Archive for September, 2012

The Honey Harvest

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

By Jean Webster

On a recent Saturday, John and I met a few local beekeepers at Dragonfly Cove Farm, in Dresden, Me., to harvest this season’s honey.

The room we use is just off the big farm kitchen. With a cement floor and enough space for two honey extractors, it’s become the traditional spot for removing honey from beehives. (The extractor is the machine that spins the honeycomb and removes honey via centrifugal force.) Dragonfly owners, Marge and Joe, also raise ducks, chickens, geese and goats; that room holds several ceiling-to-floor freezers for the meat they sell.

Unlike last year’s “take” of 120 pounds, this time we brought only five frames of honey – about 13 pounds. Obviously 2011 was an exceptional season. These frames are smaller than those holding the bees’ year round honey supply. An oblong wood and wax frame, measuring 18 x 5½ inches, it reminds me of small old-fashioned window screens.

To start, the beekeeper uses an electrically heated knife to skim the wax the bees made to hold the seasoned honey in the cell of the frame. (The cell is a hexagon-shaped compartment of a comb. Bees store food and raise brood – immature bees – in these compartments.) The skimmed wax and some honey drop into a wooden box for later enjoyment, or to strain and add to the honey flow. When all is done, this pile is a mixture of some of everyone’s honey.

Since we arrived last, we waited our turn on the extractor. John helped out by turning its crank, while others kept it from jumping off the stand.  The extractor is a simple contraption that stands about four feet high, a plain metal cylinder with clasps inside to hold the frames in place. The method is simple, too. Turn the crank and eventually the honey flows down the inside of the machine, out the spigot and into a container. The best is a plastic bucket with two strainers to separate the honey from any wax or – yes, this can happen – any bee parts that made it into the flowing honey.

Part of the treat of being at Dragonfly Farm is “time out for lunch,” often one of Marge’s hearty soups, homemade bread and honey butter. Her kitchen is large and inviting, with cooking and baking aromas, and a big friendly dog begging to be petted. This year we had a tasty goat meat and veggie soup, with corn bread on the side. The group usually supplements with food to share.

Once everyone’s honey was harvested, we divvied up the wax and honey mixture from the “drop box.” At home we strained our share, adding the golden liquid to our own honey and saving the “waxy residue” for special treats. We’ll share our dozen jars with family and friends.

That’s the harvesting story of  backyard beekeeping. But, people often wonder about the danger of CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) to our bees. The truth is that the backyard honeybee’s life is simpler and less dangerous than the “professional” bees, which are carted around the country to pollinate plants on large farms. Right here in Maine, working honeybees pollinate the huge up-country blueberry crop.

Unlike those bees, ours have a varied diet. Within a few miles of our property, they have the choice of flowers, weeds and other plants from early spring through the fall, as well as the sugar water we feed them in the off-season. The “professional” bees generally feed on one crop – like blueberries – for a long period, making for a less healthy diet.

Also, at a meeting this summer we learned the results of a Harvard University study investigating the effects of pesticides – specifically neonicotinoids – on honeybees. Large agra-farms inject pesticides into their seeds to make them resistant to disease. The Harvard study found that incorporating even a small amount of these pesticides into a hive’s sugar water in the spring caused significant honeybee deaths. But not all at once.

That first spring, bees feeding on the treated sugar water survived into fall. Soon, though, the researchers found dead bees in and around the hives. The pesticides were being passed from one generation to the next, weakening the “hive.” By the time the snow flew that winter, hundreds of bees had dropped dead. The longer the pesticides were in the hive, the worse the results.

A quote from the Bulletin of Insectology states that “researchers found that 94 percent of the hives had died after exposure to the neonicotinoid pesticide.” (Read more about the Harvard Study at

Backyard beekeepers cannot combat the practices of the large agra-farms. But we can maintain a centuries-long tradition.


Affecting Eternity

Saturday, September 29th, 2012

By Gretchen Gibbs

Not long ago, The New York Times published an article by Elizabeth Alsop about how the media is portraying teachers, and it’s not a pretty picture. For instance, we have Walter on “Breaking Bad” making and dealing drugs, rather than the old picture of teachers inspiring students in “To Sir with Love.” The media reflects as well as influences public perceptions, and I agree with the premise of the article: Teaching has never been seen as so lowly a profession as it is today. We have only to remember the protests about teachers’ salaries in Wisconsin and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s remarks at the Republican convention about teachers’ unions.

Why should this be? Teachers actually may not be doing as good a job as they once did. As a college teacher I saw the quality of students’ writing and thinking steadily deteriorate over the span of 30 years. Reports are always showing that U.S. students are less well educated than others around the world.

There are many reasons for this decline within the training of teachers and the way schools are administered today in the United States. Finnish schools are said to excel, for instance, because teachers have to undergo rigorous entrance examinations, and are then well paid and treated with respect. They develop their own assessment techniques for students instead of using standardized tests.

I’ve been thinking, though, that part of the problem has to do with technology. Power Point and online course work dilute the impact of the teacher. Reading Tuesdays with Morrie, I realize how much more difficult it would be to develop a student-teacher relationship like that today when you have many fewer opportunities for personal interaction.

Respect for the teacher’s knowledge goes out the window when you can find out more than the teacher knows on a small device you keep in your pocket. It used to be that if you were puzzled by something in the course work, you’d have to wait till the next day, or even the next week for a college course, to consult the teacher. Now, if Wikipedia doesn’t have the answer, you’ll find it somewhere else online.

Teachers need to provide more than information. That’s one reason that “teaching to the test” is such a poor idea. The kind of things you can test for are usually not the crux of learning. Judgment and critical thinking, tolerance, how to express yourself – those are more important than historic dates or the subjunctive case, but so hard to evaluate on a paper and pencil test. In Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom quotes Henry Adams: “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” Adams wasn’t talking about teaching the ability to solve quadratic equations.

