Archive for November, 2012

Whither the Grand Old Prevaricators?

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

By Emily Theroux

Everyone’s carping about it on cable, retweeting it on Twitter, and regurgitating it on talk radio’s endless propaganda loop.

Is the Republican Party really undergoing a post-election “makeover”?

Will Southern-state “secession” incite spiritual intercession? Is “Grover over”? Will Mitch pull the switch on the filibuster? Can Cantor cease his banter over tax cuts? Will Jan call a ban on Arizona’s “papers capers”?

And will John McCain ever shut his cantankerous piehole about Susan Rice — and admit that the Vietnam War has been over for almost 38 years, the 2008 presidential campaign’s in the history books, and it’s way past time for him to retire from politics and join his fellow “ancient mariners” at the local VFW post, where he can park himself in a porch rocker and swaddle his voluminous bitterness, antipathy, and rancor in well-deserved oblivion.

Immediately after the election, Republicans seemed genuinely chastened by the expressed will of the people — at least the ones who would own up to it. But their policy prescriptions weren’t a lot more generous than I would have expected, incorrigible cynic that I am.

“Republicans must start over again,” declared George Will — with “a more likable candidate.” Charles Krauthammer ventured that “a single policy change” should fix what ails the Republican Party: Extending an olive branch to Latinos on immigration policy. “Border fence plus amnesty. Yes, amnesty. Use the word. Shock and awe — full legal normalization (just short of citizenship) in return for full border enforcement.”

Along came Louisiana Gov. Bobby”Jindal, shilling at warp speed. “Kenneth the Page,” who’s got his eye clearly affixed on his 2016 chances, told Politico the GOP “should stop being the stupid party.” Extremists within the ranks had made far too many “offensive, bizarre comments,” said Jindal. “We’ve also had enough of this dumbed-down conservatism,” he added. “We need to stop being simplistic, we need to trust the intelligence of the American people, and we need to stop insulting the intelligence of the voters.”

Then former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour had to go and dump the party poohbahs back into the deep end of the latrine, declaring before the Republican Governors Association that the GOP’s “political organizational activity” needed “a very serious proctology exam.” (You’d think Watergate would have taught these good old boys never to excuse “organizational” flaws by blaming them on the plumbing.)

Even Rush Limbaugh was initially contrite (before lurching immediately afterward into a racist diatribe about “getting stuff,” redistribution of wealth, and what he called the lack of “a work ethic” among Obama voters). “This should have been a slam dunk,” Rush said, the day after Mitt Romney’s loss stunned a party that had convinced itself that Romney would win in a landslide. “But it wasn’t. There are reasons why. We’re gonna have to dig deep to find them, and we’re gonna have to be honest with ourselves when we find the answers to this.”


Rachel isn’t buying the ‘course correction’ crapola, either

If El Rushbo snorkeled back up from the depths of the sewer with answers of any kind, he hasn’t been letting on lately. For that matter, neither have many voices that aren’t quite as far right as he is on the wacko spectrum. And if you think about it, why didn’t Jindal, Barbour, Rupert Murdoch, Sean Hannity, or Erick Erickson experience their “epiphanies” on inclusiveness before Mitt Romney ran for the presidency and lost the brass ring for them?

Rachel Maddow says only the Beltway bobbleheads think the Republican Party has “learned its lesson” and is now genuinely following the pathway to reform.

“You know, it’s funny. If you listen to the Beltway talk about what’s going on in American politics right now, the major narrative … is about the sort of ‘course correction’ happening in the Republican Party, right? The Republican Party has ‘learned its lesson.’

“If only in the interest of self-preservation, Republicans are right
now giving up on these policy stances that cost them so much in the last election, that made their party seem essentially pre-modern — all of this stuff that alienated women and young people, and non-white people and gay people. I mean, if you listen to the Beltway media, the Republican course correction on this problem — post-election, a course correction is totally under way.”

But what are Indiana state legislators focusing on, now that they’ve “taken the proverbial post-election cold shower” that Maddow says a political party usually endures after it gets “shellacked” the way the GOP did on Nov. 6? Only three weeks after a stinging electoral rebuke of its culturally extreme Senate candidate, Richard Mourdock, the Hoosier State GOP resolved that “what they really need to do is doubly, triply, extra ban gay marriage,” she observed.

Never mind that same-sex marriage is already illegal in Indiana. The party has proposed a constitutional ban on gay marriage and civil unions — an amendment that may affect more than 600 existing provisions of the Indiana code, which currently grant numerous connubial rights and conflict-of-interest protections to unmarried, opposite-gender couples.


Will GOP mutineers really ditch Norquist’s sacred pledge?

“Mutiny! Dissension in the ranks! A break in vows to the almighty Norquist!” wrote Jena McGregor earlier this week in The Washington Post.

Four GOP stalwarts — Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Rep. Peter King of New York, Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, and Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee — stepped up over the weekend to declare that they aren’t afraid of Big Bad Grover and his hallowed Taxpayer Protection Pledge, a document he has brandished over the heads of elected Republicans since founding Americans for Tax Reform in 1986. The apostates say they’re willing to consider scuttling the pledge (whose signatories vow never to raise taxes, eliminate tax cuts, or even increase revenues) in order to reach a deal that would reform “entitlements” (at this point, defined as Medicare and Medicaid) and forestall the much-ballyhooed “fiscal cliff.”

