Archive for January, 2013

Carrie’s Painting of the Week – 01/31/13

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

On Deep Creek Road

By Carrie Jacobson

While I might be the founding member of the Big Field, Little House school of painting, I doubt that I am the only member – though, who knows?

I have wondered for a long time about this focus of mine. This scene, the archetypal big open space with a solitary house, has always attracted me. Even as a teenager, I remember loving the sight of the single house at the edge of Harkness Park, sitting alone at the edge of the pond.

A psychologist would probably have interesting things to say about this – but I think I love this view because I imagine what it would be like to be in that house, snug against the trees. You would feel sheltered and safe, but have a huge, open expanse in front of you.

And isn’t that what we all want?

I made a video of me making this painting… You can see it on YouTube by clicking here. I’d love to know what you think about the video!

Going Ape for One Day in the N.Y. Times

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

Ivan, eating a plum, last August in Atlanta.

By Bob Gaydos

The New York Times famously proclaims that its pages contain “all the news that’s fit to print.” As a sort of research project for myself, I decided to see just what stories fit into that category on Jan. 29 — Thursday. Turned out to be an interesting collection, ranging from monkeys to Boy Scouts to ballet. Check it out:

  • Did anyone ask the monkey? Iran, ever eager to prove it is more First World than Third World, announced that it had sent a monkey into space successfully. Meaning the monkey strapped in on the short space flight — pretty much just up and down — returned alive. Says Iran. This rocket- rattling is supposed to make the rest of the countries on the planet (Israel especially) worry about the terrorist-supporting nation’s ability to launch missiles at them. Not to worry yet, folks.

However, monkeys might want to be wary if the other countries don’t show enough concern about the Iranian rocket test. It might convince them to launch another. Which begs the question: What did monkeys ever do to us? They are our closest living relatives among other animals on the planet, yet we humans have routinely used them in experiments we consider potentially life-threatening. Is this moral behavior?

The United States and Russia used chimpanzees in the early stages of their space programs. But there was no shortage of daredevils hurtling about in really fast vehicles who were ready and willing to be the first, second, etc. in space. Surely in Iran, the sponsor of so many terrorists willing to give their lives for a visit with the holy virgins, there were a few patriots willing to strap in on the rocket to see if it worked.

At the very least, the Iranians could have gone farther down in the pecking order and sent, say, rats into space. What did rats ever do for us?

I guess the point is. If we truly respect life on this planet. It ought to extend to all life, or in the case of rats, pretty much all life. But monkeys are our cousins. We say love them. Then they deserve to be treated better than, well, guinea pigs.

  • Catch the name on that freight train? The Boy Scouts of America, proudly homophobic and burned by the release of hundreds of previously concealed names of Scout officials suspected or flat-out guilty of molesting Scouts, announced a potential new policy that would allow local chapters to decide who they would, or would not, allow as Scouts. This policy flies directly against the wishes of most of the organization’s senior leadership, but the rest of the members seem to feel it is time to join the rest of the rapidly diversifying citizenship of the United States.

Potential lawsuits and protests over a scheduled cable TV show complimentary to Scouting may have hastened the decision. The Scouts are supposed to talk about the switch next week. Look at it as a first step, if it happens, with more reluctant chapters eventually opening their membership to all. And that would be the moral thing to do.

  • Brutality at the Bolshoi. OK, this story, which led the Times Arts section, has all the makings of a good Hollywood whodunnit. For nearly two weeks now, police in Moscow have been investigating the acid attack on Sergei Filin, artistic director of the famed Bolshoi Ballet. A masked assailant threw a jar of acid into Filin’s face and police are interviewing their way through the huge company, looking for clues as to whether the motive was professional or, as is often the case in such attacks, personal.

As is expected with a ballet company that is older than the American Declaration of Independence, the shows, as massive and intricate as ever, have gone on without Filin’s presence. (He’s recuperating and is expected to be able to see again in about six months.) Indeed, the Bolshoi has gone on en pointe through the decline of the Russian empire and the fall of Stalin and the Communist Party, so an internal flareup isn’t likely to upset the rhythm. What is perplexing is the apparent proclivity for Russian assailants to use acid as their weapon of choice. An especially brutal and personal approach.

  • Return to Planet of the Apes. A brief article in the Science section had better news for our hairy cousins. The National Institutes of Health says it plans to retire most of the 451 chimpanzees it has been using for experiments, saving a few for experiments it says can’t be done with other animals. They will be moved to sanctuaries to wait for the rest of their families to join them. Animal rights groups applauded the move as humanitarian, if overdue.
  • The Road to Timbuktu. Until the French decided to liberate the ancient trading city from rebel forces supported by al Qaeda, few (admit it) knew the city was located in the African country of Mali. Hope and Crosby never even went there. But such is the impact of global politics these days that the United States is now looking to locate a base in northern Africa as a home for what the Pentagon says would be unarmed drones. The drones would provide much-needed reconnaissance and intelligence in arid northern Africa, a fertile breeding ground for terrorists. Helping the French help the Malians was the impetus for the U.S. effort. The Malians, with Timbuktu liberated by the French, now have to clear the rest of the northern half of their country of rebels. But at least Timbuktu is no longer just a place that nobody can find on a map.
  •  Return to Planet of the Apes II. This time, it’s gorillas. The prestigious John Newberry Medal for outstanding contribution to children’s literature has been awarded to ‘The One and Only Ivan,” a story told through the eyes, mind and voice of a silverback gorilla. Author Katherine Applegate decided to tell the true story of a gorilla freed from 27 years alone in a cage at a mall in Tacoma, Wash. Ivan was finally sent to live with other gorillas at a zoo in Atlanta, where he became a celebrity, making paintings and signing them. Applegate decided to tell the story as she imagined Ivan might have. She chose a spare, simple voice, but then, that was, after all, mere guesswork, gorillas being even closer to humans than monkeys. Ivan might well have been more Joyce than Hemingway. At any rate, he died last August at age 50, author of a best-selling autobiography and an acclaimed artist. And that’s nobody’s guinea pig, cousin.