I think about my own career teaching psychology, first to undergraduates and masters students, and then to doctoral students. Both my parents were teachers, so I went into the profession with some expectation of success, only to find it much more difficult than I had imagined. I always tell students if they really want to learn a subject, teach it.

At the beginning I was so stiff. No matter how I prepared, I feared that it wouldn’t be enough to fill the fifty minutes, and sometimes it wasn’t. I was never charismatic, I never told jokes. Over time, lots of time, I think I became a pretty good teacher.

Gradually I learned to engage the class, to start with a challenging question to be explored rather than answered. That’s what I feel good about in my teaching, training students to question received wisdom. Although I’m sure I had defensive lapses, I tried to treat each student’s question or comment with respect, even when it was ignorant or critical of me. That was part of modeling tolerance. Teaching psychotherapy is more than learning techniques. I believe that the core of successful psychotherapy resides in the empathic human connection between the therapist and the client, and the successful relationship between teacher and student is not so different.

I’m sure most teachers have such recollections of success, probably different than mine depending on the individual and the subject matter. But these successes are what matters to the profession, what we need to recognize and honor in our teachers.




Paper Storm

Friday, September 28th, 2012

By Jeffrey Page

My birthday’s not for another 10 months but this week I received a most thoughtful gift from the government. It was a day with almost no mail. Actually there were two items, a bill from the plumber, which I expected, and a card from the American Symphony Orchestra inviting me to Bard College for a concert that will include a performance of a concerto for tuba. I’m not going.

But this is not about music for tubas.

It’s about the fact that every morning, the letter carrier drops off a packet of mostly sheer trash. I almost always know when he arrives because there is so much mail coming in that I hear a distinctive thump as it’s delivered.

Does this happen to you?

You look through the day’s delivery in the naïve belief that there’s something important in there, something interesting – maybe a letter of acceptance from a magazine, maybe a check, maybe a note from a nephew on the West Coast – but no. Important things rarely arrive. I remember when the mail was fun, when you might get a letter from a friend or a favorite aunt. This hasn’t happened for decades. Nowadays the important stuff is a bank statement; almost all the rest is trash.

Every so often a credit card company with which I have an account wonders how I’m doing, and, in the event I’m not doing well, they include a sheet of six personalized checks. All I have to do is fill one out and sign it, and presto! An instant loan. I think this is a little too casual a way of getting one’s hands on some needed cash.

Do you get those sheets of stickers with your name and address on them? The charitable organizations that send them must believe that using a pen to write my return address on an envelope is just too burdensome. Often they get the names and titles wrong anyway, such as “Mrs. & Mr. Page, Jeffrey” (complete with ampersand and strangely placed comma).

I usually write shopping lists on the backs of used envelopes, but sometimes a charity sends me a little pad marked “shopping list.”

Don’t get me wrong; I give to certain charities. But I’m tired of having to open their pitches all year long when, as I have informed them, I have no intention of donating on their schedule, but on my own. They ignore me, and the pitches keep coming. Sometimes they call to ask me how much I’m kicking in this year, and the caller sounds put-off when I say he’ll find out when I send it.

I get autumn catalogues, winter catalogues, spring catalogues and summer catalogues from high-end stores and usually ignore them and their grand prices. And I get holiday catalogues from any number of museums whose prices are outrageous.

I don’t respond to any of these ads, but the postal trash just keeps piling up. Without exaggeration, I think I receive about a dozen invitations a year to subscribe to Optimum. The one that arrived today – addressed to “Our Neighbor,” which is odd since I’m in Orange County and they’re in Nassau County – says their latest special offer ends on Oct. 15, but I know the come-ons will continue after that. They always do.

Do you get pitched by outfits supporting victims of certain diseases and the scientists trying to put an end to those illnesses? I do. I am contacted by groups advocating for homeless people, sick people, and hungry people. I have empathy for all, but when these letters come day after day, week after week, I spend a lot of time tending to this junk and get weary. I go through the stuff and withdraw anything with my name and address and put it through a paper shredder, whose contents I add to the recycling barrel for later pickup and disposal.

Once, I let a membership in an environmental organization lapse and was bombarded with paper asking me how I could have forgotten to re-join. It took a year or so, but the paper finally stopped coming.

Nan Hayworth is relentless. I think she sends me more mail than she sends her favorite uncle. This morning I received a flyer from something called Friends of Nan Hayworth – they didn’t identify themselves – telling me that her opponent, Sean Patrick Maloney, is a bum.

The next piece of mail was from the very same Sean Patrick Maloney telling me what a great guy he is.

I get new-car ads all the time, and sometimes I get brochures from garages about bargain basement prices for oil-changes.

Maybe I can put a stop to this paper blizzard. This week I called the Direct Marketing Association (212-768-7277) to ask that my name be placed off-limits to direct mailers. I was sent to a website – – and advised to look for a link called “get started.” It takes a while for the mailings to stop.

I’ll let you know how I make out.

Beginning of the End for GOP?

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

Mitt Romney, oft befuddled, for a reason

By Bob Gaydos

Everyone pretty much agrees Mitt Romney has had a rough couple of weeks. He got the whole Libya embassy thing wrong, then repeated it the next day to make sure everyone knew. Then he called half the country lazy victims looking for a government handout and said he didn’t have to worry about them. The only insight he’s given voters into his tax returns is to show the most recent one, in which he paid more than he was required to, apparently so that he could justify his claim he paid at a 12 percent rate. And he apparently wonders (in public) why they can’t open the windows on airplanes when they‘re flying.

Even the Fox News team has struggled to spin some of this into electoral gold.

