Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Stop the Search, Diogenes. We found him. It's Bernie.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, Independent from Vermont, held the senate floor for 90 minutes yesterday, talking directly to President Obama, pleading, cajoling, scolding--begging the president to take the lead on obvious things like lifting the poor and the downtrodden out of the depths, protecting them from any more grief, and demanding that the rich pay their fair share of U.S. taxes.

In what's called "a letter to President Obama", Sen. Sanders, a man Diogenes would be proud to call an honest man, said this:
No, we will not balance the budget on the backs of working families, the elderly, the sick, the children, and the poor, who have already sacrificed enough in terms of lost jobs, lost wages, lost homes, and lost pensions.  Yes, we will demand that millionaires and billionaires and the largest corporations in America contribute to deficit reduction as a matter of shared sacrifice.  Yes, we will reduce unnecessary and wasteful spending at the Pentagon.  And, no we will not be blackmailed once again by the Republican leadership in Washington, who are threatening to destroy the full faith and credit of the United States government for the first time in our nation's history unless they get everything they want.
He said this:
Now, Mr. President, given the decline in the middle class, given the increase in poverty, and given the fact that the wealthy and large corporations have never had it so good, Americans may find it strange that the Republicans in Washington would use this opportunity to make savage cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, education, nutrition assistance, and other lifesaving programs, while pushing for even more tax breaks for the wealthy and large corporations.
Unfortunately, it is not strange.  It is part of their ideology.  Republicans in Washington have never believed in Medicare, Medicaid, federal assistance in education, or providing any direct government assistance to those in need.  They have always believed that tax breaks for the wealthy and the powerful would somehow miraculously trickle down to every American, despite all history and evidence to the contrary.  So, in that sense, it is not strange at all that they would use the deficit crisis we are now in as an opportunity to balance the budget on the backs of working families, the elderly, the sick, the children and the poor, and work to dismantle every single successful government program that was ever created.
He spoke for 90 minutes, but the essence of it is above, and the conclusion is here:
So, I am asking the American people who may be listening today that if you believe that deficit reduction should be about shared sacrifice, if you believe that it is time for the wealthy and large corporations to pay their fair share, if you believe that we need to reduce unnecessary defense spending, and if you believe that the middle class has already sacrificed enough due to the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior on Wall Street, the President needs to hear your voice, and he needs to hear it now.
Go to my website: sanders.senate.gov and send a letter to the President letting him know that enough is enough!  Shared sacrifice means that it's time for the wealthiest Americans and most profitable corporations in America to pay their fair share and contribute to deficit reduction.
 I believe Bernie Sanders is our last, best hope.  He's dogged in his beliefs (my beliefs) and he believes in us.  We are his last, best hope.  He wants to believe that our president will at last listen, but if the president doesn't, Bernie needs to know that his eloquent, impassioned truth-speak isn't going unnoticed.

Go to his website, please, and let him know you're on his side.  Follow him on Facebook. And pass along, please, the transcripts, the videos, his website address--anything that will bring Bernie Sanders to the attention of the public and the press.  Sending a letter to the president would make Bernie so happy.  He might even find a reason to smile again.

Friday, June 24, 2011

FRIDAY FOLLIES: Huntsman's Debut Dud, New Bank Heist Health Care Plan, Pop-up Pianos, and Barbie killed Bratz

Rachel Maddow, dear-heart, I'm begging you--never, ever do beat poetry at the bongo drum AGAIN!  Gawd!  That was painful! I'm telling you, it was excruciating!  I love you truly but that was just gawdawful.  Really.

So if you were watching Rachel and you managed to get past the dimmed lights and the bongo and the terrible, horrible attempt at...whatever the hell that was, you might have seen what it was leading up to, which was a hilarious account of the disastrous roll-out day for newly announced GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman.  Oy, they shoulda stood in bed.  The lot of 'em.  Video here, but Rachel recaps it nicely like this:

“Getting the name of your candidate wrong, getting the state wrong where you launched your campaign in getting your address wrong, getting your phone number wrong, not getting the cameras pointed at the Statue of Liberty, and then the generator dies 12 minutes before the announcement, and then as soon as the whole thing is over and it time for whatever this guy’s name is to go to his next campaign event in New Hampshire, when it comes time to get all the press, all those dozens of press get them on board the plane to go with whatever his name is to go to New Hampshire for his first big campaign event. What happens? They try to accidentally board the press corps on to a plane that is not going to New Hampshire, but is instead going to Saudi Arabia.”

