Mythbusters: stop GOP lies!

Dear readers, the GOP propaganda machine must be stopped if we are to see any semblance of relief from our current economic disaster (see GDP figure in left sidebar).

It’s up to YOU to inform yourself and others of the facts.

Here, from The Progress Report, Center for American Progress (2/27/09), are the top GOP tax-and-budget myths, and the facts which dispel them:

“BUDGET: Right-Wing Tax And Budget Myths” (LINK)

Yesterday (Thursday), the Obama administration released its fiscal year 2010 budget, which lays out an ambitious course of action on health care reform, energy policy and education while estimating a deficit of $1.75 trillion for the current fiscal year. The budget also includes "significant tax increases" for corporations and wealthy Americans that will increase revenue by nearly $2 trillion over the next 10 years. The proposal allows the Bush tax cuts on the top two income brackets to expire on time in 2011, reduces itemized deductions for those making more than $250,000 a year, raises the top rate on capital gains and dividends to 20 percent (from 15), and closes the capital-gains loophole so that hedge fund and other private-equity managers have their profits taxed as ordinary income instead of capital gains. The budget also proposes a cap and trade program that would auction permits to companies that emit greenhouse gases, with the revenue directed toward President Obama's Making Work Pay tax credit. As the Center for American Progress's Michael Ettlinger noted, these changes are "going to provoke outrage." But "were this budget to be enacted, it would be by far the most significant progressive step in over 40 years," noted CAPAF Fellow Matt Yglesias.

Conservatives are already propagating various myths about the budget; The Progress Report offers these debunks:

MYTH 1: OBAMA'S RAISING TAXES DURING A RECESSION: "If there's anything that economists on the left and the right agree on, that supply-siders, classic economists and Keynesians agree on, you don't raise taxes in a recession," said Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). "This budget is raising taxes in a recession." The plan drew a similar rebuke from the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry's most powerful trade group.

However, as Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag said, "[F]olks need to actually look at the budget document." To avoid raising taxes during the recession, the increases will not take effect until 2011. Furthermore, the economic stimulus package signed into law by Obama last week enacted one of the largest tax cuts ever, which made good on Obama's campaign promise to cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans. The first benefits from these cuts should be seen no later than April 1, 2009.

MYTH 2: TAX INCREASES WILL RUIN ECONOMIC GROWTH: The Heritage Foundation claimed that Obama's tax proposals "sacrifice future economic growth at the altars of redistributionism," while House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) called the budget a "job killer." But as Orszag said, "[W]e're returning to the tax rates that applied during the 1990's. I think all Americans -- including high income Americans -- did quite well during that decade."

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities pointed out that "what the data do show clearly is that, despite major tax cuts in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2006, the economy's performance between 2001 and 2007 was far from stellar." As CAP's Joshua Picker found, the Bush economy "registered the weakest jobs and income growth in the post-war period. Overall monthly job growth was the worst of any cycle since at least February 1945, and household income growth was negative for the first cycle since tracking began in 1967." Women reversed employment gains of previous cycles, and for African-Americans, the worst job growth on record was matched by an unprecedented increase in poverty.

Businesses didn't fare any better, as the Bush tax cuts "were actually followed by a pronounced decrease in the fraction of GDP devoted to business investment." Business investment fell after both the Reagan and Bush tax cuts, but rose after the Clinton tax increase, according to work by Princeton professor Uwe Reinhardt.

MYTH 3: TAX INCREASES WILL HARM SMALL BUSINESSES: Republicans, "knowing they will get little mileage from defending the rich, instead are casting the plan as a tax hit on people who run industrious little companies driving job growth," noted the AP. "A majority of those penalized by the proposed tax increase in this budget are small businesses," said Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA). Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) said the proposal "shows a lack of understanding of the private sector." But as the Associated Press pointed out, Republicans are "adrift" on this one, as "many truly small operations simply don't make enough to qualify for the tax hit." Indeed, only 1.9 percent of small businesses file in the top two federal income tax brackets, which leaves 98.1 percent unaffected by the rate change. And because of the Treasury Department's broad definition of small business, "many of the roughly 650,000 filers with small-business income who face one of the top two tax rates are merely passive investors who have nothing to do with running the business."

So "the $84 of income President Bush received in 2001 from a passive investment in an oil and gas company made him a 'small-business owner.'"

Overall, only 0.7 percent of households file in the top two income brackets. As Yglesias wrote, "[A]ny small businessman who's earning a middle class income isn't paying in the top two brackets, just as any salaried employee who's earning a middle class income isn't paying in the top two brackets."


Over at Greenville, S.C., about 19 miles from me as the crow flies, and reportedly in towns across the nation, folks are staging a “Tea Party” in “protest of government spending.” On Friday, “several thousand protesters” gathered at the river – the Reedy River in downtown Greenville – to throw tea in the water. Of course, the local network affiliates gave these protesters of President Obama’s stimulus package and FY2009 Budget, plenty of microphone.

According to the affiliates (LINK), these modern-day Boston Tea Party demonstrations were called for by CNBC’s Rick Santelli. Santelli, seen rabid and ranting in soundbites, to quote one of my favorite movies, “Makes coffee nervous.” As my former husband, a high school principal, once said, “People will fight for two things: their children and their pocketbooks.”

Where were these South Carolinians when senators Lindsey O. Graham and Jim DeMint and their congressmen were burning greenbacks on Iraq and other Bush spending orgies?

Wish I had been at the tea party yesterday. I would have handed out copies of this post on Madeira tea napkins!


All eyes on America

Thomas L. Friedman begins his op-ed piece, datelined Seoul, Korea in Tuesday’s New York Times, thusly:

“It is very useful to come to Asia to be reminded about America’s standing in the world these days. For all the talk in recent years about America’s inevitable decline, all eyes are not now on Tokyo, Beijing, Brussels or Moscow — nor on any other pretenders to the world heavyweight crown. All eyes are on Washington to pull the world out of its economic tailspin. At no time in the last 50 years have we ever felt weaker, and at no time in the last 50 years has the world ever seen us as more important.”