But I think it’s time to give Mitt a break. It’s not all his fault. After all, he is a product of his environment, acting in ways he feels are best suited to, not only his survival, but his success. It’s a kind of political Darwinism in which a particular species adopts the least favorable traits of its least socially adaptable members and the best of the rest try to prevent the extinction of the entire species.

Of course, we are talking here of the Republican Party. More specifically, the 21st century version of the Republican Party, of which Mitt Romney, by virtue of his name and great wealth (his birth environment), is a leading member, at the moment.

The perfect example of the decline of the party as a viable organism was the field of candidates put forth in the presidential primaries this year. It was far from the best the party had to offer, but it did include the most outlandishly conservative, if not radical, members the party has to offer. Also, some of the dumbest.

Newt Gingrich was easily the smartest. Also the most dangerous. Michelle Bachmann lives on another planet, Rick Perry can’t count to three, Rick Santorum reminded the country why they hated him in Pennsylvania, Ron Paul isn’t really a Republican, and another guy sold pizza. This is who Republicans apparently wanted to hear. How could Romney lose?

He outspent and outlasted the rightwing brigade and changed his opinion every day. He had to to get the votes of enough Republicans to be their presidential nominee. He still changes his opinion regularly, even though he is the nominee. Habits are hard to break.

But look back four years. John McCain, a respected naval hero and well-known as a contrary Republican senator, who voted his conscience, not the party line, on things like immigration and regulation, decided he had to sell his soul and agree with all the ultra-conservative views of the people running his party if he hoped to be their presidential nominee. His tongue-tying, butt-kissing performance (especially in South Carolina) was an embarrassment. Then he picked Sarah Palin, the personification of his party’s embrace of devolution, to be his running mate. Like Mitt picking Paul Ryan, Mr. No Abortion Under Any Circumstances, McCain felt he had no choice. The troglodytes were in power. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

Of course, this decline of the Republican Party as a vital organism traces back to 2000 when it chose the affable but clueless George W. Bush to run for president and the Supreme Court stole the election for him. With Karl Rove pulling strings behind the curtain and Dick Cheney at his side, Bush and his Republican Congress created a massive deficit by slashing everyone’s taxes, starting two wars (off budget), creating a Medicare prescription program without paying for it, and bailing out failing banks.

Then the Republicans — all of them — blamed Barack Obama for everything and, since they have no shame, asked President Bush not to come to their convention this year, lest people remember what he did.

There used to be a breed of proud Republicans who were able to work through their differences with Democrats for the good of the country. New York offered Nelson Rockefeller, Jacob Javits, Kenneth Keating, Ben Gilman, George Pataki. There were similar examples across the country. Today, they are virtually extinct. RINOs they’re called by the troglodytes. Republicans in name only, because they believe in science and think government is obligated to help its least fortunate, as well as its wealthiest.

Mitt’s dad, George, who once tried to be president, would fall into that category. He would have a problem with Republicans in the Senate voting unanimously to defeat a jobs bill, that was mostly a Republican creation, just so Obama, the Democrat, couldn’t get credit for creating jobs while he’s running for reelection.

Pick an issue. To avoid the harsh backlash of the ultra-right, a Republican politician today often must discard decency and common sense. You’ve witnessed the Romney campaign. Yes, he made his choice. He could have run as a man of principle. Instead, he chose to run as a man of blind ambition. People without medical insurance can use the emergency room.

There are undoubtedly a variety of ways that a species begins its descent to extinction. For the Republican Party, it appears to have started with the loss of its soul.

Romney on Health Care

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

By Jeffrey Page

Listen to the words of a man whose income two years ago was $22 million and then tell me he has a scintilla of understanding of what it’s like to be an American of ordinary means.

“Well, we do provide care for people who don’t have [health] insurance,” Mitt Romney said on his now-famous interview on “60 Minutes.” “If someone has a heart attack, they don’t sit in their apartment and die. We pick them up in an ambulance, and take them to the hospital, and give them care. And different states have different ways of providing for that care.”

In fact, Mitt Romney doesn’t know what people do when they have heart attacks. He doesn’t know if people sit in their apartments and die. He doesn’t know if they call 911 and ask for an ambulance. He doesn’t know which side of town gets the better service.

Romney’s misplaced optimism comes at a time when the nation is losing emergency medical services. The Journal of the American Medical Association reported a study last year showing that “From 1990 to 2009, the number of hospital [emergency departments] in nonrural areas declined by 27 percent, with for-profit ownership, location in a competitive market, safety-net status, and low profit margin associated with increased risk of [emergency department] closure.

I don’t think Mitt Romney could possibly be so rosy about treatment in a hospital’s emergency room if in the last two years he had read a report by the American College of Emergency Physicians, which found the average time patients spend in the emergency room is four hours, seven minutes.

Romney doesn’t know this because he doesn’t know anyone who depends on the emergency room for treatment of a broken arm, a raging fever, a dose of Lyme disease.

Many years ago, I was living in Flushing and awoke one Sunday morning at about 2 o’clock with an excruciating toothache. Take it easy; I’m not about to sit here and suggest that my toothache compares in any way with someone’s having a heart attack. And I’m not going to tell you that a toothache is anything like the pain of labor or the pain of a kidney stone.

But it hurt like hell. My wife drove me to Queens General Hospital, about a 15-minute ride from our apartment. An admitting clerk took my name, asked me what the problem was, and told me to take a seat. I remember asking if I could just have a pill for pain while I waited and of course this was out of the question. So I waited.

People staggered in to that emergency room with all kinds illness and injury. So I waited. I absolutely understood and accepted the fact that my emergency paled when compared with some of the others playing out before me. Still I was annoyed that the process had to take this long.

My annoyance subsided about an hour after I registered with the arrival in the ER of a man whose shirt was drenched with blood. The staff went into high gear and they got this man off his stretcher, onto a gurney and whisked him away, presumably to emergency surgery.

