Tuli Can't Stop Talking

These are just my thoughts on contemporary issues and an attempt to open up a dialogue.

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Location: New York City

A citizen who cares deeply about the United States Constitution and the Rule of Law.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

What Would Jesus Do?

As a youngster I spent a great deal of time in church. I also spent a great deal of time trying to find a religion which best suited my beliefs and instincts. I knew that religion was important as two of the people I admired most were pastors. Father Bergstrom was the pastor of St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church and Reverend Josephs was the pastor of Mt. Olive Baptist Church and the mother of one of my best friends. They were both good people, and generous people, who lived by the maxim: what would Jesus do?

For a time I wanted to be an Episcopal priest. But, my mother explained to me that only men could be priests. I didn’t even know the word misogyny then I just thought it was the natural order of things. But, how to explain Rev. Josephs? Well, the Baptists were different, they weren’t catholic I was told. But, the one thing these churches had in common was that they survived and thrived on the free labor of women. For without the “Church Ladies” there would be no programs, fundraisers, fellowships, and church dinners, etc. I didn’t at the time understand it as politics, and sexual politics specifically, but even in its subtly I new something was unhealthy for women in the religion business.

Fast forward to today. Now, I am really not all that shocked with how politicized and sexualized religion has gotten in these United States. Hell, as a female child the scariest book I ever read was the Old Testament. I clearly understood one of its tenants: that females are to be used and that they are the lesser and man should exert his will to control the uncontrollable female. There are other tenants as well such as man’s right and duty even to exert his will over the earth, and all other creatures. So, like I said it is no shock to me how this religion business is turning out these days, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim. Their roots are all fundamentally the same, and I do mean fundamentally.

That little rant over, I came across an article in the New York Times today that gave me some hope. Not that I would run out and join this congregation, but the Reverend does seem to be someone that a Christian in the tradition of Jesus wouldn’t be ashamed to worship with.

Here is the article and please read the whole thing:

July 30, 2006

Disowning Conservative Politics Is Costly for Evangelical Pastor


MAPLEWOOD, Minn. — Like most pastors who lead thriving evangelical megachurches, the Rev. Gregory A. Boyd was asked frequently to give his blessing — and the church’s — to conservative political candidates and causes.

The requests came from church members and visitors alike: Would he please announce a rally against gay marriage during services? Would he introduce a politician from the pulpit? Could members set up a table in the lobby promoting their anti-abortion work? Would the church distribute “voters’ guides” that all but endorsed Republican candidates? And with the country at war, please couldn’t the church hang an American flag in the sanctuary?

After refusing each time, Mr. Boyd finally became fed up, he said. Before the last presidential election, he preached six sermons called “The Cross and the Sword” in which he said the church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a “Christian nation” and stop glorifying American military campaigns.

“When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses,” Mr. Boyd preached. “When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross.”

Mr. Boyd says he is no liberal. He is opposed to abortion and thinks homosexuality is not God’s ideal. The response from his congregation at Woodland Hills Church here in suburban St. Paul — packed mostly with politically and theologically conservative, middle-class evangelicals — was passionate. Some members walked out of a sermon and never returned. By the time the dust had settled, Woodland Hills, which Mr. Boyd founded in 1992, had lost about 1,000 of its 5,000 members.

But there were also congregants who thanked Mr. Boyd, telling him they were moved to tears to hear him voice concerns they had been too afraid to share.

“Most of my friends are believers,” said Shannon Staiger, a psychotherapist and church member, “and they think if you’re a believer, you’ll vote for Bush. And it’s scary to go against that.”

Sermons like Mr. Boyd’s are hardly typical in today’s evangelical churches. But the upheaval at Woodland Hills is an example of the internal debates now going on in some evangelical colleges, magazines and churches. A common concern is that the Christian message is being compromised by the tendency to tie evangelical Christianity to the Republican Party and American nationalism, especially through the war in Iraq.

At least six books on this theme have been published recently, some by Christian publishing houses. Randall Balmer, a religion professor at Barnard College and an evangelical, has written “Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America — an Evangelical’s Lament.”

And Mr. Boyd has a new book out, “The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church,” which is based on his sermons.

“There is a lot of discontent brewing,” said Brian D. McLaren, the founding pastor at Cedar Ridge Community Church in Gaithersburg, Md., and a leader in the evangelical movement known as the “emerging church,” which is at the forefront of challenging the more politicized evangelical establishment.

“More and more people are saying this has gone too far — the dominance of the evangelical identity by the religious right,” Mr. McLaren said. “You cannot say the word ‘Jesus’ in 2006 without having an awful lot of baggage going along with it. You can’t say the word ‘Christian,’ and you certainly can’t say the word ‘evangelical’ without it now raising connotations and a certain cringe factor in people.

“Because people think, ‘Oh no, what is going to come next is homosexual bashing, or pro-war rhetoric, or complaining about ‘activist judges.’ ”

Mr. Boyd said he had cleared his sermons with the church’s board, but his words left some in his congregation stunned. Some said that he was disrespecting President Bush and the military, that he was soft on abortion or telling them not to vote.

“When we joined years ago, Greg was a conservative speaker,” said William Berggren, a lawyer who joined the church with his wife six years ago. “But we totally disagreed with him on this. You can’t be a Christian and ignore actions that you feel are wrong. A case in point is the abortion issue. If the church were awake when abortion was passed in the 70’s, it wouldn’t have happened. But the church was asleep.”

Mr. Boyd, 49, who preaches in blue jeans and rumpled plaid shirts, leads a church that occupies a squat block-long building that was once a home improvement chain store.

The church grew from 40 members in 12 years, based in no small part on Mr. Boyd’s draw as an electrifying preacher who stuck closely to Scripture. He has degrees from Yale Divinity School and Princeton Theological Seminary, and he taught theology at Bethel College in St. Paul, where he created a controversy a few years ago by questioning whether God fully knew the future. Some pastors in his own denomination, the Baptist General Conference, mounted an effort to evict Mr. Boyd from the denomination and his teaching post, but he won that battle.

He is known among evangelicals for a bestselling book, “Letters From a Skeptic,” based on correspondence with his father, a leftist union organizer and a lifelong agnostic — an exchange that eventually persuaded his father to embrace Christianity.

Mr. Boyd said he never intended his sermons to be taken as merely a critique of the Republican Party or the religious right. He refuses to share his party affiliation, or whether he has one, for that reason. He said there were Christians on both the left and the right who had turned politics and patriotism into “idolatry.”

He said he first became alarmed while visiting another megachurch’s worship service on a Fourth of July years ago. The service finished with the chorus singing “God Bless America” and a video of fighter jets flying over a hill silhouetted with crosses.

“I thought to myself, ‘What just happened? Fighter jets mixed up with the cross?’ ” he said in an interview.

Patriotic displays are still a mainstay in some evangelical churches. Across town from Mr. Boyd’s church, the sanctuary of North Heights Lutheran Church was draped in bunting on the Sunday before the Fourth of July this year for a “freedom celebration.” Military veterans and flag twirlers paraded into the sanctuary, an enormous American flag rose slowly behind the stage, and a Marine major who had served in Afghanistan preached that the military was spending “your hard-earned money” on good causes.