Okay, a lot of it wasn't Huntsman's fault (though that bizarre motorcycle ad might have been) and a lot of it was kind of nitpicky, but I laughed my head off as it went on and on...and on (the video is almost 19 minutes long!), and it's Friday, so there it is.

The first Barbie commercialFound this, the very first Barbie commercial at Paddy and Laffy's "The Political Carnival" and it took me back--not to my day but to my daughters'.  Oh, yes.  Fun but fraught with dangerous girl-to-woman signals, those Mad Men babes.  But Barbies were like peaches and cream compared to Bratz, the black-booted hussy dolls my granddaughter went nuts over.  (Their first commercial is here.) Interesting to note that Mattel won the battle over competition and forced Bratz out in order to keep Barbie strong.  I thought competition was a good thing for capitalists.  But then there is that whole values thing going on...

 This next story is funny and sad and poignant and ripe for movie-making if only George Carlin were still alive (or if Woody Allen hadn't done something similar in "Take the Money and Run").
 James Verone, age 59, robbed a Gastonia, NC bank using a demand note requesting only a dollar, apparently the lowest amount needed in order to get free housing and medical care in the local hoosegow.  Verone said he is hoping for a three-year sentence so he can ride it out until Social Security kicks in and he can go live at the beach.  He said he's never done a dishonest thing in his life before this. 

I could launch into a screed on the need for universal health care in this country and what the lack of same drives even the most honest men to do, but I'm picturing James Verone sitting on the floor of the bank holding a stolen dollar bill in his hand waiting for the police to arrive and take him away to safety.  A man at the end of his rope. With a plan. An absurd, ridiculous plan  And then I'm picturing millions of people at the end of their ropes, each demanding one dollar from banks all across the country and waiting for the police to come and take them away.  And from there I'm remembering honest black citizens breaking the law by sitting at all-white lunch counters or refusing to get to the back of the bus and I have to marvel at the purity of James Verone's plan.  He might well be this century's Rosa Parks.

A Moment Sublime:  Pop-up pianos in New York City (video).  Sing for Hope, a non-profit arts project, has set up 88 artist-decorated pianos in public places all over NYC and made them available to anyone who feels the need to tickle the ivories.  Artists include Izaac Mizrahi, Diane Von Furstenburg, Kate Spade, B.D. Wong, and others whose names New Yorkers will surely know.  They're asking people who have visited to come back to the website and tell their stories.  What a great project.  Wish I could be there to see some of them. (It runs through July 2.  Hope it doesn't rain...)

From newyorkology.com

Cartoon of the Week:

R.J Matson - St. Louis Post Dispatch

Friday, June 17, 2011

FRIDAY FOLLIES: On the Dalai Lama, Thurber, Michael Scott and Mitt

I've always dreamed of someday meeting the Dalai Lama (hasn't everybody?); sitting down with him, picking his brain, asking him the questions of the day:  What do you think about war and famine and global warming?  If I knew I was actually going to have the chance, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be working up a joke to tell him.  But then I'm not Australian anchor Karl Stefanovic, who had been saving his best joke (I'm guessing) for his best interview ever only to find it painfully lost, in translation and everywhere else.  Watch this.

On Target:  So I found that funny Dalai Lama link above at Gawker, a fun place to go when you want a laugh or two, but then I had to hang around long enough to find this disturbing bit of news:  Target says their people don't need no stinkin' unions.  They're so sure they really don't they've put out an anti-union video that's shown to all new employees.  At Target!  Yes, Target. Where anything a union can do they can do better.  Gawker says you won't find this in many places, so here it is in all its glory.  Thank you, Gawker. Always great to end the week on a low note.

As if Anthony Weiner's presser wasn't low enough.  The deeds, the resignation, the heckling at a press conference. . .it's a strange new world out there.  I wish it hadn't happened--any of it--but it did and it ended last week.  So there it is.  But I would rather remember Rep. Weiner like this.