What foreign journalists and government officials in Asia are telling Friedman puts a heavy burden on America to cut through the political bickering and BS and allow the brain power behind Obama’s team to sort all this economic mess out.

Friedman uses a word I’ve heard a lot on TV lately – a buzzword - I will clarify for you: “schadenfreude,” meaning “taking pleasure in the misfortune of others.”

Those Americans who are leaning toward “protectionism” will be particularly surprised to learn that the world feels very dependent on the United States at this crucial time. We are citizens of the world, and the world, according to Friedman, needs us.

I highly recommend you take a moment to read “Paging Uncle Sam.”


Obama's speech to Congress

Regrettably, the title of this post should be “Obama v. Morpheus.”

Your negligent blogger fell asleep at 8 ET last night, while listening to Charles Dickens’ “Little Dorrit,” and missed President Obama’s address to Congress, other government officials and the American public.

Around 4 a.m. I thought to check C-SPAN, switching the TV on just in time to hear Obama say, “God bless America.” I did hear Louisiana’s Repubican governor, Bobby Jindal, give the GOP “rebuttal,” and that was just about the most pitiful thing I’ve ever heard.

Basically, Jindal told Americans the GOP had screwed things up royally, but, hey, “trust us.” That he used the word “irresponsible” (as in “fiscally irresponsible”) to define Obama’s course of action was unbelievable. That he used Hurricane Katrina as an argument for trusting his fellow Republican leaderss was unfathomable!

I recall the words of then Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford, Jr., (D.) when a female colleague, a Republican, made disparaging remarks about Congressman John Murtha (R.) on the House floor. The young Ford jumped over desks to get right up in the woman’s face and exclaimed, “You guys are pathetic!”

Frodo emailed his delight with the afterthoughts of MSNBC’s nightly team – not unexpected from Obama’s head cheerleading squad – and hardly objective.

Several post-speech polls released this morning indicate a very large percentage of Americans say they now have a better understanding of Obama’s vision. That’s good news.

I will be spending the morning reading Obama’s hour-long speech.

In the meantime, this is what’s called - in the “blogosphere” - an “open thread,” meaning I will let you, dear readers, write this post in the “comments” zone.

Please share your thoughts on both Obama’s speech and Jindal’s counterpoints.

Comments are easier to read if you just click on the post title!

Off to read the speech!



A little news lagniappe


Here’s one for Google users.

The New York Times reports, “One day last summer, Google’s search engine trundled quietly past a milestone. It added the one trillionth address to the list of Web pages it knows about. But as impossibly big as that number may seem, it represents only a fraction of the entire Web.”

An absolutely fascinating article, “Exploring a ‘Deep Web’ That Google Can’t Grasp,” examines the development of software which will allow search engines to dig deeper into “hidden” databases and refine search capabilities.

For example, a local newspaper could give readers access to city or state government databases.

Read the article.


Sunday morning Florida’s Gov. Charlie Crist (R.) was pressed by “Meet the Press” (LINK) moderator David Gregory to name “the national leader” of the Republican Party.

Gov. Crist, who is receiving criticism from the GOP for his support of Obama’s recovery plan, responded:

“I don't know if there is or is not (a national GOP leader) at this time. And, I think - well, there is a national leader. His name is President Obama. And, the people elected him. And, I'm willing to give him a good shot and try to help make this work. We're in a tough time, as we talked about before. I think we do need to be bipartisan. We need to be, in fact, nonpartisan. We're all Americans. Our country is at a dire point, and we need to do everything we can to work together to get America through this, and I know that she will.”

Crist went on to say there must be “common sense” in government if we are to pull through our current problems, and Governor, in my opinion, you have exhibited just that.


Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?

Don’t just sit there, go PARTY “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans.”

The Times-Picayune’s “Paradecam” will have live coverage today of the Krewe of Rex parade as the floats roll along St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans at 11 a.m. ET/10 a.m. CT.

“Rex, the Monarch of Merriment, reigns as the King of Carnival, and has done so since 1872. It was Rex who declared the official colors - gold, green and purple - and official song - 'If Ever I Cease to Love' - of the Carnival season. The Rex Ball marks the end of Carnival season and the theme of 2009 is 'Spirits of Spring.' “

Take off your shoes, put on the Zydeco, pat your feet and watch today’s Krewe of Rex parade on the “Paradecam” link down the left sidebar HERE.

Laissez les bon temps roulet!


The sounds of Oscar

PHOTO: Kate Winslet, 2009.

There’s one thing about the Oscars and the movies and performances they honor – they are too damn visual.

Perhaps it’s unfair – since I no longer can see the movies or the awards ceremony itself – for me to critique the Academy Awards, but since I’ve enjoyed every telecast since I was 10 years old, I know what makes the show a hit.

Let’s start with Hugh Jackman. I am ga-ga for Hugh Jackman – a one-man talent show. I don’t know who wrote the lyrics to his opening song - the lamest since Rob Lowe serenaded Snow White. “Swim in human excrement …” is not exactly the glamour expected at such a gala.

After six decades at the movies and with more than 2,000 films in my home library, I am aware of all the elements of film excellence.

Even though I’ve seen none of the nominated 2008 movies, I was able to pick every winner in the big categories with nothing to go on but buzz.

I’m happy with the winners. I adore best actress Kate Winslet (don’t miss her screen debut in Peter Jackson’s “Heavenly Creatures”), I’m delighted Sean Penn (best actor) finally got his due. “Slumdog Millionaire” seemed a shoo-in for its “best picture” statuette.

15 nominations for acting! I personally think the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences should establish “The Meryl Streep Award” to be presented occasionally – not every year, mind you – to anyone who even comes close to this woman’s talent.

Perhaps readers who have seen “The Dark Knight” can tell me whether Heath Ledger won based on performance or on his tragic death. Only one other actor has won posthumously: Peter Finch for “Network.”

Others receiving best acting nominations after their deaths were James Dean (twice), Spencer Tracy, Ralph Richardson, Massimo Troisi and Jeanne Eagels.