In his six sermons, Mr. Boyd laid out a broad argument that the role of Christians was not to seek “power over” others — by controlling governments, passing legislation or fighting wars. Christians should instead seek to have “power under” others — “winning people’s hearts” by sacrificing for those in need, as Jesus did, Mr. Boyd said.

America wasn’t founded as a theocracy,” he said. “America was founded by people trying to escape theocracies. Never in history have we had a Christian theocracy where it wasn’t bloody and barbaric. That’s why our Constitution wisely put in a separation of church and state.

“I am sorry to tell you,” he continued, “that America is not the light of the world and the hope of the world. The light of the world and the hope of the world is Jesus Christ.”

Mr. Boyd lambasted the “hypocrisy and pettiness” of Christians who focus on “sexual issues” like homosexuality, abortion or Janet Jackson’s breast-revealing performance at the Super Bowl halftime show. He said Christians these days were constantly outraged about sex and perceived violations of their rights to display their faith in public.

“Those are the two buttons to push if you want to get Christians to act,” he said. “And those are the two buttons Jesus never pushed.”

Some Woodland Hills members said they applauded the sermons because they had resolved their conflicted feelings. David Churchill, a truck driver for U.P.S. and a Teamster for 26 years, said he had been “raised in a religious-right home” but was torn between the Republican expectations of faith and family and the Democratic expectations of his union.

When Mr. Boyd preached his sermons, “it was liberating to me,” Mr. Churchill said.

Mr. Boyd gave his sermons while his church was in the midst of a $7 million fund-raising campaign. But only $4 million came in, and 7 of the more than 50 staff members were laid off, he said.

Mary Van Sickle, the family pastor at Woodland Hills, said she lost 20 volunteers who had been the backbone of the church’s Sunday school.

“They said, ‘You’re not doing what the church is supposed to be doing, which is supporting the Republican way,’ ” she said. “It was some of my best volunteers.”

The Rev. Paul Eddy, a theology professor at Bethel College and the teaching pastor at Woodland Hills, said: “Greg is an anomaly in the megachurch world. He didn’t give a whit about church leadership, never read a book about church growth. His biggest fear is that people will think that all church is is a weekend carnival, with people liking the worship, the music, his speaking, and that’s it.”

In the end, those who left tended to be white, middle-class suburbanites, church staff members said. In their place, the church has added more members who live in the surrounding community — African-Americans, Hispanics and Hmong immigrants from Laos.

This suits Mr. Boyd. His vision for his church is an ethnically and economically diverse congregation that exemplifies Jesus’ teachings by its members’ actions. He, his wife and three other families from the church moved from the suburbs three years ago to a predominantly black neighborhood in St. Paul.

Mr. Boyd now says of the upheaval: “I don’t regret any aspect of it at all. It was a defining moment for us. We let go of something we were never called to be. We just didn’t know the price we were going to pay for doing it.”

His congregation of about 4,000 is still digesting his message. Mr. Boyd arranged a forum on a recent Wednesday night to allow members to sound off on his new book. The reception was warm, but many of the 56 questions submitted in writing were pointed: Isn’t abortion an evil that Christians should prevent? Are you saying Christians should not join the military? How can Christians possibly have “power under” Osama bin Laden? Didn’t the church play an enormously positive role in the civil rights movement?

One woman asked: “So why NOT us? If we contain the wisdom and grace and love and creativity of Jesus, why shouldn’t we be the ones involved in politics and setting laws?”

Mr. Boyd responded: “I don’t think there’s a particular angle we have on society that others lack. All good, decent people want good and order and justice. Just don’t slap the label ‘Christian’ on it.”

There is still a long way to go in this religion business, but to Mr. Boyd I say, “Amen Brother!”

MODO Should Only Be Right!

The recent events and carnage in the Middle East have put our country’s Foreign Policy in bold relief. It has also put our Dear Leader, and his poodle, out there in a way that should make all sentient beings cringe at best.

Maureen Dowd muses on what is really going on behind the words spilled from their mouths and comes up with something that is far more coherent than anything either Bush or Blair could come up with. But then she is using reason, and so she fails to tell the real tale.

From behind the wall:

July 29, 2006

Op-Ed Columnist

Fetch, Heel, Stall


Oops, they did it again. That pesky microphone problem that plagued George W. Bush and Tony Blair in St. Petersburg struck again at their White House news conference yesterday. The president told technicians to make sure his real thoughts would not be overheard this time, but somehow someone forgot to turn off the feed to my office. As a public service, I’d like to reprint the candid under-their-breath mutterings they exchanged in between their public utterances.

THE PRESIDENT: “The prime minister and I have committed our governments to a plan to make every effort to achieve a lasting peace out of this crisis.”

“Actually, we talked about our plan to keep using fancy phrases like ‘lasting peace’ and ‘sustainable cease-fire,’ so we don’t actually have to cease the fire. Condi had a great one! Didya hear it, Tony? She said, ‘The fields of the Middle East are littered with broken cease-fires.’ Man, can she talk, and she plays piano, too!”

THE PRIME MINISTER: “The question is now how to get it stopped and get it stopped with the urgency that the situation demands. ... I welcome very much the fact that Secretary Rice will go back to the region tomorrow. She will have with her the package of proposals in order to get agreement both from the government of Israel and the government of Lebanon on what is necessary to happen in order for this crisis to stop.”

“I thought it was quite clever, George, to stall by sending Condi to Kuala Lumpur for that eminently skippable meeting of marginal Asian powers. And her decision to tickle the ivories while Beirut burns was inspired. The Asians love a good Brahms sonata. And she called it a ‘prayer for peace’! Just brilliant. But her idea of a series of Rachmaninoff concerts at every layover on the way to the Middle East could look too conspicuously like dawdling.”

THE PRESIDENT: “Hezbollah’s not a state. They’re a, you know, supposed political party that happens to be armed. Now what kind of state is it that’s got a political party that has got a militia?”

“Uh-oh! I mean, besides all those Shiite leaders we set up in Iraq who have THEIR own militias. Oh, man, this is complicated. What about those Republican Minutemen patrolling the Mexican border? Or Vice on a hunting trip?”

THE PRIME MINISTER: “Of course the U.N. resolution, the passing of it, the agreeing of it, can be the occasion for the end of hostilities if it’s acted upon, and agreed upon. And that requires not just the government of Israel and the government of Lebanon, obviously, to abide by it, but also for the whole of the international community to exert the necessary pressure so that there is the cessation of hostilities on both sides.”

“And the whole of the cosmos! We can call for an intergalactic study group to act upon and agree upon and adjudicate — George, I can keep the verbs, adjectives and conditional phrases going until these reporters keel over.”

THE PRESIDENT: “My message is, give up your nuclear weapon and your nuclear weapon ambitions. That’s my message to Syria — I mean, to Iran. And my message to Syria is, you know, become an active participant in the neighborhood for peace.”

“It’s so hard to keep all these countries straight! And which ones are in the Axis? I hate it when Condi leaves town. Tony Baloney, just blink twice when I mention a bad country and once when I mention one we like and sell arms to. And while you’re at it, heel, poodle! Har-har. Play dead! You crack me up.”

THE PRIME MINISTER: “I’ve spoken to President Chirac, Chancellor Merkel, Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey, the president of the European Union, the prime minister of Finland and many, many others.”

“See? I’m no poodle. I’m here to keep the names of our allies straight. And I can stand up straight. Bush, old boy, that’s not posture. That’s Paleolithic Man.”