OK. That’s my research report. I don’t know what the Times’ lead story was Thursday, but if the stuff I found wasn’t fit to print, then I’m a monkey’s uncle. Umm, wait a second now, I actually may be … and … never mind. RIP Ivan.





GOP ‘Reform’: The Crying Game

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

John Boehner, Speaker of the House, 113th Congress

By Emily Theroux

By focusing his second inaugural address on equal opportunity, did Barack Obama finally give John Boehner something to cry about?

I certainly hope so.

At the very least, the Weeper of the House still appears to be running scared. After Obama walloped Republican prognosticators in November by depriving Mitt Romney of what they envisioned as certain victory, Boehner appeared shell-shocked during his post-election press briefing.

“We’re ready to be led, not as Democrats or as Republicans but as Americans. We want you to lead, not as a liberal or a conservative but as a President of the United States of America. We want you to succeed. Let’s challenge ourselves to finding the common ground that has eluded us. Let’s rise above the dysfunction and do the right thing together for our country.”

Boehner’s acquiescence was a far cry from his disingenuous “Hell no, you don’t!” eruption in 2010. As columnist Dana Milbank noted, Boehner delivered his 2012 speech in a room named for Speaker Sam Rayburn, who allegedly said, “Any jackass can kick down a barn. It takes a carpenter to build one.” (“Boehner sounds as though he’s ready to pick up hammer and nail,” Milbank observed. “But will his fellow Republicans stop kicking?”)

President Barack Obama

That question set the stage for the contentious two-headed behemoth that the Republican Party has devolved into since last fall. Boehner has already changed strategies several times. After the president’s speech, the beleaguered House speaker told the conservative Ripon Society he believes Obama intends to “annihilate the Republican Party, to just shove us into the dustbin of history.”

(If Boehner asked me, I’d advise him to guard his right flank. He won a second term as speaker with a record 12 GOP defections — probably revenge for ousting four recalcitrant teabaggers from their committee assignments in December. The refusal of far-right ideologues to support the speaker’s agenda — particularly when it emerges from a bargain with the president — has driven Boehner to assemble a pragmatic yet uncertain coalition of  moderate Republicans and Democrats who have voted so far to thwart the fiscal cliff, pass Obama’s tax increase on the wealthy, allocate Hurricane Sandy aid, and postpone another disastrous debt-ceiling stalemate.)

Republicans are terrified by Obama’s ambitious second-term agenda of passing progressive legislation on comprehensive immigration reform, gun control, gay rights,  and climate change. They’re dismayed that the president has converted his campaign machinery into a nonprofit group, to promote his initiatives and oppose GOP intractability. They’re also rattled because Obama is bypassing them, as he did during the campaign, and speaking to Americans directly — and Americans appear to be listening.)


Will Republicans ever stop kicking?

In the three months since the president’s reelection threw them for a loop, Republicans have advanced and retreated; pissed and moaned; stamped their feet and squealed like stuck pigs. On occasion, they’ve done a 180 and meekly fallen in line to vote with Democrats. Here are a few highlights of the GOP’s baffling recent machinations on matters of policy, posturing, and the subterfuge known as “messaging”:

La. Gov. Bobby Jindal

1) The ‘stupid party’: Immediately after Gov. Willard “Mitt” Romney lost the 2012 election, Gov. Piyush “Bobby” Jindal, the son of Punjabi immigrants (and Louisiana’s first non-white governor since African-American newspaper publisher P.B.S. Pinchback served for 35 days during Reconstruction), began angling to position himself as the multicultural face of the “new” GOP. “We’ve got to stop being the ‘stupid party’,” Jindal railed. Unfortunately, his harsh, regressive policy proposals (drastically cutting Medicaid benefits for nursing homes and the poor, and replacing state income and corporate taxes with a sales tax increase targeting the bottom 80 percent of Louisiana residents) tarnish any claim he might eventually stake to the 2016 nomination.

 2) Rekindling the ‘war on women’: Jindal and other Republicans have called out failed Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock for making “offensive and bizarre” remarks about rape. For awhile, the GOP appeared to have shifted its frenzied campaign against women’s reproductive rights to the back burner. Then John Boehner inexplicably dialed up the misogyny by throwing red meat to the culture warriors at the “March for Life”, an annual D.C. anti-abortion protest. Boehner vowed “to make abortion a relic of the past” and a fundamental Republican goal.  (Translation:  to criminalize safe, legal abortion, returning us to an era of butchery that all too frequently terminated the woman along with the pregnancy.)

3) ‘And build the danged fence’: After Romney lost the Latino vote by 40 points, pols and pundits proclaimed that the GOP needed to retire its blatant aversion to immigrants. What Republican policy-makers fail to realize is that even if they eventually climb aboard Obama’s bandwagon and support creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, it may do little to thwart the repercussions from decades of right-wing ethnic prejudice against Latinos. (Right now, green cards look like a distant prospect. The president’s immigration proposal is meeting determined resistance from GOP hardliners who would rather shine the president on than cooperate, strutting their belligerent “border security” stuff  all the way from Laredo to San Diego.)


Summit attendees oddly complacent

What does the Republican Party need to do to recoup?” asked MSNBC analyst Howard Fineman on Lawrence O’Donnell’s show. “They need to get back to a message of hope, instead of a message of rejection.”

The problem with the “evolving” GOP is that it many of its members seem to have reached a premature verdict (especially in light of the strange complacency on display at last weekend’s National Review post-election summit): The party’s problem resides not in its core precepts, but in its candidates, its tactics, its “messaging.” These folks have decided they don’t need to change what they’re saying; just rejiggering the words they’re using, and the people who are saying them, should suffice. They’re probably too deeply invested in Machiavellian chicanery (which masquerades, for them, as “principle”) to truly change.