One classy feature of last night’s show was having previous acting winners introduce – and pay homage to – the current nominees. The reviewer at cnn.com thought otherwise: he thought this bogged things down.

The elegant Queen Latifah singing the Billie Holiday classic “I’ll Be Seeing You” during the annual “In Memoriam” montage was a nice touch. And, Jerry Lewis’ Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award was long overdue.

All in all, the sounds of Oscar weren’t so bad.

I appreciate the bully pulpit of actors embracing causes related to their current work, but …

Did I mention glamour? If the beautiful people turn out for Hollywood’s big night beautifully bedecked, shouldn’t the Oscars continue to reflect the glamour we so long related to Tinsel Town?

Bring back the big production numbers, models dressed in nominated costumes, on-stage displays of nominated set decorations. If the final winner is announced after three and a half hours, we might as well br entertained along the way.

Sure I miss seeing all the designer gowns, borrowed jewels, Armani tuxedos, but when I think of past fashion disasters (think Geena Davis, Oprah Winfrey and Cher), maybe that’s a blessing.

I remember the night Mira Sorvino won best supporting actress. My friend Bill Sumrall exclaimed, “She looks like a movie star!”

Bring back the movie stars!

Kate Winslet is a start.


Here are my top 10 favorite movies:

1. Doctor Zhivago – David Lean’s epic has everything that makes a movie great.

2. Auntie Mame – Rosalind Russell’s tour de force: “Life’s a banquet, and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death.”

3. Platoon – You feel the emotion of being a grunt in a futile war.

4. The Last Temptation of Christ – The most perfectly crafted film ever made. Don’t take my word for it: the late Gene Siskel thought so, too.

5. Some Like It Hot – Forget bathroom humor, this is still the funniest film ever.

6. Lawrence of Arabia – Peter O’Toole. Need I say more?

7. The Killing Fields – A true story of love and perseverance. Imagine.

8. Out of Africa – real-life adverturers brought to the screen in filmdom’s most romantic story.

9. The Lion in Winter – Tit for tat from Peter and Kat in the best dialogue a screenplay ever produced. (“Sleuth” runs a close second.)

10. West Side Story – Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Jerome Robbins – a music-and-dance mixture which explodes on the screen!


In the “comments” zone: tell us your favorite movies and Oscar moments!


Mass on a sacred summit

PHOTO: The Rev. Tim Farrell and his guide, Bedouin shepherd boy Rajab, Mount Sinai, 2009

I am pretty much homebound and miss the opportunities to travel as I once did. For that reason, I encourage the wandering vagabonds among my circle of friends and family to share their trip experiences.

Among my favorite chances to let my imaginings ride shotgun are those with my longtime friend, Father Tim Farrell, pastor of Sacred Heart Cathoic Church in Farmington, New Mexico.

I love it when Tim just gets in his car and drives with no particular destination in mind – and takes me along via email.

I am equally thrilled, though, to hear about his world tours with church members.

Just recently returned from the Holy Land, Tim shares his experiences with me and is allowing me to share with you. This will rank among my favorite “Travels with Tim:”

He writes:

I just returned from a three-week pilgrimage to Egypt, Israel and Jordan. It was an amazing adventure including a five-day cruise down the Nile (while reading Agatha Christie's "Death on the Nile"); visiting the Cairo Museum with the King Tut exhibit (amazing!!); visiting the Pyramids, Sphinx, several temples and one of the 1 million mosques in Cairo; visiting all the holy places in Israel, including Mt. Carmel and Mt. Tabor; visiting Petra and Mount Nebo (where Moses saw the Promised Land for the first time), both in Jordan.

Let me tell you about my climb up Mount Sinai. What an adventure that was!

I had been climbing Mount Sinai in Egypt for about two hours, and it was now about 4 a.m. I looked up in the darkness and saw a tiny light which showed me where the summit was. It seemed impossibly far away to me. I wondered at that moment if I would ever make it to the top. I had grown so hot under my winter coat I was wearing that I was now carrying it. The path was treacherous in areas because of the large, sharp stones which stuck up in the darkness on the trail. I had a tiny flashlight which lit a couple of feet in front of me, but was, in the end, little help.

Others in our pilgrimage group had decided to ride camels up the winding, steep trail. I chose not to do so, not because I was insistent on making the trip to the top on foot, but because I had ridden a camel at the Pyramids and said then and there, "No matter what, I will never do this again." So, I continued to struggle up the pathway on foot.

At the next Bedouin tent, where they served coffee and tea to the pilgrims, I found our rag-tag group gathering. Our Bedouin guide, Ramadan, looked at me rather concerned, but said nothing. A couple of our group brought me water and asked if I wanted to get a camel. I must have looked really rough at that point.

I said, "No, I want to walk it all the way to the top."

I was told we were now right below the 750 "steps" to the summit, and I felt better. "Steps," at least in my mind, must have been like church steps. "Oh, that will be much easier."


The steps, it turned out, were not steps at all. They were "penitential" stones made by the monks long, long ago and were meant to be hard to climb. Well, I thought, what was the last two hours? They certainly weren't easy.

So, we caught our breath for a few minutes and then proceeded up the steps. My hips ached, my lungs were hurting, I was now growing cold from the sweat. Someone kind and caring took my coat and put it in their backpack. I struggled for a bit up the large steps, tripping here and there. I was so exhausted and at one point thought, "Am I going to die up here?"

Then came the moment when I decided "I can't go on, Lord. I've got to stop."

A voice in the darkness, the voice of a teenager, spoke up. "Let me help you, sir." This Bedouin shepherd boy - I later found out his name was Rajab - took my arm and with unbelievable strength he marched me up the steps. I was going to tell him I needed no help. Stubbornly, I wanted to do this all on my own. But, I gave in and allowed him to help me up the rest of the way. It was still quite a struggle, but we finally made it to the top of Mount Sinai.