THE PRESIDENT: “And so what you’re seeing is, you know, a clash of governing styles. For example, you know, you know, the, the, the notion of democracy beginning to emerge — emerge — scares the ideologues, the totalitarians, and those who want to impose their vision. It just frightens them, and so they respond. They’ve always been violent. ... There’s this kind of almost, you know, kind of weird kind of elitism that says: well, maybe — maybe — certain people in certain parts of the world shouldn’t be free.”

“Tony, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”

Well, Josh Marshall has posted the video, Exhibit A, of our Dear Leaders meandering thoughts on our Foreign Policy and all I can say is that I wish that Maureen Dowd’s were the real deal.

That this man is in charge of anything makes me lose all confidence in a “Higher Being” and Darwinism. He is so clueless as to who the “enemy” is or what the geopolitics of the situation are that I am speechless. George W. Bush’s answer to David Gregory is the most unbelievable display of ignorance and arrogance that I think I have ever witnessed by a national leader (WATCH THE WHOLE THING). I watched this video and just felt bereft for the Middle East and the World.

So, the US is promoting democracy and our enemies are against it. Well, apparently GW missed the part where Hamas was democratically elected, as were Hezbollah, and Lebanon is a democracy, fragile, but a democracy none-the-less. So, WTF is he talking about.

We are in deep shit folks and this guy is the one crapping on the world.

Pointers Meet Axel Foley!

Nostalgia: sometimes it works. Back in the day when the only things we had to worry about were Civil Rights, the Vietnam War and the incipient tear gassing and police bashing, Apartheid, Richard Nixon’s Imperial Presidency, U.S. Hitting Peak Oil, the Cold War, Inflation, Deflation and Jimmy Carter’s Sweater, things seemed so much simpler and hopeful.

So, I decided to take a break from our bleak times and take a little look back at some of the good times and for me that always means music.

In the early 70’s the Pointer Sisters hit the airwaves. They were fabulous in their retro outfits and retro sound. Here is a video of “Yes We Can Can” one of their first songs which shows just how retro and fab they were. They were so young, fresh and hopeful, and weren’t we all.

Shortly after that song came out I move to NYC and had the great pleasure and honor of getting to know another brilliant female stylist, Phyllis Hyman. Phyllis was a Pointers fan as well and she always insisted on playing “I Need a Man,” well you know the rest of the song, on the jukebox at this club she used to sing at and where we often hung out. When Phyllis sang “Body Heat,” WELL! To date no one, and I mean no one, has been able to make you feel the heat like she could. This was back in the day before she got into her trademark “Big Outfits.” She would just stand there at the mic in a simple outfit, so elegant, and just croon her heart and yours out. She was always larger than life and looking for more. I wish she could have found it.

So, back to Axel Foley, I loved the movie and I love that they used the Pointers’ Neutron Dance in that great action scene. So, here for your amusement is the Pointers’ video incorporating the movie. I love it: wreaking havoc with great music. Life seemed so simple in ’84.

This brings me back to the times we live in, nothing is simple and nostalgia can be helpful, but it doesn’t always work. Phyllis is gone by her own hand, and June Pointer was taken recently by the hand of fate.

To all those out there who want to take us back to the good-old-days, remember maybe they were more comforting to you, but not to everyone. Today we have terrorists that the U.S. believes it can torture, remember lynching? On September 11, 2001 supposedly the world changed. Well, no, it didn’t change. Terrorism in this country isn’t new, in 1995 the Murrah building was destroyed and much of the surrounding area by a white supremist. And if you were black in the good-old-days terrorism was just part of your life: KKK, Birmingham circa 1963, etc.

When was the last time we admitted to torturing a White Supremist because he was a terrorist or enemy combatant? Not in the good-old-days!

So nostalgia tells me there is no such thing as wreaking havoc with great music, and there never has been. Maybe in the movies you see it, but in real life not so much. And back in the good-old-days, never.

But it certainly feels like we are currently doing the Neutron Dance?

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Imagine a New Paradigm!

The world is in need thoughtful imagination. Just imagine Peace and not hating each other. Imagine wanting to live together in respectful appreciation for our differences. Imagine we didn’t live to exacerbate our sectarian and religious differences. Imagine that we respected each other as sentient beings. Imagine we were able to stand in each other’s shoes to understand each other’s position. Is that possible?

Dream On?

What do you think?

Steve Gilliard and the News Blog

Do you go there, and if not, why not? You should you know! Steve and Jen have much to say and share.

So, go there now, and feel the news.

The Lights are Really, Really, Out!

What the hell is going on in Queens with Con Edison! This is the seventh day of no electricity in THE MAJOR METROPOLIS of the United States of America. You might almost think that Queens is Baghdad or Gaza. Well, maybe not Baghdad as they get some electricity, not much, but some, and Gaza not so much and without the bombs. But, NYC, how could this be happening?

Yesterday we drove through the effected area and it was, to put it mildly, quite eerie, especially after six days. We are now into day seven. In 2003 the entire metropolitan area was out for only 29 hours. In 2003 the entire grid went down and they got us back up and running in a total of 29 hours. Now a small grid has gone down and it is seven days and waiting.

This is just beyond comprehension and it is apparently beyond Con Ed’s comprehension as well.

What are we to think?

The Oliver Stone in my brain has been saying for several years now that the oligarchy, represented by the Bush Administration and the current “Rubber Stamp” Congress, is rapidly turning this country into a Third World Economy and Country and it seems that it has succeeded in making Queens Exhibit A.

This whole rush to deregulate is really working out well isn’t it?

Greg Palast sees a conspiracy of sorts. I am no longer doubting him.

I repeat, what are we to think, beyond the outrage that is?

Democrats Pay Attention!

This video is very funny and is spot on. View it (brief commercial first), and keep in mind that this could, and should, be the new theme for the fall elections.

However, we are the only ones who can “Stop This Shit!”

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Most Disturbing?

This Presidency has produced gaffes and bloopers that make the President and this country look like fools. Included would be his recent off the record remarks to Blair, while the mike tells the tale, in which he says “shit,” talks with his mouth full, and displays a general lack of knowledge of geography, not to mention diplomacy and world affairs.

That said I find GW’s behavior toward Chancellor Merkel the most disturbing. This man is way beyond boorish. Where does he get off putting his hands on her in such a manner (stills here), she is the German Chancellor for heaven’s sake. Then he just walks away after she shakes him off, as though nothing happened. What is wrong with him and why is he considered the “Leader of the Free World.” Would he have done this to Schroeder?

I find this deplorable and the Chancellor doesn’t seem to find it amusing.

Take a look at this (video here) and tell me he isn’t crazy. One would almost want to know what he was thinking: Not! He is a man out of control and over his head.

Isn’t anyone in this administration in charge of Protocol and shouldn’t they give the “Leader of the Free World” a refresher course before he is unleashed again?

Saturday, July 15, 2006

My Links!

This is from the complaints department. Amazing isn’t it that even I get complaints. Who would have thunk it? Not me!

Okay, so I am a lawyer by training (oh, and a bookkeeper), so I like footnotes and citations. And if you are reading my blog you need to know that my site uses links more as footnotes (meaning a must read) than citations, though sometimes I mix them up. I also still have not figured out how to put visuals into the text. So, for anyone reading my blog, and that means you two regulars out there, you must click on the links in order to get the full picture; whether that full picture is a footnote, citation, or, in many cases lately, a video.