I turned to my wife. At this rate, the ER triage might get me some pain medication in a year or so. It was time to go home.

Now, Mitt Romney is saying not to worry if you don’t have health coverage. Just direct your feet to the nearest emergency room.

But back in 2010, when that four-hour ER stay was reported, Dr. Angela Gardner, the then-president of the American College of Emergency Physicians declared: “Hospital emergency departments continue to close, which reduces access to medical care still further. More patients plus fewer ERs equals longer wait times.

“Near one quarter of hospitals report periods of ambulance diversion because they are over capacity,” Gardner continued. “A longer ride to the hospital is not good medicine.”

Responding to Romney, Dr. Debra Houry, the vice chairwoman for research and associate professor at Emory University School of Medicine, told the Huffington Post: I know that not only is it ridiculous to imply that emergency rooms are a replacement for insured health care, but that our already overburdened system can’t even go on much longer as it is – underfunded, overcrowded and little understood.

Remember how Bill Clinton was ridiculed when he said he feels our pain? This week, in Westerville, Ohio, Romney informed an audience: “I’ve been across this country. My heart aches for the people I’ve seen.”

Does anyone believe him?


USS Mittanic Lists in Turbulent Seas

Monday, September 24th, 2012

Illustration by Lance Theroux

By Emily Theroux

The decks are beginning to creak aboard the ship of fools that the GOP insists cannot be sunk. The legendary iceberg looms in the dark water dead ahead, but the captain and crew have had too much $100-bill bubbly to see disaster coming.

When the USS Mittanic put out to sea after the Republican primaries yielded a lackluster contender no one was really thrilled by, the shipbuilders who were funding the crusade to purge Barack Obama from office thought they had come up with a sure bet. Willard “Mitt” Romney wanted the presidency so badly that his fat-cat donors figured, once they had ponied up to install him in the Oval Office, he’d be happy to “dance with the ones that brung him.”

America faced a stalled economy, with Barack Obama at the helm. Everyone with a conservative blog and half a brain or less believed “Nobama” was a foreign, socialist, Muslim, job-killing tyrant who was universally hated by his “subjects.” How could they be so sure? Because Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Erick Erickson, and Rush Limbaugh told them so, and that handful of towering intellects had yet to be conclusively proven wrong.

Romney, the former “Taxachusetts” R.I.N.O., had instantly reversed every principle or ideal that he had ever claimed he held, declaring in the most withering tone he could muster that he had been “a severely conservative Republican governor.” He’d be putty in the hands of the Brothers Koch and Karl Rove, who were running the show. What could possibly go wrong?

As it turned out, just about everything.

In a recent interview, David Koch discussed wealthy donors “investing” in political candidates with the expectation of receiving some kind of return, now that the Citizens United case has made such a breach in the democratic process possible.

It had never occurred to the campaign’s high rollers that their enormous cash stash might not be enough to close the deal and actually buy the American presidency outright. (That was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, as are a lot of the things I write — which I feel I need to declare, since this campaign’s have become so surreal that readers are starting to take parody and satire as accounts of actual events.*)

GOP masterminds had all the bases covered, including getting so many Republican state legislators elected in 2010 that voter ID bills have already been passed in 33 states. Their goal was to disenfranchise black, Latino, poor, and college-age voters, in case Mitt began to straggle behind the president in the polls.

They had even had the foresight to establish a movement called True the Vote, a conservative “voter vigilante” organization whose website is packed with right-wing lies. The group plans to sic one million volunteers on polling places in poor and minority neighborhoods all over the country. Their goal, in plain English: bullying Democratic voters by singling them out, challenging their identification even if the state has no law requiring photo IDs, telling voters they’re in the wrong place, or they don’t have the proper paperwork, or the election happened yesterday whatever intimidates people enough to make them leave without making it into the voting booth.

Do what you have to do to get where you need to go; that’s Citizen Rove’s motto. Leave what your parents taught you at the door when you agree to work for totally unscrupulous people. It doesn’t matter how you play the game. Winning is everything. Failure is not an option.

If Romney can’t get there by following the rules, he’s not above winning ugly.


‘Republicans don’t fall in love; they fall in line’

Yet it still wasn’t clear that their plan would work. The GOP had put up the best candidate in the bunch, and by mid-September, the public disliked Mitt Romney so much that he was clearly losing.

Ever since the Mother Jones website linked to Mitt’s Big Bloopers Reel a week and a half ago, and all of that rot that proverbially starts at the fish’s head began to ooze out, a really big stink ensued on the far right. The religious fundies were hopping mad, praying that God would smite the listing vessel with something godawful, maybe a North Atlantic typhoon. That would fix those Beltway Republicans for the mortal sin of dredging up Romney again from the dustbin of history, brushing him off, and dressing him in mom jeans and a blue checkered shirt that he didn’t take off for the next four months.

But that’s the way it’s done in the Greed and Opulence Party, whose entitled members feel they can afford to be magnanimous. For the current campaign’s “winner,” they almost always choose the previous campaign’s loser. For some reason, the GOP put stodgy old Bob Dole up against ever-popular incumbent Bill Clinton in 1996, and sure enough, as Ann Coulter warned at the outset of the current cycle, “He lost.” They ran John McCain in 2008, eight years after he had lost the nomination to George W. Bush (who, even though his father had been president before him, happened to be the first “D.C. neophyte” that the GOP had nominated since Ronald Reagan recaptured the White House  from Jimmy Carter in 1980).

Mitt Romney embarked on his general election voyage in 2012 as the also-ran of 2008. This blueprint for failure has caused disastrous results for Republicans, yet for some reason they refuse to abandon it. The party keeps going with the “safe” moderate and then expecting him to hang a sharp right and morph into a firebrand wingnut ideologue. As hard as he tries, Mitt-bot’s demeanor and delivery are so mechanical and repellent that nobody’s buying it.