The morning was now dark grey with tinges of light at the horizon.I set up for Mass with the help of many in our group. The cold wind blew, and I felt somewhat disoriented. But, I reached deep inside myself and found God's strength there. I asked that we sing "Morning Has Broken." We began to sing, "Morning has broken, like the first morning . . . " and suddenly gasps came from dozens of other pilgrims awaiting the dawn as the beautiful sun rose.

God has always had good timing.

We celebrated Mass on that sacred summit, and we rejoiced in our reaching the top where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. I was proud of myself as well. I was touched by the kindness of my helper, Rajab, who stood nearby mystified at what we were doing at the Mass. He smiled at me when I looked over and after Mass he came over.

"I take you back down the steps, yes?" he asked.

"Yes," I said with quiet certainty. "You take me back down."

Before I walked down with my heavenly-sent helper, I picked up a stone which had held down the corporal on the little altar we had used on the summit. It was in the form of a triangle. The Trinity, I thought, smiling.

God was on the mountain in Moses' time, and He was certainly there at that sunrise and morning Mass.

Like a tired, wobbly Moses, I walked down the penitential steps with Rajab. He left me at the bottom of the steps, and I walked the rest of the two and half hours to the bottom myself. The sun was bright, and as achy and exhausted as I was, I rejoiced at the new day.


Once more, Tim, great thanks! We’ve logged a lot of miles – on a college campus and via letters and emails - as you have taken me to places I’ve only dreamed of.


'Operation Enduring Freedom'

“The Taliban is no more, and the people of Afghanistan are free, thanks to America and our friends and allies.” (Applause.)

- George W. Bush, “President Discusses Tax Relief in Minnesota,” Fridley, Minnesota, 19 June 2003 (LINK)


From The New York Times, 17 February 2009:

“The number of civilians killed in Afghanistan leaped by about 40 percent last year over the previous one, according to a survey released Tuesday by the United Nations, the latest measure of how the intensifying violence between the Taliban and American-led forces is ravaging that country.”

According to the UN report, “2,118 civilians were killed in war-related violence in 2008, the most since the Taliban were ousted in November 2001. That is up from 1,523 civilians killed in 2007.”

While most civilian casualties are inflicted by Taliban and other insurgent forces, the Times report continues, “Violence caused by Afghan government forces and those of the American-led coalition killed 828 people last year, up sharply from the previous year. The majority of those civilians were killed in airstrikes and raids on villages.”

This is but one of a myriad of problems handed down to and weighing heavily on our new president. I recommend you read the complete Times article HERE.


As of 18 February 2009:




U.S. troops killed: 4,245
Coalition troops killed: 318
U.S. deaths self-inflicted: 175
U.S. wounded: 147.792
U.S. missing or captured: Ahmed Qusai al-Tael, 23 October 2006

There is no definite total of civilian fatalities/casualties in either country.


Two friends, bloggers Frodo and Papamoka have attended funeral services for young soldiers from their area. As Frodo points out, that’s two more such funeral services than attended by George W. Bush.

God bless America.

UPDATE: From USA Today/Gallup poll of 19 February 2009: Before President Barack Obama’s decision this week to send additional U.S. forces to Afghanistan, a majority of Americans (52%) perceived the situation there to be going very or moderately badly; 70% thought the Taliban would retake control if U.S. forces withdrew.


High drama in Israeli affairs


Who is this man and why does he wield power in Israel?


Arguably, no other country currently affects U.S. foreign policy as does Israel. With new leadership in Washington, it is imperative that Americans follow closely what’s going on in that country.

When researching and distilling information, my general rule-of-thumb is KISS: keep it simple, stupid. There is no way, however, to simplify all that is currently going on in Israeli politics. The deeper one digs, the more complex and intriguing that country’s pending government transition becomes.

I will give it my best shot, though, and offer you, dear reader, a crash course in Israeli affairs. I encourage both clarifications and viewpoints in the “comments” zone accessible at the end of this post.


While Egypt attempts to broker a peace deal with Israel and Hamas, sporadic rocket fire continues into Israel. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will continue in that position until the new government takes shape following recent elections.

The Associated Press (LINK) reports that Olmert says no border crossings will be opened and there will be no shipment of goods into Gaza until an Israeli prisoner, held two years, is released. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Bulletin (LINK) reports that “on Feb. 5, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered 170 million shekels, the equivalent of $43 million, to be transferred to Gaza,” and these funds are being misused by the Palestinian Authority (PA) and ending up in the paychecks of high Hamas officials. This leaves the Israeli government caught on a U.S. double fork, which on the one hand says Israel should provide such aid and on the other says no country should fund terrorists.

Olmert himself is alleged to be involved in a number of corruption scandals and faces criminat investigation.


With recent Israel elections called “a stalemate” (LINK) two candidates to replace Olmert as prime minister have emerged. Benjamin “Bebe” Netanyahu, head of the right-wing (some say far-right – think neoconservatives) Likud party, won more popular votes and says he should be PM because he controls “the largest bloc.” The centrist Kadima’s Tzipi (pronounced zippy) Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, with hopes of becoming Israel's second-ever female PM, claims she leads “the largest party” and democratically deserves the post. With all the votes counted Livni’s Kadima has won 28 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, one more than Netanyahu’s Likud.

Both candidates are haggling to build coalitions within the body (LINK).

The choice of who forms Israel’s next government will rest with one man — President Shimon Peres.

Who then could most influence the chances of either candidate and thus influence Peres?


Now, wielding perhaps the most influence in the country is a man international human rights groups have called “an extremist” and “a racist,” and an opinion piece in Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper (LINK) calls “a fascist.” A man who is so anti-Arab that he wants to redraw Israel’s border to push out areas heavily populated by Arabs.

Avigdor Lieberman (pictured above), whose ultranationalist party received 15 seats and emerged as the third-largest force in parliament, has emerged as the “kingmaker.” By throwing his support to either candidate, he can force Peres’ choice.

With Netanyahu’s and Lieberman’s combined 42 seats, plus a few others in the Knesset, the right-wing has emerged victorious in Israel.