Grover, who “dabbles in stand-up comedy,” isn’t laughing now, however, as more and more defectors swell the ranks of tax-policy renegades — even though he felt it necessary to point out that nobody has violated the pledge by actually voting for a tax increase. (Norquist studiously avoided uttering the word yet.) “We’ve got some people discussing impure thoughts on national television,” Norquist sniffed dismissively on CNN.

Will these trash-talking, inveterate obstructionists really deliver on their braggadocio about abandoning “self-deportation,” ditching the permanent 1 percent tax cut, and stooping to compromise with “the Democrat Party”?

I’m afraid I’ll believe that the day Mitch McConnell cashes in his chips and shuffles off to his old Kentucky home, and he doesn’t show signs of capitulating any time soon. Likewise with John Boehner — although I think he actually intends to follow through on his post-election concessions at the moments when he issues them. Things get prickly, though, when he returns to Congress to face those Tea Party dead-enders, who I’m almost certain give him ultimatums instead of the other way around.

This pack of “old, angry white guys” realizes that the GOP can’t win without the support of America’s fastest-growing demographic — but anyone who wants to give the Republicans  a second chance on immigration should beware their duplicity. (Please note that none of them is extending this sudden pro-Latino magnanimity to African-Americans.)

Right-wingers like Krauthammer and Hannity, who view amnesty for undocumented immigrants as both a palatable half-measure and “a Latino-winning electoral silver bullet,” in the words of conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, think they can sweep the 2016 election by “embrac(ing) amnesty and nominat(ing) Marco Rubio.”

Here’s the new, “reformed” GOP program thus far, in a nutshell: “Repeal and replace” the racially divisive talking points — and try to be a little more subtle about  ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class inequality, and religious tolerance. (Don’t be so strident on issues like food stamps, “unwed” mothers, welfare cheats, speaking English, lesbian TV hosts, lapel flags, rap music, and birth certificates.)

Strive whenever possible to sound more engaged, charitable, affirming, and humane. Speak the language of empathy. Persuade Latinos and women how much you truly care about and champion their concerns; pretend that you, like Romney said of Obama, want to lavish them with “gifts.” Make your words as syrupy and ingratiating as you can stomach, and you just might find that Dubya’s old “compassionate conservative” ploy will work for you, too.

If the GOP actually learned anything from the defeat of Willard Romney, it wasn’t how to “listen better” to the hopes and dreams of ordinary people. It was how to tell an ever-more-convincing lie.

The Party of Lincoln, Herman Cain, etc.

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln

By Bob Gaydos

(With a nod to the great Jimmy Cannon.)

It’s none of my business, but …

  • I haven’t seen a movie the likes of “Lincoln” in a long time. A recent 5 p.m. Sunday screening in a crowded theater at The Galleria drew tears and cheers (well, applause), both deserved. It’s a wonderful movie, the kind Hollywood seldom tries to make these days. Yet as I watched Daniel Day-Lewis bring the 16th president to life, with wit, wisdom and a willingness to play dirty for the greater good, I couldn’t prevent the present from worming its way into my thoughts. “Can you imagine,” I thought to myself, “if Mitt Romney had been president during the Civil War? Or George W. Bush? What would have happened to the country? The world?” It got me thinking about … well … fate. They say great events make great presidents, but this country has had a lot of commanders-in-chief who, in my view, might well have seen greatness escape them if faced with the issues confronting Lincoln — a civil war and slavery. Sometimes, I think, it takes the right person coming along at the right time to produce the most beneficial results, in our own lives as well as in history writ large. Of course, we have to recognize that moment, in the same the way the people who voted for Lincoln recognized theirs. Fuel for future blogs.

Meanwhile, it’s none of my business, but …

  • Herman Cain wouldn’t be my choice to lead a third-party movement by disaffected Republicans. The onetime presidential candidate and adulterer said after Obama’s reelection that the GOP no longer represents the interests of conservatives and is unable to change, so a new party is needed. So far, so good, either way you feel about the current GOP. But Cain made his name in business as the man who rescued Godfather’s Pizza by closing 200 pizza stores and eliminating thousands of jobs. A Romneyesque approach to success, wouldn’t you say? Is that what “real” conservatives want?

It’s also none of my business, and maybe no one cares, but …

  • Has anyone figured out why the New York Jets signed Tim Tebow, or how the team’s professional training staff missed his two broken ribs for two weeks? Just asking.
  • Has anyone missed the hockey season? I don’t get how owners and players in a league that has trouble attracting fans can argue over how much money they want to get from games to the point they don’t even play the games so don’t get any money at all. Is it just me, or is that nuts?
  • I also just don’t get the charm of camping out on concrete for two days outside big box stores for the opportunity to spend my money earlier than everyone else.
  • And aren’t people of a certain age who complain about e-mail and texting and Facebook and Twitter and who bemoan the fact that “people don’t talk to each other anymore” at risk of falling into fuddy-duddyism? If they aren’t already there?