I am still learning how to do this private publishing thing (and html challenged). So, as I learn more, it will become easier for my two regular readers to peruse the site. In the mean time you all will have to deal with my shortcomings. Though I must say I am trying to ameliorate the problem of my techno-insufficiency.

Look forward to the day you will actually be able to see a direct picture caption of any video I want you to see. In the mean time please grant me dispensation and click on the links.

The bottom line is once you click on the link you are free to ignore it or not! But, if you don’t click on it you maybe missing something you wouldn’t want to miss.

Regards and thank you,

Your non-techno-savvy poster.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Mark Fiore Says it All.

In a follow up to my post “Incarceration in the U. S. is Shameful,” Mark Fiore, the animation genius, has come up with the “United States of Incarceration.” It is the clear explanation and connection to Abu Ghraib. Because if we are doing it here to U. S. prisoners, why wouldn’t we do it everywhere to foreign prisoners.

I am sendng this out again as it is too important to let sit.

Do you care what is being done to your fellow human beings?

Beirut and George Adams

The crisis that is the Middle East and Lebanon today reminds me of an old friend of mine. George Adams, who Grover Washington, Jr. personally confessed to me was the best tenor sax player in the world, loved Beirut.

In 1974, when he was part of Charles Mingus’s quartet, he was booked into Beirut. He called it the Riviera of the Middle East. He was so excited to go and spend a couple of weeks playing music and embracing the ambiance of Beirut. He was hyped!

Well, war broke out and the tour was cancelled. George was devastated. The group at the time consisted of Charles, Don Pullen, George, Dannie Richmond, and Hammett Bluett.

I can’t help but think what he would be thinking today and how he would feel.

Here are is a music video of George and one of his with Mingus.

Charles, George, Don and Dannie are gone now. But, their musical brilliance and legacy lives on.

What will be the legacy of the crisis in Beirut?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Incarceration in the United States is Shameful.

The fact, which is shameful, is that the U.S. incarcerates more of its population than any other country. Now, does that mean the U.S. folks are more criminally inclined than other countries folks?

What exactly does it mean? I don’t have any answers. But, not only do we incarcerate more folks per capita than any other country, but we are crude in the way we do it. Our country treats its incarcerated folks in a cruel and dehumanizing way. Could there be a connection to these two facts?

NYS Court of Appeals Chief Justice, Sol Wachtler, discovered the dirty truth when he was incarcerated. He then became a champion of Prison Reform. And, he more than likely, was treated with some minimal deference.

But, I find it horrifying that we should have to be incarcerated to discover that we need to reform our prisons.

Look at Mark Fiore’s take on our situation in a cartoon.

For an example of how our treatment of the incarcerated is not, in anyway, cartoonish read the reporting that Ralph over at Newsfare has been following. Not only is it about our shame in the way we run our prisons and jails, it is a shame that our country has come to this.

Read it and weep:

Five Weeks in an American Prison

America is supposed to be the greatest country in the world, right? And if you do not agree, you are a traitor, right?

I have been following the case of Carol Fisher, who was imprisoned last month for putting up anti-Bush posters in Cleveland, great state of Ohio. Now Carol has been released from prison after having her case accepted for appeal. On July 4th, not knowing she would soon be out of jail, Carol wrote the following:


You asked for some particulars about the conditions here at Cuyahoga County Jail. The most troubling situation is with medical needs. Last night a woman had a grand mal seizure just because she was not given her prescribed medication. When she came in several weeks ago, she had her prescribed medicine — and a prior written order from the court requiring strict attention to taking her medication as a safety precaution to herself and others. Yet she was denied the meds for several weeks and then when she got them they still left out some, which led to the seizure, in the common room, collapsing on the concrete floor. This is typical. We watched as another woman declined into madness over the course of several days when she couldn't get her medication for bi-polar disorder. She was unable to sleep, and after 36 hours began to hallucinate and had no concept of where she was. After 3 days of this torture, allowing her to bang on the doors all night calling for attention, they carted her off to the psych ward — totally unnecessary suffering.

Medications are doled out three times a day. But most people say they are not getting what the need, or only partial treatment, and frequently not what they have been prescribed. If you have a health issue, you write your complaint and it is sent to the clinic. Unless it is an emergency, it takes 2 to 3 weeks to be seen. (I was called down sooner because my situation was brought to the warden's attention. But still there were no results for a comparatively simple request). No one has a good thing to say about the clinic or the doctors. One 20 year old woman complained of a sore throat and earaches, and the doctor's comment to her was, "oh, maybe it's because you are swallowing too much come?" This is the attitude you are met with, sick or well.

The last time (the third attempt) I tried to request my herbs and vitamins, I was told that there was "no pharmacological proof that these would be of benefit. It's all just touchy-feely stuff." I was told that a separate visit to the gyn doctor would be necessary for the yeast infection. That infection gave over to a possible bladder infection. I’m guessing that it will be a 2 or 3 week wait for another clinic visit.

There are charges for all medication and treatment. These fees are paid thru commissary. So if you have a medical emergency, like the woman who had the seizure, you can't purchase anything else thru commissary because first the $ go to pay medical fees (even if the emergency was caused by their malpractice).

The clinic is filthy. The health department should go inspect the 7th floor medical clinic. They have 2 holding cells where inmates wait to be seen. You night spend 45 minutes to an hour with other sick inmates in this area about 6'x12'. Bugs are flying in your face. The toilet/sink area in the holding cell stinks of urine and looks like it is never cleaned or disinfected — you might leave the clinic sicker than when you arrived.

Other big issues are the air and water. It’s typical for people to develop respiratory problems and skin problems a day or two after arriving. Bladder infections are also common. You get only 2 cups of coffee, 1/2 pt. milk and 1 cup of koolaid each day. The tap water tastes and smells like sewage — people avoid drinking it and get dehydrated.

Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for two years starting in 1895, and later wrote in his Ballad of Reading Gaol that the water in the prison was slimy. Wilde had terrible diarrhea for weeks after arriving at the prison. Obviously, in our great America, we have come a long way since 1895!

People are always hungry. The meals are what you expect for jail — mostly starch, small portions of processed meat and rotten iceberg lettuce. The fresh fruit is coveted.

Oddly, Wilde also mentioned that in Reading, everyone was always hungry. Of course he was at hard labor, which amounted to systematic torment every day and night. So rations there were intentionally kept short.

I am told that the jail is paid a certain amount of dollars per inmate — in the thousands — but can't verify that. They act like there is no money for anything. We are supposed to be issued t-shirts, socks, underwear but often as with me, there are no t-shirts, socks or even underwear available. Now they want you to buy it thru commissary, if what you wore in doesn't fit regulation. We went two weeks sharing 3 rolls of toilet paper between 30 women. The blankets are full of holes and the sheets are as thin as gauze. The towels are the size of dishtowels. There is no kleenex or paper napkins for meals.

There's no regard for due process or "right to a speedy trial,” or "right to contact your attorney." Those who are appointed public defenders often don't know their attorney's name or have any way of contacting them. If you don't have someone on the outside pulling for you, forget it. The only hope is thru the social worker who comes once a week. The majority of women in here are sitting and waiting for an unknown date for arraignment, for a hearing, for sentencing, or to be assigned a bed at an outside treatment center. People wait weeks and sometimes months even to be charged. When those with public defenders finally go to court they wait all day in holding cells with 2 to 8 others, often you get sent back upstairs with no results — hearing is rescheduled. Obviously you have no control over any of this.

