the gasoline to retailers and the cost of marketing and distribution also take about a quarter each. Meanwhile, your local gas station gets only about 10 cents a gallon.
But the price we pay at the pump is only the tip of the iceberg of the real cost of gas. Many expenses related to using gas are externalized, meaning we either pay for them through our taxes, or leave them as a balance due for future generations. These “hidden costs” include naval patrols of oil shipping lanes and military presence in oil producing countries, air pollution from auto exhaust, increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, and environmental devastation caused by drilling, laying pipelines, oil spills, and economic damage caused by importing foreign oil.

If all these hidden costs were actually tallied into the price of gas, we would pay well over $5 per gallon, according to the National Defense Council Foundation. The economic penalties of America’s oil dependence total $297.2 billion to $304.9 billion annually, making the true cost of a fill-up over $100.

Terry Tamminen, author of “Lives Per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction,” estimates that the true cost is actually much higher. Tamminen states that “Americans subsidize the oil and auto industry to the tune of about $6 or more for every gallon of gasoline sold, making the real price at the pump $10 per gallon.”

Tamminen also points out that it is difficult for “alternative fuels to compete against such massive subsidies, until mass-production of alternative fuels (and vehicles that use them) can bring the price down. Such incentives can also be considered an economic stimulus package, because those investments create jobs in America instead of sending more than $650,000 every minute to foreign countries for our addiction to oil (based on $75/barrel for oil).” The current price is over $100.

A side benefit of climbing gas prices is an increased awareness of the need to use gasoline more efficiently. A recent survey showed that American consumers list fuel economy as the most important factor when they purchase a new car (previously, the number of cup holders was most important). If we had to pay the true cost of fuel at the pump, we would all ride bicycles and drive electric cars.

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