The Republican Party has become a figment of its own delusions, the same ones it devised to foist on unwary simpletons. It has no moral center, and Americans know it.

Faced with the enormity of the GOP’s decline into selfishness, avarice, and intolerance, Professor David Schultz pronounced its aging white constituency “the real takers.” Columnist David Brooks advised throwing the baby out with the bathwater. “In this reinvention process, Republicans seem to have spent no time talking to people who didn’t already vote for them,” Brooks observed, adding that the GOP conundrum of battling government is incompatible with actual governance. His conclusion: “It’s probably futile to try to change current Republicans. It’s smarter to build a new wing of the Republican Party” that can compete outside the South and rural West.

Do any of the cagey, conflicted partisans in the current GOP dare call their recent experimentation with “messaging” and theatrics “Republican Party reform”? Don’t believe it until you see the whites of their eyes — and then be sure to look for any trace of genuine tears.

Some Entitlements in Need of Reform

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

By Michael Kaufman

I am always amazed when I hear some millionaire or billionaire (or their spokespeople in Congress or Fox News or talk radio) proclaim, “We’re broke!” According to them, our government no longer has the means to continue safety net programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

They themselves are not broke, of course. They’re doing just fine. And if you ask them, everyone in this country is pretty well off too, so we don’t really need the safety net anymore. They’re just symptoms of the “nanny state” anyway and that’s what’s wrong with this country by golly: all those people looking for handouts (you know, like retirees, veterans and disabled folks). You’ve probably heard statements of this sort (either on Fox News or on The Daily Show when Jon Stewart shows clips of the dumb things they say on Fox News):  “Poor people never had it so good as they have it now in the U.S. They have refrigerators, air conditioners and television sets. How bad off can they be?”

The Wall Street Journal published an article recently that even tried to make the case that the “middle class” in this country has not been harmed by the fact that real wages (adjusted for cost of living changes) have not gone up in decades as wealth has ballooned for a small percentage of people at the top of the economic ladder. According to the writer, wages aren’t a good measure anymore because of all the advances that have taken place that make life better for us all, as in healthcare, for example. (I’m not making this up.)

Another article in the WSJ a while back suggested that income disparity is good for everybody. The writer used Michael Jordan as an example. See, when Jordan was leading the Chicago Bulls to championships, his mediocre teammates got paid better, the arena was packed, which meant more people were hired to prepare and serve food and show people to their seats. Talk about a win-win. But a two-hour drive from Chicago would have taken the author to Freeport, Ill., and the shut down Sensata plant. Sensata, which manufactures sensor parts for the auto industry, is owned by Bain Capital, the private equity company founded by Mitt Romney. Despite a profitable 2011 Sensata laid off all the workers in Freeport last year and moved manufacturing to China—but not before forcing the American workers to train their replacements. Ironically, the plant was shut down the day before Election Day.

As described by Dave Johnson of the Campaign for America’s Future, “Bain’s business model is to purchase companies using ‘leveraged buyouts’ that borrow huge sums using the purchased company’s own assets as collateral, uses the borrowed money to immediately pay itself, then cuts costs by doing things like sending jobs to China, cutting wages and manipulating tax rules to cut taxes owed, along with standard big-business practices like consolidating business units, taking advantage of economies of scale not available to smaller competitors, squeezing distribution channels for price cuts, and other practices that bring competitive advantages.”

Bain is “entitled” to do this under the current laws of the United State of America. I think it’s about time we had some entitlement reform to stop this kind of thing from happening. If a U.S.-based company making good profits in this country wants to move to China, it should be allowed to do so only after providing extended health benefits and severance packages to each and every person who will lose a job as a reult of the move–or not be permitted to move at all.

Another entitlement in need of reform is the one that permits the underachieving or none-too-bright sons and daughters of wealthy people to attend great colleges and universities simply because a relative went there before. These “legacy students” are taking up space that might otherwise be given to hard-working students who have earned admission but whose families cannot afford the steep cost of sending them to a place like Yale or Harvard, for example. A worthy reform might be to require those who can readily afford it to pay for the education of one of those deserving people in addition to that of their own family member. The deserving individual would be selected at random from a pool of worthy candidates regardless of their race, creed or color. All they would have in common is that their families can’t afford to send them to the school. This would avoid the usual complaints about “reverse discrimination” that accompany affirmative action measures, while still advancing the goals because a disproportionate percentage of minority community members will be represented.

Why is someone who inherits a large piece of land “entitled” to sell it to developers for commercial use? Why is the concept of “private property” more important than preservation of the earth and the health of its inhabitants? Now there is some fertile ground for entitlement reform. Feel free to add your own. And for goodness sakes, let’s not allow them to take away the safety net:  Hands off Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid!

Michael can be reached at


A Gutter Pol Retires

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

Saxby Chambliss, the senior senator from Georgia, has announced he will retire next year. In this, there is a modicum of justice, for it was the loathsome Chambliss who reached new depths in electoral sliming a decade ago when he defeated the incumbent, Max Cleland. Do you remember?

Chambliss’ late-campaign strategy was so offensive and so false in its message about Cleland – admittedly a rare breed in Georgia, a moderate Democrat – that even some of Chambliss’ fellow Republicans forced him to yank an ad that suggested Cleland was an incompetent soldier. Chambliss even questioned Cleland’s patriotism.

During his service in Vietnam, Max Cleland was awarded the Silver Star and two Bronze Stars for his actions on the battlefield. Both medals are awarded for valor.

For the record, this is part of the Silver Star citation about Cleland’s conduct in early 1968 during the bloody three-month siege of Khe Sanh, where 700 American and South Vietnamese troops were killed: “When the battalion command post came under a heavy enemy rocket and mortar attack, Capt. Cleland, disregarding his own safety, exposed himself to the rocket barrage as he left his covered position to administer first aid to his wounded comrades. He then assisted in moving the injured personnel to covered positions.”