It’s probably should be my business, even though I wish it weren’t, but:

  • Don’t Republicans ever get tired of signing pledges to do something or never do something (Remember the abandoned Gingrich-era pledge to serve only two terms?) Are they that unaware that the world we live in changes all the time and governing in an ever-changing world requires flexibility, not blind stubbornness? Yes, of course, I’m talking about the Grover Norquist “I will never vote to raise taxes” pledge that virtually every Republican member of Congress has signed and which is a crucial reason we are being told the nation is heading for a “fiscal cliff.” Large, mandatory spending cuts are due to take effect next year, along with an end to Bush-era tax cuts (a development the GOP typically refers to as a tax increase), unless Congress and President Obama can agree on a spending plan beforehand. If nothing is agreed on, Obama early next year will surely ask for what he has always asked for — a tax increase for the wealthiest Americans. That would be done by giving everyone else a return to Bush-era tax rates, which would of course be described as a tax cut by Democrats. How can Republicans oppose that? To head that scenario off, some Republicans are already talking about flushing their Norquist pledge and looking for revenues (taxes) this year to lessen the need for deep spending cuts. They’re doing this for the “good of the country,” they say, not for political reasons. Also, they lost the election.

Finally, it‘s thankfully no longer my business, but:

  • Does anyone, Republicans included, still think Sarah Palin was a good choice to be commander-in-chief in waiting? And, if not, why should we listen to anything the blustery John McCain says today? Coulda, woulda, shoulda named your own secretary of state, Senator.
  •  What the hell happened to the Republican Party between Lincoln and Romney?

















Arizona Deals with its People

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

By Jeffrey Page

There is talk in Arizona about secession from the United States, but little information about why.

It is a state that gets $1.19 in return for every $1 the 6 million Arizonans shell out to the federal government. This leads to another question: Why would anyone give up a sweet deal like a 19 percent return on investment? Why would a state wish to give up all that money Washington sends for education aid, highway projects, farm programs, and more.

Also, what recent events would cause a state to betray the nation? The failure of the Republican Party to impose a Tea Party agenda on the country? The reelection of President Obama?

In their naïveté, Arizonans clamoring to leave the union believe that this one-sentence demand will do the trick: “We petition the Obama Administration to peacefully grant the State of Arizona to withdraw from the United States of America and create its own new government.”

No. You don’t engineer a breakup of a nation and then ask the president to go easy on you. It doesn’t work that way. Last time some states seceded, 650,000 men and women were killed in the war to sew the nation back together. Still, as of this week, secession petitions have been signed by about 15,000 Arizonans. There are similar campaigns in some other states as well.

Another reason why secession is not easy becomes apparent when you do the math. Arizona’s share of the national debt, based on population, comes to $335 billion. Fairness dictates that they pay their share as they walk out on America.

The secession petitions are just one example of why Arizona’s view of the relationship between government and the governed is at odds with the rest of the country.

As you know, Arizona enacted a law giving the police the power to pull a driver over if a cop has reasonable cause to believe the driver is in the United States illegally. Probable cause includes whether the driver looks a little out of place.

You know exactly what this means and exactly who it refers to, and it is noteworthy that authorities in Phoenix have yet to report how many motorists who look Polish, look Japanese, look French or look Congolese have been stopped and asked for some kind of proof that they’re in the United States legally.

There’s another example of Arizona and the people.

In a move that puts the lie to Arizona’s reputation as a libertarian bastion, the state has made it legal for physicians to lie to their patients without fear of consequence. True libertarians do not stand between women and their doctors.

The statute declares that a patient (read: a woman) can’t take action against her physician (read: her OBGYN) for malpractice if the doctor discovers, for example, that her fetus is deformed but says nothing about it. Sensible people understand that this is a lie of omission. In Arizona, it’s OK.

Three’s a crowd, so why would a state wish to enter the patient-doctor relationship? Because, if the woman is informed that the fetus is badly damaged or deformed, she might choose to undergo a certain legal procedure (read: an abortion) as a matter of personal choice and privacy (see: Roe v. Wade).

If Arizona lawmakers can give a doctor the right to look into a patient’s eye and lie about the condition of her fetus, what’s to prevent physicians from downplaying serious medical conditions of poor, undocumented Mexican men, women and children? Some Latinos would grow sicker and sicker and possibly go back home to be cared for by family. And then Arizona could brand itself the champion of the ever-complaining Anglo population.

Carrie’s Painting of the Week – 11/21/12

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Afternoon Storm in the Keys

By Carrie Jacobson
What is it that drives us to continue, through storms, through rough seas, through struggles with fear and failure and doubts about the future?

For me, some days, it is as simple as the color of the sky at dawn. It is the first yellow leaves of autumn, the quiet of snow falling at night, the smell of dust in the early moments of a summer rainstorm.

It is the feeling of a dog snuggled close by my side, the spicy tang of marigolds, the scent of coffee brewing in a sunny kitchen.

Some days, what gets me through is a song I play again and again, or a quote I stumble over quite by chance, or the words of a friend, spoken in love or in comfort.

It is the thought of home, the memory of my mother, the sense of wonder and glory that I feel every single morning. What gets me through is love and faith and the knowledge that this day, this single dawning day, this day is the day that we have.