Flexing such muscles, Lieberman is a threat to the U.S. and EU call for peace in the region, and a direct threat to developing U.S. foreign policy under President Barack Obama.

He, therefore, demands our attention. Here are two essential articles:

"Key to who will govern Israel: Avigdor Lieberman," Christian Science Monitor, 12 February 2009: LINK

"Unite to block Lieberman's march on Jerusalem," Ha’aretz, 1 February 2009: LINK


To measure political attitudes of both Israeli and Palestinian citizens immediately following the election of Obama, a poll was conducted in November and December by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace and by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, RESULTS OF THE POLL


As a counter to the political power of the right-wing and to the extremism of an Avigdor Lieberman, there is a growing progressive movement in Israel, and groups such as moveon.org and the international AVAAZ.org are raising money to foster projects that would teach these progressives to use the Internet to raise both grassroots support and funds.


Informed readers will now want to pay closer attention to this developing story.
UPDATE: Avigdor Lieberman has thrown his support behind Benjamin Netanyahu - with concerssions. Read story HERE.
UPDATE: Peres picks Bebe; delegates demand 'broad government.' Read official press release.


Jefferson Young revisited

On 19 January 2009 many of you read the story of Mississippi author Thomas Jefferson Young in my post, “A white house.”

Visitors can read the original post HERE.

This is an update on Jefferson Young, who in 1953 wrote a critically-acclaimed book titled “A Good Man.”

After weeks of research on Young and the favorable reception of the original post, I was able to locate and purchase from a London bookstore a first-edition copy of Young’s book. In mint condition, the book has yielded a little more information on the man.


“The material which Jefferson Young has given his publisher about himself is as simple, as direct and as unostentatious as his novel. Born in Oma, Mississippi, in 1921, Mr. Young served three years in the Air Force as a bomber pilot, was then graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism, worked in an editorial and public relations capacity in Dallas, Texas, for two years and then came to New York. While there he received a Eugene F. Saxton Memorial Fellowship of creative writing, awarded in 1951, and completed the novel in New Orleans with the help of that fellowship. He is now enrolled in the Graduate School of Tulane University.

“One is similarly impressed with Mr. Young as a person. He is quiet, economical in what he has to say, sure of what he means, and all of one piece in thought and action. One who has known both him and the book is convinced of the valid application of Montaigne’s words: ‘Myself am the groundwork of my booke.’ “

(BJ NOTE: There is a photo of Young, and I wish I had a scanner so I could share it with you here. On the last page of “A Good Man:” “The writer expresses his appreciation to the Eugene F. Saxton Memorial Trust.”)


“This is a brief story. You could – you very well might – read it in a single evening. Yet, its dimensions are as large as imagination and human sympathy. It is not too much to say that when you have finished it you will know more than you have yet known of the quality and worth of man’s aspiring – and you will be moved and exalted by the knowledge.

“It is the achievement of Jefferson Young to show us the broadest and deepest of life values in the desire of a tenant farmer to paint his house white. The story of Albert Clayton, a hero of his people and of our kind, becomes – in this extraordinary art of Mr. Young’s telling – the study also of man’s immemorial striving to realize his own inherent nobility.

“It is a story so direct, so simple – so beautiful – that it has the quality of inspired parable or the truest folk tale. Yet, it transcends symbolism. It becomes human experience itself, rendered so clearly that its meanings are instantly discovered and cherished. They extend from the ‘good man’ Albert Clayton to all men, and they compass the dignity, the pride, the courage and hope which all of us must know as our best inheritance.

“Albert Clayton’s moving victory in defeat is to know this human inheritance completely and hold it bravely. He is a hero because he is wholly a man. It is as simple as that.

“Perhaps the best tribute to Jefferson Young’s talent is that – for all its simplicity – his story cannot be outlined here. Anything less than its full expression through Mr. Young’s consummate craftsmanship would rob it of warmth and power and you of the fullness of a memorable experience.”


The book is dedicated to Young’s parents: “For Clara and Shelby Young.”


Thomas Jefferson Young, 1921- (at the time not yet deceased).
Thomas Jefferson Young, son of Thomas S. and Clara Young, was born in Oma, Lawrence County, Mississippi, on 30 September 1921. He attended Hinds Junior College (Raymond, Mississippi), the University of Mississippi (Oxford) and is a graduate of the University of Missouri where he received in 1948 the B.J. degree (bachelor of journalism, I presume) after serving as a pilot in the United States Air Force in World War II (1943-1945). A recipient of the Eugene F. Saxton Memorial Writing Award and a Carnegie Fellowship, Mr. Young, apart from the writing of fiction, has engaged in newspaper work and writing for various oil journals. Presently, he lives on Route 3, Monticello, Mississippi, 39654. Fiction: A Good Man, Bobbs-Merrill, Indianapolis, 1953. Source: Lives of Mississippi Authors, James R. Lloyd, editor, University of Mississippi Press, 1981.


There is more to this story. But, the transitional moments – from heralded author to recluse – in the life of Thomas Jefferson Young might remain, like the man himself, private and secluded.


'A sense of destiny'

On this date 200 years ago – February 12, 1809 - two men were born whose lives would greatly impact our world. Historian David R. Contosta’s book, “Rebel Giants,” examines the parallel events in the lives of these two men which led them to fulfill their “sense of destiny.”

My friend Andrew West Griffin, editor of the Oklahoma-based Red Dirt Report, has reviewed the book, and with his permission I reprint his review here:

RDR BOOK REVIEW: 'Rebel Giants: The Revolutionary Lives of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin,' David R. Contosta, Prometheus Books, 2008.

By Andrew W. Griffin
Red Dirt Report, editor

OKLAHOMA CITY – This past December, while visiting the St. Louis area, I took time to drive over to Springfield, Illinois, the place our 16th president Abraham Lincoln once called home.

It was there, at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, where I observed a top-notch facility demonstrate what an amazing leader and human being he was, particularly during the 1850’s and up to his assassination in 1865, at the end of the War Between the States.