Now, the Romney/Ryan campaign is imploding before the presidential debates have even begun. The rats are deserting the ship left and right. Normally blustery N.J. Gov. Chris Christie’s allegiance to the current GOP nominee sounding iffy; he crooned Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” at the convention, and the other day he admitted to a reporter, “We had a bad week. If the election were going to be held tomorrow, that would be a problem.” Christie added that the campaign still had 42 days to catch up, but he didn’t sound that convincing.

The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan, who once worked for Saint Ronnie,  clambered into one of the first lifeboats, pronouncing Romney “incompetent” one day and then bumping her criticism up several notches the next day to “a rolling calamity.” Her emergence from the elephant herd handed the press a colorful metaphor for kicking off MittWit’s upcoming bus tour.

  • Tim Pawlenty resigned last week, trading in his leading role in the sinking of the USS Mittanic for a cushy sinecure as a banking lobbyist.
  • Obama is currently 8 points ahead in Ohio, the state that no Republican who won the national election has ever lost.
  • Remember those folks at NASCAR that Mitt trashed, cruelly mocking their cheap plastic ponchos? A new Zogby poll showed that 49 percent of NASCAR fans now favor Obama, while only 42 percent would vote for Romney.

“The Romney campaign has the stink of death right now,” warned Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis, who seemed to be keeping a safe distance from the sinking clown show.


Politico satire taken seriously by pundits because this campaign is so crazy, it almost could be true

Roger Simon of Politico, inspired by the bedlam the Romney campaign has become mired in, turned the tragicomic Plight of the Right into a wickedly funny satirical riff on a quote that appeared in The New York Times. The speaker, GOP operative Craig Robinson of Iowa, had described the stinking rift that has sprouted like a dank mushroom in the ill-fated Romney/Ryan union. Here’s an excerpt:

“Paul Ryan has gone rogue. He is unleashed, unchained, off the hook.

“‘I hate to say this, but if Ryan wants to run for national office again, he’ll probably have to wash the stench of Romney off of him,’ Craig Robinson, a former political director of the Republican Party of Iowa, told The New York Times on Sunday.

“Coming from a resident of Iowa, a state where people are polite even to soybeans, this was a powerful condemnation of the Republican nominee.

“Though Ryan had already decided to distance himself from the floundering Romney campaign, he now feels totally uninhibited. Reportedly, he has been marching around his campaign bus, saying things like, ‘If Stench calls, take a message’ and ‘Tell Stench I’m having finger sandwiches with Peggy Noonan and will text him later.'”

I came across Simon’s piece late last night, after somebody posted it on Twitter. I clicked on the link, began to read it, and couldn’t stop laughing at the hilarious picture Simon had evoked in his Ryan parody. My first thought was that it had to be satire because it couldn’t possibly be true. Unfortunately, not everybody realized it was a joke.

  • Paul Krugman of The New York Times, who apparently fell for Simon’s account of PowerPoint’s origin as “a way to euthanize cattle,” blogged about Politico’s fantastic Ryan “scoop,” calling the V.P. hopeful’s alleged tantrum “just bad behavior.” Upon learning that he had been unintentionally “scammed” by a political column that Politico didn’t label “satire,” Krugman revisited his own column and used a heavy hand with the strike-through key. One reader retorted in the comments section that Krugman was “just dumb as bricks” for falling for Simon’s spoof; another branded Krugman “a sore loser.”
  •  Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC absolutely couldn’t resist the opportunity for a lengthy on-air snark-fest at Ryan and Romney’s expense.
  • Tommy Christopher of Mediaite who did, to his credit, express some trepidation about using unattributed Ryan “quotes” apparently succumbed to how newsworthy they would be, if true. “For what it’s worth, I believe the quotes are real,” wrote Christopher, who later posted an indignant update.
  • Comedy Central‘s Dennis DiClaudio called “the Stench” one of those “affectionate nicknames” that politicians (“namely,” Dubya) bestow on each other, like calling Rove “Turdblossom,” or Vladimir Putin “Pootie-Poot.” (DiClaudio attempted to save face by printing a Photoshopped picture of Paul Ryan and Peggy Noonan having finger sandwiches.)

BuzzFeed reported that conservative blogger Jammie Wearing Fools, who apparently wasn’t punked by Simon’s spoof, offered the embarrassed pundits a way out: “Satire should actually be funny,” Jammie opined.

Bloggers, of course, weren’t the only night owls online in the wee hours. The Twittersphere pounced on the story, and within three hours, the hashtag #TheStench was trending at No. 3 in the U.S.

“Over at Politico, where the story originated,” I posted on my blog-in-progress, “the attribution may be a little murkier, but ‘the dirt’ is so funny that Tweeters (who aren’t constitutionally capable of sitting on their hands when a good joke is idling) had no other choice than to just take #TheStench and run with it.

Mail from AARP Misses the Mark

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

By Michael Kaufman

My mailboxes, traditional and electronic,  have been filled to the brim lately with communications from the AARP. I keep hoping they will contain information about how the organization is fighting tooth and nail to preserve Social Security and Medicare as we know it, for ourselves, our children and grandchildren. I look for information that exposes the lies suggesting these great social programs are on the brink of insolvency and must be “privatized” and/or replaced by “voucher” plans that will provide reduced, inadequate coverage. Of course, folks will have the “option” of purchasing additional coverage in the “free marketplace” (as Mitt likes to call it) but those who can’t afford it will be left to fend for themselves.