When I told the women that WCW was interested in hearing about conditions inside, these are the main things they emphasized: They were encouraged to know that somebody is listening. Later that day I noticed that 2 women had been motivated to write complaints to the warden and got everyone to sign them — about the bad water and cold showers and lack of toilet paper.

Was Carol actuallly, unbeknownst to her, imprisoned in Mexico, or Albania, or Liberia? No, strangely enough, she was right here in the U.S.A., the greatest country in the world! The water just smelled and tasted like sewage because Carol is such a bad person. A traitor, as I mentioned.

She opposed our Unitary Executive! Think about that. And why? Simply because soldiers and civilians are dying every day, and a country is being destroyed, by Mr. Unitary Executive's stupid, obscenely expensive, completely immoral war for oil and military bases.

I am ashamed on so many levels. If we treat our citizen’s in this manner, what does that say for how we will treat those at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib?

Go ahead, you tell me the distinction!

Victor Wooten: With Amazing Grace!

Who says that Law School is a waste, aside from lawyers that is? Well not me; for me Law School was great. Of course I went to the Communist Law School (CUNY, as it was known back in the day). So, I had a great experience and I met wonderful folks.

Two of those wonderful folks were professors. They were Jean and Steve Z., and they added great value and joy to my life. One of the many things they did was to drag me to Belmont Park, that’s right, the track and para-mutual betting on thoroughbred racing.

Well, for someone who had never even purchased a lotto ticket that was pretty degenerative. Now, just so you know, this was long after I had received my J.D. and passed the Bar, so there was no sucking up involve.

Actually, how it happened was that Steve was serving jury duty around Kentucky Derby time at the District Court in New York and I was working for the Appeals Court in the same building at the time. So, we had lunch together and he started showing me how to handicap using the Daily Racing Form. Well, I fell in love with Sea Hero. Who couldn’t love a horse named Sea Hero whose sire was Polish Navy. It was just too fanciful and what were the chances? Well, as it turned out pretty good as he won in ’93 with Jerry Bailey aboard. And, who was this Bailey guy anyway? And that was without even paying attention to Steve’s lesson in handicapping.

So, soon I was going to Belmont Park on Saturdays and learning the art of handicapping and appreciating my legal education. Synthesis is one of the most important aspects of legal reasoning and synthesis is necessary for handicapping. I guess that is why so many lawyers and judges are into horseracing. I have also been told by some that handicapping is far too difficult, and too much work, and so they buy lotto tickets instead. And the odds are?

Anyway, one thing leads to another, and soon I was going to Saratoga Springs for the meet with them.

This leads to Victor Wooten. Took a while didn’t it?

SPAC is in Saratoga. It is the Saratoga Performing Arts Center which is right next to the Spas. So, one night Jean and Steve dragged me to a concert there under the guise of seeing Joan Baez. Okay, she actually was playing there that night. But, Steve really wanted to see Bela Fleck, Baez, not so much.

Well, what a concert. Alison Krauss was there and spectacular. The sound system at SPAC is incredible and I had never heard of her, or heard her, before. Blew my mind! I have to say that I am a sucker for a female fiddle player and she was worth the price of admission.

Little did I know what was coming next: Bela Fleck and the Flecktones! I don’t think I sat down for the whole performance. Damn!

And in the middle of it all was Victor Wooten. Now, as a jazz aficionado and one who loves the bass, see Charles Mingus, I was blown away.

So, with that in mind I have put together a few videos to show just how wonderful Mr. Wooten is. The first is Amazing Grace, next comes his melodic bass playing lesson, and finally is Amazing Grace after you have seen the lesson. I implore you to watch all three in order.

I hope you find this as instructive and enlightening as I do.

Listen up and learn. The bass, as Mingus made clear, is not only for rhythm it is for melody. And how melodic and graceful Mr. Wooten is. Amazing!

Music In My Life!

You can always tell, I think, when and how someone grew-up by their favorite music. Now, my mother introduced me to opera and operettas at a rather early age. By ten I was singing the “Drinking Song” from the Student Prince, faking my way through Puccini’s arias in Madame Butterfly, and let’s not forget “I Am a Very Model of a Modern Major General.” She introduced me to all types of culture and music and as a result I love most kinds of music, though I am not very fond of Gangsta Rap.

When I was growing up The Motown Sound and R&B was what we all danced to and as even my brother acknowledged, I was the best dancer he has ever known. Of course for a white boy from the burbs his perspective could be a little suspect. But, dance we did, and I had a regular partner, Harry. Harry’s mother was the Rev. Josephs, from Mt. Olive Church. She revived my early love of Gospel and introduced me to Clara Ward. No one has ever sung “Operator” like Ms. Ward.

Then came the Beatles with the British Invasion. One word describes it: Swoon! I had never really taken to any of the white boy groups before and it took me by surprise at how I took to the Beatles. Maybe it was because they took their inspiration from R&B. I don’t know, but love them I did and still do.

So, there are several songs by the Beatles as a group and as individuals that have a very special place in my heart. And for your viewing and listening pleasure I have put some of them here for you. There is Hey Jude, Let It Be, I’ve Got My Mind Set On You, and My Sweet Lord.

And just to show how far it goes, here is a link for juggling sent to me by a friend that brings a thrill and chill to my spine.

This is just the very short list. But like they say, it is still In My Life.

Just Who, and What, is Standing Up in Iraq?

As just about everyone knows, Bush has repeatedly asserted that “When the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.” That is this administration’s “Plan for Victory.”

So, just exactly how is this strategy going and how are those Iraqi troops that we are waiting to stand up doing?

According to this piece in the Baltimore Sun, it is not going very well. In fact to borrow a term from the internet: FUBAR!

That's right the Iraqi troops that we are dependant on taking over the “Mission,” so that it can be “Accomplished,” are apparently out of control or, at the very least, under no one’s control.

Here is the headline:

Brutality, corruption pervade Iraqi police force

Documents allege officers involved in ai

ding insurgents and fatal beatings

Pretty scary, huh? Well, here is the whole thing a

nd then we will talk about how well this plan is working?

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Brutality and corruption are rampant in Iraq's police force, with abuses including the rape of female prisoners, the release of terrorism suspects in exchange for bribes, assassinations of police officers and participation in insurgent bombings, according to confidential Iraqi g

overnment documents detailing more than 400 police corruption investigations.

A recent assessment by State Department police training contractors underscores the investigative documents, concluding that strong paramilitary and insurgent influences within the force and endem

ic corruption have undermined public confidence in the government.

Officers have beaten prisoners to death, been involved in kidnapping rings, sold thousands of stolen and forged Iraqi passports and passed along vital information to insurgents, the Iraqi documents allege.

The documents, which cover most of 2005 and part of 2006, were obtained by the Los Angeles Times and authenticated by current and former police officials. The alleged offenses cover dozens of poli

ce units and hundreds of officers ranging from beat cops to generals and police chiefs.

Officers were punished in some cases, but the vast majority of offenses are either under investigation or were dropped because of a lack of evidence or witness testimony.