Mitt Romney, a millionaire times a couple hundred, took all kinds of flak this week for commiserating with the jobless by telling them with a twinkle in his eye that he's out of work, too.  But here's the thing:  If Romney never, ever had a chance at a position of power I could kind of like the guy.  I mean, doesn't he remind you of Michael Scott, Steve Carell's character in "The Office"? The genius of Carell's "Michael" is that, while you're seeing all measure of a completely clueless "bad boss", there's that underlying pathetic need for acceptance, that clumsy begging to be liked that might just be tugging at your heartstrings if you could overlook all the overlying damage that comes with it.   Those Romney moments are like that.

Moment of Sublime:  A rare interview with James Thurber on "Omnibus". I've probably read everything Thurber ever wrote (my favorite is "The Years with Ross", probably because I thought I would be writing for The New Yorker some day. . .) and I admit I've spent endless minutes studying his cartoons, trying to make sense of why I'm laughing when they make no sense, but I can't remember the last time I've seen a clip of him actually talking.  (It could be I never actually have before.  When the memory goes, it's a terrible thing.  Unless you're able to forget that you had once remembered.)

That clip of Thurber being interviewed by Alistair Sim comes from a piece by Bob Mankoff, who wrote about Thurber in The New Yorker, Thurber's home away from home, which I read (after finding a mention on Twitter) courtesy of KenInNY at Down with Tyranny, who writes about attending a Thurber Celebration where Keith Olbermann spoke--along with Thurber's daughter, Mankoff, and Calvin Trillin. This is the beautiful beauty of the Internet.  If I hadn't come across the tweet on Twitter I never would have followed the wonderful paths to the video and I wouldn't be sharing any of it here.  That would be just pitiful.

Cartoon of the week:

James Thurber - The New Yorker magazine - 1929

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Taking of Benton Harbor

It's been six months now since Rick Snyder tied himself to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy's purse strings, letting the largest right-wing think tank in the country aid him in becoming the puppet-governor of Michigan, my Michigan.  If my beautiful state has any claim to fame these days, it's in the streaming melodrama of a calculated, very public disintegration of the rights and liberties of its people.

  Michigan is under attack more relentlessly, more viciously than at any other time in our history and, hard as it is to imagine, the enemy invaders are all government officials.  It might well be called a dictatorship, but for the disturbing fact that the government leaders carrying out this coup were duly elected by a majority of voters last November.

These Republican "small government" devotees took office on January 1 and immediately began dismantling governmental policies and protections, many of which had been put in place long before the parents of these hoo-haws were even born.  As public officials, their not-so-hidden goal is to turn the power of the state over to private interests, and Big Bucks says now is the time.  They can and they will do it, or their name isn't Vast Right Wing Conspiracy.

Just last week Eclectablog's Chris Savage wrote about another Emergency Financial Manager takeover, this time in Pontiac, in order to privatize the water-treatment services and hand them over to a company already in trouble with the DOJ for violations of the Clean Water Act.

Michael Stampfler is Pontiac, Michigan's EFM. He has the dubious distinction of being the first Michigan EFM to use new powers granted by Michigan Republicans to cancel a union contract. What went nearly unnoticed was that last week, he dissolved the Pontiac Planning Commission and replaced it with a smaller number of his own hand-picked, unelected members. But he also did another thing. He made a contract for water treatment services with United Water Services permanent, outsourcing the water treatment to them and laying off city water treatment officials.

Much has been written and broadcast nationwide about the plight of Michigan.   Big Right Wing money is behind it with resources not yet tapped.  They're a part of an entire astro-turf movement to control state government in order to bypass or weaken Federal constitutional authority.  There are movements across the state wholly dedicated to stopping the take-over before it gets completely out of hand, but the passion for justice is no match for the power of money.  (Thanks to early reporting by Rachel Maddow, the beleaguered city of Benton Harbor has become the focal point for watchdogs.)