A few days later, while exiting a helicopter, Cleland leaned down to retrieve a grenade he thought had fallen from his pistol belt. The explosion nearly killed him. He survived but lost both legs and an arm. Displaying incredible determination, Cleland underwent grueling physical therapy and later entered government service, and then politics. He headed the Veterans Administration under Jimmy Carter, and then served 14 years as the Georgia secretary of state. In 2002 he was elected to the U.S. Senate.

Saxby Chambliss challenged him six years later. Chambliss’ advertising contained separate newsreel footage showing Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and Max Cleland – hint, hint – and went on to suggest there was something thoroughly unpatriotic, un-American, about Cleland’s votes against some of George W. Bush’s homeland security proposals. In Chambliss’ world view, the fact that Max Cleland left three limbs in Vietnam counted for nothing.

Chambliss’ ad campaign against Cleland was so outrageous that among its strongest critics were two GOP senators, John McCain and Chuck Hegel. They had served in Vietnam and understood war as Chambliss never could. Responding to them, Chambliss pulled the ads but the damage was done. The voters bought his trashing and Cleland was finished.

Chambliss’ military record: Four student deferments, followed by ineligibility due to a bad knee.

How bad a knee? In 2005, Roll Call reported that one afternoon while the Senate was in closed session to discuss the intelligence that led to the Iraq War, Chambliss was playing a round of golf with Tiger Woods back home in Georgia.

You’d think people would learn something about common decency after witnessing what Saxby Chambliss did to Max Cleland. But some politicians never seem to understand that there are times when you keep your mouth shut.

In the recent election, Joe Walsh, a Republican freshman from Illinois was challenged by Tammy Duckworth, whose wounds were eerily similar to Cleland’s. Duckworth lost her legs and the use of one arm when her helicopter was hit by enemy fire in Iraq. In words he surely will remember for the rest of his life, Walsh said of Duckworth’s injuries: “My God, that’s all she talks about. Our true heroes, the men and women who served us, it’s the last thing in the world they talk about.”

Walsh’s military record: None.

Duckworth beat him in November.

Here’s to the voters who sent Walsh packing.

Barack Obama II: No More Mr. Nice Guy

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

President Obama delivers his inaugural address.

By Bob Gaydos

OK, bring it on. That was the unvarnished, unmistakable message of President Barack Obama’s second Inaugural Address. No pussy-footing around. No avoiding the controversial. No kowtowing to political opponents who have figuratively spit in his face from Day One, whatever the issue. No reason to.

No reason to.

There can be something freeing about presidential second terms. Unburdened by the need to proceed in a manner conducive to reelection — more cautious as a rule — a second-term president can speak his mind and declare his positions with more clarity — more honesty, if you will — as he focuses on legacy rather than voter registrations.

Barack Obama wasted no time letting Americans know that, yes indeed, inside the veneer of the cautious consensus-seeker of his first term beat the heart of a true, progressive politician.

On the second day of his term (Sunday was the first official day) Obama delivered an address that spoke of gay rights, global warming and even gun control. For the record, America, your president believes in all three and, for those who do not, he made it clear he intends to tackle all three in the next four years. Indeed, the relatively brief address was remarkable for the number of challenges he hurled at tea party obstructionists and members of the Republican Party who have let the nay-sayers define their party.

The million or so people gathered on the Washington Mall to witness the event had barely started paying attention to the speech when Obama lit into the know-nothings: “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought and more powerful storms.” It’s like he was saying, “Pay attention, folks, this is no ordinary speech.”

He even went after Republicans who tried to deny Americans the right to vote in the last election with a series of crippling hurdles to the fundamental democratic act: “Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.”

That journey was a recurring metaphor in Obama’s speech, as he conjured the spirit of the nation’s founders in bringing “we, the people,” along with him on the journey, “including “our gay brothers and sisters.” He equated the struggle for gay rights with the struggles for women’s equality and civil rights for blacks, an extraordinary statement for an American president. Indeed, a first in an inaugural address.

And he made clear that immigration reform leading to citizenship would be central in his second-term agenda and that, whatever weapons the NRA might muster to fight it, gun control would not be avoided because it is too controversial.

Not this time.

The speech at once energized Obama’s faithful and antagonized his opponents. But clearly, after four years of trying unsuccessfully to find a sane Republican voice with whom to at least try to reach some consensus, the president had obviously decided to play the victor’s card. He won the election convincingly and public opinion is behind him on virtually every issue, including gay rights and gun control, while Republicans are getting most of the blame for the obstructionism that has paralyzed Congress the past four years.

Politics as a profession often gets a bad rap. “You can’t trust any of them.” “They’re all out for themselves.” Etc.

Much of it is deserved, but without politicians we can have no government. Someone has to do the job. Sometimes it is messy. Sometimes it involves going against one’s own wishes — compromising. Sometimes — and this is tough for followers to accept — it requires patience. Things change. People change. The world changes. Timing is essential to good politics. Timing and an honest assessment of the situation as it is.

Barack Obama has not changed. He has merely waited for the right moment to let his inner, progressive self out. He inherited a recession bordering on depression and led the country (perhaps the world) out of it. He inherited two wars and has all but ended one and pushed up the timetable to end the other. (“We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war,” he said, with those who would love to attack Iran clearly in mind.)

For good measure, he let the tea partiers know that “we cannot … treat name-calling as reasoned debate.”

Conservatives may not have liked the speech,, but then, they lost the election, didn’t they? And they rejected every offer of bipartisanship from their president, didn’t they? The president obviously believes he has “we, the people” on his side and intends to pursue his agenda aggressively with that mind. (And, by the way, GOP, don’t think you’re going to dismantle Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid either.)