The documents are the latest in a string of disturbing revelations of abuse and corruption by Iraq's Interior Ministry, a huge, Cabinet-level agency that employs 268,610 police, and immigration, facil

ities security and dignitary protection officers.

After the discovery in November of a secret Interior Ministry detention facility in Baghdad operated by police intelligence officials affiliated with a Shiite Muslim militia, U.S. officials declared 2006 "the year of the police." They vowed a renewed effort to expand and professionalize Iraq's civilian officer corps.

President Bush has said that the training of a competent Iraqi police force is linked to the timing of a

n eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops and a key element in the war in Iraq. (emphasis mine)

But U.S. officials say the renegade force in the ministry's intelligence service that ran the bunker in Baghdad's Jadiriyah neighborhood continues to operate out of the Interior Ministry building's seventh floor. A senior U.S. military official in Iraq, who was interviewed last month on condition of anonymity, confirmed that one of the leaders of the renegade group, Mahm

oud Waeli, is the "minister of intelligence for the Badr Corps" Shiite militia and a main recruiter of paramilitary elements for interior police forces.

"We're gradually working the process to take them out of the equation," the military official said. "We developed the information. We also developed a prosecutorial case."

Bayan Jabr, a prominent Shiite, was in

terior minister at the time of the investigations detailed in the documents and has been accused of allowing Shiite paramilitaries to run rampant in the security forces under his watch.

U.S. officials interviewed for this article said the ability of Jabr's replacement, Jawad Bolani, to deal with the pervasive corruption and militia influence in the police will be a crucial test of his leadership.

The huge challenges facing Bolani, a Shiite engineer who has no policing experience and who entered politics for the first time after the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, are highlighted in a recent assessment by police trainers hired by the State Department. According to the report, corruption in the Interior Ministry has hampered its effectiveness and its credibility with Iraqis.

"Despite great progress and genuine commitment on the part of many ministry officials, the current climate of corruption, human rights violations and sectarian violence found in Iraq's security forces undermines public confidence," according to the document, "Year of the Police In-Stride Assessment, October 2005 to May 2006."

"Elements of the MOI have been co-opted by insurgents, terrorists and sectarian militias. Payroll fraud, other kinds of corruption and intimidation campaigns by insurgent and militia organizations undermine police effectiveness in key cities throughout Iraq," the report said.

The report increased tensions between the Pentagon, which runs the police training program, and the State Department, which has been pushing to expand its limited training role in Iraq, said a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity. (emphasis mine)

The report strikes contradictory tones, claiming that the Interior Ministry continues to improve and that its forces are on track to take over civil security from U.S. and Iraqi military elements by the end of the year, while outlining shocking problems with corruption and abuse.

Interior officials have taken steps to "improve detainee life," the report said. "However, there are elements within the MOI which continue to abuse detainees."

Referring to Sunni Arab insurgent groups and Shiite paramilitary organizations, the report goes on to claim that "these groups exploit MOI forces to further insurgent, party and sectarian goals. As a result, many Iraqis do not trust the police. Divisions falling along militia lines have led to violence among police.

"MOI officials and forces are widely reported to engage in bribery, extortion and theft," the report continues.

The report's findings are borne out in hundreds of pages of internal investigative documents.

The documents include worksheets with hundreds of short summaries of alleged crimes by police, letters referring accused officers to Iraq's anti-corruption agencies and courts, citizen complaints of police abuse and corruption, police inspector general summaries detailing financial crimes and fraudulent contracting practices, and reports on alleged sympathizers of Saddam Hussein's former regime.

The documents detail a police force in which abuse and death at the hands of policemen is frighteningly common.

Police officers' loyalties seem a major problem, with dozens of accounts of insurgent infiltration and terrorist acts committed by ministry officials. In one case, a ring of Baghdad police officers -- including a colonel, two lieutenants and a captain -- were accused of stealing communications equipment for insurgents, who used the electronics for remote bomb triggers. In another case, a medic with the Interior Ministry's elite commando force in Baghdad was fired after he was accused of planting improvised explosives and conducting assassinations.

In Diyala province, investigators were looking into allegations that a police officer detonated a suicide vest in the bombing of a police station, and in a separate case, a brigadier general, a colonel and a criminal judge were accused of taking bribes from a suspected terrorist.

Police officers have also organized kidnapping rings that abduct civilians for ransom -- in some of the cases, the victims are police officers.

In another case, the bodyguards of a police colonel in the Zayonah neighborhood of Baghdad kidnapped merchants for ransom, according to the documents.

And in the capital's Ghazaliya neighborhood, a lieutenant and his brother-in-law kidnapped a man and demanded $18 million from his family.

Police abuse is also a common theme in the documents. The victims include citizens who tried to complain about police misbehavior, drivers who disobeyed traffic police commands, and, in several cases, other police officers.

But detainees appear to be targeted most often. The U.S. military has been working with the Iraqi government to standardize detention facilities and policies, and the U.S. assessment claimed that several site visits turned up no serious human rights abuses. But the ministry documents reveal a brutal detention system in which officers run hidden jails and torture and detainee deaths are common.

The documents mention four investigations into the deaths of 15 prisoners killed by police commando units.

In the Rusafa area of Baghdad, a predominantly Shiite area known for its strong militia presence, police tortured detainees with electricity, beatings and, in at least one case, anal rape, according to the internal documents. Relief was reserved for those detainees whose relatives could afford to bribe detention officers to release them.

Female detainees are often subject to sexual assault. In August, the commander of a detention center in the Karkh neighborhood of the capital raped a woman who was an alleged insurgent. Also in August, two lieutenants tortured and raped two other detained women.

The removal of two provincial police chiefs are among the strongest reprimands detailed in the documents.

U.S. officials say they have known about Interior Ministry abuses for years but have done little to thwart them, choosing instead to push Iraqi leaders to solve their own problems.

Once again, we are reminded that the fate of our troops, and their future, is dependant upon the Iraqi police force. Also, take special note that the outfit training the Iraqis is the Pentagon. Is it any wonder that the folks who have brought us Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, torture and rendition, Haditha, and the recent rape and murder of a young girl and her family in Mahmoudiya, are unable to train the Iraqis decently. And, I emphasize the word: DECENTLY.

As the article concludes, “U.S. officials say they have known about Interior Ministry abuses for years but have done little to thwart them, choosing instead to push Iraqi leaders to solve their own problems.”

That’s right; we should let the Iraqis sort this out. After all, if only they had been more civil and understanding when we invaded their country, destroyed their infrastructure, and toppled their government, we wouldn’t be in this mess now, would we “Ollie?”

So, I guess “Cut and Run” really isn’t going to happen, or is it?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Grover: Couldn’t Happen to a Nicer Guy!

Any chink in the armor that has been protecting Grover Norquist from the law, and/or disgrace, and/or ostracism, is a good thing. Norquist has been out to destroy this country and turn it into a libertarian oligarchy for too long.

The WAPO has a good piece on what is happening to his credibility in the beltway these days. Here is just a bit:

For more than a decade, Grover G. Norquist has been at the nexus of conservative activism in Washington, becoming a Bush administration insider whose weekly strategy sessions at his Americans for Tax Reform have drawn ever-larger crowds of lawmakers, lobbyists and even White House political adviser Karl Rove.

Over the past six years, Norquist has been a key cheerleader and strategist for successive White House tax cuts, extracting ironclad oaths from congressional Republicans not to even think about tax increases. And even before President Bush's election, he positioned himself as a gatekeeper for supplicants seeking access to Bush's inner circle.