People will die if this happens but when Alan Grayson tried to point this out when he was in Congress the people who made up the story that “death panels” were included in the Affordable Care Act attacked him for being an extremist.  Now they are talking about moving up the “retirement age” to 70 when there is little or no opportunity for seniors to obtain good jobs as it is now. So what does the AARP have to say about all this?

Well, there was the recent issue of the magazine with pictures of Mitt and Anne Romney on the cover and a folksy interview inside. There was the email from AARP Member Offers suggesting that I “race home with $100 cash back bonus from the AARP Visa card from Chase.” Another email announced, “Michael, You Could Win a $5,000 Dream Spa Vacation for Two!” Another blared, “Michael, Last Chance! Win $50,000 for Your Retirement.”

The main headline in the August 17 edition of the AARP Webletter said, “Slideshow: Marilyn Monroe’s Life in Photos.” I saw enough photos of poor Marilyn when she was alive, thanks. She would be about 86 now. I didn’t look at the slideshow but the headline made me want to see “The Misfits” again. 

A Jo Ann Jenkins from the AARP Foundation sent an email urging, “Michael, Get our 2013 calendar before it’s gone!” She said I could “reserve” my copy by making a tax-deductible donation to the AARP Foundation. And every other day (or so it seems) an envelope arrives bearing the AARP logo and containing offers for all kinds of insurance policies. All are from big-name insurance companies that pay the AARP royalties for its endorsement and use of the AARP logo.

Lately I’ve also been getting envelopes and emails reminding me to renew my membership in the AARP, something I have routinely done for the past 10 years, but which I am now reconsidering. I wouldn’t mind all the fluff they send if it was accompanied by at least some sense of urgency regarding the current state of affairs.

We are weeks away from a national presidential election that will be decided between candidates from two major political parties. Neither is any bargain when it comes to representing the interests of ordinary people versus corporate donors and lobbyists. But one has declared war on all social programs affecting seniors (along with the war on women’s health rights, public employees, Head Start, immigrants, trade unions, the environment and the voting rights of African Americans….to name a few). Yet the AARP refuses to make an endorsement.

Last week I got a letter from Michael Olender, associate director of the AARP in New York State, announcing an AARP-sponsored forum on Medicare fraud to be held Thursday, September 27, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., at the First Presbyterian Church of Monroe, 142 Stage Road. Experts from AARP and various agencies “on the frontlines of fighting Medicare fraud” will explain “the basics about Medicare fraud including how it is committed, how to spot it, and what to do if you think you recognize it.” Refreshments will be served. Admission is free but reservations are required by calling 877-926-8300.

I am thinking about attending if only to remind them that if Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and Nan Hayworth have their way, there will be no Medicare fraud to fight against….because there will be no Medicare.

Michael can be reached at


Carrie’s Painting of the Week

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

On Marlin Road

By Carrie Jacobson

A musing this morning as I look at this painting:

Where is greatness? What is the difference between mediocre and superb? Between success and getting by?

Is it a touch of salt, a dash of color, a stroke of genius – or is it just luck?

I’ve read that greatness always comes from discipline, and I am starting to believe it. Greatness is waiting there for all of us, at the intersection of chance and hard work. It will come to us, maybe in flashes, maybe in spans, but it will come – when the muscle we’ve been training does what it needs to do.

Greatness will come when the magic of inspiration meets the boundaries of skill, and each enriches the other.

Why is this painting so clearly better than that one? Both are done by the same hand, with the same colors, even sometimes on the same day… and yet, one soars and the other simply looks pretty.

It is one blur of green, twisting into the sky, one bit of color there by chance or by design – or there because, through hard work and constant striving, my hand and my eye knew it had to be there – even if my brain didn’t.

There is magic, yes. The muses sing, yes. But more and more, I believe, disciplined work is at the core of every success.

Mitt Romney: America’s Pain

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

By Jeffrey Page

The most startling aspect of the Romney implosion is the degree of contempt he reserves for half the population of the country he would govern.

In essence, he dismissed 47 percent of Americans as a bunch of moochers standing around on Saturday night with nothing to do but demand a hot time in the old town, courtesy of the United States treasury. In a line that will live as long as Clinton’s search for what the definition “is” is, Romney told a bunch of fat cats at a $50,000 a plate dinner last spring that people of the 47 percent “believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, [and] believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it…. ”

Let’s see. That 47 percent would include older people, poorer people, sick people, wounded veterans, people who’d like better schools for their kids, hungry people, people who sleep in cardboard boxes in winter, farmers, federal employees who could use a raise. The list of carefree people having a happy time seeking government handouts goes on.

If that weren’t enough to ruin a billionaire’s day, this 47 percent paid no federal income tax last year, Romney says. Which, of course, is at worst a deliberate distortion of the truth, or at best sheer ignorance. The New York Times quoted from a report of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center indeed showing that 46.4 percent paid no federal income tax last year, but noted that most of those people were elderly or low income. However, most of those households paid payroll taxes, which fund Medicare and Social Security.

The inescapable irony in Romney’s complaint about poor people and taxes is his continual ducking of the question of how much income tax he himself paid – if he paid any at all – in the years leading up to 2011, when he had an income of $22 million, or $6,000 a day.

Regarding Romney’s upset with people needing help, we Americans are not so cold that we’ll ignore a man going hungry or a woman seeking emergency care for a sick child. This is what Romney calls entitlements. Is a man entitled to a meal? Of course he is. Is someone entitled to get a child seen by a doctor? By their very membership in the U.S. branch of the human race, they are entitled to such help. Do you agree?

And, to again use that word that Romney and his friends so despise, two people raising a child or two on $25,000 a year indeed are entitled to food and housing assistance precisely because this is America where we can and will help those who are struggling.

This is America where we try to get people off the streets when the temperature drops in winter. This is America where sick people get treated.