There were no details in the speech and the goals (save for immigration reform perhaps) will not be easy to achieve. But Barack Obama is through playing Mr. Nice Guy to folks who never gave him the time of day. Is it the right approach? At the very least it would be an honest approach, one true to the president’s ideals and convictions. If the recalcitrants are offended, so be it. (“We cannot mistake absolutism for principle …”)

With little to lose and a legacy to create, Barack Obama has taken off the gloves. Four more years. Some might say it’s about time.

The Speech, etc.

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

–I liked it. But even more, I liked the attitude. For this was no happy thank-you. This was no self-congratulation. And this was no wise-acre government-is-the-problem complaint. This was a call to work for a better America.

–I liked Obama’s use of 18th century imagery that Boehner, Cantor, McConnell, other Congressional yahoos, and the Second Amendment crowd could understand (if not appreciate): “The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob.” The message I took from the business of “privileges of the few” is that no longer will the middle class be required to preserve, protect and defend the insanely low tax rates of the wealthy.

–Obama’s several uses of “we the people” amounted to a message to those who forget that “we the people” are the first three words of the Constitution, and are quickly followed by “in order to form a more perfect union.” I may be politically naïve – I lost $5 betting on McGovern in ’72 – but the use of “we the people” suggests that it’s him and us together on this train, and if the forces of darkness want to hop aboard for the ride to enlightenment, that’s OK. But they’ve got to wipe the manure from their shoes. If, however, they choose to stand on the tracks to stop the train, they’d do well to bring their last political wills and testaments up to date. We’re not stopping, Obama said.

–“For we the people,” Obama said, “understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.” Maybe this time the right wing will understand that the poorest Americans are just that – Americans who are broke but not evil – and thus deserving of all the assistance the nation offers to the Chryslers, the Trumps, the Kochs, the Adelsons. Maybe the right will understand this, but I doubt it. I hope President Obama is aware of the coming struggles.

–The president said that we the people agree that every American “deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.” Which means to me, if not to the Tea Party, that when a hurricane ravishes a southern town, of course we rebuild and make repair. And if the storm wreaks havoc on the northeast we fix that as quickly as possible and do not play Tea Party budget games when people are made homeless. Sane human beings never would say: OK, here’s $1 for hurricane relief but you can have it only if you cut other spending by a like amount.

–Obama said children, “from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown,” must know that they are safe. I wish he had said something a little more substantive on the matter of guns.

–Doubtless, Obama recalled the GOP hand-wringing about saddling our children and grandchildren with current national debt when he chose the line: “We the people still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” There’s more than money to worry about.

–What I heard in Obama’s 2,126-word speech was a call to the opposition to get on board or get out of the way. Throughout his talk, I heard reminders to the Tea Party and its unhappy Republican backers that it was Barack Obama who won the election, not what’s-his-name. If they are to be taken seriously, Republicans should remember this.

–The GOP should also remember that when they let loose personal attacks on the president, they let loose on the majority of the American people that re-elected him. True to predictions, the turnout in Washington to bear witness to Obama’s second inauguration was lower than the first one four years ago. But let it be known on the right: He still drew 600,000 people to listen in bitter cold. The White House says it was more like 1 million. Pick a number and know that it was crowded in D.C.

–Clearly, the president will have tough going through 2017. For even as some Republican members of Congress were wishing him well in a second term, I heard a Tea Party woman from Texas express concern on National Public Radio that she still has yet to see Obama’s birth certificate. Again, Obama will have to deal with irrational nitwits who’ll say anything to make him look bad but who wind up looking foolish themselves. Recall, the genius Mitch McConnell saying in 2010 “the single most important [emphasis added] thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Recall the esteemed Sarah Palin warning us that part of Obama’s medical plan were “death panels.”

–If Obama was polite, at times almost obsequious, in his dealings with the GOP for the last four years, he sounded this week like a man who knows he’s been slapped and otherwise disrespected a few too many times. Will he give as good as he gets? Will he tell the next birther with a big mouth to get stuffed? I hope so.

–Obama reminded us of Martin Luther King’s definition of freedom; either we are all free or none of us is free. Those are words that should be recited by Americans every morning before breakfast. He said gay men and women ought to be treated “like anyone else under the law.” That’s a worthy morning prayer as well.

–Great speech. I wish him and us the best.

Harry Golden, My Father & ‘Entitlements’

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

By Michael Kaufman

I did a double take the other day when I saw the drawing of a face on the cover of a used book on sale in front of Ye Olde Warwick Bookshop. Only the cigar protruding from the man’s mouth told me it wasn’t the face of my father. The title of the book is You’re Entitle’ and the man smoking the cigar is its author, Harry Golden.

You’re Entitle’, published in 1962, was not nearly as successful as its predecessors, Only in America (1958), For 2¢ Plain (1958) and Enjoy, Enjoy! (1960). Those were his best known works, composed of selections from his writings in The Carolina Israelite, a newsletter he published from Charlotte, N.C., from 1942 to 1968. The newsletter enjoyed a national circulation via mail subscriptions. Golden used its pages to voice his opinions on many issues of the day, most famously his opposition to the segregation laws that still held sway in the southern states.

In the introduction to You’re Entitle’, his son, Harry, Jr., asks, “How many men can say—My father is a brave man?” He describes his father as “this fat little guy, short of breath, with his cigars and ideas in Charlotte; this immigrant and Yankee in the native- born South; this Jew in the citadel of Anglo-Saxon Protestantism; this integrationist in a land of segregation; this happy reformer among the complacent….He is the champion of many causes—some lost—but many, like the cause of the Southern Negro, that will inevitably be won.”