Early Benton Harbor 

To Benton Harbor, this attack, while more ferocious and having sharper teeth, is nothing new.  The town has been a target for decades.  It's ripe for the taking.  It is a desperately poor black town that would probably have gone unnoticed except for its one valuable asset:  Frontage on Lake Michigan, complete with gorgeous sandy beaches and the crown jewel, Jean Klock Park, donated to the city in 1917 "for the children", in perpetuity and now under threat of takeover by the Snyder gang.   The revised Emergency Financial Manager Act might have been written with Benton Harbor in mind.  It now has the power to disband elected governments in poor cities and replace them with an absolute ruler --which happened there almost before the ink was dry.

Two weeks ago they latched onto another way to take over those precious assets. They've fired the current Brownfield Redevelopment Authority members and replaced them with their own people.  (The Brownfield Authority looks at former plant properties and makes recommendations for usage based on things like...oh...environmental concerns.  In Benton Harbor's case that would include former Whirlpool properties in the planned luxury resort and golf course area.  Everything will work out okay.  Count on it.)

But if that's not bad enough, in that same Eclectablog piece linked above there's this from local radio station WSJM:

Benton Harbor Emergency Manager Joseph Harris has issued a couple of orders, apparently designed to reign in actions by the city commission not permitted by Michigan's EFM legislation. First, an order from Harris on Friday states that  "no City official, employee or agent shall appear, in an official capacity for or on behalf of the City, at any meeting or hearing of the City Commission or any of [the city commission's] committees without the express written approval of the Emergency Manager, except the City Clerk [who] shall be permitted to attend any City Commission meeting....for the sole purpose of keeping the meeting minutes."  It appears as though this new rule is intended to prevent any department heads or others from reporting to the city commission in an official way, which effectively shuts the elected leadership out of any informational discussions regarding city operations. Additionally, the order from Harris goes on to state that the city clerk must attach language to the minutes of all Benton Harbor Commission meetings stating that any resolution passed by the body has no legal effect.

  Notice the language in these proclamations.  No explanations, no excuses, no wiggle room.  It will be done!  This is something new in our state, in our country.  I'm expecting brown shirts and jackboots any day now.  What I never expected was that I would be writing a piece like this without a chance in hell of calling it fiction.

Friday, June 10, 2011

FRIDAY FOLLIES: on Palin's world, Trump's fence, and, more important, remembering Les Paul

Sarah Palin knows her history.  It's our history that throws her.  Go ahead and laugh if you want to. Sarah still says Paul Revere was warning the British, and if you can't figure out why, it's your problem not hers.  People who like her (or maybe it was people whose bread she butters) even tried to change the Revere story on Wikipedia to more closely reflect Palin's version.  It didn't happen, but it doesn't matter.  She's just so darned cute, idn't she? Golly.

 Is Donald Trump still thinking of running for president?  Or is he setting his sights even higher?  Here's his latest warning:

 “I am watching very carefully. If the wrong person is nominated you watch what happens with Donald Trump and what he does, because we have to beat Obama. This country cannot last any longer with Obama as our president.”

I don't know.  Here's another goofball we like to laugh at, but sometimes while we're laughing larger forces are at work and we end up having to turn that smile upside down.  Last Week Jonathan Turley wrote about third-person Donald's actions in far-off Caledonia, where he's building a huge golf course complex:

In Scotland, Trump is bullying a Scottish couple who have had the temerity to refuse to surrender their home to his development. Trump is reportedly not only seeking governmental order to acquire the land but he encircled the home with a fence and then charged the couple with half of its cost — hitting David Milne, 46, and his wife Moira with a bill for £2820 for a fence they do not want. 

So when Trump says he's not running for president but he's going to do something drastic if Obama wins again, doesn't that sound like a threat?  What could he mean?  Shouldn't we be pressing him for more details?  I mean, it's not like he's going to clam up over one little question.

Hey you kids!  Republicans in charge here.  Just go home.  Now!  Student representatives in Iowa got a chance to go before the state education appropriations committee last week to put in their two cents about rising education costs.  This is what they heard from Shawn Hamerlinck, the ranking Republican on the committee:

“I do not like it when students actually come here and lobby me for funds. That’s just my opinion. I want to wish you guys the best. I want you to go home and graduate. But this political theater, leave the circus to us OK? Go home and enjoy yourselves. I want to thank you for joining us and though I have to concede, your time speaking before us is kind of a tad intense. It’s probably a pretty new experience. You probably prepared for it for days and you sat there in front of us trying to make sure your remarks were just right, and that’s a good thing. But actually spending your time worrying about what we’re doing up here, I don’t want you to do that. Go back home. Thanks guys.”
 (Thanks to Eclectablog, where I first found the story.)