Afterward, poking around the museum gift shop, I came across a 330-page book by author and historian David R. Contosta titled Rebel Giants: The Revolutionary Lives of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin.

First of all, I had no idea that these two thinkers – one in the field of politics and the other in the field of science – were born on the same day; February 12, 1809. And as we all know, their contributions to their particular fields and to society in general are immeasurable.

And to think: this week marks the 200th anniversary – bicentennial – of their birth.

Intrigued, I picked up the book and decided I was curious enough about these two men, born on opposite sides of the Atlantic and under different circumstances, to buy it and read it.

And read it I did. I devoured this book and am the better for it.

First of all, Contosta’s approach to these two men is to address how the two men compare in their desire to promote human freedom and the ways to achieve said freedom. Both helped usher in a global paradigm shift that challenged humanity which continues to this very day. Just note Darwin’s Origin of Species and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural Address. Both, Contosta notes, “continue to inspire and provoke.”

Comparing the lives of Lincoln and Darwin actually works well. Contosta demonstrates how alike these two “latter-day sons of the Enlightenment” were - from both coming from the Whig political tradition to having religious doubt to both having hated slavery. Interestingly, both had strained relations with their fathers but were doting fathers themselves. And while Darwin and his wife got along well, Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd, struggled throughout their marriage.

As Darwin furthered his education in England, Lincoln was getting out of the trap of being a hardscrabble farmer and made the decision to work in Illinois.

“Both Lincoln and Darwin were powerfully attracted to a sense of order and design in the world, whatever its cause,” writes Contosta. “Although Darwin’s sense of order would not ultimately sustain his belief in God, Lincoln’s sense of order in the universe would strengthen his belief in an overarching Providence.”

It is clear, from Contosta’s book, that both Lincoln and Darwin seemed to sense their destiny.

Writes Contosta: “Perhaps most importantly, they each possessed an excellent sense of pacing that allowed them to wait until the time was ripe for their ideas and leadership.”

And these leadership qualities are evident throughout their adult lives. They were not men to allow themselves to be swept up in the forces of history.

Darwin’s trip aboard the HMS Beagle is discussed in detail while the up-and-coming lawyer in Springfield is learning his trade and working the circuit.

Interestingly, despite creationists attacking Darwin for promoting the theory of evolution, two terms never appeared in Origin of Species – evolution and survival of the fittest – rather, he used the term “descent through modification.”

And for Lincoln, the idea of emancipation for the slaves and the bloody Civil War weighed heavy on the man who suffered in silence, the author notes.

Darwin continued to write, including The Descent of Man, while suffering in a different way. He had all sorts of illnesses and observed that his conclusions about human evolution would be “highly distasteful” to folks who would not like the idea that more humble creatures shared their blood. And while he had serious doubts about God’s existence, he did write in Descent that belief in God was “ennobling.”

Additionally, there is nothing Darwin writes that says humans descended from monkeys. At the time, Darwin was criticized by cartoonists, portraying Darwin’s head on the body of a monkey.

Both men would be criticized after their deaths. After Lincoln’s assassination, some would make the Christ comparison with Lincoln, suggesting that Lincoln died “as atonement” for America’s sin of slavery, which had lasted for 250 years.

In summary, Contosta makes it clearly evident that Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were both flawed men but driven men who followed their dreams, were intellectually honest about their struggles and convictions.

Contosta keeps the reader fascinated with these two "rebel giants." It's informative and conversational. Contosta knows these men well over the bridge of time.

Rebel Giants is a truly fascinating book, a fitting homage to Lincoln and Darwin and one worth picking up, whether you are a student of history or simply curious.

Oh, and happy 200th birthday, guys.



On the 200th anniversary of his birth, the Lincoln legacy includes an African-American president.

A USA Today/Gallup Poll (LINK) released on the eve of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth shows that only 39 percent of Americans say they “believe in the theory of evolution,” while a quarter say they do not believe in the theory, and another 36 percent don’t have an opinion either way. In my humble opinion, I believe the majority of folks don't fully understand the theory.


In need of fiscal clarity

“To place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent.”

- Thomas Jefferson, on the purpose of the Declaration of Independence, 1776.


“A not-so-funny thing happened on the way to economic recovery. Over the last two weeks, what should have been a deadly serious debate about how to save an economy in desperate straits turned, instead, into hackneyed political theater, with Republicans spouting all the old clichĂ©s about wasteful government spending and the wonders of tax cuts.

“It’s as if the dismal economic failure of the last eight years never happened — yet Democrats have, incredibly, been on the defensive. Even if a major stimulus bill does pass the Senate, there’s a real risk that important parts of the original plan, especially aid to state and local governments, will have been emasculated.”

So wrote Paul Krugman in his New York Times column Friday, 6 February 2009 (LINK).

He was right. In the interim, aid to local and state governments was slashed by $40 billion. I’ve been reading Krugman for eight years, and his predictions about the U.S. economy have always been right.

Most of you know Krugman is a professor of economics and international affairs at Princton and was this year’s recipient of the Nobel Prize for Economics.


We need answers.

Where has all the money gone?

And, how in the hell did this country begin the slippery slope to abysmal financial failure?

Krugman’s good. He really is. But, a few days ago I found a blog post which gives us the answers with such clarity, I want you to pack up right now and take a short trip over to Papamoka Straight Talk.

Michael Boh, who blogs on Our Rants and Raves! is Papamoka Straight Talk’s “left coast contributor,” and in one of his so-called “rants,” he has answered any questions you might have about where we find ourselves – economically – today.

Michael has a tendency to characterize those who don’t bother to stay informed, those who fall for “the Party line,” in vivid terms, but you will come away from this post – complete with graphs – more informed.

Read Michael’s facts about “fiscal responsibility,” so you won’t be fooled by pathetic partisan propaganda: LINK

I’m sure glad I did!


The “recovery plan” – H.R. 1 - regardless of its final content will certainly pass Senate muster today. A House and Senate compromise will be reached in time for President Obama’s signature before the President’s Day recess.