I would have bought the book if only because of the face on the cover that reminded me of my father; not to mention that pop had been an admirer of Golden. I was also intrigued by the title: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “entitlements” and all the recent yammering about “entitlement reform.” Neither my father nor Harry Golden lived to see the election (and re-election!) of the first African-American president, which both would have celebrated. But I doubt either would care much for his willingness to embrace any  “entitlement reform” that would entail cuts in funding and benefits in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Golden dedicated the book to his father, who emigrated to America from the Galicean town of Mikulinz. “All his life he spoke a halting English, though he certainly made his ideas clear enough,” wrote Golden. “He was enamored of the phrase, ‘You’re entitle’.’ In his youth, Golden would correct him, saying, “It ends with a d, Poppa.” His father would nod understandingly “but the next time it still came out, ‘You’re entitle’.’

That word, wrote Golden, “was the expression of a free man. No one was entitled in Eastern Europe. You served in the army for 10 years and it entitled you to nothing. Your taxes entitled you to no franchise. But in America men were free and entitled…” Golden wrote those words in 1962. My, how times have changed.

Here is what Golden said in a brief paragraph on foreign relations: “One of our crass stupidities is not realizing the strength of the most potent legislation of our times—social security.” He expresses annoyance that the benefits of social security are not broadcast in Spanish. “Uncle José returns to one of the Latin-American countries after working 30 years in the United States and there he sits every month and Uncle Sam sends him a check—magnifico!” Golden believed that providing social security in this manner would create goodwill towards the United States and diminish the appeal of communism among people in those lands. Today social security itself is under attack by right-wing idealogues, such as Paul Ryan, and it is almost unthinkable for anyone to advocate that it and other benefits, such as health care, be provided to undocumented workers.  In a later passage he suggests that both Republicans and Democrats need to change their attitudes towards the peoples of the rest of the world. “We need to accept humanity, and understand that these are people like ourselves.” Disrespecting someone’s homeland by calling it a “banana republic” will only antagonize the people who live there, he explains.

“It was easy to lick Mexico, to send the Marines to Paraguay, to patronize the Panamanians. And we never paid the slightest attention to many Latin Americans of considerable stature we had among our own people. Instead we sent New Englanders as ambassadors, men who had no sympathy for these people. Behind them came the big companies, vast mechanical monsters systematically removing the oil and the sugar and the raw materials. With friendship and a sense of partnership, discarding the ‘banana republic’ attitude, we could have built a tremendous moral force among our neighbors that would have been a model for the world.”  We know how that worked out. Our leaders still like to say we are a “model for the world” and we seem to like to hear it.  But it hasn’t sold too well to people in Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Uruguay and Venezuela in recent elections in those countries.

I have a few more things to say about entitlements, but I think I’ll save them for next time. I’ll end this post with a few more words from Harry Golden. Why? Because you’re entitle’ of course!

“All the upheavals and protests around the world have been triggered by one singular need—the need for human dignity. This is true in countries where the most unbelievable poverty exists….where sanitation conditions are as primitive as they were in the 12th century; yet when the students get out on the square to do their snake dance and shout slogans it is not for wages or shorter hours or for increased foreign aid from the United States. In every case it has had to do with their status as human beings, their need for acceptance as part of the open society of mankind, as equals.”

Michael can be reached at








Doing ’40 to Life’ After Roe v. Wade

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013
“The clawlike appendages that kept the Dalkon Shield in place made removal painful and could perforate the uterus” — Wired Photo by Jamie Chung; IUD Courtesy of Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum/Case Western Reserve University


The landmark Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade, which made most abortions safe and legal, was handed down 40 years ago this week. That  same month, I discovered I had gotten pregnant while implanted with the most toxic and dangerous contraceptive device ever put on the market. The Dalkon Shield, in its whirlwind tour of death and destruction, led me to share this fateful anniversary in a way I can never forget.


By Emily Theroux

Last month, I read an unnerving article on RH Reality, a website that champions reproductive health and rights. A young law student who lived with her boyfriend and conscientiously practiced contraception had become pregnant two years after implantation with an intrauterine device. “As effective as tying your tubes,” NW had been assured by the gynecologist who inserted it.

Just as I did at her age, NW took every precaution possible to prevent an unplanned pregnancy while avoiding the risk of blood clots, strokes, cardiovascular disease, and other potential side effects of the birth-control pills she had relied on previously.

(I had also begun taking the pill when I was a virginal 18, riding a Greyhound bus to Planned Parenthood in Rochester from Brockport, the Erie Canal town where I went to college. Once there, I lied about my marital status, after a friend advised me that the clinic only prescribed the pill to married women. I was serious about my education and had no intention of getting “knocked up” during freshman year, at the heady but terrifying dawn of the sexual revolution — when, as vulgar as it sounds in plain English, there were times when you couldn’t be absolutely certain who the father was.)

After an urgent-care clinic confirmed the results of NW’s home pregnancy test, she and her boyfriend, who definitely weren’t ready for marriage, much less an infant, agonized over scheduling an abortion at Planned Parenthood. About her failed ParaGard IUD, NW said:

“It still isn’t clear what I should do about the tiny piece of metal inside me. It seems dangerous now. For so long it was a faithful friend, but now it’s a foreign object lodged next to embryonic cells inside of me — I can’t believe that’s good for anyone. But the urgent care doctor just says call my doctor and take some prenatal vitamins. … My IUD is still there, and I’m pregnant.”

In NW’s case, an OB-GYN removed her IUD a week before the abortion. But back in December 1972, when I  unwittingly became pregnant while supposedly “protected” by a similar device — the horrific Dalkon Shield — the doctors told me they left that accursed thing in place throughout a woman’s pregnancy, for fear of miscarriage, which too often resulted anyway.


A Pandora’s box of sepsis, infertility, miscarriage, and death

The Dalkon Shield, an early intrauterine device, would never have been sold if medical devices had been vetted by the FDA at the time. Its fatal design flaws killed at least 18 women between 1971 (when it was introduced by the A.H. Robins Co. and aggressively and fraudulently marketed, despite its manufacturer’s full awareness of serious safety issues) and 1974, when it was finally taken off the market after Robins was swamped by consumer complaints.