Another Weiner speaks out:  It ain't funny.   Writer Eric Weiner has had enough of the jokes at his expense.  He may not be an Anthony but he's still a Weiner:
 The truth is I don’t know how to feel about my namesake, caught recently with his pants (nearly) down. On the one hand, as a fellow Weiner, I feel his pain. On the other hand, he has given us Weiners a bad name, and let’s face it: we didn’t have a great one to begin with.

 Pringles inventor Fredric Baur is canned for the last time.  Time reports that Baur's ashes were poured into two Pringles canisters and buried.  Much thought went into which flavor canister would be most appropriate, but in the end the Original won out.  (Good choice.  What else, actually?)

Moment of Sublime:  Yesterday Google paid tribute to Les Paul on what would have been his 96th birthday by creating a guitar-like instrument that plays notes when you mouse over the strings.  Once a tune had been created, it could then be recorded and sent to Google.  It was so popular, they're leaving it up through today.  I watched Rachel Maddow plunk it and play last night, but when I try it I don't get any sound.  I can move the strings and they color up, but they won't sing to me. (The computer hates me and it always has.  I'm too much in love with it to give it up now, but this relationship borders on SM and that's just crazy.  But never mind my little rant here.  The point is, I've lost any chance at being a published composer, an achievement I didn't even know I wanted, but now it seems I desperately do.)

 Cartoon of the Week:

Walt Handelsman, Newsday

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Men, power, reckless sex: Why? What are we missing?

I don't always read or agree with Maureen Dowd, but I do have her on my blogroll and now and then a title grabs me.  Yesterday she wrote "Your Tweetin' Heart".  Yes, I knew it was going to be about Anthony Weiner, but I read it anyway because sometimes her take on odd things like that is refreshingly different.

She talked not just about Rep. Weiner, but about what has been bothering me for so long about the men (it's been men so far)  we liberals count on to help solve the country's problems.

First there was Gary Hart, who practically begged the press to catch him with a babe on a boat and got caught. Bill Clinton fooled around with women (whose appeal caused some real head-scratching for most of us) and got caught.  Then it was John Edwards, who co-created a child with a woman who was not his wife and got caught.  Now it's Anthony Weiner, who got down and dirty in words and pictures and got caught.

(In earlier times it was FDR, JFK and Lyndon Johnson, but, while rumors flew, they didn't get caught.  And who knows how many others there were?)

They were all supposed populists -- my kind of people.  Their ability to speak up convincingly for the poor and disenfranchised is what got them where they were.  Their inability to tame their penises is what brought them down and ended any chance for us to count on their intelligence, their compassion, their flair for skewering the lies.

Dowd says:
Often powerful men crave more than love and admiration from The Good Wife. Sometimes they want risk, even danger. Sometimes they’re turned on by a power differential. They adore a fan reaction like the one from Lisa Weiss, the Vegas blackjack dealer, who flirted with Weiner on Facebook: “you are sooo awesome when you yell at those fox news” pundits, and “I bet you have so many chicks after you! you are our liberal stud.”
In her book, Elizabeth Edwards wrote that she would have bet her big house that her husband would not fall for a cheesy line like the one Rielle Hunter tossed at him: “You are so hot.”
But clich├ęs work. As Weiner wrote to Weiss: “What are you wearing?”
Meagan Broussard, a 26-year-old college student and single mom from Texas, wrote on BigGovernment.com, conservative Andrew Breitbart’s site, that her relationship with Weiner began when she wrote on his Facebook page that one of his speeches to construction workers was “hot.”
“Within an hour,” she wrote, “we were sending messages back and forth.”
So what is it?  What happens there?  Isn't the chance at saving the country a big enough ego-driver?  What is it about power that makes it such an aphrodisiac?  These are all men who worked long and hard to get to the top.  They're men who prided themselves on their willingness and their ability to help those who can't help themselves.  Their passion for progressive causes made them heroes in the eyes of millions of people.  We trusted them to help us move mountains.  Was that too much to ask?