"I put my hand on the side stick and I said, the protocol for the transfer of control, 'My aircraft,' and the first officer Jeff (Skiles) immediately answered, 'Your aircraft.’ "

- Interview with Katie Couric, “60 Minutes,” 8 February 2009.

Capt. Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III, 58, is a no B.S., straight-shooter. A man of velvet, a man of steel. A man’s man and a woman’s heartbeat. His wife Lorrie calls him “a pilot’s pilot.” He is, in short, a hero.

Not until he heard the magic number, 155 survivors, did he feel “the weight of the universe was lifted off my heart.”

Start your week by refreshing your soul with the words of this incredible man: watch the “60 Minutes” interview. Scroll down this page until you see “Here is the Chesley B. ‘Sully’ Sullenberger Interview video and the full episode of 60 Minutes.” LINK


So, who is this man and what in his background equipped him to perform the miraculous water landing on the Hudson River?

Here is the profile from his company’s Web site (LINK):

Safety Reliability Methods, Inc. Founder Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger, III is a captain for a major U.S. airline with over 40 years of flying experience. A former U.S. Air Force (USAF) fighter pilot, he has served as an instructor and Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) safety chairman, accident investigator and national technical committee member.

He has participated in several USAF and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) accident investigations. His ALPA safety work led to the development of a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Advisory Circular. Working with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) scientists, he co-authored a paper on error inducing contexts in aviation.

He was instrumental in the development and implementation of the Crew Resource Management (CRM) course used at his airline and has taught the course to hundreds of his colleagues.

Sully is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy (B.S.), Purdue University (M.S.) and the University of Northern Colorado (M.A.). He was a speaker on two panels at the High Reliability Organizations (HRO) 2007 International Conference in Deauville, France May 29-31, 2007.

He has just been named a Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley.


A dress for many brides

This true story, written by Helen Zegerman Schwimmer, is a testament to both love and endurance. It is reprinted here with Ms. Schwimmer’s permission.

Lilly Friedman doesn't remember the last name of the woman who designed and sewed the wedding gown she wore when she walked down the aisle over 60 years ago. But, the grandmother of seven does recall that when she first told her fiancé Ludwig that she had always dreamed of being married in a white gown he realized he had his work cut out for him.

For the tall, lanky 21-year-old who had survived hunger, disease and torture this was a different kind of challenge. How was he ever going to find such a dress in the Bergen Belsen Displaced Persons camp where they felt grateful for the clothes on their backs?

Fate would intervene in the guise of a former German pilot who walked into the food distribution center where Ludwig worked, eager to make a trade for his worthless parachute. In exchange for two pounds of coffee beans and a couple of packs of cigarettes Lilly would have her wedding gown.

For two weeks Miriam the seamstress worked under the curious eyes of her fellow DPs, carefully fashioning the six parachute panels into a simple, long-sleeved gown with a rolled collar and a fitted waist that tied in the back with a bow. When the dress was completed she sewed the leftover material into a matching shirt for the groom.

A white wedding gown may have seemed like a frivolous request in the surreal environment of the camps, but for Lilly the dress symbolized the innocent, normal life she and her family had once led before the world descended into madness. Lilly and her siblings were reared in a Torah-observant home in the small town of Zarica, Czechoslovakia, where her father was a melamed, respected and well liked by the young yeshiva students he taught in nearby Irsheva.

He and his two sons were marked for extermination immediately upon arriving at Auschwitz. For Lilly and her sisters it was only their first stop on their long journey of persecution, which included Plashof, Neustadt, Gross Rosen and finally Bergen Belsen.

On January 27, 1946, 400 people marched 15 miles in the snow to the town of Celle to attend Lilly’s and Ludwig's wedding. The town synagogue, damaged and desecrated, had been lovingly renovated by the DPs with the meager materials available to them. When a Sefer Torah arrived from England they converted an old kitchen cabinet into a makeshift Aron Kodesh.

"My sisters and I lost everything - our parents, our two brothers, our homes. The most important thing was to build a new home." Six months later, Lilly's sister Ilona wore the dress when she married Max Traeger. After that came Cousin Rosie. How many brides wore Lilly's dress? "I stopped counting after 17." With the camps experiencing the highest marriage rate in the world, Lilly's gown was in great demand.

In 1948 when President Harry Truman finally permitted the 100,000 Jews who had been languishing in DP camps since the end of the war to emigrate, the gown accompanied Lilly across the ocean to America. Unable to part with her dress, it lay at the bottom of her bedroom closet for the next 50 years, "not even good enough for a garage sale. I was happy when it found such a good home."

Home was the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. When Lily's niece, a volunteer, told museum officials about her aunt's dress, they immediately recognized its historical significance and displayed the gown in a specially designed showcase, guaranteed to preserve it for 500 years.

But, Lilly Friedman's dress had one more journey to make. Bergen Belsen, the museum, opened its doors on October 28, 2007. The German government invited Lilly and her sisters to be their guests for the grand opening. They initially declined, but finally traveled to Hanover the following year with their children, their grandchildren and extended families to view the extraordinary exhibit created for the wedding dress made from a parachute.

Lilly's family, who were all familiar with the stories about the wedding in Celle, were eager to visit the synagogue. They found the building had been completely renovated and modernized. But when they pulled aside the handsome curtain they were astounded to find that the Aron Kodesh, made from a kitchen cabinet, had remained untouched as a testament to the profound faith of the survivors. As Lilly stood on the bimah once again she beckoned to her granddaughter, Jackie, to stand beside her where she was once a kallah. "It was an emotional trip. We cried a lot."

Two weeks later, the woman who had once stood trembling before the selective eyes of the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele returned home and witnessed the marriage of her granddaughter.

The three Lax sisters - Lilly, Ilona and Eva, who together survived Auschwitz, a forced labor camp, a death march and Bergen Belsen - have remained close and today live within walking distance of each other in Brooklyn. As mere teenagers, they managed to outwit and outlive a monstrous killing machine, then went on to marry, have children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and were ultimately honored by the country that had earmarked them for extinction.