Many of the Shield’s 200,000 victims experienced severe pain and bleeding, or suffered perforations in the uterine wall that allowed the device to “migrate” into the abdominal cavity. Others contracted deadly streptococcal infections from its multifilament tailstring, which had a known propensity for “wicking” any pathogenic bacteria that might appear in the vaginal flora into the uterus, which is normally a sterile chamber.

Numerous victims developed pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) after the sepsis spread to their fallopian tubes and ovaries. Most recovered after taking antibiotics, but in rare cases, the infection was so severe that hysterectomy was the only solution. In addition, scar tissue and adhesions left behind by the ravages of PID caused infertility in many Dalkon Shield wearers (and even led to occlusion of the fallopian tubes, which sometimes resulted in life-threatening ectopic pregnancies).

My sweet college friend Alfia contracted a raging infection from the string of her IUD and nearly died during a harrowing two-week hospitalization. Alfie, who grew up in a large Greek/Italian family, was devastated by the prospect that she might never bear a single child. Years later, by some miracle, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl, now a young woman herself.

“The greatest danger came when a Dalkon Shield wearer became pregnant,” wrote Russell Mokhiber in 1987. Pregnancy could lead to severe infections, miscarriages, stillbirths, and death.” Some pregnant women suffered spontaneous septic abortions when the device was pulled upward as their wombs expanded. The bacteria attacked the placenta, ending in the death of the fetus and, in some cases, the mother.

Despite the continuing horror, Robins waited until 1980  to recommend that doctors remove the Shield from the wombs of unafflicted women who were still wearing it. The company (which also manufactured popular brands like ChapStick and Robitussin) was nailed with more than 400,000 lawsuits after covering up what had mushroomed into a global women’s health crisis. Robins declared bankruptcy in 1985, and a trust for the victims later paid out almost $3 billion.


The month Roe made abortion legal, I learned I was pregnant

I didn’t find out I was “with child” until January 1973, the same month the Supreme Court decided, in the landmark case of Roe v. Wade, that most laws against abortion violated a constitutional right to privacy under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.

I was 22 and had married way too young. I had also experimented with LSD and other drugs considered “recreational” as well as enlightening in our countercultural campus milieu. I became panicky over the prospect of chromosomal abnormalities that might result from our generation’s willful ingestion of hallucinogens, and tormented by guilt over the amoral predilections of our time. What if we had doomed our own progeny by taking psychedelics?

My first husband and I had been married just two years. None of our friends believed in matrimony then; “shacking up” or living communally were the custom. Surrounded as we were by practitioners of free love, our relationship had become shaky and vulnerable. We had talked about eventually having a baby, but I wasn’t yet convinced it was wise to bring a child into a world that had been poised on the brink of nuclear annihilation since before I was born. (It took my husband six more years — aided by my ticking biological clock — to persuade me to gamble on whether our offspring would make it to adulthood. Our only child, Gabriel, who was joyously welcomed to the planet in September 1979, pulled through just fine.)

That first pregnancy, however, had been different. I hadn’t asked for this, and I was furious with fate. As in NW’s case, my doctor had convinced me of the IUD’s effectiveness. Having to make this decision seemed brutally unfair. I didn’t anticipate or plan for this pregnancy as I later did with my son — recording when I ovulated, eating nutritious food, swearing off wine and caffeine, taking iron and calcium and prenatal vitamins, never smoking a joint or a cigarette, refraining from swallowing so much as an aspirin. Furthermore, I had never been careless with my reproductive cycle, and this was not even supposed to be on the horizon yet.


This is not a celebration, but a beacon for our common future

Anxious and moody, my system deluged by hormones, I fantasized about keeping what might some day develop into a living, breathing human child, if I simply let it be. Most of the time, I could only bear to imagine the baby as a fragile cluster of cells, straining implausibly towards viability. Soon enough, I would make a conscious choice to extinguish its Qi — in Chinese, its life force — like a tiny, flickering candle.

I was positive by then that this hapless child wouldn’t even make it to term — and it turned out I was right to worry. Women who conceived while the Dalkon Shield was implanted suffered a 60 percent miscarriage rate, according to three books cited on; many of the pregnancies that weren’t aborted, either naturally or medically, resulted in premature births and severe birth defects, the authors claimed, and I haven’t yet been able to confirm the accuracy of their statistics, if that’s even possible

In retrospect, it may have been some kind of grace or absolution from someone else’s God — a deity I don’t have faith in and will never understand — that I didn’t “choose life” and go through with the pregnancy.

With great chagrin and trepidation, I took what, for me, eventually became the more difficult path, resolving to have an early-term abortion in February 1973, at eight weeks’ gestation. It’s a decision I scrutinize and thrash out in nightsweats to this day, especially on this sobering anniversary.

Nobody’s dancing or clapping here. Forty years ago, for what I deemed with my best judgment at the age of 22 to be good reason, I underwent one of the first legal abortions, in a large city hospital devoid of protesters. I wouldn’t deny that right to any other woman who believes, in the privacy of her own heart where no one else has license to trespass, that she is doing the right thing for her body, her spirit, her family, her moral compass, and her life.

None of us makes such an agonizing decision lightly. No woman that I’ve ever met is “pro-abortion.”

Our consciences come in various shades of gray; mine may sometimes verge on a starless, sooty black, but I don’t wallow there for long. Life calls me back. I have a son, born radiant, healthy, and intact six years later, and a beautiful, kind daughter-in-law. I have two stepchildren, one of whom I talk to long-distance nearly every day, the other turning 24 today. I have three little grandchildren, all under five years old. The babies that I have need a grandmother’s hugs and singing, poems and laughter.

I have good reason now, at the age of 62, to run out and greet the rest of my life, to embrace it with open arms.