Deficit Hawks Skew Fiscal Debate

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

By Michael Kaufman

More than a year has passed since Tea Party members of Congress and fellow Republicans forced the deal that some say has now brought the country to the edge of a fiscal cliff.  That was when House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) smiled like the Cheshire Cat and said, “When you look at this final agreement that we came to with the White House, I got 98 percent of what I wanted. I’m pretty happy.”

Boehner and the Republicans turned a deaf ear to a plea by 300 economists and policy analysts who had warned months earlier that the U.S. economy is at a crucial juncture. While acknowledging that public debt is mounting, they posed a choice of two different paths to address the country’s economic woes: imposing fiscal “austerity” (in the midst of the most serious downturn since the Great Depression), or investing in the economy with public spending over the short term to help grow our way out of the red ink.

“This is about a high road to recovery versus a low road to fiscal balance,” said Robert Kuttner, a senior fellow with Demos, a New York-based think tank dedicated to “a more equitable economy” with opportunity for all. “All of us want reduced deficits at some point. The question is: what is the proper sequencing, and what is the proper analysis of cause and effect?

“You get the recovery first,” he continued, and that requires increased public investment, and then the road to fiscal balance is much less arduous because people are working, businesses are investing and tax revenues go up because you’re in recovery.”

Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, agreed. “We live with falling bridges, collapsing sewers, decrepit schools, aged gas lines and much more,” he noted. “Everyone agrees we have to rebuild an aging and outmoded infrastructure, and there’s no better opportunity to do so than now—interest rates are low, construction workers are idled, and anyone with a whit of business sense would grab this moment to launch a major project to rebuild America.” Borosage might well have added that if business is not up to the task, there is precedent for the government doing so….and with great success at that. It was called the New Deal.

Borosage contrasted his view with Boehner’s goal of cutting billions of dollars in discretionary spending at a time when consumers are already “too maxed out” to create the demand needed to get the economy back on track.  “There can be no clearer statement of the divorce between ideology and basic good business sense.”

Kuttner pointed out that the public discourse around these issues has been skewed by conservative ideologues. “There’s been a huge investment in influencing public opinion on the part of fiscal conservatives who are also long-standing philosophical opponents of social insurance,” he explained.

Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, agrees. The common storyline, he said, is that “we have an out-of-control government and out-of-control government spending.” But, according to Baker, “it’s very easy to show that this has almost no plausible relationship with the deficits we’re facing.” He attributed the deficits to President George W. Bush’s unfunded tax cuts, bloated defense budgets and an economic downturn that has the American economy operating at a level 10 percent beneath its potential capacity. That view, presented in September 2010, was repeatedly echoed by President Obama during his 2012 campaign for re-election.  Why do we even have to be talking about this now?

(Thanks to Joshua Holland, editor and senior writer at AlterNet, for the information presented here. Holland is the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy (and Everything else the Right Doesn’t Want You to KnowAbout Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America.)

Michael can be reached at


ALS: Speaking in Tongues

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Advances in neuroimaging technology may offer hope for ALS patients. (Photo: European Neurological Review, 2010)

It was my mother’s voice that I could no longer remember, even weeks after her death at the age of 67 from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — my mother, who had taught me language.

After New York Yankee first baseman Lou Gehrig bid farewell to his fans on July 4, 1939, he retired from baseball. Two years later, Gehrig died of ALS.

I don’t know why that should have surprised me, because her voice, with its distinctive Carolinian lilt, was the first thing to go. During the fall of 1989, 15 months earlier, she had been diagnosed with the disorder — also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, after the baseball titan who was struck down by it at the age of 36 in 1939 and died two years later.

My mother was one of the unlucky 10 percent of ALS patients whose symptoms first appear in the bulbar muscles of the throat. For some time, she’d had a persistent scratch in her throat, hoarseness, and difficulty swallowing. When she drank liquids, she sometimes partially inhaled them. The doctors called this phenomenon “aspiration.”

To what? she used to wonder in the family’s lighter moments. To her credit and in the face of unremitting misery, my mother managed to retain her wry sense of humor long beyond the point when she had lost forever the ability to speak or drink or swallow.

ALS is a progressive, terminal disease caused by the degeneration of motor neurons, the nerve cells in the central nervous system that control voluntary muscle movement. As the upper and lower motor neurons degenerate, they stop sending messages to the muscles, which begin to weaken. Unable to function, the muscles develop “fasciculations” (twitches) and eventually atrophy.

If they are cursed to live long enough, some ALS patients ultimately lose the ability to initiate and control all voluntary movement, with one pitiless exception: They can still move their eyes. This barbarous affliction often suffocates its victims when their lungs are crushed by the weight of their own wasted muscles.


ALS leaves the mental capacities of its victims cruelly intact

My mother, Jean Murray Morrison, in 1947

Mama’s disease advanced relentlessly after an initial period of hopeful remission. By the early spring of 1990, her arm and leg muscles had begun to weaken and her speech deteriorated over the summer into an unintelligible croak. By late August, Mama was communicating with us by writing shaky, brief notes on little pads she carried in her lap, pocket, or purse when out of the house. She could still walk, but not far without becoming exhausted, so she had to use a wheelchair in public.