It’s America, where Romney the candidate said of the 47 percent, “My job is not to worry about those people,” leading any reasonable person to understand that Romney the President would say precisely the same thing.

After the tape of Romney telling his pals about the 47 percent, he found his face covered with a half dozen eggs and called a 10 p.m. news conference this week – he rarely speaks directly with reporters – to inform any and all that he wants it both ways.

–1. He stands by his dismissal of half the country.

–2. But his comments were “not elegantly stated.”

–3. Although he had been speaking off the cuff.

–4. In any case, he wishes “to help all Americans – all Americans – have a bright, prosperous future.”

–5. That’s all Americans in case you missed it.

Question: Does any member of the 47 percent believe him?

Question: Does any member of the 53 percent believe him?

Romney fails to understand the Declaration of Independence’s noting that “all men” – not just the ones whose daddies ran a big car company – are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And he doesn’t get it, that “life” is not merely the opposite of death but an ongoing qualitative term. No one enlisted in the Continental Army to fight for life the way it used to be.

Romney further fails to understand that in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, and promote the general welfare, as the Constitution claims as its raison d’etre, a nation and its leaders must be ready to stand with the poorest as well as the richest.

America gets it. Would-be President Romney does not and as a result, ought to do the country a favor and step aside. He’s not qualified for the office.

Mittastrophe! Secret Videotape Reveals the Republicans’ Real Class Warfare

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

Still photo and videotape* courtesy Mother Jones

*Videotape, Part 1 ………………………………………………. *Videotape, Part 2

By Emily Theroux

“Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me. … Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

— Matthew 25: 41-45, The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats

* * *

Malingerers, moochers, freeloaders … the ugly, racially charged words roll in with the wholesome manure-reek of Mitt Romney’s imagined heartland, where the bounteous harvest is in, “the 53 percent” pay their taxes, and true patriots don’t take nothin’ from nobody. Unemployed bottom-feeders who don’t want to work for a living — that’s how the “severe conservatives” Mitt emulates have characterized the “least of these,” the poor, sick, hungry, and downtrodden whom Christ taught his followers to care for.

Almost half the American populace “are dependent upon government,” Mitt tells an audience of fellow zillionaires. The objects of his derision are folks who, he asserts, “believe they are victims” or “believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing” and other perks of deliberate parasitism on the taxpayers’ dime.

If you voted for Barack Obama for president in the 2008 election, that’s how “Willard of Oz”, as Chris Matthews crowned him, perceives you.

During the months after May 17, when a videotape was surreptitiously recorded of Romney addressing a $150-a-plate fundraiser in Boca Raton, Fla., bits and pieces of it surfaced on YouTube without attracting much attention. Then James Carter IV, former President Jimmy Carter’s activist grandson, gave a copy to investigative reporter David Corn, who posted a salient snippet of it on the website of Mother Jones magazine.

Viewers were astonished to hear the GOP candidate speaking in a straightforward but glib and cynical tone of voice — a total departure from the practiced, artificial wheedle he employs on camera or the sanctimonious platitudes he dishes out at campaign rallies. You may notice that he sounds slicker (and, if possible, even more calculating and ruthless) than you previously imagined. After listening for a moment, you realize that this new, no-nonsense tone is something you’ve never heard before: the unaccustomed sound of Mitt Romney telling the truth — to people he doesn’t look down on, about people he does.

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what, all right? There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That it’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. … And they will vote for this president no matter what. These are people who pay no income tax. My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Mitt thinks his job, I repeat, is “not to worry about those people.” (Shades of Lady Ann, Rafalca the Austrian warmblood, and #YouPeople!) Willard Romney had written off 47 percent of the public — a stupendous number of people to hold in utter contempt — with the sole purpose of pandering to a handful of rich donors. The gobsmacking “tale of the tape” went viral within hours, ricocheting around cyberspace. Two days out, the one-minute video had been viewed 7.1 million times, the second-highest number of YouTube hits ever on a political story. (Katie Couric’s 2008 interview of Sarah Palin topped the list, with 24.4 million views.)

While far-right radio talkers didn’t wait for a cue to defend the standard-bearer they had once conditionally accepted, reviews of Romney’s “performance” by mainstream pols and pundits were withering:

  • “A sneering plutocrat” (Jonathan Chait, New York magazine)
  • “Thurston Howell Romney” (David Brooks, The New York Times)
  •  “Arrogant and stupid remarks” (Bill Kristol, The Weekly Standard)
  • “Not big, not brave, not thoughtfully tackling the issues … An intervention is in order” (Peggy Noonan, WSJ)
  • “An increasing problem with him being able to connect with voters” (Mark McKinnon, GOP strategist)
  • “The worst presidential-candidate gaffe since Gerald Ford announced in 1976 that ‘there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe'” (David Frum, former George W. Bush speechwriter)
  • “You don’t win an election by disparaging just about half of the electorate” (Charles Krauthammer, The Washington Post, on Fox News)
  • “Inaccurate, insensitive, almost callous in (his) disregard for the American people ” (Ed Rendell, former governor of Pennsylvania)
  • “You trashed the very people who are your margin of success” (Chris Matthews, MSNBC)
  • “A magnetic moral compass that has no true north” (Alex Wagner, MSNBC)
  • “That’s not the way I view the world. … (B)eing on public assistance is not a spot that anyone wants to be in.” (Scott Brown, GOP senator from Massachusetts, who “grew up in tough circumstances”)
  • “(T)he vast majority of those who rely on government are not in that situation because they want to be” (Linda McMahon, Connecticut Senate candidate)
  • “We’re losing” (Jim Dyke, veteran GOP strategist)
  • “This is what it looks like for the wheels to come off” (Rachel Maddow, MSNBC pundit, Rhodes scholar, national treasure)
  • “Mitt Romney is not the face of Mormonism” (Dr. Gregory Prince,** Mormon historian and author)
  • “I’d say Romney’s performance will help to determine most of the close Senate contests” (Larry Sabato, University of Virginia political scientist)
  • “My feeling is maybe you haven’t gotten around a lot” (Barack Obama, President, USA)

Lord Willard writes off people ‘who don’t pay taxes.’ Does he?
Un-freaking-believable! Lord Willard Romney’s blowing off half the nation because of the GOP’s misleading “new orthodoxy,” popular during the Republican primary season, which suggests that 47 percent of Americans “don’t pay any taxes” or don’t pay their “fair share” of taxes. The way Romney explained it to what Eddie Murphy once termed a “roomful of rich dummies,” I don’t think even Mitt knew what he meant.