Heroes Come to Life in Anatomy Journal

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

By Michael Kaufman

You probably never heard of Elfriede Scholz or Irene Wosikowski. I hadn’t heard of these two heroic women either until I learned about them from a most unlikely source: an article in the current issue of the journal Clinical Anatomy titled, “The Women on Stieve’s List: Victims of National Socialism Whose Bodies Were Used for Anatomical Research” by Sabine Hildebrandt, M.D. I also never heard of “Stieve’s List” before I read the article by Hildedbrandt, a lecturer in the division of anatomical sciences at the University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor.

The list everyone knows about with regard to the Nazis is (of course) the one kept by Oscar Schindler for the purpose of saving lives. Professor Dr. Hermann Stieve (1886-1952) was no Oscar Schindler. Rather, Stieve, a leading anatomist at the University of Berlin and the Berlin Charité Hospital “exploited the killing programs of the Third Reich to conduct studies on the female reproductive system,” according to William E. Seidelman, M.D., professor in the department of family and community medicine at the University of Toronto, who has researched the complicit role of the medical profession in Nazi atrocities.

The “perturbing category of eminent exploiters” includes “illustrious universities, research institutes and, in one documented instance, an eminent museum — whose quarry were the cadavers of Jewish and non-Jewish victims of Nazi terror,” wrote Seidelman in an article published in 1999 in Dimension (a journal of Holocaust studies). “These macabre spoils of Nazi slaughter remained in these institutions’ collections (anatomical, pathological and anthropological) for decades after the end of the war.” They are “tangible evidence” of the shameful role played by medicine and medical science in the crimes of the Nazi regime.

“When a woman of reproductive age was to be executed by the Gestapo, Stieve was informed, a date of execution was decided upon, and the prisoner told the scheduled date of her death,” said Seidelman. “Stieve then studied the effects of the psychic trauma on the doomed woman’s menstrual pattern. Upon the woman’s execution, her pelvic organs were removed for histological (tissue) examination. Stieve published reports based on those studies without hesitation or apology.”

Incredibly, after the war this monster lectured medical students on studies he had conducted on the migration of human sperm, studies performed on the bodies of women raped before their deaths in Gestapo execution chambers. According to Seidelman, “Stieve discussed this research before an audience of appalled but silent medical students in East Berlin.” Despite his horrific past, Professor Dr. Hermann Stieve was dean of the faculty of medicine at the prestigious Humboldt University in Berlin; a lecture room and sculpted bust were dedicated in his honor at the Berlin Charité Hospital.

As described in Hildebrandt’s article, Stieve gave post-war authorities a numbered list of the names of women whose bodies he had used for research purposes. (The document is now in the Federal Archives in Berlin.) The anatomy department in Berlin received bodies directly from the execution sites. (Documentation on the executed prisoners is kept at the Memorial Site for the German Resistance in Berlin.)

Hildebrandt is not the first anatomist to write about Stieve’s list. But she is the first to try to put a story and name to all the victims who have remained anonymous since their bodies were used for anatomical teaching and research during the Third Reich. “Only with a story and a name,” she explains, “is it possible to make these persons visible as individuals with full lives and hopes for a future that was denied them.”

Her study presents a group portrait and recounts selected biographies of the 174 women and eight men on Stieve’s list. Most were women of reproductive age, two-thirds were German. The majority were executed for political reasons. At least two pregnant women, 34-year-old Hilde Coppi and 20-year-old Liane Berkowitz, were members of the Berlin-based resistance group Rote Kapelle (Red Orchestra). Their executions were postponed until after the delivery of their children and some time was allowed for breastfeeding.

Elfriede Scholz, number 105 on Stieve’s list, was born in 1903 in Osnabrück. She was the sister of Erich Maria Remarque,  pacifist author of All Quiet on the Western Front, who had emigrated from Germany in 1933. Scholz worked as a seamstress, and, according to Hildebrandt, “was twice unhappily married and lost an infant daughter to a heart condition in 1923.” During the last years of her life she lived and worked in Dresden. In the summer of 1943 she was denounced by neighbors after saying she would shoot Hitler willingly if given the opportunity.

Scholz was arrested and charged with “undermining the military.” Senior judge Roland Freisler told her during the trial that “your brother unfortunately escaped us, but the same will not happen with you.” She was found guilty and executed on Dec. 16, 1943. Her brother did not learn of her death until 1946 and only later learned from press reports about the fate of her body at the hands of Stieve.

Irene Wosikowski, number 179 on Steive’s list, was working for the French resistance when she was betrayed by a German informer and taken into custody July 26, 1943. Born in Danzig in 1910, Wosikowski lived in Kiel and Hamburg, where she joined a communist youth organization. She fled Germany in 1934 and after time in Moscow and the Czech Republic, moved to Paris, where she worked as a newspaper correspondent while working with French resistance groups.

In 1940, Wosikowski and other German nationals were interned by French authorities in a camp in Gurs, from which she fled to Marseille and continued her political work until her betrayal. “Despite severe and continued torture by the Gestapo in Marseille and later in Hamburg,” writes Hildebrandt, “she did not give up the names of her colleagues.” Irene Wosikowski was sentenced to death on Sept. 13, 1944, in Berlin and executed on October 27.

Scholz and Wosikowski are but two of many heroic victims described by Hildebrandt: “The women and men on Stieve’s list came from all walks of life—they were domestic and industrial workers, homemakers, teachers, and academics, some were politically interested, others not. None of them volunteered to be dissected as Stieve’s research subject. On the contrary, many wanted their remains to rest with their families.

“This history is a reminder to modern anatomy that ethical body procurement and the anatomists’ caring about the body donor is of the utmost importance in a discipline that introduces students to professional ethics in the medical teaching curriculum.” It is also a reminder of the heroism of Elfriede Scholz, Irene Wosikowski and countless others who died resisting fascism.

Michael can be reached at