But in the aftermath of reports that Norquist served as a cash conduit for disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the irascible, combative activist is struggling to maintain his stature as some GOP lawmakers distance themselves and as enemies in the conservative movement seek to diminish his position.

"People were willing to cut him a lot of slack because he's done a lot of favors for a lot of people," said J. Michael Waller, a vice president of the right-leaning Center for Security Policy who for several years was an occasional participant at Norquist's Wednesday meetings. "But Grover's not that likable."

Norquist has lashed back at his critics, accusing them of dishonesty, personal vendettas and political gamesmanship. He has saved his choicest words for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose Senate Indian Affairs Committee last month stated in a report that for a small cut, Americans for Tax Reform served as a "conduit" for funds that flowed from Abramoff's clients to surreptitiously finance grass-roots lobbying campaigns.

"The idea that our friend John McCain yelling at me would hurt me misses McCain's position" among conservatives, Norquist said. "John McCain thinks he can't be president if I'm standing here saying he's got a problem with taxes."

Mark Salter, McCain's longtime aide, replied: "Obviously, Grover is not well. It would be cruel of us to respond in kind."

Yes, I like that part about Grover not being well. I’ve known that for years. So, why have the MSM pretty much given him a pass?

Hopefully this article is a sign that they are taking away that pass and put him under a microscope where he belongs. I wonder, is he gram-stain negative or positive?

I Love This Video.

When we were kids we would stand in front of the mirror and use a hairbrush as a microphone to lip-sync our favorite songs. We could spend hours doing it and it was such fun. We thought we could be singers and stars.

Well, now kids can do it using a video cam and post it to YouTube.

Here is one that I just love. It’s Barney and he is doing a great job with Corrine Bailey Rae’s “Put Your Records On.” It’s a Great Song and Great Performance.

Maybe a Star is Born?

h/t SG

Saturday, July 08, 2006

E.J. Dionne: Pointillist Extraordinaire.

Dear E.J., your column yesterday was titled, “It Couldn’t Happen Here. How wrong you are and how clearly you point it out.

Way many years ago I read a book by Upton Sinclair titled the “Jungle. I was enthralled so I picked up another book at the library by this guy named Sinclair, as in Sinclair Lewis, not Upton Sinclair (I couldn’t remember the actual author’s name and it was before I had the Dewey Decimal System down), titled It Can’t Happen Here. It was penned in 1935. I read it sometime in the late fifties or early sixties (I am not sure of the exact timing). But I do remember putting it down and putting it aside. I was not as enthralled as I had been by the “Jungle.”

I do, however, remember being very disturbed by what I read and as I was in Worcester, Massachusetts at the time, it was and still is truly ironic. But as I recalled, and all recollections are subject to scrutiny, I put it aside as irrelevant.

Well I was wrong. I picked it up recently and decided to read and finish this rather relevant literature (I still haven’t finished it). I have finally figured out why I put it down (yes I am a slow learner). I put it down not because it wasn’t relevant. I put it down because it was too relevant and challenged my world at the time. A challenge that was horrifying. And, it was a challenge in which I knew where the moral lines were drawn.

Though I am Canadian, I grew up and matured (okay, no laughter here) in small town America. My mother married an American and we finally settled in small town Massachusetts. We were raised to be political and for that I am so thankful. We were, however, supposed to be Republicans.

And I was. I was a fervent supporter of Barry Goldwater and went to the Boston Garden appearance and loudly cheered him and his message. Okay, so I was a little immature (actually a child really) and misinformed. But it seems to me in retrospect, most of the electorate is misinformed. I believed that Barry supported civil rights and that was my most important stance. After all, he had worked to integrate the forces in Arizona.

But the bottom line was that I knew what was going on at the grassroots and I didn’t give enough attention to that. Well, what 16 year old does? But, I wasn’t a stupid 16 year old. In fact I was a smarter than the average 16 year old bear. So, why did I fall over and play dead for a political party that was opposed to all I believed in?

Most of the local Republicans firmly believed that fluoridation and the Civil Rights movements were part of a Communist Plot. Now, I knew that was utter bullshit. And yet I didn’t bolt the party. My father was the head of the Republican Town Committee, how could I bolt him. I desperately wanted him to love me and if I bolted the party, I would not be loveable.

Now, I am not saying that we didn’t argue about politics we did, especially the Civil Rights movement being a Communist Plot. It was also evident to me that most of the other Republicans were small minded and small time guys. They had the cover of being white men in a world that rewarded white men, quite simply for being there and merely showing up. Not much else was actually required, as there was no apparent competition with women and/or men of color. No test you see, they simply got a passing grade. So, when it looked like a test might actually be required to be rewarded naturally they, the untested, pulled out the old Communist Plot Card and played it for all it was worth. And most people weren’t paying attention and connecting the dots, including me. So, even though I would never be admitted to their club, if they had their way, I continued to carry their water.

So, as they say, “Denial” isn’t just a river in Egypt. And that, my friends, is why I couldn’t read “It Can’t Happen Here.” It wasn’t that it was irrelevant, but that it was too relevant. I knew those characters in a way that was far too personal and painful. They were people who were much too close to my life, in my life and that I wanted to love me. And because I knew all too well that it can happen here.

Oh, and keep in mind folks, that was before the Irreligious Christian Right-Wing Fascists were front and center in the attack on our constitutional democracy.

Well, that brings me to what made me bolt the party. The Republicans finally launched the “Southern Strategy.” And, they launched it in a way that even I, who was in “Denial” and not the river, could no longer ignore. The dots were getting so close that even someone who was not a fan of pointillism could ignore. And lord knows I do love the impressionists.

That, folks, brings me to the point of this post, and it has taken a long time, hasn’t it. E.J. Dionne had a column yesterday which was titled, “It Couldn’t Happen Here.” And E.J., god bless his soul, and he has a very good one, points out that it has. His premise is to juxtapose the recent Mexican election with the 2000 selection of George W. Bush.

Take it away Mr. Dionne:

Mexico is in a mess because voters in its presidential election were so closely divided between Andros Manuel Lopez Obrador, the candidate of the center-left, and Felipe Calderon, the center-right candidate who was declared the narrow winner yesterday.

As a result, there are charges of theft and miscounts, of "grave inconsistencies." Lopez Obrador has insisted that the authorities "help clear up any doubts" and "not allow the will of the citizens to be violated."

Let's be clear: There's nothing wrong with Mexico's voters. Close elections happen. The test of a democracy is how a bitter dispute of this sort is resolved. Can it be settled in a way that enhances confidence in the electoral process and the legitimacy of the ultimate winner?

Mexicans have one thing going for them: There is no question under Mexican law that the winner of the popular vote will be the winner of the election.

Imagine the global outcry if Mexico chose its president indirectly through some sort of electoral college that gave advantage to smaller states over bigger ones and permitted the loser of the popular vote to become president. The world would be merciless in deriding Mexico as a backward place living under undemocratic laws written in the early 19th century. Mexicans can be proud that this won't happen.

But there are potential problems. Lopez Obrador has had questions about the results in the state of Tabasco. Mr. Calderon and Mr. Lopez Obrador, please, please make sure that you don't have some close relative in charge of things down there.