As young brides, they had stood underneath the chuppah and recited the blessings that their ancestors had been saying for thousands of years. In doing so, they chose to honor the legacy of those who had perished by choosing life.


The author Helen is the daughter of Holocaust survivors and was born in a displaced person's camp located on the grounds of the St. Ottilien Monastery in Bavaria, Germany. She weaves together personal vignettes about her parents, her husband and her three children with inspiring stories about luminaries in the fields of medicine, the arts, education, law, religion and the media in her critically acclaimed new book, “Like The Stars of The Heavens.” To order a copy of her book, please visit: popjudaica.com. To contact Helen, please visit: helenschwimmer.com.


PHOTO: Lilly Friedman and her parachute dress on display in the Bergen Belsen Museum.


An economic holocaust

Last night, NBC Nightly News was reporting on the pushback of the digital-switchover deadline. As Brian Williams explained how millions of the elderly and the poor will be affected by the switchover, a Republican senator (I didn’t get his name) said in a soundbite, “Republicans are anxious for the digital service to begin.”

In almost every complaint about aspects of Obama’s recovery plan – aka stimulus package – Republican leaders and conservative voices have been critical of any program aimed at aiding the elderly, the poor and the disappearing middle class.

That the Republican Party, collectively, is insensitive to the needs of these Americans has become clear over the last eight years.

I caught Bill Press on MSNBC’s “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue” (LINK) Monday night, along with his old sidekick Pat Buchanan. Press, a nationally syndicated radio talk show host and author of “Train Wreck: The End of the Conservative Revolution (and Not a Moment Too Soon),” is one of the most level-headed and calm analysts on cable news.

After listening to a soundbite of Sen. Mitch McConnell, senate minority leader, blasting Obama’s plan, Press had this to say:

“I didn‘t hear Mitch McConnell complaining when they spent $700 billion to bail out Wall Street. But, now we‘re talking about $825 billion, maybe, to bail out Main Street. Suddenly, they‘ve gotten religion about spending?”

In this simple statement, Press summed up the six years when Republicans controlled the executive and legislative branches of our government.

Throughout those years, this deadly duo worked in tandem to fatten the golden corporate calf and, in so doing, cut back on programs affecting both the environment and the lives of middle- and lower-class Americans.

A second report on NBC Nightly News could not have been more symbolic of where this country finds itself today. I don’t know about you, but this one jarred me. This believer that personal possessions have sentimal value just sat down and cried. The report:

There is a growing industry in this country - buzzards, if you will, who are hired to swoop into foreclosed homes and remove all personal belonging left by evicted homeowners – as swiftly as possible. These items include everything from refrigerators and furniture to photo albums. According to the NBC report, a small percentage of this bounty is given to charities, while the bulk of it is deposited in dumps.

That a family is forced to leave everything behind because it either has no place to move personal possessions or doesn’t have the money to transport them – only to have them end up in a landfill – is simply not American.

According to RealtyTrac.com, which keeps up with such statistics, 3.1 million households submitted foreclosure filings in 2008, or one in every 54 households. Of these, 861,664 were foreclosed upon during the year.

In December, the U.S. unemployment rate was at 7.2 percent. (My state of South Carolina leads the nation with 9.5 percent. Local news reports people are lining up here to sell their plasma. What say you, senators Lindsey O. Graham and Jim DeMint?) Gallup’s models (LINK) suggest Friday’s unemployment figures will be “dismal” and will exceed the expected 7.5 percent for January.

Are you numb yet?

Far too often such statistics are dehumanizing. The people these figures represent are out there. They exist. They are losing their homes. They are unable to buy ample food. They cannot afford soaring energy costs. Too many have frozen to death this winter. In America.

I keep visualizing a scene from my favorite movie, “Doctor Zhivago,” where Zhivago’s communist half-brother watches in the shadows as the doctor breaks up a fence, stealing firewood to warm his family.

We cannot let this country slip into an economic holocaust where forgotten people die from apathy.

Not while we can still do something about it.


Coming of age

As long as I live I will be happy about my age, because fate allowed me to be a teenager in the 1950s.

It was a time when driving around town was entertainment, and there was always a gathering of friends at places with carhops like Tom’s or Kitty Sue’s. We would turn up our car radios, tuned to the Colonel Station or Rebel Radio, and dance to songs like “Peggy Sue,” “Chantilly Lace” and “La Bamba.”

We tanned on the sand at Livingston Lake as the jukebox played “That’ll Be the Day.”

I had a crush on a tall guy with a basketball letter who loved to sing “Chantilly Lace.” Life was perfect joy!

Then, on this date 50 years ago, for one horrific moment, the music died.

I was a junior in high school when our car radios reported that Buddy Holly, J. P. Richardson, known as The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens had been killed in a plane crash.

We had already lost our rebel without a cause James Dean and, in three months, our classmate Kellon Sullivan would be shot to death on graduation night by an angry man in a restaurant parking lot.

We were coming of age. The moment passed. The music has never died.

JACKSON (MISS.) CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL BUDDIES: Front: Charlotte ‘Pudden’ Hutchins; back from left: Janice Van Zandt, Charles Chisholm, Ronnie ‘Toots’ Farris, Rodney Rountree, Betty Turner (BJ) and Larry Wood, 1959.


No more 'Morning Joke'

Joe Scarborough came out of his hole this morning and is casting a shadow on my day.

If the stars are aligned correctly, the cable guy will come out tomorrow and switch my service from “expanded basic” to “basic.” Not only will it save me $45 a month, it will save me from the inane ranting of the host of “Morning Joe.”

What is MSNBC thinking letting this guy whine and rant for more than an hour – so far – this morning?

The stimulus bill is “the worst thing that has happened to this country since 9/11 and will destroy Ameriica,” according to the former congressman from the “Florida Riviera.” Moderate Democrats, he advises, have got to reign Obama in.

At least what he says is substantive. All weekend on cable news the right-wing was attacking Obama’s casual attire calling him less dignified that George W. Bush.

And, so it begins.

This old gal won’t be listening.