It made her furious that, because she couldn’t talk, some people assumed she was mentally disabled and addressed whoever was pushing her chair. My mother’s mind — by a ruthless cosmic joke, in her reckoning — remained keen and observant until the end, locked in the prison of her failing body.

We talked, after a fashion. I called her long-distance and she listened, answering in inflected grunts. I visited her home in western New York as often as I could from 300 miles away, and we laughed, read books, and played cards — a feat she could still manage because my stepfather, Jim, had made her a little wooden stand in which to arrange her hand, since she could no longer hold the cards. We played Uno, a game that my young son, Gabriel, loved, too.

One time when we visited her, she wrote me a note asking me to help her by straightening up the sewing room that Jim had built for her in the previously unfinished basement of their house. My mother had loved sewing and knitting her entire adult life, and now she could no longer do either one.


The day of Mama’s final Thanksgiving, she could no longer eat

The last Thanksgiving I spent with my mother was marred by a particularly cruel circumstance: She could no longer eat. Within 10 months of my mother’s diagnosis, the doctors had to implant her with a stomach tube. While my stepfather, my sisters, my son, and I ate Thanksgiving dinner, Mama sat alone in the living room. By then completely detached from eating and its rituals, she stared listlessly out the sliding glass door at the remnants of her vegetable garden and the withering lawn.

During my last visit, two weeks after Christmas, 1990, she was noticeably worse. Her strength was ebbing, and the formula she consumed through the feeding tube made her chronically nauseated. The quality of life, she wrote to me, made it scarcely worth prolonging, though she had hoped to live to see my sisters finish graduate school, to see my son, then 11, reach his teens.

Would she have wanted her life prolonged on a ventilator, if a crisis should occur and she could no longer speak to protest? No, she could still insist with an emphatic shake of her head. Her premature silence, though harder to listen to than any audible thing in my life, spoke volumes.

I was going through a crisis of my own, slated for surgery that spring. The morning I had to leave her house to drive back home to the Hudson Valley, I helped her put on her socks. “I’m sad, Mama,” I told her — and wrote later in a poem for her memorial service:

I’m at the end of a long tether, a ribbon
of disconsolate days, a ceaseless
slumber. Unable to speak,
she scrawls a note, a loose leaf
from the heartless trunk of grief.

“Wear a bright color,” she wrote on the notepad. It was her panacea for all of life’s insoluble dilemmas.

Two weeks later, on January 25, 1991, my stepfather called to say my mother had died quietly in bed that morning during a gentle snowfall, just after he had come in from shoveling the driveway. She was fully conscious, he said; she had squeezed his hand. There was no final message for me, my brother, or my two sisters, but Jim insisted Mama was smiling.

I still don’t know whether Jim’s implausible version of her passing was merely a merciful invention, related for the benefit of her children. I could never bring myself to ask him.


Silence sometimes can speak louder than words

What has memory taught us,
mother of the stilled tongue
who broke up the harshest lessons
with the curved face of a spoon,
the first syllables of a lullaby
our hearts will surely break in?

Only, I suppose, that silence sometimes can speak louder than words. In the years since my mother’s death, I’ve read with a combination of hope and chagrin the announcements of new studies and possible treatments for ALS. In 2010, researchers from Johns Hopkins and the National Institutes of Health used a new sequencing method to discover a gene that appears to cause the familial form of the disease, which affects 5-10 percent of ALS patients.

“If you look at the spectrum of diseases caused by dysfunctional genes, our knowledge of almost all of them has grown out of the familial form of those diseases,” said Brian J. Traynor, who led the study. “By finding the genes associated with those diseases, researchers can insert the causative genes in animals, creating models that can help them decipher what takes place to cause pathologies and develop ways to stop them,” he explained.

In addition, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine has funded several research projects investigating the causes of ALS and developing stem cell-based therapies for the disease.

Two different nights in late 1995, I watched Nightline programs in which Ted Koppel interviewed Morrie Schwartz, an ALS patient and retired Brandeis sociology professor who gave his last interview on October 13, 1995. “I’m going to find a way to take advantage of silence,” Morrie said in May 1995, “because maybe that’s the way to really hear yourself.”

Swallowing hard, I listen still for my mother’s wordless counsel.

* * *

Note: The preceding essay first appeared in the March, 1996, edition of Inside Health magazine, published monthly at the time by The Times Herald-Record. It accompanied an article written by our medical writer at the time, Beth Mullally (later, Beth Quinn), titled “Battling Lou Gehrig’s Disease: A New Season of Hope.”

Two More Farewells

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

By Jeffrey Page

I really want to stop writing about Mitt Romney but he won’t let me. He’s like a character in “The Night of the Living Dead;” every time you think he’s done, he rises zombielike and presents himself all over again. Some people scream when he does this.

Some of Romney’s recent remarks suggest that it was fortunate he lost the election because he is either exceedingly cruel or exceedingly stupid, not a person most decent people would want making decisions in the Oval Office.

Example: Will you ever forget his informing us that he was dismissing nearly half the population as a bunch of crybabies always wanting something for nothing from the government – health care, food, housing and “you name it.” Then he said, “My job is not to worry about those people.”