How would it look if the governor of the state was your own brother? What would people think if the top official in charge of elections was your sibling's partisan ally who made every key decision in your favor?

The American media would go nuts. On Fox, Bill O'Reilly would condemn the sleaze and nepotism while declaring, confidently, "Thank God such a thing could never happen in the United States of America!" CNN's Lou Dobbs would add a "Broken Ballot Boxes" segment to his long-running series on "Broken Borders." Mexico, don't go down that road.

Another thing: Whichever one of you is ahead at any given point, please don't ask that the counting be stopped abruptly just because you happen to hold the lead. Don't have some high-class lawyer with a name like Jaime A. Panadero III come out and say things like, "I don't believe that the people of Mexico want this national election turned over to lawyers and court contests" -- and then have the very same lawyer direct other lawyers to go to court to stop any further counts.

If either of you did such a thing, wouldn't it look hypocritical? Would it not seem as if all you cared about was obtaining power -- and that you didn't care how you got it? It would spoil the legitimacy of your election.

But, yes, there is an excellent chance that the Mexican election will end up in the courts. So it will be very important that the court rulings have credibility with the Mexican people, especially with those who end up on the losing side. The judges should exercise their power, well, judiciously. They need to make sure that they're not seen as making a partisan call.

Above all, this means not stopping recounts just before a deadline -- and then claiming, after the court-imposed delay, that there was no way to remedy the very problems in the counting that the court itself might have noted because the deadline had passed.

It means that the judges should arrive at whatever decision they reach in a way that's consistent with their past views. They should not invent wholly new doctrines, utterly at odds with their previous positions, that happen to favor the candidate closer to their own ideological inclinations.

And, please, let there be no court decision so unprincipled that the judges themselves have to say that their ruling has no application to any future cases, that it "is limited to the present circumstances," because of the "many complexities" involved. That would make the whole court process look fixed, wouldn't it?

My Mexican friends could well object that it is insulting and ludicrous to presume that their country is capable of coming up with such a nightmarish scenario. They would argue that no well-functioning democracy would ever settle a contested election in the ways I have just described. I agree wholeheartedly. So here's hoping that Mexicans manage to resolve this voting dispute in a way that does credit to their nation, and offers a model for those democracies that could use a little help.

On December 12, 2000, in their infamous opinion Bush v. Gore, the U. S. Supreme Court announced to the world the end of the “Rule of Law.” Everything that has happened since then is a direct consequence of that decision. Now whether E.J. Dionne is a fan of the impressionists, and the pointillists in particular or not, he has connected the dots and for that he deserves our thanks.

There is just too little dot connecting going on out there in the “Opinionating Class.” And that inability or unwillingness to do so is hurting political discourse and democracy. The electorate needs more folks challenging their world view and their “Denial” and I don’t mean the river.

Because it can, and is happening here.

Thank you E.J. Dionne in a very big way for helping and for being the pointillist that we need!

Oh, and watch your back!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Independence Day and Real Patriotism

On this July 4th in the year 2006 I think it is important to explore Patriotism, both real and imagined, or faux as they say in the left blogistan. Toward that end I suggest that everyone out there purchase a copy of How Would A Patriot Act, by Glenn Greenwald. And I suggest you buy it from your local and non-chain bookstore (keep these bookshops alive). Also, while you’re at it, if they don’t already have it on display, and/or in their window, ask them to put it there. It’s already 25th on the New York Times Paperback Nonfiction list. It is non-partisan and totally accessible to everyone. Not to mention a great read!

And, say you are unfamiliar with Glenn Greenwald and his First Amendment and Constitutional analysis, I suggest you visit his site at Unclaimed Territory.

The behavior of Patriots, and what is Patriotism, is very important these days and we all need to be clear on what the struggle is. As Greenwald points out it is all about “Defending American Values from a President Run Amok.”

Have a wonderful Fourth, don’t eat too much!

I had a great day at the races at Beautiful Belmont Park. None of our horses were running so it was a completely stress free day.

Other than worrying about the State of the Union, that is!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Bob Herbert and What He Said!

From Behind the Wall:

Working for a Pittance


"We can no longer stand by and regularly give ourselves a pay increase while denying a minimum wage increase to the hardworking men and women across this nation."

— Hillary Rodham Clinton, to her fellow senators.

The federal minimum wage, currently $5.15 an hour, was last raised in 1997. Since then, its purchasing power has deteriorated by 20 percent. Analysts at the Economic Policy Institute and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities jointly crunched the numbers and determined that, after adjusting for inflation, the value of the minimum wage is at its lowest level since 1955.

For those who don't remember, Eisenhower was president in 1955, the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn, and Barack Obama hadn't even been born.

If you're making the minimum wage, you're hurting. If Congress and the president don't raise the minimum wage by Dec. 2, it will have remained unchanged for the longest stretch since it was established in 1938. (The longest period previously was from January 1981 to April 1990 — a span that saw the entire Reagan administration come and go.)

Senate Republicans recently blocked a Democratic bill, sponsored by Senator Edward Kennedy, that would have raised the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour over the next two years. Jared Bernstein, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, noted that while Republicans in Congress are standing like a stone wall against this modest increase in the poverty-level wage, "they are working as hard as they can to repeal the estate tax."

"That," he said, "is just vicious class warfare."

The most important pay increases for most members of Congress are their own, and they are diligent in that regard. Senator Clinton, in a floor speech supporting the minimum-wage hike, said, "During the past nine years, we've raised our own pay by $31,600."

Mrs. Clinton has introduced a bill that, in addition to raising the minimum wage to $7.25, would link Congressional pay raises to hikes in the minimum wage. Under the bill, the minimum wage would be increased automatically by the same percentage as any increase in Congressional pay.

Polls have shown that Americans overwhelmingly favor an increase in the minimum wage. But the low-income workers who would benefit from such an increase are not part of the natural G.O.P. constituency. Thus, the stonewall.

A separate study by the Economic Policy Institute found that in 2005, with the pay of top corporate executives up sharply, and with the minimum wage falling further and further behind inflation, "an average chief executive officer was paid 821 times as much as a minimum wage earner."

That C.E.O., according to the study, "earns more before lunchtime on the very first day of work in the year than a minimum wage worker earns all year."

"The reality," said Senator Clinton, "is that a full time job that pays the minimum wage just doesn't provide enough money to support a family today. We have to acknowledge that fact and do something about it. As a country, we cannot accept that a single mother with two children who works 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year earns $10,700 a year — let me say this again: $10,700 a year. That is almost $6,000 below the federal poverty line for a family of three."

During the 1950's and 60's, the minimum wage was roughly 50 percent of the average wage of nonsupervisory workers. It has now fallen to 31 percent — less than a third — of that average.

As the Economic Policy Institute and the Center on Budget pointed out in their study: "Each year that Congress fails to raise the wage floor, its purchasing power erodes. The fact that the minimum wage has remained the same for nearly nine years means that its real value has declined considerably over that period. As inflation has accelerated recently due to higher energy costs, the real value of the minimum wage has fallen faster."

There is no justification — none — for condemning the nation's lowest-paid workers to this continuing slide into ever deeper economic distress. "No one who works for a living should have to live in poverty," said Senator Kennedy.

It's very telling that in the most prosperous nation in the world, that kind of comment actually sounds radical. We have a very long way to go.

Not only does the minimum wage not support a family, it doesn’t support an individual!