They're men, not Gods.  I get that.  They don't always want to be the Good Guys.  But there are easier, more dignified ways to end a career than to self-destruct with your pants down.

So I'm asking:  Why?  Why do they do it? 


Friday, June 3, 2011

FRIDAY FOLLIES:On Jockey shorts, Palin's bus, Christie's 'copter, and Stone dead alligators,

We were all a-twitter last week by the big news that a close-up photo of a suggestive section of a pair of gray jockey shorts was sent to a young follower from Rep. Anthony Weiner's Twitter page.  Weiner denies sending the Tweet but seems reluctant to answer the question:  Boxers or briefs?  Yours or Andrew Breitbart's?  Weiner jokes abound.  Weiner snarls.  The Right Wing breaks out the champagne, pours it over Breitbart's head.  Yee Haw!  Done and DONE!

Sarah Palin's Magical Mystery Bus Tour:   What's it all about?  She has a pizza date with Donald Trump.  The press goes wild!  (and so does Jon Stewart).  She crashes Mitt Romney's presidential bid party in New Hampshire and pooh-poohs it with "just a coincidence" in signature sweet-sticky-Sarahness.  Stephen Colbert explains it all

Addendum:  With emphasis on the "dumb":  Palin giving a history lesson about Paul Revere's ride.  Can we please stop pretending this person is a grown-up ready to be president?  My God.  We're talking about the presidency.  Of the United States.  It's not funny!!   (Click here.)

New Jersey governor Chris Christie took a government-owned helicopter to his son's baseball game last week -- the same Christius Rex who spends his throne time figuring out ways to slash funding going to poor people with their own ball-playing kids -- and got haughty-hot when confronted with the fact that there might be the slightest impropriety there.  Come on, people!  With all they do in his family ("family values"), there's no way they could do it all with just a car!

(Note to Gov's son:  In the future you might want to hide the team schedule and avoid all the fuss.  Any dad who arrives at his son's game in a government-issue helicopter isn't there to watch his son play ball, anyway.)

Now, I really like Missouri.  It's a beautiful state.  The greatest father-in-law in the entire world (mine) was from there.  And from the looks of things, they've got a pretty progressive governor --  though his bio page works hard at keeping secret his party affiliation.  I had to work a bit to glean from clues that he must be a Democrat.  (His name is Jay Nixon. He won, anyway.)  So I do hesitate to even bring this embarrassing episode to light, but what is one to do when a story like this presents itself? Especially when it comes from the "Show Me" state?


Police in Independence got a call that a huge alligator was seen in the woods.  They don't get many calls about alligators in Missouri, but when you live in the "Show Me" state, you check out everything.  And sure enough, when they got there, there was indeed a huge alligator lying on the ground.  Here's the story:

Police responding to an alligator sighting in a suburban Kansas City pond took quick action to dispatch the big reptile. It wasn't until after the second rifle shot bounced off the beast Sunday that the three Independence officers realized it was a concrete lawn ornament. Independence police spokesman Tom Gentry said the department received a call from a man who said a gator had been spotted in the woods. Gentry said the alligator was in the weeds near a tree by a pond and it looked real. An officer shot the gator twice in the head -- per instructions from a conservation officer -- before realizing it wasn't moving. Gentry said the landowner told officers he put the fake gator there to keep children off his property.

I couldn't find a picture of the actual alligator in question, but for future reference, here's a photo I took of a couple of real alligators:

In Michigan, where they drastically slashed public education funds but left prison funding alone, the Ithaca, MI school superintendent had an idea.:

Consider the life of a Michigan prisoner. They get three square meals a day. Access to free health care. Internet. Cable television. Access to a library. A weight room. Computer lab. They can earn a degree. A roof over their heads. Clothing. Everything we just listed we DO NOT provide to our school children. This is why I’m proposing to make my school a prison.

See?  All it takes is a little imagination.  We can do this!

Moment of Sublime:  Bubble-smith Sterling Johnson creates giant beach bubbles.  Stinson Beach, California:

Cartoon of the week:

Tom Toles, The Washington Post