That was then and you might have dismissed his bombast as the work of a desperate candidate. But with Romney it never stops, and his placing the blame on the other guy never stops either. Romney still doesn’t understand that one reason he wasn’t elected was that a majority of Americans simply didn’t trust him to represent their interests.

This week, he informed some big-money contributors that he had lost because President Obama offered certain “gifts” to African-Americans, Hispanics, and young people. Gifts? That would include such frivolity as forgiveness of college loan interest as a generation tries to find meaningful work. Only someone like Romney, whose income last year was about $22 million, would dismiss this deal on loan interest in the same breath as free contraceptives. Oh, that was another “gift” from Obama, Romney said, noting “Free contraceptives were very big with young college-age women.”

Still one more “gift” was young people being able to remain on parents’ health insurance to age 26, something else you might now understand when your income is $423,077 a week.

Of course, he never mentioned the “gifts” he offered to some of his supporters such as making permanent the Bush Era tax breaks to people like himself – millionaires and billionaires – and fighting like hell against any new tax. That “gift” is all right; health insurance is not.

Gifts from Obama? How about young people not headed for college, but wishing to follow their parents into the American auto factories of the Middle West? Obama said we had to save the industry in order to save the economy; Romney said the hell with the car makers, let them go. That was $22 million speaking.

Mitt, I can’t write about you anymore, so please don’t say anything else stupid enough to get me started.

* * * * *

All right, the happy news out of Florida this week was that Congressman Allen West, a first-term Republican with a big mouth, had finally accepted the fact that he lost the election after waiting two weeks for a miracle that never came.

West is the member of Congress who delivered the dead-on impersonation of Joe McCarthy.

In 1950, McCarthy said he had a list of 205 State Department employees who were communists. (In a letter to President Truman two days later, McCarthy referred to his list of 57 Reds at Foggy Bottom, and never said what had happened to the missing 148.)

In April of this year, Allen West announced that 80 Democratic members of the House were communists.

Whoa! Then it turned out that West didn’t exactly know they were communists. Instead, he said he “heard” that they were communists. But Brave-Heart West, always alert to a possible communist conspiracy, declined to name any of these enemies of the state or turn their names over to the FBI. Nor did he call for an investigation into how these 80 scoundrels had reached the floor of the House.

And finally, he said the 80 people he had in mind were members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and oh yeah, they aren’t communists after all.

This is the same Allen West who said that President Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi should “get the hell out of the United States of America,” the same Allen West who said, “I will not allow President Obama to take the United States and destroy it,” the same Allen who said the president is a Marxist.

Now all the votes have been counted and Allen West, this national embarrassment, believes that no recount could do him any good, and come January, he’ll be gone.

Carrie’s Painting of the Week – 11/14/2012

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Keys Afternoon

By Carrie Jacobson

This is my first real time in Florida, and I’ve noticed some things.

The Atlantic is a different color here than in New England. Here, it varies tremendously, according to the light, the time of day and the weather, at least for starters. Often, it’s an amazing azure blue, like you see in the ads. In the day and a half I’ve been here, I’ve seen it green, turquoise, celadon, and the amazing and indescribable color you see from glacial runoff.

The water is saltier, too – or so it seemed this afternoon, when I dunked myself in. Yes, it’s November 14. So I had to go in!

It’s hard to remember what time of year it is. Everything is green. Flowers are blooming. If I lived here, I would lose track of everything. But in the stores, Christmas items are out, and in Homestead, the downtown Christmas tree was already decorated.

Far as I can tell, there are no Wal-Marts in the Keys.

Key West is like Newport with palm trees and mopeds. I drove in, drove around and drove out, happy to be away. I didn’t see Hemingway’s house.

I have seen at least five people who clearly just live outdoors.

In Sarasota, cows graze in fields across the six-lane street from Lowe’s and Applebee’s – and there are palm trees in the cow fields.

In the bathrooms, women apparently don’t squat above the seats. I have not encountered one wet seat, hallelujah.

People drive really, really fast here. I was in Sarasota for three days and saw four huge accidents. I’ve been in the Keys for a day and a half, and have seen two crashes that resulted in cars turned over on their roofs.

Here's my painting in the landscape

Drones: The Real Petraeus Controversy

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Former C.I.A. Director David Petraeus

If it took adultery and flirty emails to force people to discuss U.S. military and intelligence policy, I’m fine with that.”

– Micah Zenko, Council on Foreign Relations

By Emily Theroux

As if Republican melodrama over losing the election (come on, people – secession?) and Democratic schadenfreude (well, okay, outright gloating) weren’t bad enough, now we have “Generalized mission creeps” to contend with, and the 2012 election results are only a week old!

The sexual peccadilloes of former four-star combat general and CENTCOM commander David Petraeus would be as insignificant as those of Bill Clinton, if the latter didn’t happen to be our 42nd president and the former, the director of the C.I.A. Whether state secrets were divulged as careless pillow talk concerns me less than the pass the press seems to have given both Petraeus and our just-reelected 44th president, after the latter appointed the former to preside over the dangerous militarization of our national intelligence agency.