The now-infamous 47 percent statistic (which Mitt mangled into his own inaccurate Obama vote percentage) actually refers to a taxpayer analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, showing that 46.4 percent of American households did not pay federal income tax in 2011. “The households in question consist primarily of the retired, the poor and low-income families with children,” two New York Times reporters explained. “Moreover, they do pay taxes, if not income taxes: Just 8 percent of households do not pay payroll or federal income taxes, discounting the elderly.”

“Many people don’t pay income taxes because they’re so poor they don’t make enough money to be able to pay income taxes,” former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, told CNN’s Soledad O’Brien. “But they pay payroll taxes, they pay state taxes, they pay excise taxes. This man apparently feels that if you’re not a part of his social class or you don’t have his economic status, that somehow you’re a parasite.”

Another reason that a larger percentage of people pay less in taxes is that Republican fiscal policies have provided tax incentives to low-income workers — including the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the child tax credit, which enable low earners to offset a portion of their income tax obligation with exemptions similar to the mortgage interest and property tax deductions that benefit middle-class workers.

Erick Erickson, above, of the right-wing blog RedState, angered by the Occupy Wall Street movement, started the "We Are the 53%" Tumblr to provide a site where conservatives could express their views.

Since Obama’s inauguration, however, GOP legislators have become so resentful that they’ve turned against their own policies, including the EITC, originally passed by Gerald Ford and later expanded by Ronald Reagan. This deduction was intended to help “lift people out of poverty” and provide them with an incentive to keep working at tough jobs that paid very little. But when President Obama’s stimulus bill and other tax legislation expanded EITC benefits and extended relief from the “marriage penalty,” Tea Partiers viewed it as providing lazy “moochers” with unfair advantages. (The right-wing “We Are the 53 Percent” movement was founded to express such sentiments, after the Occupy Wall Street movement caught on nationwide.

A final question, after slogging through the videotape: Isn’t Mitt himself one of the 47 percent he dismisses, by his own definition? He doesn’t have a job. (Translation from Republican: He’s a lazy POS.) He pays neither income tax nor payroll tax. (In other words, he’s the paragon of “victimology.”) And because he refuses to release his tax returns, 100 percent of Americans remain in the dark about whether he really pays the measly 15 percent capital gains tax on his investment “income” (already the biggest scam in the annals of tax avoidance — and yet the wannabe Veepster, Paul Ryan, wants to eliminate this loophole altogether!).

As it turns out, CNN Money published a story about this very subject after the “Mittastrophe” tape went viral. “The Tax Policy Center estimates that 4,000 households with incomes over $1 million ended up with zero federal income tax liability in 2011,” Jeanne Sahadi wrote. “Another 14,000 made between $500,000 and $1 million.” Mitt Romney admitted to his Boca Raton audience that he is one of them.

Release the tax returns!!!

Colbert: ‘He dropped the R bomb: redistribution. Which is just fancy talk for a black guy’s coming for your stuff’
The Romney campaign has apparently done some tape-sleuthing of its own, digging up another golden oldie: a grainy recording of then-Illinois State Senator Obama, speaking at a 1998 Loyola University conference on Chicago city government. Obama had the misfortune to have uttered the word “redistribution,” albeit in a completely different context from that of the current GOP “Romneyhood” feeding frenzy over the designs of the poor on rich people’s’ “rightful” lucre.

It didn’t matter that Obama was really talking about “fostering marketplace competition” and business innovation, not rampaging serfs pillaging the fortunes of their feudal lords. Mitt’s team pounced anyway, diced and spliced the tape, and excerpted the sliver they wanted from the part might have resonated with the great unwashed 47 percent. Bingo! You stay classy, Romney-O!)

Will the scum-suckers, leeches, and other assorted parasites that Lord Romney so viciously disdained, when surrounded by his “peerage,” buy the new, improved “Moderate Mitt” who came out last night as the candidate of “the 100 percent”? No, if you ask me. Will the wingnut blowhards breaketh wind? Too early to call.

I say let’s Occupy Romneyworld and throw him to the crocodiles circling the sorry carcass of his candidacy in the moat below the castle walls.

* * *

* Click the following links to view Part 1  and Part 2 of the videotape, which was recorded surreptitiously at a May 17 Romney campaign fundraiser in Boca Raton, Fla. Videotape courtesy Mother Jones.

** “When the news of Mitt Romney’s Florida video broke on Monday evening, I was incensed — but not for its political implications,” wrote Dr. Gregory Prince, Mormon historian and author who knew the candidate personally. “His arrogant and out-of-hand dismissal of half the population of this country struck me at a visceral level, for it sullied the religion that he and I share — the religion for which five generations of my ancestry have lived and sacrificed, the religion whose official mantra is ‘to take care of the poor and needy throughout the world.’ My first impulse was to rent an airplane towing a banner: ‘Mitt Romney is Not the Face of Mormonism!'”

In a future column, I’ll discuss the people who actually do receive government checks – and ask why in hell Mitt Romney thinks he has any right to look down his nose at them.