Petraeus’ pursuit of “a more militarily overt role” for the C.I.A. developed at a time when drone strikes had begun to make both warfare and national security policy look as arbitrary and disconnected as contract execution. By adding intelligence gathering into the mix, the erstwhile general betrayed more than his marriage vows. Why the powerful cheat “is a sociologically interesting question … but a more important question to the political life of our republic is why powerful men such as Petraeus and his recently reelected boss cheat on their oaths of office to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.”

Obama did so by significantly expanding both drone strikes (into North Africa and Pakistan) and executive power. Not that drone policy would have been much different in a GOP presidency, had Mitt Romney won the election. Obama and Romney agreed, during the final presidential debate, that targeted strikes by UAVs  – unmanned aerial vehicles,” the preferred military euphemism for drones – offer the ideal method for dispatching America’s designated enemies. Drone strikes are “surgical,” both would tell you, “precise,” and  “save American lives” because we don’t have to send our troops into a war zone.

No politician who is actively running for office, however, wants to talk about the “collateral damage” of wiping out any hapless bystanders in the vicinity of a Hellfire missile’s human target when the weapon incinerates him.” The number of estimated deaths from the Obama administration’s drone strikes is more than four times what it was during the Bush administration – somewhere between 1,494 and 2,618,” CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen and Megan Braun wrote last month. “Under Obama, the drone campaign, which during the Bush administration had put emphasis on killing significant members of Al Qaeda, has undergone a quiet and unheralded shift to focus increasingly on killing Taliban foot soldiers,” the article’s co-authors added.

Jane Mayer’s seminal 2009 New Yorker expose of the dual U.S. unmanned drone programs – the official targeting by the military of known members of Al Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the unofficial killing by the C.I.A. of suspected terrorists in countries with which we are not at war – noted the fact that President Barack Obama had dramatically stepped up American drone strikes since taking office earlier that year. Mayer’s piece included the following horrific description of drone-strike carnage:

“People who have seen an air strike live on a monitor described it as both awe-inspiring and horrifying. ‘You could see these little figures scurrying, and the explosion going off, and when the smoke cleared there was just rubble and charred stuff,’ a former C.I.A. officer who was based in Afghanistan after September 11th says of one attack. … Human beings running for cover are such a common sight that they have inspired a slang term: ‘squirters.'”

The “targeted killing” policies that have developed  – since the 9/11 attacks shifted the tactics of warfare and national security in a frightening new century onto morally ambiguous ground – should shake progressives to the core. Yet we’ve scarcely heard a peep, much less a sustained outcry, from anyone but a small but strident chorus of voices on the far left.

Some are idealists for whom matters of conscience trump political expediency; others are sticklers for ideological “purity,” who refused to acknowledge even the narrowest sliver of difference between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, declining on principle to vote for “the lesser of two evils.” The rest are pragmatists who voted for a third-party candidate only if they lived in a solidly blue (or dismally red) state, or voted against Romney to reelect Obama in battleground states – as antiwar luminary of Vietnam-era Pentagon Papers fame, Daniel Ellsberg, advised in an open letter to swing-state progressives.


Liberals who protested Bush policies silent about Obama

Just after Obama took office in January 2009, Bush-era national security policy still shocked the conscience. When it was revealed soon afterward that Obama had ordered his first drone strike on the third day of his presidency, surprisingly little negative reaction from the public ensued. That the reliance on drones to “eliminate” foreign nationals as if they were cockroaches – and carry out once-prohibited extrajudicial assassinations of U.S. citizens abroad) seems almost commonplace now is a hideous testament to the darker elements of human nature.

Did liberals “accept” these morally ambiguous policies because a new, Democratic president had enacted them? Did we go on to largely ignore “targeted killing” because it would have been politically inconvenient to bring it up before the election? The left was extremely vocal when the “culprits” (in that case, the Republicans who espoused “preemptive war” and condoned violating the Geneva Conventions by permitting the torture of captive suspects believed to be “enemy combatants”) were George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

The neocons were easy villains for progressives to revile. When a likeable and iconic Democrat, however (who also happened to be America’s first black president, an epic milestone for a republic that once condoned slavery, as well as a point of progressive pride), not only perpetuated but accelerated a number of execrable Bush administration policies on national security, center-left Democrats dropped the ball.


You, too, can be targeted for assassination by the C.I.A.!

The summary execution of terrorism suspects without indictment, trial or conviction can still be ordered against American citizens abroad, thanks to the Obama administration’s acknowledgement in February 2010 that it planned to preserve that particularly odious Bush-era policy.

“Being a U.S. citizen will not spare an American from getting assassinated by military or intelligence operatives overseas, if the individual is working with terrorists and planning to attack fellow Americans,” then-Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair threatened, while testifying before a congressional committee.

Lovely. (No possibility of abuse there, right?) But drones can be deceptively invasive predators.

“The problem with the drone is it’s like your lawn mower,” Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst and Obama counter-terrorism adviser, told The Washington Post. “You’ve got to mow the lawn all the time. The minute you stop mowing, the grass is going to grow back.”

The terrorists, I assume he meant, will inevitably proliferate if we don’t keep mowing them down. I’ve got a few problems with that:

  • Our drones, despite assurances from Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan, that they’re capable of “surgical precision” with “very few instances of collateral damage,” have killed numerous innocent bystanders, including the wives and children of their targets. I can’t think of a more calamitous definition for the term “overkill” than a Hellfire missile aimed from a great distance at a single individual.
  • Drone strikes are perfectly legal, constitutional, and consistent with international law. Why? Because Attorney General Eric Holder, top State Department attorney Harold Koh, Defense Department general counsel Jeh Johnson, and President Obama himself said so. (John Yoo and Alberto Gonzalez said “enhanced interrogation techniques” were also legal. I didn’t buy their rationalizations when Bush was president; why am I so afraid of even considering such a thing about Barack Obama?)
  • In April, Obama authorized the CIA and the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) “to fire on targets based solely on their intelligence ‘signatures’ patterns of behavior that are detected through signals intercepts, human sources and aerial surveillance, and that indicate the presence of an important operative or a plot against U.S. interests,” wrote Julian E. Barnes in The Wall Street Journal. “Under the previous rules, the CIA and the U.S. military (were) only allowed to use drone strikes against known terrorist leaders whose location could be confirmed and who appeared on secret CIA and JSOC target lists.”
  • Of course you have to mow the “lawn” all the time! Rain sudden death down from the sky by mistake at a Pakistani wedding or two, a meeting of Afghan tribal elders, or the funeral of your most recent Somalian or Yemeni victim. Then watch what “crops up”: a whole village full of mourners, at least a few of whom will be galvanized by a torrent of grief, anger, and blind hatred for America into seeking revenge.
  • The same caveat applies to those who open this particularly seductive Pandora’s box. Once you acquire the power to kill anyone you choose simply by pronouncing him a terrorist, an “enemy combatant,” a “terrorist sympathizer,” or even a “suspected terrorist,” where do you draw the line? Anarchists? Occupy protesters? Antiwar demonstrators?

Holding dominion over life and death (for enemies designated on a “kill list” at the behest of the chief executive alone) is an exercise in unadulterated power, no matter who wins the election. Drone strikes are also frightfully remote acts. Targeting people in a faraway country who resemble ants or specks of dirt on a computer monitor, and then issuing the order to obliterate them from a safe, mind-numbing distance by pushing a button, is so impersonal that it may soon become easy or even routine – the ultimate banality of evil.

A Few Final Questions

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

By Jeffrey Page

There’s a fact about the results of this election that baffles me and which I haven’t been able to put aside. According to a story in The Times, exit polls indicated that Mitt Romney won 52 percent of the male vote, faring seven points better than President Obama. So men went for Mitt even with Mitt answering as few questions as possible.

Is there some logic in this? Are men just dumb enough to allow themselves to be hoodwinked by a snake oil salesman who wants to be big boss of earth so badly that he won’t be specific about anything, and whose convictions are about a half-inch thick?

Why would any demographic group – least of all, the second largest in the country and therefore one that can demand answers – come out in large numbers to support a silent candidate? Men argue about everything, about work, politics (usually), sports, movies, their favorite beers, the best pizza place in town, Beatles vs. Stones. Why would they give a candidate a free ride on their futures and the futures of their families and their nation?

Mitt Romney switched on just about everything. Consider the question of abortion. In the years, months and days leading up to the election, I knew that at one time Romney was prochoice. Then, with the emergence of the Tea Party, Romney, with the grace of a metallic pancake, flipped.

Reasonable people will agree that anyone has the right to a change-of-mind. The problem with Romney of course is that he changed his mind on abortion, and other matters, several times.

This is a terrible and dangerous way for candidates to act. It gives voters no information and lets the candidate off the hook when we don’t raise a stink about non-responses. It can’t make Tea Partiers happy. It surely can’t make pro-choice people comfortable.

So blatant were his vacillations that if flip-flopping were an Olympic sport, Romney would have been a medalist. Not only did he vacillate on abortion, sometimes he did it with breathtaking speed. Here’s a story that deserved much more ink than it received:

Bloomberg News reminded readers that Romney’s message in the period leading up to the Republican convention in late August, was that he opposed abortion in most cases. He also blasted Barak Obama, saying the president was way out of line in forcing religious organizations to provide contraception in their employees’ health coverage.

Then, about 40 days later, Romney said: “I think I’ve said time and again, I’m a pro-life candidate. I’ll be a pro-life president. The actions I’ll take immediately are to remove funding for Planned Parenthood. It will not be part of my budget.”

And then, about three weeks after that – just before the election – Bloomberg reported that the Romney campaign ran a TV ad in the three battleground states of Virginia, Florida and Ohio noting that Romney “doesn’t oppose contraception at all” and “thinks abortions should be an option” in certain situations.

To cast an intelligent ballot, we need information. Here’s an example of how Mitt Romney thwarted curious Americans. It’s another story that was not widely reported. Late in the campaign, Romney granted a five-minute interview to a local TV reporter in Colorado, and then proceeded to dictate the rules of engagement.

The reporter had to agree to ask no questions about abortion and no questions about Todd Akin, the genius who believes a woman’s body is somehow designed not to get pregnant as the result of “a legitimate rape.”

All right. This wretchedly long presidential selection process is over for now though there already is talk about Hillary Clinton’s plans for 2016, and we are all relieved of robo calls, endless radio and TV commercials, and tons of campaign material in the mail.

But the question remains: What were the men of America thinking?